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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Preparing to write the Aud's obit

By Dick Hirsch

Stop the presses! EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!!

They used to do that, never in real life, but always in the movies. Rosalind Russell, wearing her new feathered chapeaux, strode breathlessly into the newspaper editorial room---click, click, clicking in her high heels---and announced that her investigation had uncovered some political skullduggery.

No, they don’t do that anymore, even in the movies. But there are times when developments are so unexpected, so dramatic, there are no other words that can adequately convey the shocking developments. So, I repeat:

Stop the presses! EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!!

Work has begun on the removal of leftover junk leading to the eventual demolition of Memorial Auditorium.

Gee, already? It has only been abandoned, moldering and vacant since 1996. During that time there was considerable sentiment for finding a new use for the building; most of the rhetoric involved the suggested construction of the world’s greatest sporting goods store, but there were others, including an aquarium and a museum. The building, built as a federal project during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is apparently just as sturdy and certainly just as ugly today as it was the day it opened in 1940.

Yes, it has been just sitting there, a forsaken and useless eyesore, the object of scorn for 11 years, but matters of public import usually take time in Buffalo. Decisions aimed in the general direction of progress are seldom reached without exhausting every possible alternative, no matter how remote.

From day one, I was confident they were never going to modify and reuse that building. It was an idea that would merit consideration only in a place like Buffalo, a place where change comes with great difficulty and progress advances slowly. I knew eventually they were going to knock the Aud down. Yet there seemed to be great interest in saving the building in the administration of Mayor Byron Brown, so, as the months wore on, I thought I’d ask around to see whether anyone agreed with me.
I asked a major developer and he was certain it would have to be demolished; although it would be expensive, it would be less costly than trying to revamp and rehabilitate the place. Every other person I asked agreed with that prediction. I could not find a single person who thought the building would eventually be saved and used for the Taj Mahal of sporting goods stores or any other purpose. The only ones who favored saving were the public officials who got their names in the paper, repeatedly explaining how absolutely great it would be, the beginning of a renaissance, if only...

So why did it take 11 years to start clearance and demolition? Aside from finding the money, and frittering away precious time fiddling with Bass Pro, I suggest there was a major sociological factor involved, a factor which has become predominant in Buffalo.

It relates to basic differences in temperament. There are two types of personalities that often engage in debates: the savers and the thrower-outers.

I’ve written about them before, about how, despite their serious philosophical differences, they seem attracted to each other. They tend to intermarry, and thus begin a series of continuing debates over what should and should not be saved.

There are certain times when that saving/disposing discussion transcends the home front and develops into an issue that becomes the subject of public debate. The future of Memorial Auditorium became one of those issues. There were people who just couldn’t stand the thought of spending all that money to raze the building and clear the land in the name of progress. They defined “progress” as saving the building, designing a new facade, and selling bowling balls, shotguns and snowshoes inside.

We all have our memories of the place, of Gorgeous George and Yukon Eric, of the rodeo and the circus, of the Golden Gloves and the Braves, of the hockey Bisons that grew into the Sabres, of Little Three basketball with Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure, of Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy. Yes, we all have memories. Mayor Brown thinks the city might collect on those memories by holding an auction sale of some of the moveable mementoes. Ugh. We have wasted too much time already; tear the place down as quickly as possible and let’s move from clinging to the past to planning for the future.



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