Welcome to Part 2 of my series about Larkinville. In Part 1, we discussed a little of the history of the area itself, along with a short history of The Larkin Company. That video of the Larkin Administration Building! I’ve seen it many times now, but it still fascinates me each and every time I see it.
In this post, I hope to give you an overview of what’s going on there today from an urban hiker’s point of view. As I explained in Part 1, I’ve had the chance to hike around this area recently, and today I’ll be concentrating on Seneca Street in particular and what’s going on there. It’s a lot, as you’ll see.
Let’s Get Started
On the day I visited the Larkin Gallery, I decided to walk from the corner of Seneca and Lord towards the Larkin Commerce Center on the north side of the street. This is the first building I see, and it appears to be a typical Buffalo double. And it is. A couple of interesting things here though.
I think the house was built in 1870, and in 1895 a 12-year-old boy was reported missing from this address. The father thought that the boy probably hopped a train out of town. Apparently, it was not the first time the boy ran away from home. The summer before, he had run away and his father found him a day and a half later at an outdoor market in the city. The article I read was from the Buffalo Evening News, and was about five lines long. And the last line mentioned that the police had been notified to keep an eye out. No one seemed very concerned at all! Wow!
Also, there was a fire here in 1897, when the first floor held a paint and wallpaper store, owned and operated by the Koepf family. And in 1943, the family living here was the Czolgosz family. That’s right, same last name as the man who shot McKinley at the Pan American Exposition. I admit to never having thought about Leon Czolgosz’s family. I know he was from Michigan, and it’s entirely possible there was no relation, but….you never know.
Goes to show, every home has a story to tell.
Next, a Grocery Store
This next building was originally a grocery store owned by Frank X. Winkler, who ran the store with his sons. The Winkler family lived directly behind this building on Seymour Street, one of the nicer residential streets in the district. Frank could literally walk through his back yard and into the back door of his business. Also, the store remained virtually unchanged and was run by the Winkler family until 1968. Cool.
After that, the building was owned by a printer, a tile company, and sat empty for a while. SelectOne Search purchased the building in 2015 and has done a fantastic job returning the building to its former glory. SelectOne has their offices on the second and third floors of the building.
The Winkler Building, Commercial Romanesque Revival in style, was typical of the commercial buildings in this area, as you’ll see. When I walk by, I picture Frank Winkler and sons, selling groceries back in the day.
The Schaefer Building
The Schaefer Building was built in 1900 and was designed by Joseph J.W. Bradney, who also designed the Sidway Building, as well as John D. Larkin Jr’s home on Lincoln Parkway. Cool, I’ve heard of Joseph Bradney because of the Sidway Building, but I didn’t know he designed the Schaefer Building, and John D. Jr’s home as well.
This building was restored by the Larkin Development Group (responsible for much of the work here in Larkinville) in 2010 and is now a mix of offices and two bedroom apartments.
The Hydraulic Hearth
This building was built in 1890 and is home to the Hydraulic Hearth Restaurant & Brewery, and I might add some of the finest artisan cocktails in the city. Don’t ask me how I know that…
Here’s an interesting photo I happened upon on facebook, shared by a reader who used to work in the Larkin Building from 1987 – 1995. He shared how he would go to the Swan Lounge (now the Hydraulic Hearth) for a beer after working second shift. I find this photo so interesting, not only because of how different the building looked at that time, but I love to look at old advertisements. Gives you a peek at what was happening in the area at the time.
Quite a transformation to what it looks like today (see below). This photo was actually taken a couple of years ago. On the left you can see the beginnings of what is one of the best outdoor patios in the city. And we all know how important outdoor patios have become. Even in the winter, I wanted to go in and sit for a while. The building is owned by Mill Race Commons, a subsidiary of Larkin Development Group. They’ve done a great job here.
Pre-Covid, one of the biggest Larkinville events of the summers features a Beatles cover band playing on the roof of this building (see lead image). This, of course, harkens back to 1969 when the Beatles performed on the roof of Apple Records in London. Looking forward to seeing the ‘Beatles’ on the roof again. Someday…
The Swan Street Diner
Here’s where I come upon the Swan Street Diner. What every good food destination needs, a real diner. This one’s an original. It’s a 1937 Sterling Company diner car built by the J.D. Judkins Company in Massachusetts. It was brought to Larkinville in 2013 and restored beautifully. The Mahogany wood trim appears brand new, but it is original.
In Part 1, I mentioned that the Larkin Company started Buffalo Pottery (later Buffalo China) in order to keep up with the demand for their premiums. The woman who waited on me the first time I had breakfast there, told me that the diner was able to purchase some of the last place settings that Buffalo China made here in Buffalo in 2013. No other dishes would be more fitting! She also pointed out that the wallpaper and wall graphics (very whimsical and diner-like) inside the diner were designed by local artists who used the dishes as their inspiration. She didn’t seem to think this stuff was a big deal. But I thought it was pretty cool. The diner’s website corroborated her story. And the food is fantastic too!
Engine 32 / Ladder 5 Quarters
Buffalo Fire Department, Engine 32/Ladder 5 proudly serves the Larkin District. The building was built in 1955. Bet these firefighters are glad to see the recent changes in the area.
The Larkin Gallery
It’s time for our tour of the Larkin Gallery with Jerome (Jerry) Puma. Tim (my husband) is with me on this cold, windy day at the end of December. We follow Jerry into the Larkin Center of Commerce, and off to the left (just beyond Eckl’s). We walk through the glass doors and are immediately transported back in time. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you are probably well acquainted with my propensity for time-travel. The Larkin Gallery is an excellent opportunity to feel like you’ve time-traveled. You know, while we await actual time-travel.
Jerry leads us back out into the hallway of the Center of Commerce. There’s a lot to see in this beautiful building. Not the least of which is the amazing photography on the walls by Joe Cascio. It chronicles the transformation of the building. Amazing and powerful shots. He really gives you a feel for what was here before. Check it out anytime. Just let the guards at the desk know what you’re up to. Cascio’s photography alone is worth the trip.
A Lending Library?
Also in the hallway, off to the left, is an actual lending library! Specifically, it’s the Arnold B. Gardner Memorial Lending Library. Gardner was an attorney in Buffalo and after his death the books were donated by his family. They cover everything from American history, art, biographies of well-known Buffalonians, to a collection of short stories about Ireland. And pretty much everything you could possibly think of in between.
What a peculiar thing in a building such as this! But also kind of wonderful!
The Gallery Itself
The Larkin Gallery is the brainchild of Jerome Puma, Director of Acquisitions, and Sharon Osgood, Curator. The gallery opened in 2017, and focuses on the history of the Larkin Soap Company. Jerry tells me that both he and Osgood feel the Larkin Company played such an integral part of Buffalo’s history, that we needed this gallery. Having seen it, I agree. The gallery gives such insight into what life was really like in the late 1800s and into the 1900s. And I don’t just mean the dawn of electricity, or automobiles (although these were huge). This gallery shows you actual products people used on a regular basis in their homes.
Through the years, I, like most Buffalonians, have heard the stories about the history of the Larkin Company. See Part 1. But until you’re standing in the gallery, looking at the actual products and premiums produced by the company, you really have no idea. The size and scope of the Larkin Company was massive. In the gallery, there are drawers full of the catalogs (the art on the covers are amazing!), bottles and bottles of all sorts of Larkin Products from perfume, to castor oil, most still partially or full of product. There are cookbooks for housewives, bags of flour, boxes of ‘short cut’ spaghetti. Tins of coffee, boxes of pudding mix, extracts, and pieces of Buffalo Pottery, all produced by the Larkin Company. And there are many, many more. Absolutely amazing how much of this stuff still exists.
The gallery is funded in large part by the Larkin Center of Commerce. But it’s also made possible by various donations. Donors include Mary Larkin, great-granddaughter of John D. Larkin Sr., Jerome Mead, an art professor, as well as Sharon Osgood, Jerome Puma, and more. Also, Peg Meisenbach was able to fulfill her deceased mother’s (Raeanne Roy) wish that her entire collection of Larkin items be donated to a Larkin Museum. Jerry tells me that some of the larger items in the gallery were among this collection.
Jerry also tells me he checks ebay daily for Larkin items. After scoring a couple of Larkin items at local antique shops myself, I too have started checking ebay occasionally as well.
And the Premiums!
Not to mention the premiums! These items are unbelievable! In case you haven’t read Part 1, premiums were the items ‘given’ to customers who spent $10 on Larkin products. Here are some of the items in the museum.
Check out this video. The Larkin Company made the cabinet, the workings, and the records! Symphonola Records. I don’t know why I love this so much, I just do! And that’s Jerry Puma demonstrating the volume control. I love it!
It would seem to me that local schools should tour this gallery as part of their history classes. It really brings Buffalo history to life. Maybe an urban hike to see the buildings and a quick lesson on architecture. Complete with lunch in Larkin Square afterwards. Sounds perfect doesn’t it?
The Larkin Center of Commerce
Thought I’d better talk about the building we were just in, ha!
The Larkin Center of Commerce doesn’t have one date associated with when it was built. Rather, it was built between 1895 and 1907. It’s actually 12 separate but contiguous buildings. The Larkin Company simply kept adding to the original building in order to accommodate their needs for manufacturing, retail and administrative support. The original brick was covered with a cement-like material in the 1960s, giving it that bright white look. Honestly, the finish could use a bit of work at this point, but for the most part it still looks pretty decent.
The building is currently owned by Seneca Larkin Holdings LLC. Most of it has been opened up and joined together, creating well over a million square feet of usable space. Over 100 tenants now call the Larkin Center of Commerce home.
The Larkin U Building
I’ve veered off of Seneca Street, and on to Van Rensselaer in order to get a better look at The Larkin U Building, which was built in 1893 for industrial scrap recycler D. Ullman Sons Recycling. The Larkin Company bought the building in 1911 for use as a factory. Interesting factoid, the building housed a bowling alley in the basement for use by members of the Larkin Men’s Club. The building was used by two other manufacturers before Larkin Development Group bought the U Building in 2011.
The building underwent extensive restoration and renovations since, and now serves as Key Corps Regional Headquarters. This is another example of the Romanesque Revival Commercial building that was so prevalent in this district. It’s my humble opinion that the work the Larkin Development Group did here is excellent. I’m drawn to this building for some reason. It’s similar to others in the neighborhood, but there’s just something about this one. As my father would say, it’s very well appointed.
The LCO Building
Just a ways down from the Larkin U Building is what is now called the LCO Building, formerly known as the Larkin Warehouse, or the Larkin R, S, T Building, or the Larkin Terminal Warehouse, or Larkin at Exchange. Suffice it to say that this building has undergone many changes over the years. None, I don’t think, is better than it’s current look and use. And while I want to dislike the parking ramp that is adjacent to the building, if I worked in the LCO Building, I might just use it.
Let’s Continue the Hike
As I head back to Seneca Street, I find myself wishing it was summer. The first thing I see is The Filling Station. This building was an actual gas station run by Gulf until the mid 1990’s or so. Hence, it’s name. It’s since been converted into a casual dining space specializing in lunch items, to serve the workforce in the area. It’s also host to smaller events like paint nights, local artisan markets etc.
Adjacent to the Filling Station is the now famous pavilion where all sorts of events take place in the warm months, and sometimes in the cold months as well. It is also here that Buffalo’s Food Truck Tuesdays take place. There are food trucks here almost every night in the summer. But on Tuesdays, this area is packed with the most popular mobile food establishments the city’s got! And being the foodie city that we are, Buffalonians come out in droves to partake. Let’s hope we can do this again soon.
The Kamman Building
This building was completed in 1884, built by John Kamman, a German immigrant who settled in the Hydraulics around that same time. The Kamman family trade was butchery, and their meat markets and grocery chain had at least 30 stores in the area, including this one in the Hydraulics. Note: it was right across from the Winkler & Sons grocery store! Must have been plenty of business to go around.
The building is another Romanesque Revival Commercial design that was typical in the Hydraulics. The architect was Franklin W. Caulkins, who was well-known in Buffalo. See more of his work here and here. The building is owned by an out of town company, Kamman Group LLC with an address in Rochester, NY. It’s a mixed use building with offices and apartments.
Moving Right Along: Custom Canvas
Custom Canvas has been in the area since the 1960’s and is still here. I know Tim and I have bought several awnings from them for various projects and we’ve always been happy with their work and their service. They do everything from repair to custom tarps to cab enclosures, pool covers, military installations, party tents and many more.
Love it that they’ve been here this long. Hope they stay.
Mill Race Commons
Next I come to this. Mill Race Commons. It’s to be a mix of retail on the first floor, and apartments in the rest of the building. Not sure whether I like this or not. I know what the original plans looked like. It’s always interesting to see what these projects look like when they’re completed. This project is being done by Larkin Development Group as well. Looking forward to the finished product.
As I cross Lord/Griffin Streets, I come upon this. It’s a shrine to the Virgin Mary. It was built in the 1950’s by a barber named Joe Battaglia, who lived on the property with his family above his shop. He claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, and that she asked him to build this shrine to her. After Joe’s death, the shrine fell into disrepair. The city took possession and was going to demolish it, but some neighbors fought to preserve it, a few of them bought it and now maintain it. Sweet.
But I do have one question. Why is this shrine listed on Google as “Our Lady of the Prom”? Anybody?
This is where we come upon a smattering of residential homes. The yellow brick home has a double lot and is meticulously maintained. Would love to see the inside of this place. It appears to have been a storefront at one time.
And then there are these two. Reminds me of something out of the wild west. Both have great architectural details. The one on the right has those decorative window surrounds and a nice decorative top. The brick one with the cast iron facade, pilasters, and its rounded windows and corbelled brick is lovely. It’s another, smaller scale Romanesque Revival Commercial building that we’ve seen throughout the neighborhood. I really like these.
Both of these buildings were rehabbed by the Larkin Development Group several years ago now, and have been brought back to retail or office space on the first floor with apartments above. They’ve since been sold.
In 2016, Buffalo Distilling Company moved from a barn in Wyoming County, into this building (see below). It was built in 1890 for Duchmann and Son’s, who ran a carriage factory. They used to build carriages here, and now Buffalo Distilling makes incredibly good whiskey, brandy, gin, vodka and krupnik here. I’ve tried all but the brandy (not my thing, but I’ve heard it’s good) and this group knows what they’re doing.
Buffalo Distilling first leased and eventually bought the building from the Larkin Development Group. All their liquors are made on site, in their self-designed, engineered and installed stillhouse. That’s impressive.
They’ve (of course) opened a cocktail bar and tasting room up front. When you’ve had enough One Foot Cock Bourbon, walk around behind the building and go left on the path. It leads you right to…
Flying Bison Brewery
This place. What can I tell you about Flying Bison Brewery that you don’t already know? They have become a veritable Buffalo institution. I say they, because this brewery is people. When you enter their tasting room you are welcomed as if you’ve been a regular for years, even if it’s your first trip there.
But that’s not all. Without getting into too much detail, let me give you a little bit of background on Flying Bison. Tim Herzog and Phil Internicola, along with 25 other individual investors, started selling beer in 2000. Their goal was to bring the once thriving, locally owned brewing business back to the city of Buffalo.
Opening their first brewery on Ontario Street made them the first stand-alone brewery in Buffalo since Iroquois Brewing left in 1972. And their beer was good. People loved it. But around 2010, the rising prices of ingredients caused them to slow production while they figured a way to survive.
In the end, they sold the company to Saranac Brewing (remember Utica Club?), with the stipulation that Flying Bison would always be made in Buffalo. Tim Herzog continues as General Manager. And he manages the brewery very well. I don’t even know if he realizes it, but Tim Herzog is the brewery.
Helping Out Along the Way
If the company’s vision was to bring the craft brewing industry back to the city, then the vision has been realized. Flying Bison has collaborated with other startup breweries from the beginning, helping, organizing and working together for the common good. Which in this case is to bring Buffalonians (and beyond) good quality craft beer. Staying true to who Buffalo is as a city.
Flying Bison works with other local businesses too. Have you tried Paula’s Peanut Stick Porter? Or Fowler’s Chocolate Cherry Porter? Come on, this is true community stuff! In addition to the regular – all the time beer, the beer list changes with the times and their creativity is seemingly endless. Who would think to brew a peanut stick (which is a Buffalo thing) porter?
Twenty one years later, I would say they’ve succeeded. Look at the craft beer industry in Buffalo. It’s everywhere now! Even all the corner bars carry local craft beer on tap… I get it that this is happening in a lot of cities around the country, but Buffalo has a rich history in brewing. I for one am happy to see it return.
And it may never have happened without Flying Bison. Gee, do you think I should do a whole post about Flying Bison?
Check out the label on Flying Bison’s Larkin Lager bottle. That’s the Larkin Administration Building. Nice touch! Photos used courtesy of Jerry Puma.
In the beginning of this post, I said there is a lot going on in this neighborhood. There sure is. And there is so much more I could have written! There is more to say about the Larkin Company, and family. Not to mention the story behind the Larkin Development Group and Leslie and Howard Zemsky. They’re the faces behind just about all the development in Larkinville. Their story would have to be a book though! Hey…
I’ve heard people say that Larkinville is contrived. Maybe so. But look at the good going on here today, compared to what this area was like just twenty years ago. It was not a place most people wanted to hang out. I’ve recently heard from several people, some no longer in WNY, who stated that this area is horrible, one person actually called it a ‘rat hole of a place’. They’ve obviously been gone for a while, because as you’ve seen, this area is absolutely taking its place in Buffalo’s renaissance. If that is due to the vision of a handful of people (companies) then so be it. Real growth in an area always happens because of the vision of a few people, willing to take a risk.
Think About It
The story of Larkinville is long and somewhat checkered. Buffalo’s rise to greatness, it’s fall in the mid-twentieth century, and it’s return as a dynamic, vital American city has been felt deeply in the Larkin District. Anything that helps a community move forward, while simultaneously looking back and learning from the past, is a good thing for a city. Without knowing them personally, I cheer the Zemskys for their efforts here. I see their role here as somewhat the same as the role John D. Larkin and family played back in their day.
To paraphrase something Jerome Puma of the Larkin Gallery said to me at some point, anything that highlights and establishes a sense of history in Buffalo, is a good thing. I agree wholeheartedly.
Don’t forget to stop in at the Larkin Gallery in the Larkin Center of Commerce. It’s free to go in, although donations are gratefully accepted. They’re open Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm. Tours are available by appointment.
Hopefully, it’ll be spring soon and you can go out on a patio at the Hydraulic Hearth for one of those artisan cocktails I told you about. Or to Flying Bison for a Paula’s Peanut Stick Porter or a Rusty Chain. (They’re both open for indoor socially distanced service, but it is entirely up to you whether you want to go. They both also offer take out services.)
**Special thanks to Jerome Puma – couldn’t have done it without you!
Get the Book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!
Back in November and December, I was able to make it to a few urban trail runs hosted by Flying Bison Brewery. Now, I’m not a runner, but walkers are welcome too, so I’ve been to several of these. It’s one of the few things I can do with friends, while keeping a good distance from each other. (Another reason urban hiking is awesome!) For those of you who are thinking it, social distancing and masks are required at these events. This gives me a chance to urban hike around Larkinville of course, because Flying Bison is right there on Seneca Street.
With all the recent changes going on in Larkinville, I got to thinking about what used to be here. What it was like in the more recent past. But also long ago when this area was referred to as ‘the Hydraulics’.
Shortly after I published a post about the Medical Corridor, I received an email from Jerome Puma. During our email exchanges, he offered me a tour of the Larkin Gallery. Well, you know I never turn down the offer of a tour of anything Buffalo related! So, off I went to the Larkin Gallery. More about that later.
As I sit down to write about Larkinville, I realize that this will have to be a two part series. One, about the Hydraulics and the Larkin Company. And one about what is happening in Larkinville now and how the Larkin Gallery is preserving the history of the Larkin Company.
Let’s get this party started.
In 1827, Reuben B. Heacock founded the Hydraulics Business Association, bringing together several business owners from this immediate area. The Association was responsible for bringing the Hydraulic Canal to the area in that same year. It was fed by the Buffalo Creek and was later connected to the Erie Canal by way of the Main and Hamburg Canal. This is how the name ‘Hydraulics’ was coined.
This was Buffalo’s first use of industrial waterpower. By 1832, the same year Buffalo incorporated as a city, this area was flourishing as the center for business and industry. There was a saw mill, a grist mill, a shoe last mill (shoemaker), a hat factory, a pail factory, and, of course, a brewery. Always breweries, this is Buffalo after all.
There were also many smaller mom & pops who supported these businesses. These would have included ‘garage’ businesses where small parts were supplied to and repaired for machinery used by industry. There would have also been churches, general stores, bakeries and other food service, messenger services, barber shops, taverns and more. The Hydraulics also contained homes, boarding houses and apartments for the many people who lived and worked in the area.
By the early 1840’s railroads came into the neighborhood and served both the people and the companies in the area. Shortly thereafter the canal was no longer used and was filled in by 1883.
The Hydraulics would have been a bustling, thriving area of Buffalo.
The Larkin Company
It’s important to note that the Hydraulics was already well established by the time John D. Larkin and his wife’s brother, Elbert Hubbard, brought Larkin’s two year old soap company into the district in 1877. But his company grew so fast that it would become a major force in the hydraulics for the next 60 years or so. He added on to what is now the Larkin Commerce Center several times in order to accommodate the growing business. He built several other buildings in the district as well for the same reason.
The Larkin Company pioneered several business practices, including but not limited to, catalog sales and the practice of giving rewards for purchases. The “Larkin Idea” put simply was that by selling directly to customers, the cost of the middleman was avoided, including their own sales force. This made it possible to create what was referred to as ‘premiums’ or in other words, a reward for purchasing Larkin products. Hubbard originally came up with the idea of including little decorative cards and postcards with each order, as a little ‘thank you’ for the purchase. Within a few years, Larkin and Hubbard decided to stop using salesmen altogether. They began marketing directly to the customers in their homes with catalogs. The money they saved by not paying sales commissions were spent on ‘premiums’, or rewards.
In the 1890s, Hubbard left the Larkin Company and established the Roycroft Movement in East Aurora.
How Did ‘Premiums’ Work?
Here’s how it worked. When you purchased Larkin products totaling $10, you would receive a ‘premium’ of your choice. The soap and other products that Larkin sold (eventually totaling more than 900 widely varied items) were highly regarded. The company was well respected for quality. The premiums were also good, quality products. They ranged from lamps to desks to living room chairs, to phonographs, dining room furniture, china, silverware and more. In fact, The Larkin Company formed Buffalo Pottery (later Buffalo China) in order to keep up with the demand for premiums.
Larkin products were eventually everything from soap and shampoos, to food and food additives, condiments, shoe and furniture polish, oils, perfumes, painting supplies and wallpaper. Picture frames, manicure sets and nail polishes, hosiery, clothing patterns and clothes! The list is seemingly endless! It would not be difficult to spend $10 when you page through a catalog with that many items. But you might be surprised at how many items you could get for $10 back in the day!
The Larkin Company recruited women (mainly housewives) to start ‘Larkin Clubs’ made up of ten women who would get together monthly. The ten pledged to spend $1/month on Larkin Products, and the women would take turns choosing a ‘premium’ item. Some clubs were larger than 10, some smaller. The women would each receive a premium every 10 months or so, depending the number of women in the club. The ‘secretaries’ would receive a nominal commission. And the company would be assured regular customers. It was genius really. A total win win.
And of course, if you could afford it, you could place an order for a $10 purchase whenever you wanted. Like in this video below, produced by the Larkin Company.
It’s a fantastic look into the history of the Larkin Company, but there are also other things to note as well. The hand wrapping of the soaps, but also how mechanized the factories actually were for their day. I’m pretty sure OSHA would have found the Larkin Company to be in violation of several regs! Haha! Also, the mail truck and other vehicles! The writing of the order in letter form seems so quaint today, but I’m sure that’s how it was done.
This video was brought to you courtesy of Jerome Puma, Director of Acquisitions at the Larkin Gallery.
The Larkin Idea was a Huge Success
By 1920, the company employed 2,000 people, and had $28.6 million in sales (worth roughly $372,500,000 in 2021). That, my friends, is a lot of bread. Absolutely incredible.
The success of the company allowed Larkin to hire Frank Lloyd Wright to build a state of the art, and a work of art, administration building on Seneca Street across from the Larkin Commerce Center. Completed in 1906, the building was noted for its many innovations, including rudimentary, but effective, air conditioning; built-in office furniture, much of which was metal and very unusual for the time; and state of the art public bathrooms.
It was built of red brick with pink mortar, featured two outdoor waterfalls, and that wrought iron! The interior was, in typical Wright fashion, stunning. It held a five-story atrium in the center and open work spaces on the outer walls of the building.
The company eventually topped out at 4,000 employees in the 1920’s. The Larkin family, along with all of the employees, celebrated the company’s 50th Anniversary in 1925.
The Beginning of the End
As early as 1915, John D. Larkin Jr. was getting more involved in the managing of company policies. William Heath (John D. Sr’s brother-in-law and Office Manager) retired in 1924. Darwin D. Martin, long-time and trusted company secretary (probably would be equal to a V.P. today) retired in 1925. It is reported that they had differences of opinions with Junior on how to move forward with the future of the Company. Just what those were, I’m not sure we’ll ever know. After these two left, several other high ranking employees who had been around for a long time followed suit.
This is never good for a company. When so much experience walks out the door, there is bound to be trouble. Not always insurmountable, but definitely a sign of trouble to come.
In 1926, John D. Larkin passed away at the age of 80. John D. Larkin Jr. took over as president. The company struggled through the stock market crash and the ensuing depression that followed.
All of this came at a time when regular folks had better access to automobiles, and retail department stores became more and more common. It was no longer necessary to order products through the mail. Customers could now walk into a store and purchase items that they could actually look at before buying, and take home with them that same day.
The Larkin company, under John D. Jr, tried several different ways to keep up with the changing times, but in 1940, a restructuring of the business took place in order to avoid bankruptcy. Harry Larkin (John D. Jr’s brother, and son of John D. Sr.) took over as president, and John D. Jr. retired that same year. The company was broken up into smaller corporations in order to salvage portions of the business for the stockholders.
What about the Administration Building?
The Frank Lloyd Wright designed building was eventually sold to a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania contractor hoping the back taxes owed on the building (amounting to just over $104,000) would offset huge profits he was making elsewhere. When the federal government denied the tax break, the building sat empty for many years.
The city took possession, and half-hearted attempts were made at selling it, but being removed from the downtown core made it a difficult sell. In the end, the Western Trading Corporation purchased the building for $5,000, promising to tear it down and infill with new builds creating a new tax base for the city.
The Administration Building was taken down in 1950. The materials were used to fill in what used to be the Ohio Basin, now Father Conway Park, between Louisiana Street and Ohio Street. New infill, creating that promised tax base, never materialized.
The video below is a stunning look at both the exterior and interior of the building we have now lost. The Video is courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
In speaking to Jerome Puma, Director of Acquisitions at the Larkin Gallery, I was surprised to learn that The Larkin Company continued to sell items until 1962, and never went bankrupt. Like most, I thought the whole thing ended in the 40s. But Buffalo Pottery continued to operate, with Harold M. Esty, Jr. (John D. Sr’s grandson) as president from 1964 – 1970. It was sold to Oneida in 1983. Good to know.
The story of the Larkin Company is obviously much more complicated than I’ve just laid out for you. But I would have to write a book, and that’s already been done. The best one I’ve seen is John D. Larkin: A Business Pioneer by Daniel I. Larkin, John D’s grandson. There is a lot of history in this book about the man, his family, and the company. It reads like a novel at times, and is extremely well written. When I read it, I felt like I had traveled back in time, and you know how I love that.
All that said, I get a real feeling in this area of the city. Of days gone by, of history, of industry. Of Buffalonians going about their daily lives experiencing the joys, the struggles, the hopes and dreams for the future, just like we do today. Perhaps I get this feeling because it is once again a growing, thriving part of our city, with people staking their futures on success in this same area where The Larkin Company once made its mark on the history of Buffalo.
Stay tuned for next week’s post, Larkinville – Part 2, where we’ll discuss what’s happening in Larkinville now. Who are the people and the businesses that are already here, and we’ll take a closer look at the Larkin Gallery, located in the Larkin Commerce Building. One trip to the Gallery, and you’ll know why so many people are still fascinated with The Larkin Company, and indeed the Larkin family, today.
I’m one of them. See you next week!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in reading about where the Larkin family lived here in Buffalo. Spoiler alert: their homes were (and some still are) spectacular! Enjoy!
**Special thanks to Jerome Puma – couldn’t have done it without you!
Get the Book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!
I’ve been noticing the amount of gray days we’ve been having here in Buffalo. I wanted to make a point to show you that even on the grayest days of winter, even when there’s no sunshine or snow to brighten things up, you can still find beauty in our city. You just have to look for it. This post is a compilation of photos I took during two different urban hikes at Forest Lawn, on two gray days in January. The sun peeked out for a short time on one of the hikes. But I’d have never noticed it had I stayed inside that day. It didn’t last long!
Walking around, I was stunned because it was beautiful here amid the gray skies. There were no spring blooms, no summer greenery, no fall colors, not even a fresh coat of snow. Serene. Not city-like at all. There’s been a lot of talk around town about so many gray days strung together here in Buffalo. Make the most of these days anyway. I heard a quote once that was similar to this, “if you choose not to find joy in the winter, the winter will still come, but you will have less joy in your life”. What do you choose? I choose joy.
Also, I’ve gotten a handful of emails from readers who, for several different reasons, cannot take the hikes I so enjoy. Driving is allowed in Forest Lawn, so…enjoy my friends!
The memorials that people erect to their loved ones never cease to amaze me.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed this one, called Blue Sky Mausoleum. He designed it for the Darwin Martin family, but it was never built for them because the Martins lost much of their fortune in the stock market crash in 1929. This was added to the cemetery much later using Wright’s design.
There’s just something about this angel. And check out that blue sky!
Birds in flight, and a tribute to Darwin D. Martin. There is something very touching about Timothy Switala’s stone…he was loved.
Prince Kyril Scherbatow, a Russian Prince and Godson of Czar Nicholas II – and his Buffalo Born Princess!
This one is ethereal. It’s just gorgeous.
It all comes down to love, doesn’t it? I mean, let’s face it. Some of these memorials were built to impress. But most show an outpouring of love for people who have gone before us.
Think about this, people travel to New Orleans to see their famous cemeteries. I’ve been to some there. Forest Lawn is every bit as interesting, but so much more beautiful. The landscaping and the rolling hills make it beautiful here all year round. Even in the dull, gray days of winter. A beautiful and peaceful final resting place to be sure. In the center of the city, it is serene.
If you haven’t been to Forest Lawn Cemetery in the winter, give it a try. It might just lift your spirits during these gray winter days.
When you go, you can use your smartphone to hear stories about well-known people buried here. Simply go to Forest Lawn’s website, and follow the prompts for self-guided tours.
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’ve been admiring Soldiers Circle, or Soldiers Place, since well, I guess since the first time I really noticed it. I used to work for the Government of Canada here in Buffalo, and the Consul General’s official residence was on Soldiers Circle. The Canadians purchased the mansion in 2009. There would be parties held there on occasion and I remember it being a beautiful home that was surrounded by other beautiful homes.
For some odd reason, I never really noticed this circle before that time. I mean, I had driven through it many times. But after the first party at #196, I started extending my walks in Delaware Park to include Lincoln Parkway and Soldiers Circle. We are so fortunate to have so much gorgeous architecture to look at on our daily walks. And to be fair, this circle is wide. Might be why I never noticed the homes until I went in one. What I mean is that the homes are a good distance from the circle itself, with lots of green space and trees in between. And when you’re driving or biking through, you really have to pay attention to traffic.
Let’s get to it.
A Bit of History at Soldiers Circle
When Frederick Law Olmsted designed our parkway system, he put Soldiers Circle at the center of the three main parkways, Lincoln, Bidwell and Chapin. These three parkways lead to all the others, which lead us to all the other parks. Sadly, not all the others have survived. But we’re not here to discuss that today.
Today, it’s all about the circle itself. Originally, Soldiers Circle was meant to be home to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument which ended up being placed downtown in Lafayette Square. History isn’t clear how or why that happened, but here we are. Instead the circle originally had three Navy Parrot Guns, which were Civil War cannons, and stacks of cannonballs.
Word on the street says that from the beginning, Buffalonians couldn’t resist stealing the cannonballs. I guess some sold them for scrap, some sold them to collectors, and some simply kept them. Still others would roll them up and down the parkways. Oh, Buffalo…
Either way, all of it was removed in 1937 by then Parks Commissioner Frank Coon, who said they were traffic hazards. Apparently, more than once, people ran their vehicles into the cannons. (Was this a precursor to people driving into buildings in Buffalo?) Seriously though, this is not the first time I’ve heard that early drivers had trouble maneuvering through traffic circles. Anyway, and ironically, the cannons and their accompanying cannonballs were sold for junk at that time.
The Homes on Soldiers Circle
I headed over to Soldiers Circle on an absolutely beautiful October day. The sun was shining, the sky could have been a bit more blue, but it was a crisp, pretty, autumn day nonetheless.
I entered the circle at Chapin Parkway heading towards Bidwell. The first thing I see is this building (above) that was originally a hotel, built for the Pan American Exposition in 1901. It’s since been turned into townhouses and apartments. I’ve seen photos of the interior of a couple of the townhouses and they’re beautiful!
I’m not sure what’s going on with the brick though. I doubt it was originally a mix of yellow and red, which shows at some point there was at least some neglect, but it appears to be well maintained now. I love that almost every window still has the original leaded glass transoms above. And there are so many windows!
On this particular day, I noticed a lot of things I’ve never noticed about this building before. Like what are those openings in the peaks? Are they patios? If they are, how lovely! And I love the transoms and sidelights at the main entryways! Gorgeous!
The Oldest Home on the Circle
The very next house I come to I meet the owner on his way out with his dog. He tells me his is the oldest home on the circle. It’s an 1885 Eastlake Victorian, and I daresay it’s one of the nicest examples of the style I’ve seen.
An Eastlake Victorian differs from other Victorians, from what I understand, by the ornamentation. Named for Charles Locke Eastlake, the Eastlake style home has more subdued ornamentation than other Victorians. Charles disdained flamboyant decoration, and it showed in his designs. The use of color is more subdued as well. In this case it makes for a gorgeous home. To my eye, the colors are spot on, and the ornamentation is a perfect compliment to the home. The windows are original and open out from the bottom, see photo. I find the whole house to be very charming. I’d love to see the inside.
But alas the owner and his super cute Labradoodle have already left for places unknown.
Am I in Allentown?
This whole section here has a real Allentown feel. It’s quite different from the other ‘sections’ of the circle. Now that I think about it, each section of this circle has its own distinct feel. You’ll see what I mean as I move along.
This one is Allentown. Lovely homes that have a real comfortable feel. Like that feeling I get in Allentown. Look at this house below. Doesn’t it just look comfortable? Like you want to be on that second floor porch reading away the afternoon. Or sipping wine with friends into the late hours on a summer evening. How about that? Sound good? You know it does.
Yes, this section is gorgeous and unpretentious.
Lipke House, Jody Douglass House, & Niscah House
Next I came to one of several homes in this area that Buffalo Seminary owns. Most of the homes are used to board students, but a couple are home to Head of School, Assistant Head of School and the like. Pictured below, are three in this stretch owned by Buff Sem. They are Lipke House, Jody Douglass House, and Niscah House.
For clarity, Buffalo Seminary is a non-denominational, day and boarding school for college bound girls. It has its roots in early Buffalo history (1851), and is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning for females in the country.
First up, Lipke House (1896). This one is home to the current Assistant Head of School. What a great example of the Colonial Revival Style. Just look at those four pedimented dormers complete with dentil moldings. Also, notice what is called pebbled dash inside the triangular section of the dormer. I don’t believe those would have originally been painted, but I can’t say for sure in this case. Most were simply mortar with medium size ‘pebbles’ placed at irregular intervals throughout. Interesting!
Next, are Jody Douglass House (1905) and Niscah House (1910), respectively. Both are for students boarding with Buff Sem. Indeed, as I came upon them, a handful of teenage girls came out of the houses, and headed over to the school. What an idyllic setting for this school. It helps that all of their buildings are incredibly well maintained.
The building below the two houses is Buff Sems’ West Chester Hall. It faces Soldiers Circle. Another beauty and it’s perfectly maintained.
As I Cross Bidwell Parkway
As I cross Bidwell, I get distracted by a house I see, and I’m not sure whether it’s on Bidwell or Soldiers Circle. So I walk up to it, and I find it’s not either. Check it out.
First of all, this is one of the best gates I’ve ever seen! It’s awesome! Second, note the address above the door. Lincoln Woods? It’s then that I remember seeing a small lane off Bidwell Parkway on a map several weeks ago. I make a left to see if I can find it.
I pass this…another home with a Lincoln Woods address.
Sure enough, there it is…
So, even though it appears private, it doesn’t say so. I make a right and I start walking up Lincoln Woods Lane. I don’t go far, out of respect, and because of the fact that there is no city street sign. In fact, there’s a concrete driveway out onto Bidwell. This is what I’m thinking as I take photos of one more Lincoln Woods Lane home.
It was at that point that I felt like I was intruding on people’s privacy, and I always try to respect that, so that’s as far as I went. When I came home, I looked at a map. There’s at least two more homes back in there. Maybe more. Secrets off Bidwell. Well, I guess it’s not really a secret. I mean, there’s a sign there announcing it! The things you notice when you’re walking!
Back to Soldiers Circle
As I head back into Soldiers Circle, these are the homes I see. All lovely. A bit newer than I expected, (1960-ish) but just lovely. The backyards of these homes are on Lincoln Woods Lane. Nice.
And Then, There’s This
Yep. Frank Lloyd Wright is represented on Soldiers Place with this stunner! This home was built for William Heath, who, like Darwin Martin, worked for the Larkin Company. Heath was an office manager, and eventually a vice-president, and was able to engage Frank Lloyd Wright to build this home on Soldiers Place at Bird Ave.
Here’s what I know about it. Like Darwin Martin’s house, it was built in 1905. It’s one of Wright’s Prairie School designs, shaped to fit on this narrow, long lot. Wright achieved privacy for the Heaths by building up the lot so that the first floor windows are above street level. Indeed, when you walk by, you cannot see inside the home. But still, it draws your attention to the art glass windows, the low slung, hipped roof with projecting eaves, that large, private porch, and just the sheer perfection that this home is.
There is an apartment above the 5+ car garage that has the sweetest second floor patio you can imagine. You know how I love a second floor patio. The home itself is still a private, single family residence, with the exception of that apartment above the garage. This home adds a lot to the appearance and ambience of the circle.
And it’s unique that a Frank Lloyd Wright home sits on a Frederick Law Olmsted designed traffic circle. We are fortunate to have such an amazing design among our Buffalo homes, on one of our historic parkways.
The Other Side of Bird Ave.
As I cross Bird Ave, this is what I see. I don’t even know where to begin! This house is just so – pretty. It’s in impeccable shape. While I’m snapping photos, the owner comes out with his morning coffee and a newspaper. We start to talk and I tell him how much I admire his home.
The symmetry of this Georgian style home is what does it for me. I’m an admirer of symmetry. When things don’t match up, I get uneasy. Not really, but when they do, it pleases me. The bay windows on the Bird Ave side of the house are perfect, and the Palladian windows both on the front and the sides of the house are spectacular. And that entryway! Classic!
If I have one criticism of this house it would be lack of access to the front porch from the outside. It’s one of my pet peeves. I understand why people do it. Especially on property such as this, where the home faces a circle. But it’s somehow, unneighborly. That being said, the owner was very friendly and willing to chat for a few minutes. And to be fair, he did not build the porch. So, please understand that I mean no disrespect to him. I still love the house regardless, save for that one thing.
Two More Homes on This Stretch
This slice of Soldiers Circle is set up a little bit differently. Instead of facing the circle on an angle, the homes all face what would be the continuation of Lincoln Parkway, and are stepped somewhat. In the photo below, to the left you can see the previous home set back somewhat from this home, placed further away from Lincoln Parkway. And the next one to come is closer still to the Parkway. The feeling here is one of privacy, and peace.
So, there are just three homes in this section.
This one welcomes you right up to the front door.
I love the use of Flemish brick bonding on this home. It’s a way of arranging the bricks in each row so that the bricks alternate which side of the brick itself faces the outside. With one being laid the long way, and the next is laid the short way. In the case of this house, a darker brick is used for the bricks with the short end facing out. I love the effect. In fact, all three homes on this section of the circle use this technique of Flemish bonding. It’s fabulous on this particular home.
I also love the entryway. It’s simple, but stately and elegant. The leaded glass sidelights are perfect for this house. And finally, the use of black paint really allows the architectural details to pop. Love it. Why isn’t that done more often?
And then there’s this one, below. I love how the front walk curves out to the common sidewalk. I admit I wanted to walk up it. Love the brick pavers. The landscaping is beautiful, if a little overgrown at this point in the year. Understandable.
And the house itself. To me it’s a unique design that has great arts and crafts details. The hipped roof with wide, un-enclosed eaves, the exposed roof rafters (these may be decorative). And the rounded porch with its exposed beams and square columns. Love the whole effect.
I picture this as a family home. Unassuming and well lived in. Just as a home should be.
Moving Right Along
As I cross Lincoln Parkway, I notice that this section of the circle is the only one with a separate road on the circle side of the homes. Convenient, if a little less private I guess. Google Maps calls it Soldiers Place. And all the addresses of the homes on the circle are listed at “Soldiers Place”. I should take a moment right now to say that Soldiers Circle is sometimes called Soldiers Place, Soldiers Way and Soldiers Walk. I have no explanation or reasoning for this, except that in Buffalo, we tend to call things whatever we want, and sometimes we end up with a little confusion. This is one of those times.
Getting back to the homes on the circle, check this out. This home is of the American Renaissance Style, and it’s one I’m not very familiar with. It appears to be a precursor to the Arts & Crafts movement. This particular home has that central dormer with a hipped roof, the terracotta, keystone lintels at the windows and the Doric columns on the offset porch. The wrought iron on the upper patio is fantastic! Right down to the landscaping, this home is perfect. To me anyway.
As I move to the next home, this is what I see (below). It’s official. I’m a fan of the Tudor style. I don’t know why I ever thought I wasn’t. Going out on a limb in this election year, and changing my mind. I like Tudors. Especially this Tudor Revival. It features half timbering over shingles, and a brick first level. Love the chimney.
It was built in 1906 for Albert de La Plante and his wife Margaret, who came to Buffalo from Canada in 1898. Albert worked for Twin Cities Lumber Company. Their son Walter, was Treasurer and Manager of the Peace Bridge later on. Cool! As far as I know they were the first Canadians to live on the circle. But not the last.
Did Someone Say Statler?
Then, suddenly and without warning I’m looking at a 1961 Cape Cod Ranch (below). Here’s another style I wouldn’t have known offhand. Apparently the pitched roof elevation and dormer windows are typical of the Cape Cod style, while the horizontal lines, and large windows lend themselves to the ranch style. Hence, a blending of the two. I never knew ‘Cape Cod Ranch’ was a thing.
This home was built on part of the property previously occupied by the estate of Ellsworth Statler. There is a low-slung wall on the far right of this photo that still exists from the Statler era, and the Medina Sandstone paving was reclaimed from elsewhere on the property. While I inwardly mourn the loss of the Statler house, I absolutely love the look of this home. I think it’s a nice compliment to the more modern homes on the opposite side of the circle.
The Last Section of the Circle
As I cross Bird Ave (again), I see this beauty. I love the symmetry here. The three dormers with broken pediments are lovely. I wish the windows were original, but I fear that they are not. Note the curved arches above the windows, and the keystones. I love when a second floor window copies the front entryway door with its sidelights, like this one does with a smaller version of the surround. I also love, love, love this porch. The curved roofline is just so nice to look at! It softens the rest of the straight lines of this house. Lovely.
And these two. I love the wrought iron on the front door and sidelights of the first house. And the one below that, is just beautifully built. It appears perfect in every way, with the exception of the complete lack of landscaping. It strikes me as odd in this neighborhood. I’d love it if the walls could talk in this house, because I wonder what’s going on inside.
The Government of Canada on Soldiers Circle
Like I mentioned earlier, the Canadians purchased this mansion on Soldiers Circle in 2009. I say the Canadians purchased the property because the Consul General at the time, Marta Moszczenska, always said that the home did not belong to her, but to the people of Canada and their locally engaged staff.
Here’s a funny story. A friend of mine was at the home for a holiday party. While at the party she spilled red wine on white carpeting in an upper hallway. She was mortified and didn’t mention it that night. But by the following Monday, she felt so bad about it, she went to Marta’s office to confess. True to her word, Marta told her not to worry, that it didn’t bother her in the least, and that she would take care of it. It was, after all, not her home. She was only the caretaker. By the end of the conversation, they had made arrangements for the wine spiller to house-sit the following week. That, in a nutshell, what it was like to work for the Government of Canada here in Buffalo.
Let’s Take a Look at the Interior
Elizabeth and Stephen Hays now own the home, and they were gracious enough to invite me inside and into the backyard. My memory was correct. It’s a beautiful home that’s got great flow from the front foyer all the way around the interior and back again. It’s spectacular!
I thought perhaps that over the years, I had built the home up in my mind to be something more than it really is. But no, it’s genuinely a great home. It’s got wide open rooms that are great for big gatherings, and small little nooks to hide away and read a book in peace.
Liz and Stephen have five children and I have to tell you that I like that a large, busy, fun-loving family now fills these rooms. It’s what big homes should be about. Where nobody cares (too much) if you leave a blanket and pillow on the floor. Or forget to pick up your socks. Basically, who cares if someone actually sees that people live here? That attitude seems alive and well here. And I love it. Here’s the family.
Oh the parties I could give in this backyard. Just sayin. Only thing that bothers me here is all the utility wires criss-crossing it. Sort of annoying in the yard of a mansion. I’m sure that could be remedied though.
I hardly know where to begin with my impressions this week. From the history of this circle including Frederick Law Olmsted, to Frank Lloyd Wright himself, to the Government of Canada, this circle has so much going on.
Between the three circles I’ve written about now, Soldiers Circle, Symphony Circle and Colonial Circle, this one by far feels the most affluent. Most of the homes are mansions. But there are also the humble Eastlake Victorian, the 1960s Capes and the smaller homes on Lincoln Woods Lane, which are probably larger than they appear.
This circle is also the only one surrounded by Parkways, and that makes it feel affluent as well. Right in the middle of Lincoln Parkway, Bidwell Parkway and Chapin Parkway. Three of the most sought after addresses in the city.
And Soldiers Circle takes up a lot of real estate. Seriously. From the circle itself, it’s difficult to see any of the homes lining it. I both like that, and don’t like that. Know what I mean? It does make it park like for the homeowners.
And to be fair the sidewalks do run pretty close to the homes. So, I guess Soldiers Circle, or whatever you prefer to call it, makes a great argument for urban hiking. If you want to see stuff, get out and walk. But isn’t that what I always say?
Take a walk over at Soldiers Circle. You’ll love what you see just like I did!
*Get the book! They make great keepsakes, or gifts for friends and family. Click this link to order, or click on the photo below.
**Special thanks to Elizabeth and Stephen Hays for sharing your home with us! Follow Liz on Instagram @lovelizhays
***All photos in this post are mine, unless otherwise noted.
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.