It’s the holidays, so I thought I’d write about one of Buffalo’s most notable churches, Our Lady of Victory Basilica. I’m writing on the suggestion of my husband, Tim. He’s been suggesting it for a while, and several months ago when I decided it was time to get organized with my schedule, I put the Basilica on for Christmas time. I thought it would be fitting to write about such magnificence during one of the happiest times of the Church calendar, the birth of Christ.
Let’s talk about the history and architecture of this building and the man who built it. It’s a big part of our city’s history.
We’ll Begin with Father Baker
As a Buffalonian, born and raised, I have been hearing about Father Nelson Baker my whole life. But who was he really? That’s a good question. So I did some reading, and he was a pretty interesting guy.
Nelson Baker was born in 1842, in the then growing city of Buffalo. He was one of four sons belonging to Lewis and Caroline Baker. He was baptized as a Lutheran at birth, the faith of his father. But for years Nelson attended daily mass with his mother, a ritual he very much enjoyed. At ten, he was baptized Catholic. That’s important, obviously.
His parents owned a grocery / general store downtown, and the family lived behind the store. Nelson completed high school and began working in the family business. He was good at it. He was smart, good with numbers, and enjoyed getting to know the customers.
When the Civil War broke out, Baker served in the 74th New York Regiment, with distinction.
After the war he went into the seed and grain business with a friend, and did very well for himself. At this time he was very generous with his time and money at a local Catholic orphanage in Limestone Hill (present day Lackawanna). The orphanage had a home for younger boys, and one for older boys on their campus, in addition to a parish church.
That Nagging Feeling
But something was nagging at him. He struggled to discern a priestly vocation. He made many excuses. Too old. Not educated enough.
Eventually he entered the seminary after a long conversation with a priest, Father Hines, at Limestone Hill. Baker was ordained a priest in 1876. His first assignment? The orphanage at Limestone Hill, alongside Father Hines.
Perhaps it was his business experience that frustrated him about this first assignment. Father Hines was no businessman. In fact, the orphanage and parish were deeply in debt. It had grown to $60,000. That’s a lot of money now, but back then it was astronomical.
Out of frustration, Father Baker asked for, and was granted a transfer. After just one year though, Father Hines passed away, and the Bishop summoned Father Baker back to Limestone Hill. There he would stay for the rest of his life.
Creditors were after him immediately. He tried asking for extensions, to no avail. Not knowing what else to do, he simply withdrew every last penny he himself had from his business days, and paid off the debt.
It was at this point that Baker’s business acumen came into play. This is part of the story is important. He wrote letters to postmasters all over the country asking for the names of charitable Catholic women in their towns. (That certainly wouldn’t fly today!) He then started the Association of Our Lady of Victory, and wrote hundreds of letters to these women asking them to join the Association for twenty five cents a year, to benefit the boys in his care.
It worked! It wasn’t a lot of money (although some gave more) and so thousands across the country joined the Association. In effect, he was pioneering what we call today the direct mail fundraising campaign.
Life Gets In the Way
At this time, the idea for Our Lady of Victory Church was already in his mind, patterned after a church he had seen in Paris during his seminary days. But there were several other projects that took precedence. In addition to the many repairs and renovations to the two homes for boys on the property, there was the church to take care of, which at the time was called St. Patrick’s.
When Baker heard that young, unwed girls were tossing their babies into the Buffalo River in order to save them from a life of poverty, he was horrified. For the mothers as well as the babies! He opened an Infant Home, which was to become a sanctuary for unwed mothers and their babies. Everyone was welcomed, no questions asked.
Baker spent what some considered too much money drilling on the land for natural gas. It took longer than normal, but they found it, and it was enough to heat all the buildings on the site, and roughly 50 homes that were close by. It is still being used today.
The Association continued to grow through it all. And so did the parish. The congregation outgrew the current church, St. Patrick’s, but everytime Father Baker thought he could begin, another emergency would come up and delay his plans.
In 1916 St. Patrick’s Church suffered a fire and there was extensive damage. Many suggested rebuilding immediately. Father Baker ordered repairs done but didn’t initiate a new church. He waited until he thought the time was right.
Finally, in 1921, at a regularly scheduled church meeting, he announced to stunned church members his intentions to build a new church. He outlined his plan to build a large shrine to his patroness, Our Lady of Victory. He promised to complete the church with no debt, and he kept his word.
Our Lady of Victory is Built
Father Baker engaged a renowned architect, Emile Uhlrich for the design, and a local contractor to do the work. He spelled out plans to use only the finest materials and craftsmen to build a church fitting of his patroness. He hired only the most talented artists in the world to complete the work. Professor Gonippo Raggi, from Italy, and Marion Rzeznik (a Polish born Buffalonian) created the beautiful oil paintings throughout the church, depicting Mary’s life. Otto Andrle, a well known Buffalo artist, created the incredible stained glass throughout the church.
The Best of Materials
Forty-six different marbles were used. The pews are made of very rare African Mohogany. The artwork is exquisite. The stations of the cross were carved by the Italian artist Pepini, and it took him fourteen years to complete the project. The great dome depicting both the Assumption and the Coronation of Mary was the second largest in the country when it was built. The first being the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. There are angels everywhere inside and outside the basilica. It is estimated that there are as many as 2,500! Wow! There are four swirled red marble columns surrounding the Our Lady of Victory statue on the main altar.
Baker spent approximately $3.5 million – but with no debt at completion. He enlisted the help of the Our Lady of Victory Association, which now numbered in the tens of thousands. He ‘sold’ marble blocks for $10 each.
Each and every contributor’s name is listed in a book that was placed under the statue of Our Lady of Victory on the main altar. No matter how much or how little they donated.
The finished church is nothing short of magnificent! Just months after completion, the church was named a Minor Basilica by Pope Pius XI. Father Baker’s greatest dream was realized, his gift to Mary had been made.
Incidentally, OLV was only the second church in the country to be named a basilica at the time. The first was St. Adalbert’s Basilica right here in Buffalo, in 1907. Cool, Buffalo!
For the Pope
Because this church is designated as a basilica, it always stands ready to receive the Pope. Up near the main altar, pictured below, are a tintinnabulum (left), and a canopeum (right). The tintinnabulum is a bell mounted on a pole with a gold frame. It is to be used in any processions the Pope may take part in. And the canopeum serves to symbolically protect the Pope and remains halfway open awaiting the Pope’s arrival. Interesting!
The End of an Era
Father Nelson Baker passed away on July 26, 1936. His Cause for Canonization was approved in 1987. His body was moved from Holy Cross Cemetery and placed in a tomb inside the basilica, at the Grotto Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in 1998. By all accounts, Father Nelson Baker was a humble, quiet man who did great things in a humble, quiet way. The faithful of Lackawanna await his approval for canonization.
Our Lady of Victory Basilica is a thriving parish today, and the Association of Our Lady of Victory lives on in the Spiritual Association of Our Lady of Victory, one of OLV’s Charities, serving children and families in need.
To call Our Lady of Victory Basilica impressive is an understatement. It couldn’t be more impressive! I only wish the lights had been fully on in the church when I was there so that my photos could give you a true feel of the place.
Most Buffalonians at least have heard of Father Baker. How many children back in the day were coerced into behaving with the threat of being dropped off “at Father Baker’s”? A lot I would guess. I know my brothers were. But it was good to get to know this whole story. Sometimes these ‘legends’ become so big in our minds that we forget they were people. People who lived, loved and accomplished great things. And in this case, Father Baker did it humbly, and without fanfare. At least not during his lifetime.
The Millions Spent on Our Lady Of Victory
Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna stands as a testament to Father Baker’s faith in God, and his devotion to the Blessed Mother. And while it may be difficult for us to understand the expenditure of millions of dollars on a building when there are poor people who are in need of the basics, (this is something that I struggle with), it was pointed out to me this week, that it’s easy to think that way today. We already have so many treasured buildings of worship.
And back in the day, people equated sacrificing in order to give, as having true faith in God. And building great churches was seen as a magnificent sacrifice, or offering, if you will, to God. Back then, they felt it would please God to create something so grand in honor of him. If this is the case, then Father Nelson Baker certainly pleased his God, and his patroness, Our Lady of Victory, because this church is unparalleled in Buffalo, and I daresay the country.
I’ve seen OLV a thousand times, but every time I approach, it takes my breath away. It’s awe inspiring. I actually find it difficult to choose the right words to describe it. It’s one of those places that you have to see for yourself. Photos don’t do it justice. Especially mine. Either way, if you haven’t at least seen this church from the outside, make it a point to get over there and check it out. You’ll be glad you did.
I wish you good health, happiness and peace this holiday season and in the coming year!
Several months ago, a family member was in Buffalo General Hospital over on High Street in the Medical Campus. For about the one hundredth time, I admired Kevin Guest House as I drove by. But this time I noticed all the other homes around it. I thought, what the heck? How have they survived? I mean, in this little corner of Buffalo, smack dab in the middle of the medical corridor, there are not a lot of homes left. It’s all hospitals, medical labs, the medical school, parking lots and more like it. Buffalo General Hospital, Oishei Children’s Hospital and Roswell Park Cancer Institute are all within view of these homes.
This little block intrigues me. Several houses still stand in the middle of all of this development. It’s time I learned a bit more about them. Come hike with me.
Let’s Get Startedwith Kevin Guest House
Through the years I’ve wondered about the origins of this house. Who built it? Who’s lived here? What were they like? You know, my usual thoughts as I hike around the city looking at different homes and buildings. So I bought a book about it through the Kevin Guest House website. Very interesting and easy read.
The home was built in 1869 for Jacob B. Fisher, who was a brewer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my reading about Buffalo, it’s that back in the day brewers did very well here. And I think they are again. Just sayin’.
In 1904, the home was purchased by Theophil Speyser, a cabinetmaker, for himself and his family. Speyser and his wife, Ernestine, had three children, Louis, Clara and Mathilda, who all lived in the home. Theophil opened a coffin and furniture making company and also purchased a coffin factory. He incorporated in 1906 under the name Buffalo Trunk Manufacturing. The factory building at 127-130 Cherry Street (now Evergreen Lofts) is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Cool.
Mathilda married Louis Beer and the home stayed in the Speyser/Beer family until 1971. Interior photos of the home are available at the Kevin Guest House website.
Who Was Kevin?
Kevin Garvey was born in 1958 in Sharon, PA, to Cyril and Claudia Garvey. Kevin was one of eight children, and his family gave him the nickname Heart. Just after his sixth grade year, in July 1970, Kevin arrived at Roswell Park for treatment of Leukemia. Kevin was, by all accounts (in the book), an example and model to everyone who knew him. He never lost his faith in God throughout the 18 months he lived with the disease.
On January 14, 1972, Kevin passed away.
His family soon after founded the Kevin Guest House, a hospitality house for patients and their families who have to travel long distances for medical treatment in one of Buffalo’s hospitals and treatment centers. Through the years, it has grown to a campus of four houses. The family remains somewhat involved in Kevin Guest House today.
A Source of Inspiration
In my humble opinion, Kevin’s family were (and still are) models and examples to everyone as well. The good work they have done across the country and right here in Buffalo is a testament to the love they have for their son and brother.
Incidentally, Kevin Guest House was the inspiration for the first Ronald McDonald House, which was in Philadelphia, and has served as a model for many others across the country as well. Another Buffalo first – by guests of ours back in 1972. Amazing people if you ask me. To take a loss so great, and turn it into something that has helped countless people through the years. Simply incredible.
766 Ellicott Street
This home too, is part of the Kevin Guest House campus. It is called the Russel J. Salvatore Hospitality House on Kevin Campus. Schroeder, Joseph & Associates sold the property to Kevin Guest House in order that they may expand their services to more families in need.
As of 2016, Kevin Guest House was serving roughly 1200 families every year, but 400 more were being turned away. This home is already going a long way toward helping these families. To date, in 2020, 2,000 families have been sheltered during their time of need.
Being a history nerd, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the history of this home. This beautiful Second Empire home was built for Albert Ziegler, who was also a brewer.
Zeigler’s story is well known in Buffalo brewing circles. When his brewery on Genesee Street burned to the ground, it was resurrected on Washington Street as the Phoenix Brewery. Ziegler named it for the Egyptian mythological figure that rose from the ashes. That second building has now been redeveloped by Sinatra & Company as residential units.
The home was eventually owned by August Feine, who was a talented craftsman working with iron. He embellished the home in several places with his hand forged ironwork. This home is magnificent!
Moving Right Along
As I move down the block and turn onto High Street I see this building.
I wonder what’s going on inside, looks like construction. So I called Ciminelli Real Estate and spoke to Denise Juron-Borgese, Vice-President of Development & Planning, who tells me that the building was aquired by Ciminelli during their work on the Conventus Building across the street and adjacent to Oishei Children’s Hospital. It was used as a sort of headquarters during construction.
Ciminelli has no immediate plans for 33 High Street at this time. I’m no expert, but I would guess there’s a lot of potential here.
Denise and I also had a very interesting discussion about the Conventus Building. Look for a post about it in the new year. Thank you, Denise.
The Homes Along Washington Street
As I turn left on Washington Street, I see the UB Jacobs School of Medicine on the right. But what I’m interested in are the homes on the left. They appear to be from the 1850’s and are beautiful to my eye, with lots of little details that you wouldn’t necessarily notice if you were just driving by. And they’ve got quite a bit of wrought iron, which makes me wonder if August Feine did some iron work for his neighbors back in the day. This is not your run of the mill ironwork. Some of it is exquisite.
The homes are owned by the Medical Campus (927-937 Washington Street LLC). Word on the street has it that there are asbestos issues that will need to be taken care of, but when I was there the other day, new roofs were being put on all of them, so that’s a good sign. Nice to know we won’t be losing them.
The St. Jude Center
As I continue east on Carlton Street, I come upon the St. Jude Center.
I have never heard of it. I have, however, passed it many times though, on the northwest corner of Carlton and Ellicott Streets.
So, here’s what I’ve learned since then.
The St. Jude Center was started by Msgr. Edward J. Ulaszeski in 1969, in response to the need for better pastoral care for people experiencing the pain and suffering of illnesses, by either themselves or a family member. It is easy to see why the center is located where it is, in the heart of Buffalo’s medical campus.
The director now, Fr. Richard Augustyn, tells me that when he came here to work as a chaplain at Buffalo General Hospital, in 1975, the neighborhood was so rough that they had police escorts for emergency visits to the hospital. One block away! He also tells me that the neighborhood has done a one-eighty. It’s now very safe. Patrolled regularly by police. I know I feel safe when I’m in the area.
The Center serves the community in several ways. Fr. Richard is a full time chaplain at Buff Gen. The center offers mass twice a day on weekdays, twice a day on the weekends. And mass every day at Buff Gen too. This is in addition to the regular chaplain duties of offering emotional and spiritual support to patients and their families in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
There are several programs offered in the St. Jude Center as well, including bereavement programs, prosthetic support, and wellness support. They also train all chaplains who work at the hospitals in the medical corridor.
The home is an old Victorian era house with a carriage house behind. The City of Buffalo lists the house as being built in 1890, but Fr. Richard tells me it was built in 1856 for the Hock family, who lived in the home while running the Victoria Hotel Bed & Breakfast out of it. Interesting story.
The home sat abandoned for quite some time and was pretty rough when Msgr. Ulaszeski bought it in 1969 for the St. Jude Center. A lot of the interior details are still there, although most of the woodwork has been painted. Fr. Richard graciously invited me into his home for some photos.
Check out these chandeliers, which were there when Msgr. Ulaszeski purchased the home, although I’m pretty sure they don’t date to 1856. They are different from any other lighting fixtures I have ever seen! Note that the home is decorated for Christmas, so the ornaments are not normally on the one fixture.
And the living room. This archway and pocket doors are the only woodwork that is not currently painted. And this chandelier (below) was added by Fr. Richard. There are five marble fireplaces intact in the home.
The Carriage House
The day I went to see Fr. Richard was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, so I attended mass at the Shrine to St. Jude which is in the old carriage house, and we met immediately following the mass.
Now, I’ve been to mass in more churches and chapels than I can count, and literally all over the world. I wouldn’t say that I’ve traveled extensively, but I have traveled. And when I travel, I still attend mass. So I’ve been in some really different churches. Like the church in Puerto Rico that didn’t have any windows, just hurricane shutters which are almost always thrown open.
But I have to say that this chapel is different from anything I’ve ever seen. I first walked through the brand new, modern vestibule, which, I admit seems out of place here. But immediately, I saw these doors, and forgot all about that. Note the carriage kicks at the bottom on either side of the door frame. These would prevent carriages from losing wheels if they bumped the door frames. I love it that they’re still there.
And one from the inside.
When I walked into the chapel I immediately felt an overwhelming feeling of peace. If you read my blog, it was akin to the feeling I get at Corpus Christi Church. There were more people there than I expected (don’t worry they’re following all the Covid rules), one of them said hello to me from her pew and another smiled at me through her mask. I felt comfortable immediately. I don’t know if it’s the lighting in there, or the immediate acceptance of the people when I walked in, but I got a good feeling in this chapel.
Take a look. Note the openings in the upper wall, covered now with wrought iron, this was the hay loft. The brick work on the walls here has been repaired over and over. But it’s beautiful. Through the wrought iron doors is where the Sanctuary Lamp and the Tabernacle are kept. It is where the horses were stabled. I absolutely love the humbleness of this chapel. It’s very real.
More Wrought Iron!
And the wrought iron. It’s everywhere on this property. It is so beautiful and so appropriate here. It just works.
A Quick Story
While I perused the St. Jude Center website I noticed they have a Hungarian mass on Sundays. When I asked Fr. Richard about it, he told me a little story.
A woman he knows through his work at Buffalo General seemed a little down in the dumps, and when Fr. Richard asked her about it, she told him that her home parish church was closing. She is a first generation Hungarian immigrant, and would miss her Hungarian language mass every Sunday. Fr. Richard told the woman to invite her priest in to St. Jude’s on Sunday for mass. As he says, he “squeezed them in” between the 8:45am and the 11:15am masses. And so, the 10am Hungarian mass was born at St. Jude’s.
When, sadly, the Hungarian speaking priest passed away, Fr. Richard learned to say the mass in Hungarian so the congregation could continue with their Hungarian masses. When I expressed amazement that he would do this, Fr. Richard downplayed it. He explained that he doesn’t say his homilies in Hungarian, and that he cannot speak Hungarian. He merely learned to say the mass in that language. Still. It was an awesome thing for him to do.
I have a feeling a lot of things like this Hungarian Mass story goes on here at St. Jude’s.
First of all, I don’t think I have ever seen so much incredible wrought iron within one city block! So beautiful! I still wonder about the August Feine thing. Whether he did wrought iron for his neighbors…I guess we’ll never know.
The homes are gorgeous and historic. Wish I could have seen this block a hundred years ago, when there were more homes just like these. And wish I could meet the people who lived in them. To hear their stories.
But I remain grateful that these few still stand, for a glimpse of the past in our midst.
Secondly, I want to convey to you how blown away I was by both the Kevin Guest House story, and the story of the St. Jude Center. Here are two awe-inspiring entities, sitting quietly in an unlikely, but very fitting, setting. As the medical corridor grows up around them, they remain. Continuing their quiet, but oh so important work. Forever tied to the medical community, and the people they both serve.
Humble is the word that comes to mind. And when people are humble, they often achieve great things for their fellow human beings. This is happening here in Buffalo, on this little block in the middle of the Medical Corridor.
Next time you’re in the area, take a closer look.
And if you can, and you’re looking for a way to give back, or pay it forward this holiday season, I bet they’d both appreciate a donation. 😉
*Special thanks to Fr. Richard Augustyn, The St. Jude Center; Denise Juron-Borgese, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.; and Betsy Stone, Kevin Guest House.
p.s. Somebody at the St. Jude Center is a Bill’s fan! Go Bills!
I have a confession to make. I don’t get downtown very often anymore. Working from home is great, but I admit I miss the action. I only get downtown a handful of times each month. Everytime I do, I get that old familiar feeling. That “I love this town” feeling. I don’t know how to explain it. Downtown Buffalo is just a part of me.
And I think I may be rubbing off on my granddaughter Aoife (pronounced ‘eefa’). To be fair, my son, Aoife’s father, works downtown in the Brisbane Building so that may have had an influence too, but either way Aoife loves downtown.
So, a couple of months ago I had one of my favorite photos of city hall (below) put on canvas. When it arrived, I showed it to Aoife and asked her if she knew what it was. With a big confident smile, she said, “Yes. It’s a castle!” She’s three. So I said, “You’re right, it’s a Buffalo Castle.”
Since then, Aoife loves to ‘go walking’ downtown to see all the Buffalo Castles. I was downtown this morning walking along Main Street, and thought of how Aoife looks with awe at our Buffalo castles. I was inspired to share them with you.
Let’s Get Startedwith City Hall
Buffalo City Hall. It’s one of the largest municipal buildings in the U.S, at 32 floors and over 560,000 square feet. That aside, it’s an exquisite example of Art Deco design. The architects are Deitel & Wade, and it was completed in 1932. I love this building.
When she’s a little older, I’ll teach Aoife about all the little details that are everywhere on this building. The frieze above the front entryway depicting the history of our city up to the year it was built. The details on the windows. The Native American designs at the top of the building. And the statues on either side of two of Buffalo’s presidents – Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland. Those two may or may not be there when she’s old enough to learn about them. But for now, to Aoife, city hall is the original castle. We both love it.
I especially love the way the building presides majestically over Niagara Square and the McKinley Monument. And speaking of that…
The McKinley Monument
This monument is of course here in honor of President William McKinley who was fatally shot at the Temple of Music, an attraction at the Pan American Exposition in September, 1901. The architects were Carrere and Hastings, and the animals were sculpted by A. Phimister Proctor.
From all accounts, Buffalo deeply mourned the death of McKinley and great thought was given to the design of the monument. It has been said that the sleeping lions were included as a sign of strength, a nod to McKinley’s presidency and the turtles (yes, you have to look for them, but they’re there) were included as a symbol of eternal life, which is what the city at the time hoped for President McKinley.
The monument was dedicated in 1907, six years after McKinley’s untimely death. It underwent its first restoration in 2017. The square itself has changed around it many times, but the monument is here to stay. Not necessarily a castle, but Aoife loves the animals and the fountain, so it’s going on the list!
The Statler Building
In the shadow of the McKinley Monument, it’s easy to see the Statler Hotel, one of my other grandchildrens’ favorites. Apparently Miles learned about it in first grade in a social studies class and was awed that one man owned a building so giant (his words). I talked about Ellsworth Statler in another post, including what’s going on in that building now. He had great influence on downtown life in Buffalo back in the day. I guess you could say that he helped to create the downtown vibe that I love so much.
The hotel itself is definitely one of our castles.
Robert H. Jackson United States Courthouse
Just west of the Statler building, is the U.S. Courthouse. Not all of our ‘castles’ are old. This one was built in 2011. At that time, I worked in the Seneca One tower on the 30th floor, and my office overlooked Main Street. So I watched the courthouse being built. Robert H. Jackson is a Western New Yorker who served as a Supreme Court Justice, so it is fitting that the building is named for him.
Not normally a fan of very many modern buildings, I didn’t expect to like this one. But I do. There’s something very pleasing about the design. The architects are Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates out of New York City. The lower glass wall visible in the photo has the entire U.S. Constitution etched into it. Pretty cool. Castle worthy.
Old County Hall
And then there’s this. This building speaks to me, like some do. It gives me a real feeling of history in Buffalo. Built in 1876, it’s the oldest of the downtown ‘castles’. The center clock and bell tower is 270 feet tall – must have been an amazing sight to see in 1876! Especially since the clocks were back lit by gas lamps at night.
Picture this. It’s 1876. When it gets dark at night, it gets really dark. Not like today with street lights ablaze and illuminated buildings everywhere. It got really dark back then. The nightly lighting of the clock tower became an evening destination for the citizens of Buffalo. Rich and poor alike would take their evening walks or carriage rides to the Old County Hall to behold this clock tower. It still impresses today.
I devoted an entire blog post to this building because it’s one of those that makes me wish time travel could be a thing so that I could shoot back to 1880 or so to see the clock tower lit up without the distraction of all the other lights in the area.
While walking near this building Aoife asked me who the ‘people’ were on top of the tower. Good question. They respresent Justice, Agriculture, Mechanical Arts, and Commerce. That explanation, of course, meant nothing to her, but it meant a great deal to the people of Buffalo in 1876. Enough that they would put them high above us on pedestals to guard over the city. This, is a Buffalo castle.
The Guaranty Building
As we walked away from the Old County Hall, Aoife looked up and said, “Oh Nana, I like those circle windows.” She was, of course, looking at the Guaranty Building. Good eye, kid.
As we approached the Guaranty Building on the opposite side of the road, on Church Street, I started to tell Aoife the story of this building. How it was built in 1895-96, how it was the tallest building in Buffalo at the time, and how it was designed by a very famous architect named Louis Sullivan. Aoife couldn’t have cared less about that. Did I mention that she’s three?
In the meantime, we had crossed Church Street and stood at the base of the corner of the building looking up at the tree of life carving which drew our eyes up to the cornice. That she was interested in. Along with the other Art Nouveau details in the terra cotta exterior, and she was also impressed with the gargoyles. We went into the lobby, where we gawked at the Tiffany-like ceilings, the mosaic walls, and the bronze elevator cages. All are simply gorgeous.
As we walked away from this Buffalo treasure, Aoife said, “That was definitely a castle.” I agree.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Right across the street from the Guaranty Building is St. Paul’s Cathedral. If all those spires don’t make you think of a castle, I don’t know what would!
This church was built in 1851 and was designed by Richard Upjohn, who was well known for his English Gothic church designs. Beautiful inside and out, it is definitely one to go take a look at. I am always struck by how, no matter where on the street you are looking at this building, it appears that you are looking at the main entrance (which is actually on Pearl Street).
The Ellicott Square Building
Now, I don’t really think the Ellicott Square Building resembles a castle, but Aoife sure does enjoy all the faces on the facade. I’ll admit that after I pointed out the Medusa heads lining the cornice of the building, they scared her a little bit. So I told her they were little girls welcoming her into their building. She accepted it.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
The architect was Charles Atwood of Daniel Burnham and Company, one of the most prestigious architectural firms in the U.S. What a fantastic example of Italian Renaissance design this building is!
But to me, it’s the interior of the building that puts it on Aoife’s list of Buffalo castles. Whenever I walk into the atrium, I can’t help but look up and around the room. The staircases, the Italian marble mosaic floors, the elevators! It’s still stunning after all these years. 124 to be exact, having been completed in 1896. At that time it was the largest office building in the world. In the world!
It’s definitely castle worthy.
The Old Post Office / ECC City Campus
Back out on the street, I take Aoife through an alley over to the Old Post Office. She takes one look and states, “I think this one is a castle, Nana.” I agree. What do you think?
It was completed in 1901, and had three government architects, Jeremiah O’Rourke, William Aiken and James Knox Taylor. It’s a mix of styles between Victorian Gothic and Richardsonian Romanesque.
And to a kid this one is perhaps the most castle-like of all. It’s a real stunner! And like city hall, there are a lot of details to look at here. Gargoyles, eagles, lynx and bison. And, like the Ellicott Square Building, the inside is amazing! In Aoife’s words, “Woah…”
One M&T Plaza
As Aoife and I head back to Main Street, we see One M&T Plaza. She tells me she doesn’t think this one is a castle. But the closer we get, I can see the wheels turning. And I think she’s changing her mind.
Then we see it. The fountain. That puts her over the edge. It goes on the list. It’s a castle to Aoife because of the fountain. Ah! To be three and have your only responsibility be the discovery of everything around you. That fountain made her so happy.
I’m beginning to think Aoife does have a great eye, because this fountain was designed by Harry Bertoia, and I’ve heard his larger sculptures now sell for upwards of a million dollars! It is a beautiful fountain, and its curves are a nice contrast to the modern, straight lines of the building.
So One M&T Plaza was designed by Minoru Yamasaki and was completed in 1966. He was finishing up this building while starting his next job, the World Trade Center (Twin Towers) in New York City. I don’t have to tell you what happened to that building. Let’s suffice it to say that I am grateful that we still have this building to show off to our grandchildren.
One M&T Plaza is the Buffalo Headquarters of M&T Bank here in Buffalo. And I gotta tell you, they have been Buffalo boosters since their inception in 1856. They’ve stayed true to Buffalo all this time. And they continue to do so. No, I do not work for M&T. I just happen to think that they’ve been good to Buffalo.
The Hotel Lafayette
As we head into Lafayette Square, Aoife points out the Hotel Lafayette and says, “I pick that castle, Nana.” I was wondering what she meant, when she went on to say, “It’s a good one! Just look!”
She’s right. Just look at it.
Completed in 1904 (with two additions to follow), it’s an awesome building. And it was designed by the first working woman architect in the country, Louise Blanchard Bethune. She was a Buffalonian! And apparently she was quite a woman. She reportedly would be shouted at in the streets for riding her bicycle, something that was considered unseemly for a woman in the 1880s and 90s. Can you imagine? No, I can’t either. I would have been in trouble all the time back then!
Read my post here for more about Louise. She was really an interesting woman.
The Hotel Lafayette is now a mix of apartments and hotel rooms, banquet halls, a coffee shop, full service restaurant, and a working brewery. That’s a mouth full. The Lafayette is excellent, inside and out. Castle worthy.
The Rand Building
The Rand Building is, to me, a beautiful building that I don’t think gets enough respect. In fact, I wrote a post about it, where I give my humble opinion about why it doesn’t get the respect I think it deserves. Because I think this building is cool. Strong, solid, and true.
It was built for the Marine Bank and named for George F. Rand Sr., who was at one time the President of Marine Bank here in Buffalo. It was completed in 1929 and was the last commercial building to be built in Buffalo before the stock market crash and the depression began. True to its time period, it’s a decent example of Art Deco design. But you’ve got to really look at it to notice all the subtleties of the design.
I love it, and so does Aoife. Come to think of it, so does Aoife’s father, my son. All fans of the Rand. It’s a castle.
Buffalo Savings Bank / Goldome Bank / M&T Bank
This is probably Aoife’s least favorite Buffalo Castle. I don’t have a clue why. What child wouldn’t be impressed with that shiny gold dome atop this incredible neoclassical, Beaux-Arts style building?
Well, Aoife apparently. She told me that she likes it, but she doesn’t love it. To be fair, we didn’t go inside. That would have elevated its status, I’m sure. The inside is nothing short of magnificent. I love it.
It’s a Green & Wicks design and was completed in 1901 as the Buffalo Savings Bank. It was billed as the working man’s bank. You see, up until this point, banking was reserved for the rich. It gave regular people incentive to save their money for whatever it is they desired. Cool.
Interesting side note: the dome was not originally gold. 24-carat gold leaf was added when Goldome Bank took over the building. The cost to cover the dome with 140,000 sheets of gold leaf was $500,000. More than it cost to build the original building!
It’s a Buffalo castle! I don’t care what Aoife says!
My Impressions of Buffalo Castles
Well, I’m exhausted! Aoife wore me out ‘going walking’ looking at all the Buffalo castles. You know, there’s a reason why people have babies when they’re young! I’m just kidding. Aoife was exhausted too! But not too tired to pose with Daddy at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the center of Lafayette Square.
Sometimes I think it’s a good idea to look at something through someone else’s eyes. And sometimes it’s great to see things through the eyes of a child. We walk, ride and drive around the streets of downtown Buffalo and totally miss the amazing architecture all around us.
These buildings that Aoife and I have deemed ‘castles’ are not by any means a complete list. These are just some of our favorites.
Take an urban hike. Look around. Really see our city. Choose your own castles. If you’ve got children or grandchildren, take them with you and look at the city through their eyes. It’ll be like seeing it for the first time. And they may surprise you with their insight and their opinions. Even Aoife, at three, offers these. The way she fell in love with the fountain, or the Hotel Lafayette. It was pretty cool to see.
Get out and enjoy your city Buffalo!
*Get the book! They make great keepsakes or gifts for friends and family. Click here or on the photo below. They make great gifts!
*All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.
Blessed Trinity Church has been on my list of things to write about for quite some time. And recently, I’ve received several emails asking me to write about it. Because I love this church so much and because it’s one of Buffalo’s greatest treasures, how could I refuse?
It was my husband’s Grandmother’s church when they lived around the block on Kensington Avenue. I knew Grammy Z, as we called her, for many years before she passed away. She wasn’t an easy person to get to know, didn’t open up very often. But she did talk to me about her years at Blessed Trinity. She didn’t give me very many details, (it simply wasn’t her way) but I got the idea she was comfortable there. So that made me want to see it.
When my husband and I decided to visit a different church every Sunday during lent, based on the tradition to visit seven churches on Holy Thursday, Blessed Trinity went on the list.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Early History of Blessed Trinity
In June of 1906, Bishop Charles Colton established Blessed Trinity Parish in the mostly German and Irish neighborhood on the East Side. The first pastor was Father John Pfluger. The first mass was held on the third floor of a building at 175 Dewey, at the corner of Sanford. The building also housed a grocery store and apartments on the first two floors.
A very humble beginning when you think of the magnificent church that was to come.
The church was legally incorporated by the end of 1907 and had acquired land on Leroy Avenue. A combination of church, school, and social hall was erected. The basement walls were built from the stone that had to be excavated in order to build. Also, the architects didn’t wire the building because it was thought that power would never be brought this far out of the city.
It was very common back in the day to have this combination type of building as a ‘starter’ church while a congregation grew. That way, if the congregation didn’t grow, not too much money was lost on an elaborate church building.
Well, Blessed Trinity grew. There were 60 people in attendance at that first mass. By sometime in 1908, the Sisters of St. Joseph began teaching in the school on the second floor. By 1911, there were 400 families. Two years after that, a rectory was built. The growth continued.
Fr. Albert Fritton
In 1914, Father Albert Fritton came to Blessed Trinity as the new pastor. He concentrated his efforts on growing the school. By 1919 there were over 300 students in attendance. Pretty crowded for a second-floor school in a combination building! The need for a new church became apparent and Fr. Fritton began to make plans.
He knew what he wanted, and told the congregation it “will be one of the finest in Buffalo. We shall be proud of it, the city will be proud of it, and God will be proud of it.”
By 1923, the architectural firm of Oakley and Schallmo had completed the plans and building commenced. It took five long years to build, and more than double the budget to complete. In the end, the final cost was $513,000, or just about $7.5 million today. The parish would not pay off the debt until 1953!
Let’s Take a Minute Here
I just want to take a minute to discuss the cost involved in building a church of this kind. I try to imagine how the congregation of my current church would react to the pastor asking for even half of $7.5 million.
In 1925 the average weekly income in the U.S. was $36.37. Remember that most households at the time had just that one income. For the people of Blessed Trinity’s parish to raise enough money to pay off a $513,000 debt was astronomical.
It happened all over the city though. At all the churches. Of all denominations. Maybe not to this extent, but these people made sacrifices to finance the great churches we admire today. Do you think these early Buffalonians understood what they were doing for us when they committed their hard-earned dollars to finance Buffalo’s churches?
More than likely, some did and some didn’t. Some gave freely, some reluctantly. Some gave for the glory of God, some for the glory of the architecture. Still, others gave to make themselves feel good, some did it to impress others.
For whatever reason, I am certainly glad they did! We have been blessed through their efforts.
Getting Back to Blessed Trinity
Let’s get into discussing the church itself. The design is Lombard-Romanesque, rarely seen outside of Italy. Buffalo’s own Jozef Mazur painted the murals in the dome, transept and choir loft. And they are fantastic! Many, many other artists and craftsmen contributed as well. The entire inside of the church is adorned with paintings, mosaics, sculptures, statues, reliefs, wood carvings, stained glass and tile work. It’s impossible to describe with words.
The outside of the building is unique as well. The structure is made of Harvard brick, which is a medieval brick-making process that does not use molds to form the bricks themselves. The bricks here were made in New Hampshire by French immigrants who used antiquated tools and methods to create each brick by hand. The result is the appearance of a much older, rudimentary design. The process was used in more “modern” design as a handmade, artisan brick. They’re stronger than our more modern bricks, and the mortar adheres to them better.
It completely fascinated me when I saw it for the first time. It still does. I kept trying to figure out the pattern. I didn’t realize at the time, there was no pattern, and that’s the genius of it. That someone could use these bricks and create a level, precise, true building. And yet, this building is as straight and true and they come.
The Terra Cotta!
I’ve read that the terra cotta on this church contains the most colorful use of terra cotta in the country. I should also mention that it holds over 2,000 symbols of Christianity. Two thousand. There are the Ten Commandments, the Blessed Trinity, the Our Father, the Apostles Creed, and many more. The symbolism was designed by Father Thomas Plassman, who was the President of St. Bonaventure University and also happened to be a good friend of Fr. Fritton. The two were seminarians together in Austria and traveled to northern Italy where they learned about Lombard Romanesque design.
What a stroke of luck for us that these two priests ended up here in the Buffalo area.
Blessed Trinity Through the Years
Blessed Trinity thrived as a parish through the 1950s, but went the way of most of Buffalo’s churches in the 60s and 70s. Attendance fell off, pews were empty and the school suffered. The Sisters of St. Joseph announced in June of 1975 that they could no longer staff the school. It closed in 1976.
Fr. Walter Kern, who had become the pastor in 1974, researched and wrote an illustrated handbook about the church which attracted the attention of the Buffalo Preservation Board. The board recognized the building as a City Landmark. Two years later the church was accepted onto the National Record of Historic Places. It’s only right. This place is exceptional in every way.
The church is open now with Covid-19 limitations, like all churches in NY State. They continue as a close-knit community, small in numbers, but large in enthusiasm and faith.
One Last Thing
Current event at the church. From Blessed Trinity’s Facebook page:
“On Tuesday night, July 28, the recently rebuilt plaza in front of Blessed Trinity Church sustained substantial damage when a driver heading west on Leroy lost control of his vehicle and crashed through the retaining wall on the east (ramp) side of the church. The car became airborne, landing on its roof in the center of the plaza near the street-level stairs. By the grace of God, the driver and passenger were able to walk away and the church itself does not appear to have been damaged. The accident has been reported to the driver’s insurance carrier, and [the] masons who performed earlier work will be returning to estimate the time and cost involved in restoring the area once again.”
Blessed Trinity Church is such an impressive building. I cannot stress this enough. You could literally (or I could anyway) spend hours just looking at all the details that are everywhere inside and outside this place.
But on that day when I first experienced it, at a Lenten mass all those years ago, what impressed me the most was the friendliness of the congregation. We were obviously not parishioners. There were only about 30 other people in attendance, besides our little group. At both the sign of peace, and after the mass itself, people approached us and welcomed us with open arms. They asked about our home parish, talked openly about the neighborhood, and the church itself. One woman even took me into the sanctuary to show me a particularly beautiful icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I can tell you this. I don’t think Grammy Z felt the grandeur of Blessed Trinity was necessary. When we spoke of the church, she only talked about a couple of priests she particularly liked, and one or two friends she made there. Never mentioned the architecture. That’s why I was so blown away when I went there for the first time. This incredible masterpiece and she never mentioned it. Only a few people who made a difference to her. Keeps it all in perspective, doesn’t it?
Go see this church. If you don’t go to any other, go see this one. You will be as amazed as I was. Blessed Trinity offers tours by volunteer docents. Just call the rectory, or contact them through their website. You’ll love it!
You’re in Niagara Square, downtown Buffalo. You’re with friends from out of town, showing them around. What are you looking at? My guess is it’s not the Michael J. Dillon U.S. Courthouse or the Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building. Am I right?
You know I am. You’re looking at those ‘other’ buildings. And why not? They’re gorgeous!
It’s just that these three buildings get all the credit for being the big draws in Niagara Square. And they are all great. Even the 2011 Robert H. Jackson U.S. Courthouse; it’s beautiful! I’ll admit when they first announced it was being built, I was skeptical. I mean, you can’t blame me, Niagara Square goes way back in Buffalo’s history. Back to 1804. It’s where Joseph Ellicott began when he set out to design our city streets. But this new build fits in nicely here. And of course, the Statler and City Hall have always been welcome in our streetscape.
But there I go, ignoring the two buildings I’m here to talk about. It’s easy to do. In Buffalo, we’re surrounded by such great architecture, that it’s easy to get hung up on all the greats and forget about the others that are exceptional in their own right.
The Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building
Let’s start with the Buffalo State Office Building. It’s opposite city hall, on the north side of Court Street. It’s on the site of Buffalo’s first Central High School, which was built in 1854. That’ll give you an idea of what this neighborhood was like back in the 1850s. It was a good mix of industry and residences. Enough residences to warrant the school anyway.
By 1914 the industry had taken over enough that the school merged into the Hutchinson building on South Elmwood Avenue, and the school became Hutchinson Central School.
Incidentally, in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Central High School Building was put to use as Buffalo’s pandemic hospital. It was open to flu victims from October until December that year. From September when Buffalonians first started getting sick, until the end of the year over 2,500 people in Buffalo lost their lives to the Spanish Flu. Many of them in the building pictured above.
Back to the Building
The Central High School Building was torn down in 1926 to make way for Buffalo’s State Office Building. The building is a Neoclassical Monumental design, but it’s got some cool art deco details. It was built between 1928-1932. The architects were E.B. Green & Sons, with Albert Hopkins. In 1930 the cornerstone was laid by then Governor Franklin Roosevelt.
In 1982, the name was changed to the Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building. Walter Mahoney was a local state legislator, a Canisius College and UB School of Law graduate. He served for almost 30 years in the State Senate, before becoming a NYS State Supreme Court Judge.
Note from the photos below the use of owls, to signify wisdom and the reliefs of the seals of both the city of Buffalo and the State of New York. And the bison of course. Love, love, love this entryway.
And all of that is just the outside. Enter the building and this is some of what you will be treated to! There are murals all over the ceilings, but are so faded (faint?) that they don’t photograph well.
The Walter J. Mahoney NYS Office Building is, and will remain one of my favorites in the downtown core.
The Michael J. Dillon United States Courthouse
Moving across the street to a building that compliments the NYS Office Building very well, is the Michael J. Dillon United States Courthouse.
This building was built in 1936 as part of the New Deal Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932. In a nutshell, the bill authorized the construction of federal buildings across the U.S. in order to put construction workers back to work. It also recognized the impact of the depression on architects, and in some cases, local architects were used for federal buildings.
This is one of those cases. Bley and Lyman worked with E.B. Green and Sons on this building. It’s a perfect complement to the Walter Mahoney building across the street. Then-President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated this courthouse in October of 1936.
This building is the same style as the State Building, Neoclassical Monumental with Art Deco ornamentation. This one, however, is pentagonal in shape, to accommodate the odd-shaped lot, due to Ellicott’s radial street design. It also has more ornamentation. I absolutely love the art deco touches on this building.
The courthouse was re-named in 1987 in honor of Michael J. Dillon, who served as a longtime IRS agent who was murdered in the line of duty.
And now, it’s Buffalo’s new public safety complex, housing both Police and Fire Headquarters. The city acquired the building in 2016, renovations were made and both organizations were completely moved in by November 2018.
The building represents everything the people using them should be, strong, solid, fair. Let’s hope it’s used well in the future.
When I’m out on my urban hikes, I like to look at things I wouldn’t notice if I were in a car, or even on a bike. I’ve admired these buildings for so long now, and I sometimes wonder if other people see them the way I do. I see the intersection of Niagara Square at Court Street as one of the most architecturally cohesive spots in the city. The perfect complement to Niagara Square itself.
Sitting right at the apex of one of Buffalo’s most recognized views, these two buildings largely get ignored. Probably because when you’re looking at that coveted view, the two are on either side of you as you gaze out at the famed McKinley Monument and City Hall.
And the reason these two buildings complement each other so well is thanks to E.B. Green. I like to think he knew exactly what he was doing on that corner. City Hall and the State Building were recently completed when the courthouse was being built. The McKinley Monument was already there, and knowing that everyone would be looking at City Hall, Green designed these buildings to be understated, but fantastic just the same. And the Art Deco ornamentation on them is hard to beat, and a lot of it is similar and even matches on both buildings. I cannot say enough about the ornamentation!
Next time you find yourself near Niagara Square, take a moment to look at these two buildings nobody talks about. Seriously, you’ll be glad you did!
Oh, and p.s. – Scenes from the movie “Marshall” were filmed in the Michael J. Dillon U.S. Courthouse!
*All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.
I’ve been wanting to write this post about the Delaware Midway Rowhouses for some time now, and since I was literally around the block last week learning more about Franklin Street, I decided this was a good time.
Over the past several years, I’ve learned quite a bit about these rowhouses, been in a few of them, and have read quite a bit about them. I’m not even sure why they fascinate me so much. I don’t think I’d like to live in one. I like my patio and my yard too much for that. But I get it that a lot of people don’t want a yard. Let me explain.
You see, in the 1890s, the city of Buffalo was getting crowded with both industry and residences. The wealthiest among us were moving north of the city to escape the soot of industry and overcrowding. They were beginning to build grand estates along Delaware Avenue. You’ve seen them. All those big beautiful homes along Millionaires Row. We’ve lost some of them, but quite a few are still there today.
What you may not know is that most of them had extensive real estate attached as ‘green space’, or yards. For example, the mansions along the west side of Delaware had yards that extended all the way to where Richmond Avenue is today. This was, of course, before Elmwood Avenue existed.
Time for a Quick Daydream
I’ve wished, more than once, that I could have seen the Rumsey Estate on Delaware Ave between Tracy and West Tupper back in the day. Take a look at the photo below. This is Bronson Rumsey Sr.’s backyard on Delaware Avenue. And this isn’t even one-tenth of the property. It must have been an amazing sight to see!
But think of this. A tremendous amount of time and effort goes into caring for all that property and everything that went along with it. I mean, we’re talking extensive patios, gardens (both flower and vegetable), orchards, woods, creeks, ponds, and more. And sure, the wealthy employed small armies of people to manage and maintain the properties, but the buck stops with the owner in the end. And there had to be constant issues relating to all that responsibility.
That brings me back to reality. End daydream.
Enter the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware Ave.
The building of these remarkably upscale rowhouses was an incredible idea. These homes allowed wealthy socialites to enjoy life in a mansion, but without all the property to maintain. I always thought that back in the day, one of these homes would be perfect for a single man, or a single woman, or maybe the widow of a wealthy businessman. It would allow them easy access to their socialite friends, genteel living, and also that coveted Delaware Avenue address.
If that’s what matters to you of course. And back when these houses were built, those things mattered to almost all the movers and shakers in Buffalo. These rowhouses gave that to them, without all the hassle of the upkeep.
And, these homes were designed by some of the best architects our city had to offer. Green & Wicks, Marling & Johnson, George Cary to name a few. They were all built in the 1890s. The architects showed amazing talent by working within the constricts of the other designs to create a cohesive, beautiful row of some of Buffalo’s best homes.
Let’s get into talking about some of these homes.
The One We Lost
On the south end of the block, there was originally a home where there is now a parking lot. It was at number 469. It was torn down in the late 1980s after the building suffered a small fire. Such was the way back then. Got a problem with a building? Just tear it down. This one was a real loss in my book. In my humble opinion, it anchored the entire row. What a shame to make it a parking lot.
Thankfully though, this kind of thing is not really happening in Buffalo anymore. We’ve come to appreciate the architectural treasures that grace our streets, and steps are taken to preserve them. For this, I am grateful.
471 Delaware Ave. – Dr. Ernest Wende House
This house was built for Dr. Ernest Wende and his wife Frances Cutler. They lived in the home with their children, Margaret, Hamilton and Flavilla until 1910, when Dr. Wende’s brother, Grover (Dr.), his wife Elizabeth and son David moved in. They stayed in the house through the 1920s.
Scott Croce purchased this building in 2016 and his plans were to renovate the first three floors as office space, with residential space on the top floor. Oh, and a possible rooftop patio. That would be sweet!
Looks like Croce has moved forward, on the outside as least. I don’t know about you, but I love the new paint job. Remember the mustard-y yellow some of the trim was before? The white really allows the details to pop!
475 Delaware – One of My Favorites
So this amazing example of a Renaissance Revival home was built for John Strootman. It is now owned by Scott Croce as well. He bought it in 2018, and plans were to build two large residential units on the upper floors, with office space below. With just over 9000 square feet to work with, there’s certainly room for it.
Love the lions!
This one is, by the way, available for lease at the writing of this post.
Next Up – the Birge-Horton / DAR House
This home was built in 1896 (the last rowhouse to be completed) for Henry Birge, one of Martin Birge’s sons who came into the wallpaper business with him. Although there is evidence that the actual purchaser was Henry’s wife, Fanny. The Birge Wallpaper Company was a hugely successful Buffalo business, so it is fitting that one of the Birge family members built one of the Midway Rowhouses. For some reason, this house gets called the George K. Birge House quite often. Not sure why. George was Henry’s older brother and built a mansion for himself on Symphony Circle.
Anyway, this house was designed by none other than Green & Wicks. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know they were perhaps the busiest and most popular architects in Buffalo at the turn of the 20th Century.
The Birges did not live in the house long. Henry’s health was failing and had to leave his position with the wallpaper firm in 1900. Henry and Fanny moved out of town, and shortly after, divorced. Henry passed away in 1904, leaving most of his estate to Fanny.
The home was rented to prominent Buffalonians for several years, including Peter Porter, Mrs. Frances Wolcott and her son Lyman Bass (a well-known attorney). In 1906, Katharine Pratt Horton moved in. She rented for 16 years before finally purchasing the home from Fanny. She stayed for the rest of her life. When she passed away, she left the home to the Daughters of the American Revolution. So, this home has only had three owners. City records still show Katharine and DAR as the current owners.
Interesting history on this one.
479 Delaware Ave – Harlow C. Curtiss House
This beauty right next door to the DAR home was built for Harlow and Ethel Curtiss. Harlow was an attorney and real estate developer. The couple only lived in the home for two years! They went on to live in a much larger mansion further north on Delaware Avenue and later on Lincoln Parkway. These two were certainly movers and shakers!
This Colonial Revival was built for Dr. Bernard Bartow, who was one of the founders of our Children’s Hospital.
Which is cool, but the real story here is that amazing window! It was added in the 1930s and was designed by interior designer Frederick Pike. It was probably added because the building was going to be used for some type of commercial use. The two cast-iron figures are a craftsman and an artist. The whole window just works. It was done very well, and to my untrained eye, looks fabulous!
This home is one of four rowhouses purchased by the owners of the Rowhouse Bakery and Restaurant (closed). The group spent several years joining three of the four homes and renovating the interior. It was a beautiful space for a very upscale bakery and restaurant.
I relished my time there, sipping tea and eating scones in the most beautiful bakery in Buffalo. I must admit though, every time I was there, I wondered if they hadn’t spent too much time and money on the interior. Wish they could have made a go of it.
It was lovely while it lasted.
The fourth home is apartments and an antique shop. The antique shop is run by the owners of the bakery, and it’s unclear whether it will survive. I tried to reach the owners for comment, but their phone numbers are no longer in use. These four homes are ones to watch.
491 Delaware Ave – Charles Miller Morse House
As far as I can tell, this is a single-family home that had deteriorated pretty badly before being purchased by two businessmen, Walter McFarlane and Lenny Alba in 2013 for just over $302,000. It was originally built for Charles Miller Morse. McFarlane and Alba worked to restore the structure to its former glory even adding a custom stained glass window above the circular staircase with the Morse family crest in the center. Nice touch.
They then sold the home for $787,000 in 2015. I believe the new owner, the Newberry Construction Company, added the orange trim to the front facade and that it’s still a single-family home. Whether or not it’s being used as such, is unclear.
I must say, I like what they’ve done with the place. Can you picture yourself sitting out on that terrace in the morning with a cup of tea, or in the evening watching the sun go down behind the Cornell Mansion? I can. But then, you know my propensity for daydreams.
Take a look at photos of the interior before the home was sold in 2015 here.
493 Delaware – Herman Hayd House
This home was built for Herman Hayd but is now owned by Paul Jacobs Jr. It appears the building has two commercial tenants. It’s actually better looking in person, the photos I took don’t do it justice.
497 Delaware Ave – Stella Lowry House
This home was built for Mrs. William H. (Stella) Lowry, who moved in with her two daughters Stella and Lily. The three moved in and out of the home several times, moving to The Lenox Hotel, The Trubee (now The Mansion on Delaware), and the ‘Niagara’. All the while maintaining a heavy social schedule and leasing the property to various wealthy Buffalonians along the way.
Mrs. Stella Lowry passed away in 1914. Daughter Stella ended up back at 497 and lived out her days here, passing away in 1942. She is thought to be the last original occupant of the Midway to live there.
Now, the current owner. This is where it gets interesting. His name is Michael Meade, and he’s a Buffalo native. Last September he was named CEO of Sullivan’s Brewing Company USA. The brewery is a Kilkenny, Ireland based brewery that is expanding into the US, beginning with Buffalo!
What’s the Big Deal You Ask?
It may not be a big deal to everyone. But to me, it is. Bear with me, please.
The reason I’m so happy about this is because my husband and I visited Kilkenny, Ireland a couple of years ago. It’s a small, but historic town. We took a bike tour and got talking with our guide, Ronan. He was a retired Smithwick’s brewer. Ronan told us about how the Smithwick’s Brewery in Kilkenny was closed by Guinness in 2013 (Guinness bought Smithwick’s back in 1965) and how many people lost their jobs and were still struggling in the small town. Long story short, we met up with Ronan at a pub later in the day and got to know him a bit. We kept in touch for a while.
I’m hoping some of the displaced workers from the wide layoffs in 2013 have been put back to work by Sullivan’s Brewing.
And, Michael Meade, the new CEO here in the US, launched the brewery’s USA debut from the Stella Lowry House! Meade intends to make it his permanent home.
And Buffalo has been chosen to debut all the brewery’s beer that they choose to export to the USA. It’s available now at several bars in town. Cool.
Sullivan’s and Smithwick’s breweries both started out as family-owned businesses, and Sullivan’s is family-owned again. By members of both families. The history of these two breweries are intertwined, as are their future. It’s just a great story. I guess that’s why I’m so happy their US CEO bought this house. Read details about the breweries here, and here.
Plus, this kind of thing fits in so well with Buffalo’s extensive brewing history, and the thriving craft beer industry in Buffalo today.
499 Delaware Ave – Bryant B. Glenny House
Back to the houses. This one was built for Bryant Glenny, son of William H. Glenny, the namesake for the Glenny Building on Main Street near Swan. Not too shabby for the son of an Irish immigrant, to live at one of the most prestigious addresses in the city back in the day. And in one of the most unique architectural treasures in the city.
The home is now 5+ apartments. It’s still a great northern anchor to the row.
My Impressions of the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware
Writing this post has given me a chance to take a fresh look at the Midway Rowhouses. I guess I got so used to riding past on my bike or driving by in my car, that I’d forgotten to notice the wonder of them. Another architectural masterpiece hiding in plain sight. It’s amazing how each home is completely different from the one next to it, and yet it works. It just does.
Now, is every one of them in perfect shape? No. But none of them are falling down either. I like that some are a mix of offices and apartments, but I also like that a couple are still single-family homes. I’d like to see rooftop terraces on one or two of them too. You never know, it could happen.
And, as a city, we’re getting better at saving our great homes and buildings. Like I said earlier in the post, for this I am grateful.
Next time you’re out and about, plan a walk past the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware Avenue. See it from both sides of the street. Look at the homes with fresh eyes and enjoy the brilliance of the architecture. Really see your city. It’s beautiful. And you never know what you might learn!