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Arts & Culture

Colored Musicians Club, Richardson Olmsted Campus receive historic accolades

Buffalo's Colored Musicians Club became a national landmark Monday, while the Richardson Olmsted Campus won a prestigious award for preservation.

Credit Mike Desmoond / WBFO News
Inside the Colored Musicians Club are highlights from its history.

The Colored Musicians Club was founded in a time when African Americans weren't allowed in white musician unions. They formed their own club and it became a popular place where some legendary musicians jammed together for decades.

Few records were kept and fewer photographs exist, but there are memories and they are highlighted in the museum on the club's first floor. Dan Mackay, state deputy commissioner for historic preservation, told a celebration of national historic status Monday night that the club's designation is important for Buffalo.

"This is the first listing of this type in New York State, that celebrates musical history at this local and fundamentally important level. I think all the speakers have recognized the importance of this listing to the neighborhood and to the city itself and to the legacy of the site," Mackay said.

He said the listing also completes the recognition of a triangle of buildings in the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor.

Credit Michigan Street African American Corridor
The Michigan Street Baptist Church is part of Buffalo's African American Corridor.

"Along with the Michigan Street Baptist Church and the Rev. J. Edward Nash House, all three sites are now listed on the National Register and State Register of Historic Places and their documentation has been filed with the Library of Congress," Mackay said.

Mackay said it is also important to recognize music and history mixed far from the music spots in New York City, where musicians like Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane played and lived.

Also Monday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced the Richardson Olmsted Campus had won a Driehaus national preservation award for excellence in execution and positive impact on community vitality. Richardson Center Corporation Executive Director Mark Mortenson said historic preservation has become important locally.

"The community, overall, has really changed their attitude and really supported the importance of historic preservation and, as you mentioned, that's seen at the Richardson. That's seen at the Colored Musicians Club and the Michigan Avenue Corridor," Mortenson said.

Mortenson said when the corporation went out for developers for new projects on the campus, there were national offers as well as local developers - and there are more opportunities on the site beyond Hotel Henry.

Credit Eileen Buckley / WBFO News
Inside the restored Hotel Henry on the Richardson Olmsted Campus.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
Outside the Hotel Henry.

"Once viewed as an abandoned, derelict site, it's now finally getting the attention that it's becoming alive again and, certainly, there's more to come," Mortenson said. "We know that our work isn't going to stop there, and we continue to work on all of the other resources and all of the other spaces that we have available for development because, again, we want the overall campus to be seen as a vibrant facility, just like it has started to look like with the Hotel Henry, our first tenant."

Erie County Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams said community is also important in the Colored Musicians Club going on the National Historic Preservation Registry.

"It's a phenomenal task because there are many who try to get the historical designation and we all know that with that comes financial assistance and everything else, so this is a good thing for the corner of Michigan and Broadway," Miller-Williams said. "This is a good thing for the great things that are happening here. Let's continue that momentum."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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