You know who Albright was, right? Nearly everyone I ask - in Buffalo - nods in the affirmative. Of course. Albright. As in Knox. Either a slow, sheepish smile follows, as the person realizes that they haven't a clue as to who John J. Albright was, or I am assured that Albright was Knox's first name. Not.
Buffalo has many unheralded heroes, but few are as unknown as John J. Albright. Mark Goldman, Buffalo historian and author, set out to change that. A two-year circuitous quest took him to four states, dozens of libraries and museums, and into the homes of descendents of the turn-of-the-century Buffalo industrialist and philanthropist.
Yes, Albright founded - and paid for - the Albright Art Gallery, but his legacy is so much broader. It was Albright who brought steel to Buffalo from Pennsylvania, founding Lackawanna Steel. And he harnessed the power of Niagara Falls, founding the Ontario Power Company which distributed electric power throughout the state. Heard of Nichols? Yes, John J. Albright founded The Nichols School so he would not have to send his sons away to boarding school. He was even a partner in the paving company that paved many of the burgeoning turn-of-the-century city's streets.
His good friend, E.B. Green, designed much of what he built. From the Albright Art Gallery, which is a knock off of a knock off building Albright saw in Greece during one of two world tours he took, to the family's fabulous mansion at 730 W. Ferry. Frederick Law Olmsted himself designed the landscape for this huge estate, which was ultimately auctioned off right down to the shrubbery for pennies on the dollar in the 1920s, and torn down in the 1930s. All that remains of it today is the wrought iron gate.
Albright's wife, Susan Albright Fuller, was a photographer, as was his daughter-in-law, Charlotte Spaulding Albright. Their beautiful never-before-seen photographs, along with those taken by his son Raymond with one of the very first Kodak cameras, bring the tragic riches-to-rags story of one of Buffalo's most significant families to life.
Never one to do things by halves, Mark Goldman, founder of Friends of the Buffalo Story, not only wrote the 156-page book ALBRIGHT: The Life and Times of John J. Albright, he also dreamed up the Albright Weekend as a way to tell the Albright story, which is really the story of Buffalo in its heyday.
The book is now available (at a pre-publication discount!) and will be released throughout the Weekend, which starts on Friday, June 2 at the Burchfield Penney. Discover the largely unknown photographic legacy of Raymond K. Albright, Susan Fuller Albright, and Charlotte Spaulding Albright, and learn about the Photo-Pictorialist movement and Buffalo's place in the history of photography at a free, illustrated lecture by Tony Bannon and Mark Goldman.
The Weekend continues on Saturday, June 3 at - where else? - the Albright-Knox. Be among those at the world premiere of the play ALBRIGHT, commisssioned by Goldman, written by Steve Bellwood, and acted and directed by Fengari Ensemble from New York City. This dramatic interpretation will take place in the A-K Auditorium following a cocktail party in the Café. This is the only ticketed event of the Weekend, and it promises to be a sell-out. Tickets are just $20, available online now.
Quite appropriately, the Weekend culminates at The Buffalo History Museum on Sunday. Learn the full extent of Albright's impact on Buffalo and meet Albright's grandson, Birge. He will be the star of a roundtable on the life and work of his grandfather, John J. Albright, along with museum director Melissa Brown and Mark Goldman. Be sure to stay for the slide show - the family photographs by Susan Fuller Albright sre simply exquisite. This final installment of an amazing Weekend starts at 1:00pm and it's free.
One family, one book. Three events, three venues. This is how we understand our city - through the powerful stories of those who came before us. I am honored to have helped shed light on this elusive titan who indelibly molded the character of Buffalo. Besides, he owned a Locomobile. How cool is that?!