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Buffalo’s Wildroot Building Granted Landmark Status

After being sold for just $1,000 at auction back in October, the historic Wildroot building in Buffalo has finally been granted landmark status.

The building at 1740 Bailey Avenue started out as the home of Grennan Bakeries, one of the largest bakeries in the nation in the late 1920s. The company chose Buffalo for their largest manufacturing facility, and the building became the largest cake kitchen in the entire world at the time of its completion in 1929. The three-story, 81,384-square-foot, concrete warehouse received a large-scale addition in 1946 for administrative purposes, which used steel post and beam construction. Aside from being a durable material, steel is also one of the most recycled materials on earth, with 88% of all the world’s steel being recycled. It’s fitting, then, that the building has been reused for other successful ventures.

The Wildroot Company, a wildly successful hair tonic manufacturer that has roots (pun intended) right in Buffalo, took over the building in 1946. Although the business had humble origins, it became a household name during the midcentury. Robert Gundlach, one of the founders, would later invent the Xerox photocopy process, but first found success by making Cream Oil. Although women are traditionally thought to be more concerned with personal grooming than men are, spending around three hours per week washing, blowdrying, and styling their hair, Wildroot’s products were a major hit with American men. By 1959, consumers were spending $60 million on Wildroot products every year, which is equivalent to $479 million in 2013. Actor and former president Ronald Reagan modeled for Wildroot advertisements, and Nat King Cole sang their radio jingle. In fact, the advertising agency they used inspired the hit TV show, Mad Men. Eventually, Wildroot was bought out by Colgate-Palmolive, which closed the Buffalo plant in the early 1960s.

The building has had a few owners since, and in many ways, Wildroot represents Buffalo’s growth and notoriety. But the building has stood empty for a number of years and went into foreclosure. The city put the building on the auction block back in October. Shockingly, the building sold for a mere $1,000. When asked what buyer Omar Sain planned to do with the building, Sain mentioned partial demolition and storage — a concept that’s troubling to area preservationists. Those plans would have also jeopardized tax credits related to historic preservation.

Common Council member Richard Fontana told WIVB that he hopes the new owner will do something more beneficial with the property.

“Fix the building up, use it for something, create some jobs here on the far east side of the City of Buffalo, and I think we could have something positive. But if he is just going to buy it, throw some junk in there, and do nothing — not even cut the grass — that is not something I am looking forward to having.”

However, the Buffalo Preservation Board may have something to say about that. They just unanimously voted to grant the building landmark status, which could impede major demolition or construction. The board feels the building meets their criteria, including the representation of historic architecture, economic or cultural significance of the city, and a unique location or physical characteristics that add aesthetic value. The building is located along an active rail hub and its iconic signage is a fixture in that part of the city. Their recommendation will move to the Buffalo Common Council for final approval.

Mark Paradowski, who led the effort to save the Wildroot building, told The Buffalo News: “I’m excited that they overwhelmingly recognized the building’s importance, and that it was met with full support from the public and the board.”