Governor De Witt Clinton traveled through the wilderness of western New York in 1822 to chair a meeting that promised long-range ramifications. The digging of “Clinton’s Ditch,” the Erie Canal, had begun five years earlier and would soon reach its western conclusion. But where? There were two contenders. One was Black Rock, on the Niagara River, and the other was a small village two miles further south that had only been incorporated in 1816. It was originally called New Amsterdam but the residents preferred to call it Buffalo after the small creek that poured into Lake Erie. Black Rock had the better harbor but the Buffalo Harbor Company was working hard to overcome that by borrowing $12,000 and constructing a new breakwater. At the meeting Judge Samuel Wilkinson successfully advanced the case for Buffalo and the little village was awarded the coveted prize. Buffalo became a great city and Black Rock disappeared.
As the continent’s major hub of east-west trade, Buffalo grew rapidly. Manufacturing followed commerce and by 1850 the city was speckled with iron works, foundries and plants churning out mirrors, picture frames, porcelain bathtubs, millstones, soap and candles. At that time, the coming of the railroads threatened to siphon business away from the Erie Canal but city leaders need not have worried. The city soon was being served by eleven main railroad lines as Buffalo grew into the second largest railroad center in America.
By 1900, Buffalo claimed more millionaires per capita than any other city in America. Only 96 years after the first streets were laid out in the village, more than 350,000 people called Buffalo home. Those streets were created in a spoke-like radial plan by Joseph Ellicott, the surveyor for the Holland Land Company who mimicked those of Washington D.C., which his brother Major Andrew Ellicott had helped draw up several years before. Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s greatest landscape architect, called Buffalo “the best planned city as to its streets, public places, and grounds in the United States, if not the world.”
Our walking tour to explore those streets will begin at the hub of those spokes but there is nothing there today that Frederick Law Olmsted would recognize...
World’s Fairs began in England in the 1750s and reached their peak in popularity between the 1870s and World War II when a fair appeared virtually every year, often to present new technological wonders to the public. In 1901 Buffalo staged the Pan-American Exposition that etched its place in history on September 6 when anarchist Leon Czolgosz approached and fatally shot President William McKinley at the Temple of Music, a day after he had given an address at the exposition. When the fair ended the buildings were demolished and all vestiges of the fair, located in and around today’s Delaware Park, were erased, save for the New York State pavilion that today houses the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. The State of New York commissioned this monument in McKinley’s memory in 1907. The 96-foot marble obelisk was designed by architects Carrère and Hastings, who had led the design of the Exposition. The monument is ringed by Italian marble animals created by sculptor A. Philmister Proctor- recumbent lions symbolizing strength and turtles that represent eternal life. Each lion weighs 15 tons.
FROM THE CENTER OF THE SQUARE WALK TO THE WEST SIDE IN FRONT OF CITY HALL TO BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY CLOCKWISE AROUND NIAGARA SQUARE.
65 Niagara Square
The cornerstone for one of America’s most massive and costliest municipal buildings was laid on May 14, 1930. It was completed, almost seven million dollars later, in time to commemorate the city’s Centennial on July 1, 1932. Architect John J. Wade provided the plans for the 28-story Art Deco masterwork that stood as Buffalo’s tallest building for almost four decades. Wade infused every corner of the City Hall colossus with a reminder of Buffalo from the central sandstone entrance frieze with pioneers and Iroquois Indian motifs to historic murals to statues of iconic figures. The brightly colored tiles at the top of the tower suggest a flame-like crown that represents the energetic sun burst in the flag of the City. The building was designed with large vents on the exterior to catch winds off Lake Erie to cool the interior without electricity.
Niagara Square at Delaware Avenue, Mohawk Street, South Elmwood Avenue
In the 19th century Niagara Square, first conceived in 1804 by Joseph Ellicott, was the first great social center of the city, circled with the finest mansions in Buffalo. One belonged to the 13th President of the United States, Millard Fillmore. One by one the great residential palaces were sacrificed for new civic buildings. The last survivor was an Italian villa built by Philo Balcom, the “Brick King,” in 1865. It was finally demolished in 2007 for this federal courthouse, designed in glass by the New York firm of Kohn Pederson Fox, whose large-scale projects have been constructed in 35 countries.
107 Delaware Avenue on Niagara Square
Ellsworth Milton Statler was born in Gettysburg only months after Union forces repelled Robert E. Lee’s invading Confederate army in 1863. He began a career in the hotel business with a vision to provide luxury accommodations of the first order. He built his first permanent Statler Hotel in 1907, in Buffalo, as the first major hotel to have a private bath or shower and running water in every room. In 1923 it became the Hotel Buffalo when he constructed these towers - then thetallest building in New York outside of New York City. The Hotel Statler offered 1,100 guest rooms, more than all other Buffalo hotels combined. By the time of his death in 1928 Statler had a prestigious chain of major city hotels across the Northeast and Midwest. In 1954 when Conrad Hilton bought the Hotels Statler Company for $111 million it was the largest real estate transaction in history. In 1983 this venerable hotel tower was converted to office use.
Buffalo City Court
50 Delaware Avenue on Niagara Square
The concrete City Court was built in the Brutalist style in 1974. It was designed without windows to eliminate any distractions from the goings-on in the courtrooms and judges’ chambers.
LEAVE NIAGARA SQUARE ON COURT STREET ACROSS FROM CITY HALL.
United States Courthouse
68 Court Street on Niagara Square
This unusual five-sided sandstone building occupies an entire island block off the eastern side of Niagara Square. Planned as a twelve-story federal building, the lack of Depression-era funds limited the size to seven stories. Its unusual shape and stripped-down classicism with low-relief carved ornaments render the courthouse a unique example of 1930s Art Moderne architecture.
TURN RIGHT ON FRANKLIN STREET.
Ticor Title Building
northwest corner of Eagle Street and Franklin Street
This is the oldest building still standing in downtown Buffalo, constructed in 1833 by the First Unitarian Congregational Society which worshipped here until 1880. Abraham Lincoln, in February 1861, attended church services here and sat in the pew of his host, Millard Fillmore. After the church departed the building picked up a third floor and was lengthened along Eagle Street. By 1886, the building was used by companies that researched property titles.
Old County Hall
92 Franklin Street
This land, known as Franklin Square, was set aside as the village of Buffalo’s first burial ground. In 1871 with the burgeoning city in need of a more commodious government headquarters it was decided to build here, with all interments having been removed two decades earlier to Forest Lawn Cemetery. Rochester architect Andrew Jackson Warner was retained to design the new civic center and court house complex. He delivered a monumental Romanesque structure that served that purpose until 1932. Granite for the 80-foot high walls was quarried on Clark Island, Maine and considered the finest building stone available; it was shipped by rail to Buffalo. Gazing to every corner of the city from atop the 209-foot tower are four 16-ton female statues sculpted by Giovanni F. Sala, allegorical figures of Justice, Mechanical Arts, Agriculture and Commerce.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
50 Franklin Street
When the first bishop of Buffalo, John Timon, came to Western New York in 1847, Catholics worshipped in small congregations scattered across the city and outlying towns. To raise money for his new Parish Timon traveled in Europe and Mexico; he would eventually spend $150,000 over 11 years to construct St. Joseph’s. The architect was the Catholic Church’s go-to designer, Irish-born Patrick Keeley. Keeley had hundreds of churches on his resume, including every Catholic cathedral in New England. His work here strongly resembles the Victorian Gothic features of the cathedral in Freiburg, Germany. The stained glass windows in St. Joseph’s were donated by King Ludwig I of Bavaria and had won top prize in the Munich Exposition of 1850. Another prize-winner on display inside is a 3,627-pipe Hook & Hastings organ that scored top honors at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia before being purchased by the Cathedral for $10,000. A recent refurbishment cost $1 million.
TURN LEFT ON SWAN STREET.
110 Pearl Street at Swan Street
Buffalo’s first school was built on this site but never saw its sixth birthday as it was burned by the British in 1813. This 10-story building, one of the city’s most ornamental, was constructed in 1895 as Buffalo’s first “skyscraper.” It was built for Robert Graham Dun who was a pioneer in credit rating reports. He joined the Mercantile Agency in New York City at the age of 24 in 1850 and within a decade owned the company and was establishing branches around the country. The Buffalo branch, helmed by John H. Smith, was established in 1866. Edward B. Green and William Sydney Wicks, the dominant local architectural firm of the age - some 200 of their buildings still exist around Buffalo - used golden Roman brick to create a Renaissance Revival style with arches and a richly carved frieze banding the third floor. Above each entrance is a round window sporting egg-and-dart molding. The building saw hard times in the 1970s and managed to dodge the wrecking ball but over the years it has lost its original elaborate cornice.
TURN LEFT ON PEARL STREET.
Guaranty (Prudential) Building
28 Church Street at Pearl
The landmark Guaranty Building was one of the first steel-framed buildings in the world, designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. Sullivan’s revolutionary design for the building was based on his belief that “form follows function.” He and Adler divided the building into four zones. The basement was the mechanical and utility area. Since this level was below ground, it did not show on the face of the building. The next zone was the ground-floor zone which was the public areas for street-facing shops, public entrances and lobbies. The third zone was the office floors with identical office cells clustered around the central elevator shafts. The final zone was the terminating zone, consisting of elevator equipment, utilities and a few offices. The 13-story office building was clad in rich reddish brown terra cotta blocks in contrast to the gleaming white Renaissance structures that were filling American downtowns at the time. When completed in 1896, it was the tallest building in Buffalo. Two years later in a naming rights deal it became the Prudential Building. By any name the ground-breaking structure is today a National Historic Landmark.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral
128 Pearl Street at Church Street
Richard Upjohn was America’s leading proponent of the English Gothic style of ecclesiastical architecture in the mid-1800s. His most famous work was Trinity Church in lower Manhattan but he always considered St. Paul’s his master work. The congregation erected the first permanent church in Buffalo in 1821, a modest wooden structure. In 1850 it was uprooted and moved and sandstone from Medina, Ohio imported to build the current sanctuary. The first services took place in 1851 but the two spires were not completed until 1870. In 1886, two years before a gas explosion destroyed most of the interior, St. Paul’s was tabbed as the Episcopal Cathedral for the Diocese of Western New York.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
Ellicott Square Building
295 Main Street
When Joseph Ellicott was busying himself laying out the village of New Amsterdam that would become Buffalo he did not neglect to set aside the choicest real estate for himself. That was a stretch of land along the east side of Main Street. For a century this chunk of Buffalo was known as Ellicott Square and stayed in the Ellicott family. In 1895 it was decided to cover the block with the world’s largest office and retail space. Within a year, the deed was done, chewing up $3.5 million. The famed Daniel H. Burnham of Chicago designed the 10-story Italian Renaissance building around a central courtyard. The exterior was clad in granite and terra-cotta and pearl gray brick. The fabulous interior space featured a marble mosaic floor pieced together with 23 million marble pieces imported from Italy. The mosaic depicts sun symbols from cultures across the world.
Glenny (Stanton) Building
249-253 Main Street
In the 1860s and 1870s a new construction technique swept America’s big cities - the cast iron facade. All the decorative elements such as columns and window hoods and cornices were pre-cast and assembled on site. The process was cheap and quick. Often the facades were painted to resemble stone or wood. At five stories this was the tallest cast-iron facade building in the state outside of New York City and today it is the only surviving cast-iron facade building in Buffalo. This was the Glenny Building when it was constructed in 1873. Irish-born William H. Glenny arrived in Buffalo in 1836 and found work in a bookstore. He would go on to open his own crockery store which expanded out to the Western states and Territories.
Marine Trust Building
237 Main Street at Seneca Street
Marine Bank took its first deposits on August 27, 1850 in a storefront at 79 Main Street, with plans to exploit the thriving waterfront trade along Lake Erie, hence the name. But the eight founders who assembled from around the state had bigger plans that involved a statewide financial institution. Their vision would come to pass and Marine Midland would eventually become one of America’s largest commercial banks with 300 branches across New York and offices in over two dozen countries. This Neo-Colonial building assumed the mantle of Buffalo’s “tallest building” when it was completed in 1915. It features a parade of arches and above the central arch you can look up and see a carved ship in the keystone that served as Marine Midland Bank’s symbol before its assets were acquired by Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp.
1 HSBC Center at Main Street
At 529 feet, this is the tallest building in Buffalo. It was constructed at the cost of $50 million between 1969 and 1972 for the Marine Midland Bank that traces its beginnings back to 1850. In 1998 the venerable bank’s assets were acquired by Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. (HSBC). So widespread was Marine Midland that HSBC expected to spend $50 million to change the name around the globe - the same amount the sprawling complex cost 30 years earlier. The Buffalo Metro Rail rolls along Main Street through the 40-story building.
TURN LEFT ON SENECA STREET. TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
Coca Cola Park
275 Washington Street
Coca-Cola Field opened as Pilot Field in 1988, helping to pioneer the era of downtown, baseball-only stadiums that would come to permeate the sports landscape in America. Seating capacity is 21,500 but its design by architects Ben Barnert and Joe Spear makes possible the addition of another deck of seats.
TURN RIGHT ON SWAN STREET. TURN LEFT ON ELLICOTT STREET.
Old Post Office / Erie Community College
121 Ellicott Street at South Division
The first mail was delivered in Buffalo in 1804. In the early days of the federal postal system it was common for the postmaster to operate out of his home. Buffalo’s first postmaster, Erastus Granger, set up his operation in Crow’s Tavern on Exchange Street. Buffalo would not get a dedicated post office building until an old Baptist church was converted in 1837. This monumental post office, that also hosted many other functions of the federal government, came along in the 1890s. Architect Jeremiad O’Rourke threw elements of the Romanesque Revival, Flemish Gothic and Chateauesque architectural styles into the 4 1/2-story building, executed in top-of-the-line pink granite. The Old Post Office is dominated by a 244-foot tower and is festooned with hand-carved gargoyles, pinnacles and eagles. The facility opened officially in March 1901 with a letter sent to President William McKinley, who would be assassinated in Buffalo six months later. One by one various government agencies abandoned the Old Post Office until only the U.S. Postal Service remained. They left in 1963. The building spent almost two decades under a threat of demolition but was finally rehabilitated as the downtown campus for Erie Community College in 1981.
TURN LEFT ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET. TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
1 M&T Plaza on Main Street between North Division and Eagle streets
The new headquarters for M&T Bank required the demolition of the entire city block and the surrender of $1.75 million, the biggest real estate deal Buffalo had seen up to that time. Ground was broken on June 16, 1965 on plans by Minoru Yamaski, who would gain his greatest renown for his design of the World Trade Center towers. The 315-foot tower contains more than 3,300 tons of then-revolutionary V-50 structural steel able to support the equivalent weight of twenty automobiles on each square inch. The first two stories of arches are faced in white Taconic marble from the quarries of Vermont.
424 Main Street
Liberty Bank began in 1882 as the savings institution for Buffalo’s German community as the German-American Bank. Following World War I it was decided that having “American” in its name was not patriotic enough so from that time the bank carried the moniker “Liberty.” And when $4.5 million was sunk into erecting this 23-story Neoclassical skyscraper in 1925 it was favored with three exact replicas of the Statue of Liberty to drive home the point. The pair on the roof, one facing east and one gazing towards the Great Lakes in the west, still remain but the one over the Main Street entrance no longer survives. The architect was an Englishman, Alfred Bossom, who was a great champion of large sky-tickling buildings in the first decades of the 20th century. This was one of his final projects before he returned to England and embarked on a long career as a member of Parliament in the House of Commons.
WALK INTO LAFAYETTE SQUARE.
Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument
The City built this memorial in gratitude to the soldiers and sailors who saved the Union. It is a cylindrical granite shaft surmounted by a female figure representing Buffalo. Scenes at the base include Abraham Lincoln announcing the Emancipation Proclamation and civilians answering the call to arms. Hartford, Connecticut’s leading architect, George Keller, designed the monument in a Victorian Gothic style and sculptures came from the studios of Caspar Buberl. New York Governor Grover Cleveland dedicated the memorial on July 4, 1884.
FACING THE MONUMENT TURN TO THE RIGHT AND BEGIN WALKING COUNTERCLOCKWISE AROUND LAFAYETTE SQUARE.
403 Main Street at Lafayette Square
James Mooney and James Brisbane funded the construction of this mixed-use building covering a half-block in the 1890s. An early representative of the Beaux Arts classical style it is a crowning achievement of busy Buffalo architects Milton E. Beebe and Son. Beebe, whose grandfather was one of Buffalo’s original settlers, began as a carpenter before putting out his shingle as an architect in the 1860s. The seven-story building, the largest retail/office building in the city at the time, required some three million bricks in its construction. The most famous tenant was the Kleinhans Company men’s clothing store, started by brothers Edward Horace Kleinhans in 1893. When they moved into the Brisbane Building the purveyor of fine menswear took over the basement, half of the first floor and the entire second floor. Kleinhans closed on December 30, 1992, only weeks from reaching 100 years in business. The building survives, albeit with a modernized entrance facade.
391 Washington Street at Lafayette Square
Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first registered professional woman architect in the United States, designed this grand turn-of-the 20th century hotel. The Lafayette was planned like many others to open before 1901 to host the crowds arriving for the Pan-American Exposition but funding snafus dashed those plans. When the Lafayette did arrive three years later, however, it soon won acclaim as one of America’s finest hotels. Bethune’s French Renaissance design incorporated semi-glazed terra cotta trim around red bricks. Window balconies and doors were decorated with wrought iron. By 1912 the Lafayette was nearly doubled in size to 370 guest rooms - each with hot and cold running water, a telephone and a a central vacuuming system. No other hotel in America could boast such amenities. Presidents Taft, Wilson, Hoover, and Roosevelt all signed the guest book. The Lafayette lasted over fifty years before being converted to long-term housing.
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
1 Lafayette Square
This is a hallowed slice of Buffalo ground: the first Erie County courthouse stood here from 1816 until 1876. Cyrus Lazelle Warner Eidlitz, the architect who created Times Square in New York City, designed the first Buffalo Public Library here in 1887. It was a dominating Romanesque Revival presence on the square until it was torn down and replaced with the current facility in 1963. The library lent its first books in 1835 to subscribers. One who ponied up the membership fee was Mark Twain who was the editor of the Buffalo Express from 1869-1871. In 1885 Twain donated the original, hand-written manuscript of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to the library.
CONTINUE WALKING AROUND THE SQUARE BACK TO MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
L.L. Berger Building
514 Main Street
When Louis Berger got into the retailing game in 1905 he was told that a double initial sounded more sophisticated so he tacked on the name of the street he had lived on in Detroit and became Louis Larned Berger. His store would grow in sophistication as well and when L.L. Berger died in 1967 his fashion retailing empire was mentioned in the same breath as Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City and Neiman Marcus in Dallas. His flagship store here had grown also, expanding to almost 100,000 square feet of retail space when adjoining buildings were fused. Berger’s went bankrupt in 1991 and the landmark store has since been converted to upscale apartments and commercial space although the ground floor looks much as it did a century ago.
Buffalo Savings Bank
545 Main Street
Buffalo Savings Bank took in six deposits on its first day in 1846, the city’s first savings bank. It had one employee. The bank was destined to become one of America’s largest savings institutions before it became insolvent in 1991. Green & Wicks, Buffalo’s greatest architectural firm of its gilded age at the turn of the 20th century, won the design competition for this headquarters that opened in 1901. The granite Neoclassical, Beaux–Arts cost $300,000 and would not be fully finished until 1925. Imbued with a rich interior of paintings and murals, the triumph of the imperial vault is its gold-leafed dome. The tiles on the dome were originally covered with copper, which took on a greenish hue. The dome has been gilded three times ― in 1954, 1979, and 1998. The last restoration required 140,000 paper-thin sheets of 23.75-carat gold leaf with a final price tag of $500,000.
TURN RIGHT ON HURON STREET AND WALK A FEW STEPS UP TO THE CORNER OF WASHINGTON AND GENESEE STREETS.
535 Washington Street
The Buffalo General Electric Company organized in 1882 with its sights on harnessing the power of Niagara Falls. The hyrdoelectric power was one one of the stars of the Pan-American Exposition where the Tower of Light wowed visitors. Nationally acclaimed Buffalo architects August Esenwein and James A. Johnson designed a Beaux Arts tower for the company’s headquarters in 1912 with a central tower modeled on the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In the 1930s Art Deco elements such as black ornamental glass and stainless steel fixtures were blended into the tower by the Niagara Hudson Corporation, successor to Buffalo General Electric. A recent refurbishment has brought new life to the glazed terra cotta tiles and plaster moldings.
Palace (Market) Arcade
617 Main Street
Buffalo architects Edward B. Green and William S. Wicks summoned famous markets of the past for this enclosed shopping arcade in 1892. They gave the building a classically inspired look for the collection of stores and offices with prominent plate glass windows that heralded a new age of appealing to “window shoppers.” Above the strollers was placed a frosted glass skylight that fostered an atmosphere of comfort. At each end of the arcade the arched entranceways were marked by Bison heads symbolizing the City of Buffalo. The Arcade closed during the 1970s and was revived with a $10 million facelift and re-emerged as the Market Arcade in 1995.
Levy, King & White Building
620 Main Street
These blocks of Main Street retain many examples of the Neoclassical architecture that dominated American downtowns in the early 1900s. This elegant three-story shop was constructed in 1919 by Thomas Dickinson whose firm was a leading jeweler in Buffalo for more than a century. The building was restored by Levy, King and White, an advertising company from the 1980s.
Shea’s Buffalo Theatre
646 Main Street
Canadian Michael Shea operated vaudeville theaters in Toronto and Buffalo before opening his first moving picture house at 580 Main Street in the Hippodrome Theater in 1914. A decade later, after touring the country to garner ideas for a new movie palace, Shea, then in his sixties, was ready to pour nearly $2 million into Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. He hired renowned theater designers Rapp and Rapp of Chicago who delivered a facsimile of a 17th century European opera house and Louis Comfort Tiffany was retained to work on the interior. Most of the furnishings and fixtures came from Marshall Field in Chicago and included Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers of the finest quality. There was over an acre of seating for the comfort of almost 4,000 patrons. The curtain went up on January 16, 1926 with a screening of King of Main Street, a bittersweet love story with Adolph Menjou in the lead as the King who tries to find happiness with a common girl. By the time of his retirement in 1930, Shea’s was heralded as the finest theater between New York City and Chicago. But Shea’s was also not immune to the epidemic of suburban malls and television that killed downtown theaters across the country and it closed in 1975. It took a $30 million renovation in 1999 to breathe life back into Shea’s.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO CHIPPEWA STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT ON PEARL STREET.
Young Men’s Christian Association Building
45 West Mohawk Street at Pearl Street
The YMCA got its start in London in 1844 and the concept spread to North America with a branch opening in Montreal in 1851. America’s first YMCA was established in Boston that year and the second the following year in Buffalo. Approaching its 50th anniversary the chapter staged a design competition for a new home that was won by Buffalo’s pre-eminent architects, Green and Wicks. They delivered a monumental building sited for one of Buffalo’s odd-shaped corners allowing to its radial-designed streets. Using an English-Flemish Renaissance-style design, the Buffalo YMCA provided extensive accommodations for lodgers and was the first to include a spa -- features that would come to be expected in a YMCA building. The building remained an active YMCA facility until 1978 and has since soldiered on as offices, retail space, and a health club.
CONTINUE ONE MORE BLOCK AND TURN RIGHT ON COURT STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT ON NIAGARA SQUARE.