Several years ago I worked in the Seneca One Tower (then the HSBC Building). One lunch hour I walked over to city hall for a tour with my sister, who had her office there at the time. On the way I passed by the Old County Hall. The last time I even noticed this building was when I had Erie County jury duty roughly a month after 9/11/2001. While waiting to be called for selection, there was a bomb threat and we had to evacuate the building. Probably why I never noticed the incredible architecture the building holds. And since then, I’ve learned a lot of the equally incredible history of the building as well.
The story of this building begins in Buffalo’s earliest days.
As long as I can remember the Ellicott Square Building has always just been there. Over the years, I’ve eaten lunch here. I’ve shopped here. I’ve paid my monthly parking fees here. I’ve even passed through the building in order to warm up on my way to or from someplace close by. What I mean is, I knew it was beautiful, but I was always too busy to really take notice.
Let’s take notice now.
To do that, we’ll start with its namesake. It was named for Joseph Ellicott, who was an agent for the Holland Land Company, who owned all of Western New York at one time. In 1804 Ellicott laid out the streets of Buffalo. While doing so, he purchased the piece of property that the Ellicott Square Building stands on. The plot was originally much larger and spanned from Swan Street to Eagle Street (now South Division), and from Main Street all the way out to Jefferson Avenue.
One of my favorite haunts is the North Tonawanda Farmers Market. I love knowing where my food comes from, so I’ve been to many of WNY’s farmers markets. NT’s is one my personal favorites.
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t always take the same route to get to a place every time I go. I like to mix it up and look around a bit. I’ve noticed the beautiful old Victorian homes in North Tonawanda many times on my trips to the market. Like a lot of people, I’ve often wondered what they’re like inside.
Last week , my cousin offered me a pretty cool opportunity. She offered to turn the tables and take me on a tour of the building where she works. Since I’m always up for a tour of just about any building, I jumped at the chance.
Her building is the Fidelity Trust Building, now known as Swan Tower. I’ve walked by it literally hundreds of times, and I admit I had no real expectations going in.
Several years ago now, I took a job with an accounting firm. I started on the first day the firm opened in their new building. The reason I mention this is because they had just left the Brisbane Building. Everyone talked about it as if it was the oldest, draftiest building the city has ever seen. They were happy to be out of it.
I, of course, was fascinated. I’d seen the building, but had never been in it. I’d spent years attending the Thursday in the Square concerts that used to take place in Lafayette Square, right in front of the Brisbane Building. I would look up and wonder what those beautifully curved glass windows have witnessed over the years. Just who they’d seen, and what they’d heard.
While out for a walk the other day, I came upon one of the many buildings in Buffalo that makes me wish time travel was real. To be able to go back to the turn of the twentieth century when Buffalo was preparing for the Pan American Exposition. To walk the city streets during Buffalo’s ‘heyday’ is a recurring topic of my daydreams.
The building I found myself in front of that day was The Hotel Lafayette. I would love to have witnessed the building of this hotel. The reason why will become clear when you read the story behind it.
The year is 1895. Buffalo is booming. Hascal Taylor, a Buffalo businessman commissions the Chicago based architectural firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan to build the “largest and best office building in the city”.
They design a skyscraper with a steel framed construction, which is all new in 1895. They plan to wrap the steel frame in fireproof, decorative terra cotta. Taylor loves it and plans are made to begin building.
Buffalo has got some old homes.
But none are older that the unassuming Coit House, located at 412 Virginia Street. I say unassuming because the history behind it, and the history that must have taken place inside it, is nothing short of incredible. And yet compared with some of the grand mansions in Buffalo, this home seems unassuming.
Let’s take a closer look.
A long time ago, not gonna tell you how long, when our kids were very young we were planning to go to Delaware Park for a snowman building contest as part of a winter festival, and as the parents of three super energetic boys you can imagine that this was the topic of conversation for over a week. Trying to decide just what kind of snowman to build, should we have a castle too? How many can we make? You get the picture. They were excited.
There is a rock solid connection between Buckingham Palace, the Brooklyn Bridge, the NYS Capitol Building’s grand (and I do mean grand!) staircase, and Buffalo’s Richardson Olmsted Complex.
All of these were built with, or partially with, Medina sandstone.