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.
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The Dun Building. It’s one that I’ve been admiring for a long, long time. There’s just something about it. For roughly 15 years, I drove toward it on Swan Street on my way to work. It’s my favorite view of it. I walked by it daily as well. And still when I see it, I get a feeling that I don’t quite know how to describe.
The Dun Building was designed by none other than E.B. Green and William Wicks for the Union Central Life Insurance Company, who placed a contingency on the plan stating that they’d build it if enough Buffalonians bought policies with their company. Buffalonians didn’t, and the plans were acquired and set into motion by R.G. Dun & Company.
R.G. Dun & Company was founded in 1841 as a credit check service. In those days a small business owner would see his local banker to secure funds for simple loans. These transactions were often completed between virtual strangers, judgments were made in just a few minutes, and the lender frequently lost on the deal due to lack of information about the borrower.
R.G. Dun hired what they called ‘reporters’ to look into the character and record of the borrowers, therefore helping to secure repayment of such loans. Dun had upwards of one hundred thousand reporters in 1900, offices in most large American cities and indeed many cities worldwide. The Buffalo office was one of its most active. And it’s not hard to see why. At the time, Buffalo was still growing by leaps and bounds and business was booming. The need for capital would have been great, going hand in hand with the need for credit checks.
R.G. Dun & Company later became Dun & Bradstreet, which still operates globally today.
When construction began, the Dun Building was to be the tallest building in the city, in keeping with the building trends of the late 19th century, a time when cities were becoming more and more crowded. Up seemed to be the only way to go. There are a couple of other interesting things about the building that you wouldn’t notice at first glance. There’s a restaurant space in the basement which has independent entrances, along with approaches from inside the building. Also, the utilities of the building are located under the sidewalk along Swan Street.
When it was completed the Dun Building was indeed the tallest building in the city. But only for a very short time as the Guaranty Building at 13 stories was completed shortly thereafter.
Let’s take a minute to compare these two buildings.
The Dun Building was completed in 1895. It is Neoclassical in style, but it has both Greek and Roman influences, as evidenced by the giant arched windows and the highly decorative round windows. It is an odd shape as well, referred to as a flatiron.
At 10 stories, its is considered Buffalo’s first high-rise building. But its not considered a skyscraper in the true sense of the word.
And here’s why.
In the late 1800’s architects were struggling to learn how to design buildings that were taller, but the weight of traditional wood frame construction was too heavy to go more than 4 or 5 stories. Major cities had also experienced tragic fires among these wooden structures, with great loss of lives. The job fell to architects to solve these problems.
By 1890 most architects knew that steel frame construction was the wave of the future, but were unsure how to use it, and didn’t quite trust its strength. These architects were pioneers of a sort, testing the newest technology on the newest type of building to date.
When Green & Wicks set out to build the Dun Building, they started with a steel frame design with load bearing masonry walls ensuring the strength the tall, oddly shaped building needed. They built it in three distinct ‘layers’ if you will. Some refer to it as a ‘stacked’ design, or a ‘wedding cake’ design. The first two floors were built first, the third through seventh floors followed, and the three uppermost floors came last. The Dun Building is also a very narrow building, and these extra precautions may have been undertaken to withstand the high winds coming off Lake Erie as well. None of this is in keeping with what we have come to associate with traditional skyscraper design.
By contrast, the Guaranty Building, completed in 1896 by architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, is everything a true skyscraper has become. Tall, drawing the eye skyward with no breaks to interrupt the movement of your eye straight through to the sky. Everything about this building is vertical. It is a total steel frame construction, built with twice the necessary piers in order to emphasize the verticality of the building.
Almost all skyscrapers to this day follow pretty much the same rules of architecture that were employed in the Guaranty Building. The base, which normally consist of the first floor or two, and hold somewhat public spaces. Retail, conference rooms and the like. The shaft, which holds the offices. And lastly, the capital, which is usually the top floor and cornice of the building itself.
Read more about the Guaranty Building in an earlier blog post here.
The Dun Building and the Guaranty Building are equally beautiful in completely different ways, but it’s the Dun Building that holds my attention longer. Not because I think it’s architecturally superior, because I don’t think it is. There’s just something about it.
The Dun Building was purchased in 2013 by 110 Pearl LLC, an affiliate of Priam Enterprises. It remains a thriving office building, with Sato Brewery (which should be on everyone’s list of things to do) in the basement. And to this writer, the building adds an interesting figure in our city’s skyline. There’s that feeling again.
Now this is going to sound strange, but hear me out. The feeling I get when I see it is that it’s almost like the Dun Building represents Buffalo itself. Both were built during a time of huge growth, both were beautifully designed, and both were built to withstand the test of time. And both have. Each in their own way. And I get all this while merely walking by. There’s just something about this building.
See it for yourself at the southwest corner of Pearl and Swan Streets, standing tall and strong against the elements.
The Dun Building is a City of Buffalo Landmark and is located within the Joseph Ellicott Historic District. Thank you for taking the time to read about it!
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This is the last in my three part series about Buffalo’s Residential Parks. Click the links if you are interested reading about part one, Day’s Park, and part two, Arlington Park.
The West Village Historic District of Buffalo is a 22 acre neighborhood in one of the city’s oldest residential areas. It is one of only a few in our country to achieve three designations as an Historic District under both the City of Buffalo and New York State, and it is also listed in the Federal National Register of Historic Places. The jewel of the West Village Historic District is unquestionably Johnson Park.
It is named for Ebenezer Johnson. So who is he, and why is this park named for him?
Ebenezer Johnson. Photo from Buffalo City Hall photos.
Ebenezer Johnson was from Connecticut. He studied as a physician in Cherry Valley, New York, where he met and married his first wife, Sally. He came here in 1810 and opened his medical practice in what was just a glimmer of what he himself would witness Buffalo become during his time here. During the War of 1812 he accepted a position as an assistant surgeon with the volunteers of New York State.
After the war, he returned to Buffalo and opened a drug store as well as resuming his medical practice. After 1823 he became very active in business and eventually became well known for construction, real estate, trade and banking. No small feat. He became quite successful and next turned to politics. He held several posts and sat on many boards, and in 1832 when Buffalo was incorporated as a city he was elected by the common council as Buffalo’s first mayor. Ah, that’s why the park is named for him! That, and the following…
That same year Johnson broke ground on a grand home located on a large piece of property he owned on Delaware Avenue between Chippewa and West Tupper. It was completed in 1834. The home was referred to as “the Cottage” and was considered the most palatial home in Buffalo to date. On the property itself there was a man made lake, fruit orchards, a large vegetable garden and flower gardens. The 25 acre property and “Cottage” was a well known spot for socializing among the elite in Buffalo.
The “Cottage”. Photo from “Buffalo’s Delaware Avenue: Mansions and Families”, by Edward T. Dunn.
Johnson served a second term as Mayor of Buffalo in 1834-35, after having turned down the nomination in 1833. Mayoral terms at the time were one year.
Sadly his wife passed away in 1834. He remarried a year later to Lucy Lord. Johnson continued to be an influential member of Buffalo society until selling his estate and leaving the city sometime around 1847, when he moved to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, where he owned an iron ore mine with his brother. He passed away there in 1849.
During the 1850’s Johnson’s property was divided up into one of the most elegant residential sections of the city at the time. The lake became part of Rumsey Park on the estate of Bronson and Evelyn Hall Rumsey. The Cottage was re-purposed as The Female Academy, the most elite, all girls school in the city. Incidentally, it was the first institute of higher learning for women in the country. (!) The Female Academy still exists today as Buffalo Seminary, now located on Bidwell Parkway.
The “Cottage” Photo credit to “History of the City of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.” Published by The Times, 1896.
An 1876 map of city parkland indicates that Frederick Law Olmsted redesigned the green space in the center of Johnson Park and incorporated it into his overall design of our Park System. And it shows. You only have to walk through the park to feel Olmsted’s presence here. The flow of the park is just lovely. No other way to describe it.
Many of the homes on Johnson Park that were built in the 1850’s still exist, and many have been recently restored to their former glory. They are close together, fostering that “neighborly, friendly” feel we discussed in the second part of this series. And like the other residential parks as well, Johnson Park is a great place to walk and to meet and talk to fellow Buffalonians, whether you live there or not. The people here are indeed friendly, and more than willing to discuss what they know of the park and the homes lining it.
Johnson Park has suffered through the socio-economic troubles that have touched our city, and indeed our whole country. Thankfully, Johnson Park and the city of Buffalo both have committed residents willing to stay the course. And like the city itself, the results in Johnson Park are showing. This is due in great part to the commitment of the Johnson Park Association and the Cary Street Association, both of whom lead the way in ensuring that both Johnson Park and the West Village Historic District will remain as an integral, thriving neighborhood in Buffalo for a long time to come.
Hutchinson Technical Institute which borders Johnson Park on South Elmwood Avenue
I get a feeling in this park. It’s a nostalgic feeling of days gone by. At the same time I feel a sense of future here, like the residents have a clear vision of what they hope for the neighborhood. It makes me want to stay. Live here. Experience city living at its absolute best. That, is Johnson Park.
Go see it, you will be enchanted!
I hope you enjoyed my series about Buffalo’s Residential Parks.
Click the links if you are interested in reading part one, Day’s Park, or part two, Arlington Park.
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Where in the city would be your first choice to live? Money is no object…comment below!
Thomas Jefferson appointed Erastus Granger as the first Postmaster General of Buffalo when we were just a small village. Buffalo’s first post office opened in 1804, the same year Joseph Ellicott laid out the unique radial streets design of the city of Buffalo.
Granger set up shop at a desk in Crow’s Tavern, located at the southwest corner of what is now Exchange and Washington Streets. Remember that at this time a tavern was more than just a place to grab a drink and a quick bite. To a small frontier town, the tavern was the place to get the latest news or pick up much needed items for frontier life. The tavern even acted as a polling place at times and in this case, it was a post office as well. We didn’t have a dedicated building for our post office until 1837, when a building was purchased at the corner of Washington and Seneca Streets.
Between 1804 and 1890 Buffalo grew by leaps and bounds. The opening of the Erie Canal brought incredible amounts of commerce to the city. And there were plenty of entrepreneurs in Buffalo who capitalized on the opportunities that came our way in the forms of shipping, grain processing and trade, brewing, railroads, and eventually automobiles and aeronautics. Not to mention the smaller industries that supported all of those giants. Our population soared from just over 1,500 in 1810 to over 255,000 in 1890. That’s an enormous amount of growth in a relatively short period of time.
By 1890 we were ready for a larger post office, and it was also decided that Buffalo needed a federal building here in the city. Jeremiah O’Rourke, who was a federal architect, made the initial design for the building.
Before it was even built however, our post office caused quite a stir among architects in the U.S. at the time. The Tarnsey Act, which went into effect in 1893, required an architectural competition for any major federal project. The act was seen as a way for private architects to have a shot at large federal contracts. Our post office was the first building to begin construction after the act became law, although it was already in the works beforehand.
Private architects were up in arms at having lost the chance to compete for a project of this magnitude. The federal government asserted that O’Rourke’s plan was submitted and had been approved prior to the enacting of the law, and therefore the building of the Post Office moved forward as planned.
They broke ground in 1894 amid the controversy. Daniel Burnham, president of the American Institute of Architects at the time, called the plans for the building “inferior and unworthy”, and maintained that stance even after it was built. Some say his opinion was clouded by the fact that private architects were not allowed to bid on the project. What do you think? Inferior? Unworthy?
Photo credit Buffalo News
In 1897 William Aiken and James Knox Taylor (both government architects as well) came on to the project and helped see it to completion.
The Post Office opened in March of 1901.
The style of the building can be described as Victorian Gothic/Richardsonian Romanesque, and it was built with Pink Maine Granite. Look closely in person and you’ll notice the pink hue. There are 400 windows, and the roof is Spanish green tile laid in concrete. The tower rises 244 feet above the street. Hand carved gargoyles, pinnacles, finials, animal heads and eagles are on each of the facades. Note the bison heads that are included on the facade, obviously a nod to our fair city.
When I stand outside the main entrance on Ellicott Street, to me it looks like a federal building. A very grand federal building. Maybe it’s that eagle standing watch over the doors, I don’t know, but what I see is grand. I know I definitely do not see inferior or unworthy.
And the inside. Wow. I could not have been more surprised the first time I walked in. One of those times you instantly become a tourist in your own city.
There is a six story atrium. The immense skylight was originally intended to allow light onto the mail sorting floor directly underneath. The hallways on the first floor form a Gothic colonnade with clustered marble columns. The effect has me awestruck every time I see it. There are holes in the arches for light bulbs to aid with lighting. Everywhere I look there is evidence of the effort put in during this time period to light up a building. The massive atrium with its skylight, the arched open hallways on the upper floors which are reminiscent of a Venetian Palazzo, the glazed white tiles on the walls designed to reflect light, the large windows above the office doors. So much care was put into this effort at the turn of the 20th century. It’s something we take for granted now, the ability to cast light whenever and wherever we choose.
The terrazzo and marble floors are impressive, and are charmingly worn in front of the mail windows just inside the main entrance. Once can almost imagine people coming and going to drop off and pick up mail during the building’s heyday, standing in front of the windows conducting their business. Across the way there are handsome wooden desks used, I’m sure, for addressing mail and the like. Running my hand along them, the wood is worn smooth from all the years of use, and the floor is similarly worn in front of these as well. This of course, causes me to daydream about all the people who’ve stood here before me. Have I mentioned how these old buildings cause daydreams?
The president of the school has an office in the southwest corner. The door is surrounded by the window below, featuring emblems of the federal departments that were once housed in the building. The Department of Justice (courts), Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, and the one the building became known as, the U.S. Post Office.
Slowly over the years the different branches of the government moved out of the building to other buildings in the city, or out of Buffalo altogether. The last to go, the Post Office, left in 1963 to move to a more modern facility on William Street. The building sat empty for some 15 years.
Enter Joan Bozer & Minnie Gillette, members of the Erie County Legislature. (It is notable that Minnie Gillette was the first African American to be elected to this office.) The two women worked together to propose that Erie Community College’s City Campus be moved from its location on Ellicott Street in the Masten District to the Old Post Office Building right in the heart of downtown.
Minnie Gillette. Photo credit Buffalo Stories Archives & Blog
Joan Bozer, Photo credit unknown
The two women worked tirelessly to ensure that this treasure did not fall victim to the (at the time) rampant demolition of historic buildings in Buffalo. There were many who wanted the building demolished as an ‘eyesore’. Can you imagine?
“Indeed, in a 1969 letter urging Rep. Thaddeus Dulski to tear down the structure, former Erie County Democratic Chairman Peter Crotty – a politician of sweeping influence – called the post office “a mongrel structure of no authentic period, dungeon-like in its aspect, repellent to the visitor and lacking in the convenience suitable for habitation.” The building, Crotty argued, was “a monstrous pile of death-like stone.”” *
Wow. Tell us what you really think Mr. Crotty.
The argument continued into the 1970’s, while Gillette and Bozer formulated their plan to bring ECC students into an historic building in the heart of the city.
As Gillette and Bozer persevered, they enlisted the help of former Legislature and State Senator Mary Lou Rath in the struggle to save the building. After a long battle, when the final vote came in 1978, in favor of saving the building and renovating it for Erie Community College City Campus, it was a pivotal moment in Buffalo’s preservation movement. Along with the saving of the Guaranty Building just a couple of years earlier, some feel that it was at this point that the city turned a corner, from demolition to preservation.
The renovation was done by Cannon Design (who also restored the Guaranty Building) and is perhaps one of the best examples of adaptive reuse in the city. It’s functional, respectful of the original design, and beautiful all at the same time! I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
It was completed in 1982, and the school re-opened in its new home for the 1982-83 school year. Roughly 2,000 students pass through its doors every semester.
I for one am grateful that Joan Bozer and Minnie Gillette were successful in their struggle to save this treasure and that they persevered when the cards were stacked against them. Especially as I sit at a table in the open courtyard of the Old Post Office, now Erie Community College City Campus, sipping a cup of tea, and basking in the sunlight that is streaming through the enormous skylight. I look up at the courtyard itself and for a brief moment, I feel as if I’m in an outdoor cafe in Italy. A very brief moment, because the building itself is full of students coming and going, grabbing a quick bite between classes, studying for exams, meeting up with friends. Planning their futures.
I wonder if the students realize how close they came to never seeing the inside of such an American treasure right here in their own city.
If you have a chance, stop by to see this awe-inspiring building, both the outside, and in. It’s on the corner of Swan and Ellicott Streets. There are a few ½ hour free parking spots on Swan Street across from the building (on the ball park side). Go on in and take a look at the way our federal government used to build their buildings. You’ll be delighted with what you see!
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*The Buffalo News, November 30, 2018 https://buffalonews.com/2018/11/30/sean-kirst-40-years-ago-buffalo-fought-a-trend-saved-some-history-and-created-its-future/
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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