Larkinville – Part 2

Larkinville – Part 2

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.

Photo credit: Unknown (Is that a white, Chrysler LeBaron?)

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 patio at Hydraulic Hearth

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.

A Shrine?

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?

Homes…and More…

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.

Buffalo Distilling

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.

My Impressions

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!

Larkinville – Part One

Larkinville – Part One

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’.

What we now know as the Larkin Commerce Center.
Check out the buildings on the right (no longer there).

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.

The Hydraulics

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.

The red brick building on the left used to be a saloon. The building on the right, a boarding house.
More about these next week.

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

John Durrant Larkin

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.

Larkin Idea

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!

Larkin Secretaries

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.

The Wright designed Larkin Administration Building.

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 main floor in the Administration 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.

The main reception desk at the Larkin Administration Building.

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.

My Impressions

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.

My well-worn copy.

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.

Next Week

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!

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