James Conley is passionate about old buildings, but he’s no pushover for pretty architecture.
Monday night, he came looking for a date – but not the romantic kind.
The West Side resident and 2011 Syracuse graduate joined a group of architecture enthusiasts at a Grant Street cafe Monday night for a speed-dating event for self-described “building huggers.”
The aim of the event, sponsored by Buffalo’s Young Preservationists, was to match young professionals who love the city’s historical architecture with each other, not for a love connection, but for their affinity toward a specific preservation project.
“We’re an active and engaged group of young professionals who love Buffalo. We want to do things,” said Bernice Radle, a core committee member of the group, which hosted the event at Sweet_ness 7 restaurant, 220 Grant St.
In an attempt to match like-minded activists with specifically planned or ongoing projects, 15 members of the preservationists group were each allotted five minutes to make a pitch that would bring others aboard their specific labor of love.
“Some of us are doing ‘Save Trico,’ which is trying to work with the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to save the Trico Building,”said Radle.
“There’s also people that worked on saving the Bethlehem Steel [administration building], which unfortunately came down anyway. And we did a really great board-and-seal-up of the old Broadway Theater. We also did the ‘heart bombs,’ which is trying to connect the demolition properties that are worth saving to owners,” she added.
Conley has an affinity for several of Buffalo’s historic architectural gems, though he noted that all of the world’s great cities have a reasonable mixture of the old classics and progressive new designs.
“By making sure that buildings are being preserved, those that are worth saving – not necessarily for their pure aesthetic value, but more for their structural integrity – helps support a better chance of redevelopment within the city center,” Conley said.
Jason Wilson, another core committee member, explained the group’s “heart bombs” campaign: Volunteers target a worthy but neglected building that is scheduled for demolition and plaster it with paper hearts to demonstrate its value. The campaign has helped save four structures from the wrecker’s ball.
“Tonight’s meeting is for individuals who are excited and want to get involved but don’t necessarily know how to fill in the gaps,” he said.
His sister, Merica Wilson, is an Elmwood Village resident and recent St. Lawrence University graduate. She has a background in psychology but maintains an interest in the city’s historical architecture.
“What I’m actually interested in is how to connect to the community. It’s one thing to save a bunch of buildings, but it’s not going to be helpful unless there are uses for them, and I think one of the best ways is to make an outreach to the community and see what they need,” said Merica Wilson.
Radle said some of the group’s members work with other local preservationist groups, such as the Campaign for Greater Buffalo and Preservation Buffalo Niagara, but since its founding two years ago, Buffalo’s Young Preservationists has become a force of its own. It now has 750 members on its Facebook page, 150 active members and nearly two dozen core committee members.