Built during Buffalo’s Golden Age—the era when Mark Twain, Grover Cleveland, and Frederick Law Olmsted were all making their mark on the city—Babeville is located at the crossroads of three National and Local Historic Districts. Boasting one of downtown’s most recognizable steeples, a magnificent exterior of Medina sandstone, and a roof of Vermont slate, it is the last known intact example of the work of architect John Henry Selkirk (1808-1878).
Selkirk began work on the building, originally the Delaware Avenue Methodist Church, in 1871 and construction ended three years later. It remained an active church until the 1980s; after years of neglect it was slated for demolition in 1995, a threat which triggered widespread public opposition and led to Ani DiFranco and Scot Fisher purchasing the building and beginning a lengthy period of refurbishment.
Transforming a 19th century house of worship into a 21st century multi-purpose venue was fraught with complications, as you might imagine. But many times the difficulties lead to innovative solutions; take the state-of-the-art geothermal heating system, for instance, which employs wells 300 feet below the surface of the earth to heat and cool the building with minimal reliance on fossil fuels. It’s one of the first such systems of its kind in the area. The entire facility has been praised as a model of adaptive reuse.
From its inception on Selkirk’s drafting table to its reinvention at the hands of Flynn Battaglia Architects and Architectural Resources, the project has benefited from the creativity of its designers. It’s a building created by artists with artists in mind; Ani DiFranco’s touch can be found in the distinctive color scheme, and in every nook and corner of the building. Every detail of Asbury Hall, both onstage and off, is informed by her experiences performing in venues around the world, while the staff of Hallwalls has tailor-made their space to meet the needs of visual and media artists.
Babeville is on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places, but it’s not just a static reminder of Buffalo’s bygone glory. It’s an ever-evolving promise of things to come.
Want to know more? View a timeline of Babeville’s history.
Learn more about the building from the website “Buffalo as an Architectural Museum.”
Learn more about architect John Selkirk.