For decades it has been a garage for garbage trucks and snowplows, but one of the oldest buildings in Buffalo has a much deeper history. Did you know that the Broadway DPW Barn, just a short walk from downtown, was once a military armory in the 19th century and was later converted into an auditorium that hosted all kinds of sports and events?
“If anything happened in terms of civic scale, it happened at the Broadway Auditorium,” said Tim Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, History and Architecture preservation organization.
Tielman knows the stories of this structure dating back to the 1850s and is trying to preserve it for future generations.
“After the Civil War, the state turned it over to this national guard regiment and they built what was then the largest gun shop in upstate New York,” he said.
After its use as an armory and instruction room, the building was ceded to the city, becoming a public auditorium. In the early 20th century, it hosted concerts, political conventions, circuses, boxing matches, and the great boxing champion Joe Louis once fought here.
It was a central part of life in the neighborhood and the city as a whole.
“This is the world’s oldest standing structure where professional ice hockey was played,” Tielman said.
Following its use in the war effort during World War II and the construction of the Memorial Auditorium, the city had new plans for the building.
“And the city decided to turn it into a garage for the DPW dump trucks and dump trucks,” Tielman said.
That brings us to today, as parts of the historic structure have been lost to fire or covered over the years. But the city wants to find a new home for its DPW team, and a group of developers was chosen to turn the site into a sports complex with new affordable housing.
“This is a huge building, kid, I’m telling you,” said Arthur Hall of Hallmark Planning & Development.
Hall is one of the lead developers on the project, one he sees as a key component of the African-American heritage corridor and a connecting point for the city’s neighborhoods.
“Having it as a place where people can come and use, having an indoor sports facility, a cultural facility and also the housing units will be huge for the community,” Hall said.
His group plans to get feedback from the community on what is best suited for the future of the old Broadway Auditorium.
“It’s important to us to bring buildings like this online. To take the darkness and turn it into light. What’s dead and make it alive,” Hall said.
While there is no timeline for the project while the developers wait for the city to find a new location for their DPW team, Hall says they will work to preserve parts of the building’s original character.
Meanwhile, there is a push for the Auditorium to be given historic landmark status. Tielman would like to see it restored as a publicly funded sports complex while exposing the original façade that has been hidden for years and creating a public park on the south end of the property in lieu of new construction for housing units.
“The gun shop again becomes a source of pride for the neighborhood, a foundation to build on rather than something that actually keeps the neighborhood in check,” he said.