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!
Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a gentleman about the West Side of Buffalo, just after I published my post about Assumption Church. Twenty minutes in, I found out he lives in a converted firehouse. In that same conversation, he very politely told me that he and his wife were no longer comfortable with public posts about their home. I understood completely.
Only a day or two later, I was contacted through Instagram by a Buffalo Firefighter (Richie) who works at Engine 26 on Tonawanda Street. He mentioned that Engine 26 is housed in a beautiful, historic building, and offered to give me a tour.
One Door Closes, Another One Opens
Well, since I’ve never turned down a tour of any building, I didn’t intend to turn down this one either. The upcoming tour got me to thinking about the role of the Buffalo Firefighters, and how things have changed for them since 1817 when the first fire company was formed in Buffalo.
And as it turns out, I had a few weeks to think about it. You see, we had to reschedule the tour a few times, because, well, apparently firefighting duties trump meeting with bloggers. Ha! But eventually, we made it work.
Let’s take a look.
A Little Bit of Buffalo Background
Before we talk about the building itself, let’s discuss fires in early Buffalo.
During the War of 1812, in December of 1813, the British Army burned the village of Buffalo. Some accounts say one building survived, some say four did. Either way, we were pretty much leveled. After that, homeowners were required to have leather buckets on hand, to fight fires when they occurred.
If you spend any time reading the history of Buffalo, then you know how many fires have ravaged the buildings here. I am forever reading the history of a building, only to find that ‘the first building on this site was lost to fire’, or something to that effect.
It stands to reason. I mean, most buildings were built of wood back then because it was the most readily available material around at the time. And when all the buildings are built of wood, well, we need only ask our neighbors in Chicago what could happen if a fire were to break out.
The Buffalo Fire Department
A few years later, 1817 to be exact, the first Buffalo fire company was formed with volunteers. The first hand-drawn pumper was acquired in 1824, effectively creating Engine No. 1 for the Buffalo Fire Department. Official volunteers were organized by the city in 1831 when the very first “Hook & Ladder” truck was purchased. This truck carried all the tools of the trade at the time, which included lengths of leather hose, hooks, ropes, axes, and ladders. Now, don’t get ahead of me here. This wasn’t a truck as we now know them. It was a horse-drawn vehicle. Something like the one pictured below.
By the early 1850s, residents petitioned for a paid fire department. The city turned them down. But in 1859, the first steam-powered engine was purchased. It required a team of horses to pull it, a driver to drive the horses, an engineer to run it, and a man to stoke the furnace. And so, for the first time, the city was forced to pay firefighters.
As the city continued to grow, so did the fire department. “By 1900, the Department had grown to 26 Engines, nine Hook & Ladders, six Battalion Chiefs, five Chemical companies, and two Fireboats.”* The photo below is an early photograph of Engine 26 which was built in 1894. The architect was F.W. Humble, who worked out of the German Insurance Building on Main Street at the corner of Lafayette.
Note the dormers on the front and side of the building. Both have been removed. Gone as well is the rectangular tower on the north side of the building. This is interesting. It originally housed a ‘closet’ where firefighters would climb ladders to the top of the tower and hang the hoses to dry. Thankfully, this is no longer necessary. I’m guessing that the tower at some point needed extensive repairs, and since it was no longer being used, it was simply removed. But the rest of the ‘closet’ still exists inside the building today. I cannot speak for the dormers.
Fire Alarm Boxes
Buffalo first used alarm boxes in 1866. When a fire occurred, a person could pull a hook or turn a knob inside the box and the mechanism would be activated, causing a spring-loaded wheel to turn. This action would tap out a signal to correspond with the location of the fire at the firehouse and simultaneously cause an alarm. In effect both alerting the firefighters of the fire, and letting them know the location of it. I admit I’ve never thought about how old alarm boxes worked. It’s kind of fascinating really.
Engine 26 still has the alarm box mechanics in place, but of course, they are no longer used. The photos below show both the box that holds the fuses and the chart that shows the corresponding street where an alarm would have been pulled. Engine 26 still serves these same streets, but thankfully, with more updated alarm systems in place. 😉
Edward M. Cotter Fireboat
Since we’re discussing a little bit of the history of the Buffalo Fire Department as well as the building at Engine 26, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the Edward M. Cotter Fireboat, which was built in 1900. It is the oldest working fireboat in the world, and it belongs to our own Buffalo Fire Department. The boat has undergone several renovations over the years, including extensive repairs to the hull and propellers in 2019. The Cotter can frequently be seen in the Buffalo River, where it’s permanently docked.
A Bit More of Buffalo Fire Department History
Hours were long for early firefighters in Buffalo. In the horse-drawn era, they worked seven days a week, 21 hours a day. They had a total of 3 hours a day off for meals plus two days off per month. Woah! Who would have wanted to be a firefighter back in the day? I mean, I know sleeping was (and still is) allowed, but when did they go home? Talk about a lack of work/life balance!
The work week was shortened to 84 hours in 1916. Called the Two Platoon System, one platoon would work days, and one would work nights. Five, twelve-hour days plus one, 24 hour day to allow the other ‘platoon’ to have 24 straight hours off, once a week. This must have made a huge difference in their lives!
It wasn’t until 1975, that the Buffalo Fire Department moved to a 40 hour work week and a two-day, two-night rotation. So, they work 24 hours, twice a week, with 24 hours in between, with four days (not necessarily consecutive) off per week. This has to make for a much better work/life balance.
The Crash and Rescue Unit at the Airport was created in 1942.
And get this, in 1952 the title ‘fireman’ was changed to ‘firefighter’. But Buffalo didn’t hire a woman firefighter until 1980! That’s late ladies! But, better late than never, I suppose.
The Fire Prevention Bureau
Buffalo’s Fire Prevention Bureau was formed in 1941. Remember fire prevention poster contests? When I was a kid, school children would create posters and firefighters would choose the best in each grade level. Winners were notified by phone and would go to their local firehouse to pick up their trophies. They were also treated to a tour, including climbing on the fire trucks.
Is this still a thing? Do they still have these contests?
One year I won a trophy for fire prevention week, and it was a big deal! I remember it very clearly. My family spent an hour or so at the firehouse climbing all over the equipment, and my mother baked a cake in my honor. And someone snapped a photo of the day. I was thrilled. That’s me, front and center with the big, toothy grin!
My Impressions of Engine 26
When I first heard from Richie from Engine 26, I figured this post would be about the building. I mean, he was right that Engine 26 is housed in a beautiful historic building. But at present, the inside is just functional. And I suppose that’s all it ever was. The outside seems special for a firehouse. But that’s because in 1894 most municipal buildings were built this way. It was the standard at the time. Gorgeous to look at anyway. And I love the fact that Richie loves the building he works in.
The basement was cool, with exposed early steel frame construction. I’ve never had the chance to see it up close before. I appreciated that.
But what I was most impressed with was the history of the Buffalo Fire Department. Or should I say the evolution of the Buffalo Fire Department? It’s been around since very early on. It’s grown and changed along with the city itself, according to our needs. And it’s impressive. Also, I’m humbled that I’ve never really looked into it before now, but I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to share it with you.
These men and women are always on duty, waiting to help any one, or all of us in our time of need. That is, in my book, the very definition of a first responder. I’m glad I understand what they do a little bit better. Thank you for that Richie. And thank you for what you and your colleagues do every day.
Oh, and one more thing about Engine 26…
Here are just a few more shots at the fire house. And yes, that’s a genuine firefighter’s pole on the lower left. It’s not used any longer, but Richie seemed to think it is the only one left in the city…cool!
**All the photos in this post are mine, unless otherwise noted.
This week, I’ve decided to write about St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful churches in Buffalo. It’s been here a long, long time, since 1851, and it is a true Buffalo treasure.
The congregation of St. Paul’s Episcopal incorporated as a church in 1817 and it’s the second oldest religious congregation in the city. First Presbyterian was the first (1812) and interestingly enough, St. Paul’s founders were First Pres congregants. It’s not that they were unhappy where they were, but there was nowhere else for these early Episcopalians to worship but with the Presbyterian church.
After incorporating, the first couple of years were lean. Lacking funds, St. Paul’s congregation worshiped in various spaces in the city, including taverns. They eventually appealed to the Holland Land Company, who donated the land the church still sits on today. It just so happened that the plot of land was right across the street from First Pres. The first structure built was a wooden church, completed in 1819. As the congregation grew, they added on to that original church twice.
Reverend William Shelton
The Reverend William Shelton came to St. Paul’s in 1829, and he would stay until 1881. Impressive, especially since he almost didn’t stay in Buffalo at all. You see, Shelton passed through Buffalo in 1827 on his way to Canada. The congregation asked him to stay on at St. Paul’s. Shelton refused and went on his way. Two years later, they extended the invitation again. This time, Shelton agreed and he came to Buffalo to stay.
Rev. William Shelton was an interesting person. He gave the sermon at President Millard Fillmore’s funeral service. You heard that right. President Millard Fillmore was a member of St. Paul’s and was laid in state in the church before being buried out of it, in Forest Lawn.
Shelton was an imposing figure in early Buffalo. He took great interest in all that went on here. He kept St. Paul’s focused on its mission of helping the poor among us. He was also very popular. So popular in fact, that people referred to the area around the church as Shelton Square. In true Buffalo form, the name stuck and lasted until the 1970s.
Shelton also presided over the building of the permanent church we know today. Let’s get into that now.
St. Paul’s & Buffalo
The history of St. Paul’s parallels the history of Buffalo somewhat. You could say they grew up together.
The building of the Erie Canal began in 1817, the same year St. Paul’s congregation was started. In 1819, the first wooden structure of St. Paul’s was built. It was consecrated in 1821. The Erie Canal opened in 1825, with its terminus here in Buffalo. After that, Buffalo grew by leaps and bounds. So did St. Paul’s.
By 1849, the waterfront was booming, burgeoning with commerce. And St. Paul’s was burgeoning with congregants. They needed a new, larger church to accommodate their growing numbers.
A New Church
Well known architect Richard Upjohn was engaged to design St. Paul’s. Upjohn was perhaps the greatest Gothic church designer in America at the time. He’s best remembered for designing Trinity Church in New York City. But I’ve read that he considered St. Paul’s Episcopal his best work. Of course, here in Buffalo, we agree with that notion.
Built on a triangular piece of property, no matter what side of the building you look at, it looks as though you’re seeing the front of the building, or the main entrance if you will. The style is English Gothic, evidenced by its pointed arches, lancet windows (tall, narrow, pointed at the top), and asymmetrical design. The spires show English influence as well. If you compare St. Joseph’s Cathedral (which is just around the block) you can see the clear difference between its French Gothic design and the English Gothic style of St. Paul’s.
Here’s an interesting little tidbit. St. Paul’s holds the only flying buttress in the city of Buffalo. It’s above the main entrance on Pearl Street.
St. Paul’s is built of Red Medina sandstone, from a quarry purchased by the congregation for a mere $272. The quarry was some 40 miles northeast of the city, in a small town called Medina. The stone was cut and sent to the site via the Erie Canal, making it a very economical option. Construction began in 1849; the church was consecrated in 1851. But the spires weren’t completed until 1870.
Fire at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral!
As we’ve talked about in many other blog posts, Buffalo has experienced the tragedy of fire on many, many occasions. Unfortunately, St. Paul’s was not able to escape that fate.
In 1888 a gas explosion in the basement of the church took place. The roof and the entire inside of the building were destroyed by the ensuing fire. But the red Medina sandstone walls stood strong. The congregation decided that very day to rebuild.
Richard Upjohn, having passed in 1878, was not an option for the re-design. The church engaged Robert Gibson, who was also known for his English Gothic church designs. He, for the most part, worked off of Upjohn’s design but did change a few things.
The roof was changed to include the hammer-beam ceiling, and the clerestory windows (which are beautiful!). Gibson also added transept like extensions on the sides. Transepts are the extensions on either side of altars that give some churches their cross-shaped floor plan. In this case, the extensions are not quite full, meaning they don’t project out enough to give the full cruciform shape. The whole effect of the changes gives the appearance of a tall, wide-open space. It’s gorgeous.
St. Paul’s Interior, Now…
Off to the left as you face the altar, is a Tiffany stained glass window depicting ‘Christ on His Way to Emmaus’. It’s absolutely stunning.
To the right of the altar there is a painting by Jan Pollack, ‘The Adoration of the Magi’, that dates to the 15th century. Spectacular. It’s been said that this is one of the most valuable works of art in the city. And here it is out on display for all to see in a public building. Love it.
In Cathedral Park, just outside the church, is a sculpture entitled ‘Homeless Jesus’. It was placed in 2015, and to me, it embodies exactly what St. Paul’s congregation stands for, and indeed Buffalo as a whole as well. The sculpture was offered to many cities around the world (I believe there were 12 available altogether) and was turned down by a lot of them because it is (still) considered controversial. Some people view it as blasphemy to depict Jesus as a homeless man. Others believe that all people, even the homeless and downtrodden, when encountered, should be greeted as if you were greeting Jesus Christ himself.
Suffice it to say that St. Paul’s accepted, no, they embraced the sculpture. Taking care of the homeless and people in need has been part of their mission all along.
Well, in true Buffalo form, people started leaving articles of clothing on the statue for their needy neighbors. Instead of being annoyed, St. Paul’s gathered the items up each day and donated them to people in need. At one point, they also added a sign to the sculpture stating, “Take what you need.” And people do. I’ve also noticed that people don’t take more than what they need. That’s Buffalo.
They say a church is really the people, not the building. I’m not a member of St. Paul’s church, but I worked in close proximity for many years. I’ve admired it from the outside as well as the inside. I’ve spent time in Cathedral Park, eating lunch with friends, or just reading a book alone. It’s where I’ve witnessed people not taking more than they need from the Homeless Jesus sculpture. It’s a very peaceful spot.
So too is the inside of the church. On occasion, I’ve gone in to just sit and take in the peace. I guess I’ve always found churches to be peaceful, quiet places to think, or just be. And being so close to St. Paul’s for so many years made it a perfect place to just go in and get away from the stresses of the day for a few minutes.
Whenever I’ve encountered a parishioner, which has been quite a few times, I’ve always experienced kindness and friendliness. I’ll share just one of those encounters.
Once I was inside with some friends from out of town. We were admiring the “Adoration of the Magi” painting. A woman approached and simply said, “Hello.” We said hello back, and she smiled and invited us to stay for their service which, she said, was due to start in 5 minutes’ time. We politely declined, but understood it was her kind way of telling us there was a service beginning and that if we didn’t want to stay for it, we’d better hit the road! Haha. She was so sweet about it!
The Bicentennial of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
In 2017, the congregation of St. Paul’s celebrated its bicentennial year as an incorporated church. I love that they celebrated it with a street party that was free for all to attend, closing off Pearl Street between Swan and Church Streets. They gave tours of the historic church. They held a chicken bbq, the proceeds of which went to fund Hurricanes Harvey & Irma relief. I love it. They could have easily turned their bicentennial into a giant fundraiser for themselves, but instead chose to include everyone, and charge a nominal fee ($10) for a great meal, and donated the proceeds to charity.
That, to me, is what a church should be.
Next time you’re in the area, take a second look at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. If you can, go inside and feel the peace.
About a year ago now, I had a conversation with my grandson, Miles, about my work. He’s 12. We were scrolling through some of my posts, and he asked if I had written about the Statler Hotel. It was apparently his favorite building in Buffalo. I admit to being surprised. When I asked him why, he said it was because he learned about the Statler when he was in first grade. And that, to him, it seems amazing to own a huge hotel like the Statler. The subject came up with him again recently, and, well, here we are.
But there is more than one story to be told when writing about the Statler Hotel in Buffalo. Because there were two Statler Hotels in Buffalo. And in order to tell those stories, I have to tell you a bit about Ellsworth Statler, the man behind the building of one of America’s first hotel chains. So, this will be three stories in one.
Statler #1 – Ellsworth M. Statler
Before we discuss the hotels, let’s talk about Ellsworth Milton Statler. He was a very interesting man indeed.
He was born near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When he was young his family moved to Ohio, just across the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia. At the age of 9 he went to work tending furnace fires at a glass factory. Statler began his career in hotels at the age of 13 as a bellboy for $6/month, board and tips. At 15 he was promoted to head bellman. Ellsworth set about learning bookkeeping and by 19 he was made hotel manager. A hotel manager at 19! Talk about a go getter. Can you imagine?
Not the type to let grass grow under his feet, Statler leased the hotel’s billiard room and made it profitable with the help from his younger brother who had become an expert at the game. Ellsworth arranged for tournaments where his brother, Osceola, would win time and again. People began to come from miles around to challenge the young pool shark.
Eventually, Statler used the profits from the billiard room to purchase a bowling alley. There, he doubled the four lanes to 8, and added a billiard room of his own. He organized a city wide (Wheeling, WV) bowling tournament with a grand prize of $300 to the winning team. It was a hit, and bowling quickly became one of Wheeling’s favorite pastimes. He set his mother and sister up making and serving meat pies and sandwiches at a white linen type restaurant in town as well.
The Buffalo Connection
By the 1890’s, Ellsworth’s brother Osceola was managing the billiard room. His brother Bill was in charge of the bowling alley, and his mother and sister, Alabama, were successfully running the restaurant. All of this netted Ellsworth a neat $10,000 a year. That would be just over $280,000 today. Not bad for a man of about 30 years old.
But Ellsworth had a dream. He wanted to open a hotel. A big one.
As it happened, Statler had occasion to pass through Buffalo on his way home from a fishing trip in Canada. While here he noticed the construction of theEllicott Square Building. He heard the building’s owners were searching for a tenant to run a full service restaurant inside the building. Ellsworth saw the potential and jumped at the chance. You see, Buffalo was growing to be one of the largest cities in America at the time.
Ellsworth saw it as a stepping stone to that hotel he wanted. So, in 1896, Ellsworth moved to Buffalo and opened the Statler Restaurant in the Ellicott Square Building. Technically Statler #2, but we’re only talking hotels today. The restaurant was a huge success.
A Temporary Fix
For the Pan American Exposition in 1901, Ellsworth built and ran a hotel very near the grounds of the Expo. The temporary wooden structure had just over 2,000 rooms. He was one of the few in Buffalo who netted a profit on the Exposition, albeit a small one. He did the same thing at the 1904 St. Louis World’s fair, but this time profited to the tune of roughly $360,000 (about $10 million today).
Neither of these hotels were permanent. When Buffalo hosted the Pan American Exposition, almost all of the structures were designed to be easily disassembled. That way, the land could be returned to its original state. We now know that an awful lot of that land was never returned to its previous state, but, that was the plan at the time. So a temporary hotel was seen by Statler as a way to invest, learn about building a hotel, and make some money along the way. And he most likely hoped to parlay the profits into his own dream of a permanent hotel.
Statler had a clear vision for what he thought a hotel should be.
It’s important at this point to note that hotels at the time were quite different than they are today. Even the best hotels had shared bathroom facilities. Guests were charged extra for hot water. A typical room was furnished with a bed, a straight back chair and a hook on the door to hang clothes. Some owners only considered their hotels at capacity if every double bed had two people booked into them, and would at times book strangers into the same double bed. Can you imagine?
But you see where I’m going here. More thought was given to profits than to the comfort of the guests.
Statler wanted to make his guests comfortable. It was his belief that a regular Joe needed the same things as a traveling prince did in a hotel room. And he planned to give it to them at an affordable price.
Buffalo Statler # 2
With his profits from the temporary hotels, Ellsworth Statler built The Buffalo Statler hotel on the southeast corner of Washington and Swan. Now the site of the edge of our ball diamond. This was 1907.
Surprised? Did you think I was going to say he built the hotel on Niagara Square? Stick with me on this one. We’ll get to that.
The architects were Esenwein & Johnson. It was a beautiful, Art Nouveau design along the lines of the Guaranty Building. A steel frame construction covered in glazed polychrome terra cotta. The terra cotta was creme colored with green stylized plant forms. Some red terra cotta was used at the cornice. It was considered at the time to be a fantastic use of glazed terra cotta. The building was spectacular.
Seeking an edge on competing hotels, Statler designed what is called the ‘Statler plumbing shaft’. It allowed for bathrooms to be built back to back, enabling each hotel room to have its own bathroom facilities. This was unheard of at the time, but is commonplace today. He advertised with the slogan ‘A room and a bath for a dollar and a half’. This was affordable at the time. And food was included!
A Note About Statler’s Hotels
Now, the Buffalo Statler was not considered a luxury hotel by any means. By design. But they were comfortable. Statler also impressed upon his staff that the number one rule of working in his hotel was service. Above all else, give good service to every guest no matter what.
Well, guess what? It worked. The Buffalo Statler was wildly popular. And why not? Everyone wants to be treated well. Especially when you think of how difficult travel must have been at the time. To stay at a hotel where you were treated properly must have been a great comfort to weary travelers.
Up until now all hotel owners cared about was the bottom line. Profits. Statler revolutionized the way hotels were run, as it turns out, across America. Because as we all know, Statler didn’t stop with one hotel. He went on to build other hotels in other cities, all with the same philosophy. Some of which are still being operated today. His chain of hotels is reputedly the first of its kind in America.
But he also came back to Buffalo, as you well know.
What’s Next?Buffalo Statler #3 of Course
In 1923, Statler built another hotel in Buffalo. He changed the name of the original Statler (above) to the Buffalo Hotel, and called this one the Hotel Statler. This is the building on Niagara Square that we all know.
This hotel had everything you could want in a hotel for its day. A ballroom, a lounge, four dining rooms, a tea room, a swimming pool, a turkish bath, and a barbershop. Multiple presidents stayed here. Anyone who was anyone, if they came to Buffalo, they stayed at the Statler. It was Buffalo’s most elaborate luxury hotel at the time, and remained “the” place to stay and lavishly entertain in Buffalo for decades to come.
But Ellsworth Statler would not live to see those decades. He passed away in 1928 at the age of 64.
As a result, his second wife, Alice, carried on with Statler Hotel Company until 1954, when she sold out to Hilton Hotels for a cool $111 million. To that date, it was the largest hotel merger and also the largest private real estate transaction in history.
An Uncertain Future for #3
Shortly thereafter, the hotel began its long, slow transition to offices. The hotel itself closed completely in 1982, but the offices, lounge and banquet halls remained open. The name was changed to The Statler Towers. After a failed attempt by Bashar Issa to renovate the building into a hotel and condos, the building went into bankruptcy. In 2011, Buffalo real estate developer Mark Croce purchased the building. He rebranded the building as Statler City and immediately began renovations. It was a huge job, and progress was slow going. Banquet facilities opened, but not until 2016. But boy are they beautiful!
Sadly, Croce did not live to see his dream for the Statler completed. He was killed in a helicopter crash on January 10, 2020. It is not clear what will happen to the Statler building at this point in time.
Update: May 28, 2020
In the news today, Buffalo developer Douglas Jemal has an agreement in place to purchase the Statler City. This is his third acquisition downtown. He is in the process of redeveloping Seneca One Tower to mixed reviews, and is awaiting approval for his plans for the former Buffalo Police Headquarters on the southwest corner of Church Street at Niagara.
Time will tell how Jemal’s vision for the Statler Building looks. In the meantime, I remain hopeful.
More news is expected later today on this subject. I will update when I hear something.
Ellsworth Statler was really the father of the modern hotel industry. Through his many innovations, hotels are run completely different now. He was the first to offer bathrooms with bathtubs in every hotel room with both hot and cold water at no extra charge. The first to offer telephones and radios in every room. Desks with electric lamps, outfitted with stationery and pens for guests use. And many more… We take it for granted, but these were all new and innovative at the time he implemented them.
If you think about it, it all boiled down to service for the guests. Which was always Statler’s priority. By all accounts, in all my research, he also treated his staff well. He understood that if he respected them, paid them well, and treated them well, they would want to do well for the guests. And that, in my humble opinion, was the genius behind Ellsworth Milton Statler. You see, he never got too big for his britches. I once read that no matter how wealthy he got, he still always wore $20 suits and $4 shoes. That is a man I would have liked to have known.
I hope to one day see his legacy live on in Buffalo, so that I can show it to Miles.
When our kids were little we used to drive past St. Louis once a week or so in the summer on our way to the Peace Bridge and Canada. On these drives, the kids would call out certain landmarks along the way. St. Louis Church was one of them. My husband, Tim, would tell the story of how his grandparents first met at the corner of Main and Edward, right in front of the church. He would tell us this story every single week. But the kids liked it, soooo.
We decided to take them to mass there to see the inside. Wow. We were not disappointed. It’s bright, spacious and stunning all at the same time. I can still picture our son Paul, who was about 7, looking up at the ceiling with his mouth gaping open, taking in the view. He takes after me, because this is what I do when I come across something that instantly transforms me into a tourist in my own city. Me? I loved the windows.
Our weekly conversations changed after that to the construction of big buildings, and how exactly structures like St. Louis are designed and built.
Early Days at St. Louis Church
So, St. Louis Church was Buffalo’s first Catholic congregation, founded in January of 1829. In fact, it was the first Catholic church in all of Western New York. The land for the church was donated by Louis Stephen LeCouteulx de Caumont, an agent for the Holland Land Company. At the time, all of New York State fell under the direction of one bishop (one diocese). The diocese of Buffalo was not founded until 1847, when Bishop John Timon arrived. Buffalo didn’t warrant their own diocese in 1829, there simply were not enough Catholics here.
But, being a Catholic himself, LeCouteulx foresaw the need for a church. He presented the Bishop of New York, Jean Dubois with the land on New Year’s Day, 1829. This was not uncommon back then. While LeCourtulx did see the need for a church, it was also good business to donate land expressly to be used for this reason. You see, with an established church, people were more likely to come to Buffalo and stay. And people who stayed, bought land. It was a win win situation for both the church and for business.
Buffalo’s First Catholic Priest
Things moved along much slower at this time, and a priest didn’t arrive until 1831. Rev. John Nicolas Mertz was Buffalo’s first resident Catholic priest. At this time, the congregation was mostly made up of French, German and Irish immigrants.
Mertz immediately began arrangements for the building of a church and school. He had brought with him from Europe a tabernacle door that depicted the Lamb of God, and so he named the church “Lamb of God” Church. The first church was built of logs from trees on the property and from the nearby woods. Funny to think of the corner of Main and Edward as being a wooded area!
A New Church for St. Louis
In 1837, the Irish of the parish had become so numerous that they warranted their own church. They moved to St. Patrick’s, on the corner of Washington and Clinton. It was closer to where the Irish were settling near the waterfront, and was probably more convenient as far as language and traditions as well. (See my commentary on this in my post about Assumption Parish.)
By 1840 the pastor, Rev. Alexander Pax recognized the need for a more permanent structure. He built a brick church on the site of the old log building. Fr. Pax dedicated the new church in 1843 to St. Louis IX, the patron saint of Louis LeCouteulx. And so, Lamb of God Church became St. Louis Church.
A Bit of Catholic Trivia for You
Here’s an interesting little tidbit. Shortly after the new church was built, there was arguing between rival factions in the church. And there were disagreements with Bishop John Hughes of NYC. It became such a problem, that the church was placed in ‘Interdict’.
Now, my understanding of an interdict as it applies to the Catholic church is that restrictions are placed on a parish or group, and they can no longer celebrate certain rites, including mass. It lasted one year. Wow.
Almost unbelievably, it happened again after the Diocese of Buffalo was founded. This time the arguing took place between the trustees and Bishop John Timon! This was in the late 1840’s and St. Louis was in interdict until 1855!
Wish I could get the full story here. I mean, sometimes history is, shall we say, altered to glaze over the ugly truth. I bet John Timon had a journal or a diary, where he recorded at least some of what really went on. But then, we’d only have his side. Perhaps it’s just as well. (Time travel could satiate all my questions here. Just saying.)
Either way, now you know what an interdict is, if you didn’t already. I didn’t.
In March of 1885, the newly built German American Music Hall on the other side of Edward Street (current site of the Cyclorama Building) burned and sadly the flames jumped the street to St. Louis. The church burned and was beyond saving.
Immediately, plans were begun for the present Gothic church we know today. This was thanks in part to sizable donations made by the Reverend Joseph Sorg, and Gerhard Lang, owner of Buffalo’s largest brewery. The church was completed by 1889 and is built of red Medina sandstone. And how about that spire? At 245 feet tall, it’s the highest opened laced spire in the United States. I think it’s on par in recognizability as the Electric Tower, or the Rand Building. It is certainly very prominent in Buffalo’s skyline.
The Sandwich Program
I have to tell you about St. Louis’s Sandwich program. I became aware of it when I worked for a very short time in the Cyclorama Building across Edward Street from St. Louis. I was working on a project in front of a window that looked out on the rectory at St. Louis. I kept seeing people walk up to the door and walk away only seconds later with little packages.
After nosing around a little, I learned about the Sandwich Program. The director prepares and hands out roughly 40 sandwiches every Monday – Friday, between the hours of 9am – 11am. Some of the people are homeless, but all are given a sandwich no matter what their situation. No questions asked.
That’s somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 sandwiches per year! This is awesome, isn’t it?!
The program was started by Msgr. William Schwinger, who was the pastor between 1979-1995. It was developed in the spirit of St. Louis IX, the church’s namesake, who was the King of France. King Louis not only gave money to the poor, he shared his table with them on a daily basis, where he served them, and took care of their needs. What a great example he was to wealthy people everywhere. And what a great tribute to someone who did simple things, with great love.
A school was run at St. Louis Church from as early as the 1830’s. In 1850 a school was built on the property, and was run until 1959, when it closed. In 1986, the school was declared a hazard and was demolished. Today, the parish school is considered the Catholic Academy of West Buffalo on Delaware Avenue.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music at St. Louis. Back on that day when our son was awestruck by the building, my husband and I were awestruck by the music. For two reasons. The acoustics in this church are astounding, and the organist/choir director is Frank Scinta, of the Buffalo born music and comedy group The Scintas (originally The Scinta Brothers).
No matter the reasons, whenever I go to St. Louis, I’m struck again by the quality of the music produced in this building. Once the churches reopen – and we’re getting close – I’m heading over to St. Louis for mass, and that music! It’s on the corner of Main and Edward, you know, right where Tim’s grandparents met. 😉