Sunday, December 17, 2006


Patrick and I drove east to spend Thanksgiving with my brother and sister-in-law. The way we drive it's three days each way. We take the interstate across Wisconsin, loop around Chicago, go across Michigan to Port Huron, into Canada and across southern Ontario, then back into the States at Buffalo and across Upper New York State. We stayed in Lansing the first night and Buffalo the second, taking time in the morning to visit three wonderful buildings: Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building, Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin Complex and a psychiatric hospital designed by H.H. Richardson. I think it would be fair to call all three masterpeices of American architecture. There was clearly a lot of money in Buffalo circa 1900, and people were spending their money on buildings and parks. Frederick Law Olmstead, the great landscape architect, designed the Buffalo park system and the grounds of Richardson's hospital.

We had seen all three buildings on a previous visit; and Patrick ran into a construction worker on the grounds of the hospital. The guy told Pat the hospital had fourteen foot ceilings and hardwood paneling that was six inches thick. The hospital was built at a time when people believed sunlight and fresh air were good for the mentally ill. The windows are numerous and huge. According to the construction worker, every window is a different size, which makes them difficult to replace.

At present it is empty. There are signs that say that construction is in progress. But I haven't been able to find out what's going to be done with it. It can't be turned back into a hospital, since it wouldn't meet code; and we no longer believe in putting the insane in opulent buildings full of sunlight and fresh air. Maybe it can be turned into luxury condos. But I don't think there are enough rich people in Buffalo these days. The Guaranty Building and the Martin Complex are being renovated, the first as the new home for a law firm. The second will be turned into a monument, open to the public. So they are both safe, but I worry about the hospital.

On the way back we stayed in Buffalo again and took a look at the Horseshoe Falls in the morning. It was a cold, overcast day with lots of mist and spray, which meant photographing the falls wasn't easy. But I liked the weather, and I liked the fact that November is not the tourist season. There were a hardy handful of tourists, many of them foreign, at the overlook above the falls. But most of the tourist attractions were closed -- except for the Falls themselves, which can be viewed from a Frederick Law Olmstead state park on the American side and a parkway with overlooks on the Canadian side.

I did not expect to be as impressed as I was. The falls are really big, and standing next to a wide expanse of falling water in moving.

Pat decided he wanted to make the second day of our trip a long one. We drove from Buffalo across southern Ontario and Michigan, hitting Chicago well after dark. The Chicago metro area is huge. The highway system is complicated, at least to us, and full of fast moving traffic and always under construction. We made it through without an accident and stopped for the night in a northern suburb. The last day is a slow drive across territory we knew: Wisconsin.

All in all, we traveled six days to spend three days with relatives. My brother and sister-in-law clearly thought we were a bit nutty. But it was nice to see the buildings in Buffalo, the Mohawk Valley in Upper New State in late fall sunlight, Niagara Falls, a salty (or ocean going ship) moving down the river in Port Huron. Patrick and I like to travel and listen to music and talk.