On Monday, as word of a proposed Buffalo Mustache Hall of Fame and Museum and a mega-mural known as “Mount Stachemore” spread across Facebook, Buffalo-boosters far and wide beamed with pride. Most of them probably knew, somewhere deep down, that this plan to turn the city's grand old grain elevators into a shrine to Buffalo's moustached elite was a particularly inspired April Fools' joke.
That's exactly what it turned out to be. But the public's enthusiastic embrace of the wacky idea and its instant spread through the viral pathways of Facebook and Twitter is just the latest signal of a growing appreciation for these hulking, century-old structures that line the waterfront.
The cultural entrepreneur Seamus Gallivan, who conceived of the hoax along with mural artist and photographer Max Collins, was impressed with people's reactions to the joke.
“When we tested this out on people, their first reaction was, 'Awesome!' ” said Gallivan, a frequent contributor for The News. “When we admitted it was a joke, they said, 'You should do it anyway.' ”
Though there likely won't be a mustache mural quite as large as the one Collins mocked up, both pranksters have said they're committed to making at least part of their idea a reality.
“Between the added interest in grain elevators, the fact that we could use the stunt to promote really cool events that are happening there and the current new spirit of finding new ways to use and bring people to these things, it made sense that the stunt could become real,” Gallivan said.
The fantastical “Mount Stachemore” is only the latest indication that interest in re-imagining the massive modernist structures has reached a fever pitch.
This new wave of attention and activity around the grain elevators – especially those in Rick Smith's Silo City complex – can be traced back at least to 2001, when the University at Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning launched its Buffalo Grain Elevator Project. The findings of that project, summed up in a must-read 2006 report, argued for the historical importance of the buildings and explored dozens of potential ways to reuse them.
Since then, the grain elevators have hosted an increasingly eclectic range of events, from avant-garde theater and dance pieces to festivals like last fall's City of Night. On Saturday, Smith's Silo City hosted the annual Boom Days festival, which featured the images of dancers projected onto the sides of elevators, musical performances inside the structures and a test of the much buzzed-about Silo City Rocks, a proposed grain elevator rock climbing wall currently inching toward its $23,000 fundraising goal. A 3-D projection test last fall also proved exciting for those, like the late Tony Goldman, who have dreamed of turning these ancient waterfront structures into attractions for adventure-seeking cultural tourists.
For someone who has never stood inside one of these echoing concrete cathedrals or gotten dizzy from staring up at their towering ceilings, all this hubbub probably seems like a lot of bluster by starry-eyed preservationists with empty pockets.
But if you spend even a few minutes inside a grain elevator – any grain elevator – you can feel the weight of history, of all those millions of tons of grain that helped to build Buffalo. You can understand the desire to introduce as many people to that strange feeling, of inhabiting a place caught between the past and the future. And, you can start to see that all those ideas – from a tongue-in-cheek mustache museum to an urban climbing wall – are more than pie-in-the-sky fantasies. They're ways to honor Buffalo's industrial past by building its creative future.