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Pedaling Into History

Goodbye to all this: The estimable collection of the Pedaling History museum in Orchard Park hits the auction block on December 1.

One of the crueler jokes Buffalo has played upon itself would have to be the demolition of the Larkin administration building. The innovative five-story office was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but only stood from 1906 to 1950, when it was demolished. The Larkin Soap Company never recovered after the Great Depression. It went bankrupt; the city took possession of the building, eventually selling it to someone who planned to put a truck-stop on the site. The structure was knocked down, the truck stop was never built, and it’s a parking lot today.

The stupidity of events makes most people cringe. Especially when one thinks of how the Frank Lloyd Wright legacy is so cherished in Buffalo that we pour tens of millions of dollars into fixing up the Darwin D. Martin house, and construct things that the great architect never got to build, based only on his plans. It would almost appear that we suffer from a collective guilt complex when it comes to Wright’s legacy.

It appears we’re about to do something like that again.

On December 1, the first lot of items from the former Pedaling History Bicycle Museum in Orchard Park is scheduled to go on the auction block. The website for Copake Auction, Inc. “The Nation’s Premier Bicycle Auction,” is featuring a jaw-dropping array of vintage and antique bicycles and cycling memorabilia that had been collected over many years by the late Carl Burgwardt and his wife Clary. It had been Burgwardt’s dream that the collection would find a permanent home on the Buffalo waterfront, but a suitable deal was never reached. Now it looks as if the impressive collection is poised to be parted-out piecemeal among private buyers.

Buffalo played a significant role in the history of the bicycle, and a number of early manufacturers were located here. Considering the resurgence in the use of bikes for commuting that is going on around the country and around the world, and observing the impressive strides Buffalo is currently making in improving its bicycle infrastructure, it will be a bitter look back in a few short years when the idea of a cycling museum as a tourist draw finally sinks in—and we discover we had a unique and comprehensive one within our grasp, but let it go due to lack of enthusiasm.

A collection like Burgwardt’s can’t be obtained overnight—unless someone with deep pockets steps in to buy everything on the block. If ever there were a time for a local philanthropist with vision to step forward and secure as much of the treasure that’s currently up for auction—with the idea of bringing it back home—now would be the time. Perhaps a group like the Oishei Foundation—which already has funded a variety of cultural endeavors including several Frank Lloyd Wright projects—could step up to the plate. After all, Buffalo theater owner John R. Oishei made his fortune in windshield wipers, which he invented after driving his roadster into a bicyclist in the rain in 1917.

After the December 1 auction, the remainder of the vast collection is scheduled to be put up in two more lots; one in Apri, 2013, and the final one in October 2013. This valuable collection of transportation history is about to get away from us for good—going once; going twice; gone.

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