Buffalo's Most Instagrammed Building – Goldome

Buffalo's Most Instagrammed Building – Goldome

When I think of the Goldome Building in downtown Buffalo, my first thoughts should be great Buffalo architecture. But instinctively I think of Instagram.  Seriously – this is where we are as a culture. It is probably the most Instagrammed building in the city.  I guess it’s easy to see why. This building looks amazing in photos, and that my friends, is what Instagram is all about.

But my next thoughts go to Buffalo Savings Bank, and then immediately to M&T Bank.

The Common Man

Buffalo Savings Bank was opened in Buffalo in 1846, with Millard Fillmore as one of it’s founders. It was the first savings bank in the city. It was billed as the bank for the common working man. You see, in the mid-nineteenth century, banking was reserved for the wealthy and Buffalo had plenty of wealthy people at the time. But for every wealthy person in Buffalo, there were many, many more people who worked for the wealthy.

Buffalo Savings Bank was opened in order to give the regular folk a safe place to keep their money. You know, safer than under their mattresses. It also gave people aspirations that they could save their money to build a better life for themselves. And we all want that, don’t we?

Customers of the bank were to be ‘tradesmen, clerks, mechanics, laborers, minors, servants and others’ according to their charter. The ‘common man’ flocked to Buffalo Savings to make their deposits, to give them piece of mind that their hard earned dollars were safe, and to give them hope for a better future.

The Bank’s Location

The bank’s first home was at Washington and Broadway. Unfortunately, that building burned in 1865. They used a temporary site until 1899, when the bank held a design competition for a new building. Well known Buffalo architects E.B. Green and William Wicks won the competition, thus creating another one of their masterpieces. This one happens to be a beautiful example of neoclassical beaux-arts style. When it was built, it contained more stone than any other building in the country. Each pillar took three months to build! Architecturally, it’s perfect in my book. The design showcases the security, aspiration and stability that people expect from a bank.

Let’s talk about the dome for a minute. It’s covered with 13,500 separate pieces of terra cotta, each row a different size and shape from all the others. It seriously must have been a complicated process to complete. Originally covered in copper, it turned the greenish color we all know and associate with copper. It wasn’t until 1953 that 24 karat gold leaf was painstakingly applied, finally creating the iconic Buffalo building we all know and love today. The dome received two more fresh coats of gold in 1979 and 1998 respectively. It is gorgeous!

Inside the Masterpiece

The inside is just as impressive as the outside. The murals were added in 1926, and were done by Frances, Davidson & Savage Painting Company. And they are stunning. There are four sides to the murals, surrounding the dome itself, and each side is represented by Commerce, the Arts, Power and Industry respectively, highlighting all that was going on in Buffalo at the turn of the last century.

At the center of the dome is a quote from Confucius which states, “Virtue is the root, and wealth is the flower.” I find that to be very fitting for a bank. It instills trust.

As a side note, showcasing Commerce, the Arts, Industry and Power in architecture here in Buffalo seems to be a theme. The intricately designed floor of the Ellicott Square Building mentions them. Similarly, Old County Hall uses Agriculture, the Mechanical Arts, Justice and Commerce. Interesting trend.

Goldome

Buffalo Savings Bank flourished through the 1950’s and 60’s. However, in the 1970’s, the very beginning of the savings and loan crisis caused the bank to falter.

The name of the bank was changed to Goldome in the early 1980’s. However, the new name did little to help their fiscal situation and Goldome was dissolved by the FDIC in 1991. The bank’s assets were split between by Key Bank and First Empire Bank (of which M&T Bank was a major subsidiary). M&T purchased the buildings later that same year, and the Goldome Building was renamed the M&T Center, and now serves as a bank branch for M&T.

Of course, most Buffalonians still refer to it as the Goldome Building. I know this Buffalonian does.

New Owners of the Goldome Building

So, who was this new steward of one of Buffalo’s most well known architectural treasures? In order to figure that out, let’s go back to the beginning.

As I discussed in The Fidelity Trust Building post, M&T is the only bank that was started in Buffalo that is still present here today. It was established in 1856 by Pascal Pratt and Bronson Rumsey, who were two very prominent Buffalonians. While on a train returning to Buffalo from New York City, Pratt and Rumsey discussed the lack of good banking options in Buffalo. So, they decided to start their own bank. It was to become what is now M&T Bank. That blows my mind. Two people can have a conversation about starting a bank, and then they do. I mean, who does that?

Let’s Find Out

For curiosity sake, let’s take a quick look at these two men.

Pascal Paoli Pratt was a partner in the Saddlery Hardware store, Pratt & Company, which was begun by his brother Samuel. Pascal was the first vice president of M&T, was named president in 1885, and he also served on several boards of other banks and businesses. In addition, he was one of the originators of the Buffalo Park System, serving as the first president of the parks commission from 1869-1879. Busy guy.

Bronson Case Rumsey and his brother Dexter ran their father’s tanning (leather) business in Buffalo, until it was bought by the United States Leather Company. They invested the profit from the sale, which was roughly $20 million, in railroads, real estate and banking, most of it here in Buffalo. Between them, the two owned 22 of the 43 square miles that Buffalo was at the time.

Pratt and Rumsey were interesting men to say the least. But that’s enough history for today.

My Impressions

In Buffalo we are so used to the incredible architecture, that sometimes we forget to look. We get so busy in our everyday lives, that we forget to notice the beauty that surrounds us.

The Goldome Building is a veritable treat for the eyes. When I come upon this Buffalo architectural icon, I feel grateful. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. I’m grateful that this building still stands as a testament to all it represents. The gilded age of Buffalo, the vision Buffalo possessed at the turn of the 20th Century, the changes our city has undergone since then.  And finally, that our city is home to intelligent and determined people who work to preserve beautiful buildings like the Goldome Building.

Take the time to notice your city. Wherever you live. Look, and you will find the beauty.

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The Market Arcade

The Market Arcade

My First Foray into Urban Hiking

I clearly remember the first time I saw the Market Arcade building on Main Street in Buffalo.  My Father and I went for a long walk in Allentown. It seemed like we stopped to chat with everyone we met along the way. One man who had a narrow flower garden along one side of his driveway was particularly interesting.  He and my father spoke about how rich his soil was, about composting and coffee grounds. They were agreeing about how healthy the soil was, when the young man picked some of it up and tasted it. The soil. He ate it! My father just laughed and we continued on our way.  Funny, the things you remember.

That same day we drove over to Main Street, got out and walked up one side of the street and back down the other.  I saw Shea’s for the first time that day. Also Fountain Plaza, the Goldome Bank Building (Buffalo Savings Bank at the time), the Electric Tower and everything in between.

My First Glimpse

On the way back to the car, we stopped in front of the Market Arcade.  I don’t remember what my father had to say about it, but I was struck by the ornamentation all over the building.  I thought it was probably the prettiest thing I had ever seen. That’s really saying something, because I had just seen that magnificent gold roof on top of that other building!

I fell in love with my hometown that day. Can you imagine? It was the early 70’s! Buffalo was well into it’s decline. Nevertheless, I fell hard. The buildings and the people won me over.

History / Architecture

The Market Arcade was built in 1892, and it was designed by the architectural firm of E.B. Green & William Wicks, who are arguably the most prolific architects Buffalo has seen to date. The Arcade is three floors of shops and offices connected by a long narrow atrium, which is covered with frosted glass, giving the interior both protection from the elements, while providing soft, even light that helps to create the comfortable vibe within.

Photo taken from the third floor office space.

Like the Ellicott Square Building, both the Main Street and Washington Street facades are identical. They feature columns, arches, intricate ornamentation, and bison heads, celebrating the neo-classical architecture that was so popular in the country at the time.

The Arcade is Buffalo’s only historic indoor shopping space. It was built for G.B. Marshall, who suggested that the building be modeled after the Burlington Arcade in London, which was designed to connect to it’s surrounding neighborhood. That way it maintains close ties with the street life around it. Having two identical entrances, both on busy streets, Buffalo’s Market Arcade followed suit.

Although I’ve always used the Market Arcade in this way, entering from one street, taking care of business, and leaving through the other door to continue my errands, I never realized it was designed to do just that. On the Main Street side there were and are numerous businesses, offices and apartments, and on the Washington Street Side there used to be the Washington Market, also known as the Chippewa Market, when the Arcade was built. The many people passing through one entrance to get to the other had to be attractive to the small businesses renting space in the building. It meant for a lot of foot traffic.

The Sad Seventies

The Washington Market property (which was well-known back in the early 1900’s as the largest market west of the Hudson River) was sold by the city in 1965 to be used as a parking lot for the Buffalo Savings Bank. Remember that gold dome I mentioned earlier? That’s the one.

Seeing the photo below, and knowing my desire for time travel, I wish I could step back in time to do some shopping at the Washington Market. Just for one day…

Washington (Chippewa) Market circa 1900. In this photo, the Market Arcade would be on the left, across Washington Street. Photo Credit: Buffalo History Museum

Here’s an interesting Buffalo tidbit. A young Common Council member opposed the sale of the market to the bank. He was quoted in an article in the Buffalo Evening News on February 24, 1965, saying, “I can’t see where we’re going to get any real value out of a bank parking lot.” His name was none other than Jimmy Griffin, who went on to become mayor of Buffalo, serving 16 years.

After the sale, foot traffic decreased greatly, and tenants began to leave the Market Arcade. Buffalo was declining as a whole by then as well, which I’m sure did not help the matter. Hence, in the 1970’s the building was shuttered. So the sale of the Washington Market contributed to the loss of at least two Buffalo institutions. Say what you want about Jimmy Griffin, but he was certainly right about this one.

The Comeback of the Market Arcade

Eventually, the city acquired the Arcade in a bankruptcy hearing, and by the mid 80’s a restoration was underway. It was completed in 1995.

Renovations underway in early 1990’s. Photo Credit: BRD Construction

Use of the Arcade slowly but surely increased. In 2013 the city put the building up for sale. It was purchased by Sinatra & Co. Realty in 2014 for $1.4 million. And while they have done a good job with the interior of the building, in my opinion, the exterior could use some attention. It appears to need a good cleaning at the very least. It’s too beautiful a facade to let it go.

In 2015, Sinatra also acquired the adjoining building and turned the first floor into the Expo Market, an upscale but affordable downtown food court, including a full service bar. Every time I go in, it seems to be doing well. The restaurants here offer a wide variety of foods. And the food is impressive. Certainly there is something for everyone. In a way, the Expo represents the eclectic food scene for which Buffalo is becoming well known.

The Market Arcade (right) and the Expo Market (left) from Main Street.

My Impressions

The memories of the day my father and I took that walk are etched in my mind.  It was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with urban hiking, and with Buffalo itself. It was also quite possibly the day I developed my tendency to speak with people I meet on the street!

So, next time you need to get some shopping done, or just feel like taking a walk, head over to the Market Arcade on either Main or Washington Streets near Chippewa. Peruse through the interesting galleries, shops and businesses that make their homes here. Next, grab a bite and a beer at the Expo Market in the adjoining space. Afterwards, take in a movie at the still new AMC Market Arcade 8, next door to the Expo. Seriously, it’ll make for an interesting day.

And because all of the businesses here are locally owned, you’ll be helping to build a strong community. But you already know that.

And don’t forget to chat with the people you meet. After all, this is Buffalo, and we’re a friendly city. You never know, you may make a lifelong memory for yourself, or for someone else!

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Another Architectural Masterpiece Hiding In Plain Sight

Another Architectural Masterpiece Hiding In Plain Sight

A couple of days ago, on the anniversary of the World Trade Center attack, I got to thinking about the Twin Towers in NYC, One M&T Plaza here in Buffalo, and their common designer/architect, Minoru Yamasaki.    

Yep, that’s right, One M&T Plaza was designed by the same architect who designed the World Trade Center.   As a matter of fact, Yamasaki completed the design for the World Trade Center while One M&T Plaza was being built.

Photo Credit: Nancy Wohlfeil. One of the Twin Towers pre 2001. Looks like a photo I would have taken, doesn’t it?

Yamasaki (rt.) shown with colleagues and a model of the World Trade Center. Photo Credit: Tony Vaccaro

You could say that One M&T Plaza is another one of our architectural treasures that is hiding in plain sight.   We pass by it all the time.   We watch bands there every weekday in the summer.   We run over there to grab a quick bite from a food truck, or to do our banking on our breaks.   But do we ever really look at it?   Or even recognize it for the masterpiece that it is, or for the incredibly talented architect who designed it?  

Let’s start with the architect.   Who was Minoru Yamasaki?    

Well, he was born in Seattle, Washington in 1912.   Yamasaki was a second generation Japanese American who put himself through college by working at a salmon cannery for 17 cents an hour.   Seeing the elderly men working in the cannery, he became very determined to take his life in a completely different direction.    

His uncle, architect Koken Ito, visited the family and showed Yamasaki plans for the U.S. Embassy Building in Tokyo. It was then that Yamasaki set his sights on becoming an architect.   After graduating from Washington State University with a Bachelor’s Degree, he went on to receive a Master’s Degree from New York University.  

Early in his career, Yamasaki was heavily influenced by the practicality and austerity of the modern or international style of architecture.   But in 1955, he traveled to Japan to get some ideas for a U.S. Consulate building in Kobe. While he was there, he was particularly struck by the temples hidden among the commotion of the city streets.   The beautiful, calm, serene effect that was achieved in these designs fascinated him.

Robertson Hall, Princeton University.   Photo Credit: Yamasaki-inc.com

He set out to perfect the art of delighting the senses while using modern building materials such as concrete and steel.   His designs always drew attention, but not always in a positive way. They were criticized for being both too dainty and later too great and powerful looking.   I guess it’s true what ‘they’ say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

While working for Duane Lyman and Associates, Yamasaki was commissioned to design One M&T Plaza.  Executives at M&T had a vision of a serene place for their employees to work unencumbered by poor design, with a place out of doors, in the sun to relax during break times.   They wanted their employees to enjoy being at work, feel stress free and surrounded by beauty. In 1966 that was quite a change in vision from the Ellicott Square Building across the street, which was built in 1895 and advertised as the “place where you can get two days worth of work done in one day”.   It seems to me that in 1966 we were moving in the right direction. And Yamasaki was just the person to design this building.    

It’s in the International style like almost all of Yamasaki’s designs and has 21 stories.   It’s a classic tripartite design, which simply means that the design has three sections.    

The first floor with high ceilings and tall arched windows, faced with marble in white and green, the green being on both the north and south elevations make up the first section.   It’s followed by the office block which houses narrow windows, and piers made with concrete aggregate with small pores that self clean the building when it rains. (It’s effective too. Think about it, you’ve never seen this building appear dirty like some others.   Case in point, the Rand Building.)   The office block is topped by the third and final section, which is a series of white verticals with just a slight hint of a cornice above.   These three are the basis for most modern skyscrapers.

As a side note, Yamasaki designed the windows to be tall and narrow with very narrow piers.   This is said to alleviate that woozy feeling that accompanies the fear of heights from the inside of the building. He did this on all of his tall buildings you see, because he was afraid of heights. Can you imagine? A designer of skyscrapers, afraid of heights?

The steel for the frame was purchased from Bethlehem Steel here in Buffalo, and wraps around the outside of the structure leaving the inside of the building wide open at the center.   The spine at the back of the building on Washington Street houses all the utilities and elevator shafts, allowing for this great openness on the inside.    

Incidentally, this spine was built of concrete in a process known as slipforming, a method of construction in which concrete is poured into the top of a continuously moving formwork.   As the concrete is poured, the formwork is raised vertically at a speed which allows the concrete to harden before it is freed from the formwork at the bottom.   Slipforming was used extensively in Buffalo in the building of our grain silos.

The fountain outside the Main Street entrance was designed by famed sculptor Harry Bertoia.   The curves of the sculpture contrast nicely against the straight lines of the building itself.   The fountain is designed to make you feel as if the water flows out of the sculpture itself onto the ground of the plaza, which is entirely stone, in M&T signature green.   That same stone continues right through the front doors and into the enormous open lobby.

And the lobby is impressive.   You only need to walk through the door (use the revolving door for the full effect) to be awed by the sheer size and openness of it!   I’m told on this visit today that there will be a reorganization of the lobby in the coming months and will be completed in early 2020.

The photo above was taken by me today 9/13/2019.   I’m told the chairs in this photo will be replaced with the original chairs (below) when the reorganization of the lobby is complete.

Photo credit:   Mark Mulville, Buffalo News.

Think for a moment about Manufacturers & Traders Trust Bank (M&T).   It was founded in Buffalo in 1856, as Manufacturers and Traders Bank by two very prominent Buffalo businessmen, Hascal Pratt and Bronson Rumsey. That’s 163 years ago!   And M&T has maintained a very strong presence here ever since. Even when businesses and people alike were leaving Buffalo in droves in the 1950’s, 60’s & 70’s, M&T stayed.   And on top of that, just as everyone else was leaving, they hired one of America’s best architects to build this building in the heart of the downtown business district, with a clear vision for their employees.  

     

A place to work in relative serenity.   A place to sit in the sun and relax on breaks and at lunch time.   Anyone who works or spends any time downtown knows that this is exactly what happens in the plaza that surrounds the building.   Especially in the warm months. Yamasaki realized that vision in both the building and the plaza.

As I sit on the wall in the sun today outside One M&T Plaza, I am grateful that Yamasaki didn’t live to see the horrifying fate of his World Trade Center and the massive loss of lives on September 11, 2001.    

But I do sort of wish he could sit here with me today, seeing his plaza at the M&T Building still being used fifty some years later just as he had intended.

If you have never experienced lunch hour at M&T Plaza, head over to the corner of North Division and Main Street to take in some rays, sit back and relax for an hour and just enjoy the people and the plaza.    

And don’t forget to head inside to see that awe inspiring lobby!

Share your thoughts on One M&T Plaza in the comments below.

The Rand Building – No Respect

The Rand Building – No Respect

The Rand Building was built in 1929, just as the country was torn from the Roaring Twenties and plunged into the Great Depression of the 1930’s.   It was in fact, the last skyscraper completed in Buffalo before the stock market crashed.

It was designed by Franklyn & William Kidd along with James W. Kideney & Associates. And although you can’t miss it in the Buffalo skyline, it seems to be the Rodney Dangerfield of Buffalo Architecture.   It just doesn’t get much respect.   I mean, it’s supposedly the inspiration behind the Empire State Building!  

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s go back to what was here before the Rand Building.   It’s located on Lafayette Square, and the spot it sits on used to be a lumber yard.   If you can imagine that!   That was in 1832 when Buffalo was incorporated as a city.   Shortly after the incorporation, a series of churches used the site.   In 1845, Dr. Grosvenor Heacock started the Park Church Society (later named Lafayette Street Presbyterian Church for the street it stood on; it’s now called Broadway).   There was also a private residence at the corner of the site.   In 1850, the church burned to the ground and was rebuilt in 1851.   The photo below shows the 1851 church.

Circa 1890 – Photo Credit: Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo

In 1896 the church moved north of the city center to follow many of the people in their congregation who were moving north to avoid the newer, somewhat dirty industrial landscape in the heart of the city.    

Here’s an interesting little Buffalo tidbit.   When the congregation heard that the old church building was being sold to a burlesque theater, they felt it would be improper to profit from such a transaction.   They arranged to turn the property over to Nathaniel Norton, who was President of the Board of Trustees, and his brother Herbert.   They would sell it to the theater and then transfer the money back to the church.   Sounds like a technicality to me, but that was to be the deal.

Unbeknownst to the congregation, the brothers added $52,000 to the selling price and kept the extra for themselves.   Nice guys those Nortons. Of course, once the transaction took place, the sale price became public record and the congregation found out.   They sued the brothers for the extra money and won in 1908.    

Ahhh Buffalo.   I’m sure this isn’t the only shady deal you’ve ever seen.   But that’s for another day.

The church was indeed renovated in 1901 into a burlesque house called The Lafayette Theater.   This later became the Olympic Theater, featuring vaudeville shows and movies. The private residence on the corner was demolished in 1908 and a new building was built and used as a German restaurant called The Park Hof.   This corner building would become the Lafayette National Bank and was eventually purchased by the Marine Trust Company, who later purchased the Olympic Theater as well.

Circa 1914 – Photo Credit Buffalo & Erie County Public Library

Circa 1915 – Photo Credit Buffalo & Erie County Public Library

The Marine Trust Company built the Rand Building.   It was named for George F. Rand, Sr. who was born in Niagara County in 1867, and began his banking career when he was 16 as an assistant cashier at the State Bank of North Tonawanda.   He married at 21 (in 1888) to Vina S. Fisher. Together they had four children, Evelyn, George F. Jr., Gretchen and Calvin.  

In the same year he was married, George Sr. was elected president of the First National Bank of Tonawanda. Can you imagine?   A bank president at 21?   1888 was a good year for George Rand!   He held that position for ten years until he took the post of vice president of the Columbia National Bank of Buffalo.   Rand moved to Buffalo in 1901 when he became the president of that same bank. He was made president of the Marine National Bank of Buffalo only a few years later.   Rand is largely credited with giving New York State its first consolidated banking system by merging several banking institutions into the Marine Trust Company, which eventually was to become the Marine Midland Corporation.

George F. Rand Sr.   Photo Credit:   Buffalo’s Delaware Avenue: Mansions and Families, by Edward T. Dunn

Sadly George Rand Sr. passed away in a plane crash overseas in 1919, at the age of only 52.   His son George Jr. followed him as President of Marine Trust in 1926.   He was present and participated in the laying of the cornerstone of the Rand Building in 1929.

It was reported in the Buffalo Evening News about the laying of the cornerstone of the Rand Building on September 18, 1929: “When the cornerstone, a ton of Indiana limestone, had been lowered in place, it sealed in a cavity a copper box containing documents that hold an interesting record of the structure, its founders, and the city of Buffalo.”   I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I would love to see the contents of this box.    But not at the expense of losing the building.   I guess.

My obligatory look up at the sky shot.

Buffalo radio stations WGR and WKBW moved into the building when it opened and remained tenants until the late 1950’s.   Incidentally, the ‘GR’ in WGR stands for George Rand.   The Federal Telephone and Telegraph Company founded the station, of which Rand was a major investor.   Now, the stations in the Townsquare Media cluster reside here, among many, many other tenants.

The Rand Building is presently owned by Paul J. Kolkmeyer.   Together with his firm Priam Enterprises LLC and its affiliates, he owns several buildings in the Buffalo area.    

I love the way they’ve kept the lobby of the building original. The ships on the elevator doors (The Marine Midland Corporation used the name Marine from the fact that most of its original customers were largely from the grain and marine trade on the great lakes and along the Buffalo River).   The plaque in honor of George Rand.   The ash trays still on the wall right under the no smoking sign.   Even the friendly security workers who were in the lobby when I walked in to take these photos.   Thanks for your help guys.

     

     

Getting back to the building not getting respect from the experts and among the great buildings in Buffalo.   This is my take on why.  

Everything about the Rand Building is conservative.   It positively screams conservative banker.   I mean, it’s a decent example of art deco style, but when you compare it to say, city hall, well, it’s very conservative.   Understated if you prefer.   Like a good bank should be, she said with just the slightest hint of sarcasm.

Let’s face it though.   It could just be those unsightly radio towers on the roof.    

Not to mention the entire exterior itself could use a good cleaning.   And some lights.   In my research for this post, I found several mentions about the exterior lights when it was first built, and how beautiful the building looked lit up at night.   It would go a long way for the owners to add some lighting to get the building noticed as the solid architectural structure that it is.   It could contribute greatly to the beauty of Buffalo at night.  

I suppose that when compared to all the greats in Buffalo, the Guaranty Building, the Ellicott Square Building, City Hall, the Darwin Martin House etc., the Rand Building does come off as being not as great. Perhaps we are spoiled with a plethora of fantastic architecture here in Buffalo.

Respect or no respect, the Rand Building is here to stay.   Next time you’re in Lafayette Square checking out the Hotel Lafayette or the Brisbane Building, look across the way and take a closer look at the Rand Building.  

Leave a comment below and give us your opinion of this historic Buffalo building.    

Don’t worry, I won’t email you future posts unless you subscribe. 😉  

Old County Hall

Old County Hall

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.

It was built on the site of Franklin Square Cemetery, which was one of Buffalo’s first burial grounds.   The cemetery operated from 1804-1836, and primarily held the war of 1812 dead, but civilians were buried there as well.

It was also on this site on December 10, 1813, that Colonel Cyrenius Chapin surrendered the village of Buffalo to the British. The British rejected his authority to do so, and proceeded to burn the entire village, leaving only four remaining structures. They did this in retaliation for when American forces burned the British settlement at Newark (now Niagara on the Lake) in Canada.

The property at the northwest corner of Franklin and Church was purchased by the city in 1851 from Hiram E. Howard. The land was used for the Mayor’s office and other city offices until shortly before the City and County Building was completed in 1876.

Both photos are from:    “The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo,” Severance, Frank H., ed. Buffalo Historical Society, Vol. 16, 1912, 218

The bodies from the adjacent burial ground were moved to Forest Lawn Cemetery in 1852.

In 1857, Seth Grosvenor left the city $40,000 to be used for a library. The property was strongly, yet unsuccessfully, proposed for the library. Had that proposal been successful, I very possibly would not be writing this post.

The building was a joint effort of the City of Buffalo and Erie County to house all the government offices under one roof.    It was built between 1871-1876.

Photo source unknown.

The architect was Andrew Jackson Warner, who was arguably Rochester’s most famous architect. He was also the supervising architect for the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, now The Richardson Olmsted Complex.

Warner described the style as Norman, referring to Romanesque architecture in England. It is generally described as High Victorian Romanesque or simply Norman Romanesque. The style is evidenced here by the use of rounded arches in the windows and entrances, and the use of piers instead of columns.

The center of the building is dominated by the 270 foot tall clock tower. The clock itself was backlit by reflected gas light, which was lit each night by the clock mechanism itself. This was quite possibly the first use of an automatic pilot light. The tower reportedly became a destination for evening walks and carriage rides. You can imagine that seeing a clock tower lit up at night was a sight to see in 1876, especially 270 feet in the air! Think about it, when it gets dark today, we have so many lights that stay on. It never really gets too dark. In 1876, when the sun went down, it got dark. The clock tower must have been a real beacon in the night!

Resting on the tower are four, 16 foot tall, stylized female figures, each carved from 30 ton blocks of granite.   Each is slightly different, representing Agriculture, the Mechanical Arts, Justice and Commerce respectively.   They were sculpted at Clark Island, Maine, by an Italian immigrant, Giovanni F. Sala.

Interesting little tidbit about the sculptures.   In 1974 they were removed to repair their pedestals.   On the day Agriculture was scheduled to be hoisted back up to its spot, a crack in her base was noticed requiring additional repair time.   The team went ahead and put Commerce into the southeast corner, the spot where Agriculture belonged, because the placement of the crane that day necessitated it.   When Agriculture was properly repaired, she was placed in Commerce’s spot.   When the error was noticed, the public works commissioner at the time, Edward Umiker was very upset, but it was eventually decided that it wasn’t worth the time and money to switch them back.   There they will apparently stay.

Like the Ellicott Square Building, two sides of the Old County Building are mirror images, save for the imposing tower.   Unfortunately for us, in 1965 a four story addition was added to the Delaware Avenue side of the building with a hallway that joins the two, so you cannot see the Delaware Avenue side of this historic building.

In 1882 Grover Cleveland became the mayor of Buffalo.   He had his offices in the building, before moving on to become Governor of New York State and eventually the President of the United States.

In 1891, a tunnel was built connecting the Erie County Jail on Delaware Avenue and County Hall, providing safe and simple prisoner passage to the courts.   The tunnel is still in use today.

President William McKinley lay in state in the building after being tragically assassinated at the Pan American Exposition here in Buffalo in 1901. To commemorate this, there is a bronze plaque in the floor of the lobby where his body lay, and an American flag stands watch where the spot is cordoned off by ropes.

Also, McKinley’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz, was tried in this building. It seems likely that Czolgosz walked that tunnel between the Erie County Jail and the County Building. His trial was reportedly very quick, not more than a day or two, and he was also sentenced to death in the building.

In 1932, both the city and the county offices had outgrown the building, and the City of Buffalo offices moved into their new (at the time) and now current home on Niagara Square.

The Old County Hall Building is an official Buffalo Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

It is still functioning as a County building to this day, housing Erie County Courts and Records. If you live in Erie County, and get called for County Jury duty this is where you’ll go. If you do, don’t make the same mistake I did.   Take a moment to take in your surroundings, and really look at the treasure that is Buffalo’s Old County Hall.   Check it out on Franklin Street at Church.

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