Niagara Gazette — It happened so long ago now that I had to go back into the archives to jog my memory.
It was way back in 2002 when former Gov. George Pataki announced the state’s decision to give a $500,000 grant to supporters of the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, a then-fledgling group that only a year earlier had secured the rights to the former Niagara Falls High School building, a structure some locals fondly call “The Grand Lady.”
The building is a community institution. It is also a valuable piece of the city’s architectural history.
Built in the Classic Revival Style in 1923-24, it replaced an old school building that had been destroyed by fire.
It housed thousands of Falls high school graduates in the years since, which is one of the reasons why community members rallied to its cause when school district officials were considering a plan to sell it to a private developer who planned to demolish it.
Enter the Niagara Falls High School Preservation Task Force. The entity held several public meetings to solicit community input on what, if anything, could be done to preserve the building. In 1999, the city’s planning board gave the group a chance to develop a “viable” business plan for the site. And find one they did.
A new group — Save Our School — eventually led to the formation of Save Our Sites, Inc., a nonprofit charged with carrying out the preservation plan.
In December 2000, the Preservation League of New York stepped in to offer some assistance, designating the building as one of its “Seven to Save.” A little more than a year later, the city of Niagara Falls, led then by former Mayor Irene Elia, formally offered to accept responsibility for the property should SOS fail.
By the spring of 2001, the Niagara Falls School District had discontinued its plans to sell, having negotiated a new deal to allow the building to be transferred to SOS for a single dollar.