Castles of Buffalo

Castles of Buffalo

I have a confession to make. I don’t get downtown very often anymore. Working from home is great, but I admit I miss the action. I only get downtown a handful of times each month. Everytime I do, I get that old familiar feeling. That “I love this town” feeling. I don’t know how to explain it. Downtown Buffalo is just a part of me.

And I think I may be rubbing off on my granddaughter Aoife (pronounced ‘eefa’). To be fair, my son, Aoife’s father, works downtown in the Brisbane Building so that may have had an influence too, but either way Aoife loves downtown.

So, a couple of months ago I had one of my favorite photos of city hall (below) put on canvas. When it arrived, I showed it to Aoife and asked her if she knew what it was. With a big confident smile, she said, “Yes. It’s a castle!” She’s three. So I said, “You’re right, it’s a Buffalo Castle.”

Since then, Aoife loves to ‘go walking’ downtown to see all the Buffalo Castles. I was downtown this morning walking along Main Street, and thought of how Aoife looks with awe at our Buffalo castles. I was inspired to share them with you.

Let’s Get Started with City Hall

Buffalo City Hall. It’s one of the largest municipal buildings in the U.S, at 32 floors and over 560,000 square feet. That aside, it’s an exquisite example of Art Deco design. The architects are Deitel & Wade, and it was completed in 1932. I love this building.

When she’s a little older, I’ll teach Aoife about all the little details that are everywhere on this building. The frieze above the front entryway depicting the history of our city up to the year it was built. The details on the windows. The Native American designs at the top of the building. And the statues on either side of two of Buffalo’s presidents – Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland. Those two may or may not be there when she’s old enough to learn about them. But for now, to Aoife, city hall is the original castle. We both love it.

I especially love the way the building presides majestically over Niagara Square and the McKinley Monument. And speaking of that…

The McKinley Monument

This monument is of course here in honor of President William McKinley who was fatally shot at the Temple of Music, an attraction at the Pan American Exposition in September, 1901. The architects were Carrere and Hastings, and the animals were sculpted by A. Phimister Proctor.

From all accounts, Buffalo deeply mourned the death of McKinley and great thought was given to the design of the monument. It has been said that the sleeping lions were included as a sign of strength, a nod to McKinley’s presidency and the turtles (yes, you have to look for them, but they’re there) were included as a symbol of eternal life, which is what the city at the time hoped for President McKinley.

The monument was dedicated in 1907, six years after McKinley’s untimely death. It underwent its first restoration in 2017. The square itself has changed around it many times, but the monument is here to stay. Not necessarily a castle, but Aoife loves the animals and the fountain, so it’s going on the list!

The Statler Building

In the shadow of the McKinley Monument, it’s easy to see the Statler Hotel, one of my other grandchildrens’ favorites. Apparently Miles learned about it in first grade in a social studies class and was awed that one man owned a building so giant (his words). I talked about Ellsworth Statler in another post, including what’s going on in that building now. He had great influence on downtown life in Buffalo back in the day. I guess you could say that he helped to create the downtown vibe that I love so much.

The hotel itself is definitely one of our castles.

Robert H. Jackson United States Courthouse

Just west of the Statler building, is the U.S. Courthouse. Not all of our ‘castles’ are old. This one was built in 2011. At that time, I worked in the Seneca One tower on the 30th floor, and my office overlooked Main Street. So I watched the courthouse being built. Robert H. Jackson is a Western New Yorker who served as a Supreme Court Justice, so it is fitting that the building is named for him.

Not normally a fan of very many modern buildings, I didn’t expect to like this one. But I do. There’s something very pleasing about the design. The architects are Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates out of New York City. The lower glass wall visible in the photo has the entire U.S. Constitution etched into it. Pretty cool. Castle worthy.

Old County Hall

And then there’s this. This building speaks to me, like some do. It gives me a real feeling of history in Buffalo. Built in 1876, it’s the oldest of the downtown ‘castles’. The center clock and bell tower is 270 feet tall – must have been an amazing sight to see in 1876! Especially since the clocks were back lit by gas lamps at night.

Picture this. It’s 1876. When it gets dark at night, it gets really dark. Not like today with street lights ablaze and illuminated buildings everywhere. It got really dark back then. The nightly lighting of the clock tower became an evening destination for the citizens of Buffalo. Rich and poor alike would take their evening walks or carriage rides to the Old County Hall to behold this clock tower. It still impresses today.

I devoted an entire blog post to this building because it’s one of those that makes me wish time travel could be a thing so that I could shoot back to 1880 or so to see the clock tower lit up without the distraction of all the other lights in the area.

While walking near this building Aoife asked me who the ‘people’ were on top of the tower. Good question. They respresent Justice, Agriculture, Mechanical Arts, and Commerce. That explanation, of course, meant nothing to her, but it meant a great deal to the people of Buffalo in 1876. Enough that they would put them high above us on pedestals to guard over the city. This, is a Buffalo castle.

The Guaranty Building

As we walked away from the Old County Hall, Aoife looked up and said, “Oh Nana, I like those circle windows.” She was, of course, looking at the Guaranty Building. Good eye, kid.

As we approached the Guaranty Building on the opposite side of the road, on Church Street, I started to tell Aoife the story of this building. How it was built in 1895-96, how it was the tallest building in Buffalo at the time, and how it was designed by a very famous architect named Louis Sullivan. Aoife couldn’t have cared less about that. Did I mention that she’s three?

In the meantime, we had crossed Church Street and stood at the base of the corner of the building looking up at the tree of life carving which drew our eyes up to the cornice. That she was interested in. Along with the other Art Nouveau details in the terra cotta exterior, and she was also impressed with the gargoyles. We went into the lobby, where we gawked at the Tiffany-like ceilings, the mosaic walls, and the bronze elevator cages. All are simply gorgeous.

As we walked away from this Buffalo treasure, Aoife said, “That was definitely a castle.” I agree.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Right across the street from the Guaranty Building is St. Paul’s Cathedral. If all those spires don’t make you think of a castle, I don’t know what would!

This church was built in 1851 and was designed by Richard Upjohn, who was well known for his English Gothic church designs. Beautiful inside and out, it is definitely one to go take a look at. I am always struck by how, no matter where on the street you are looking at this building, it appears that you are looking at the main entrance (which is actually on Pearl Street).

The Ellicott Square Building

Now, I don’t really think the Ellicott Square Building resembles a castle, but Aoife sure does enjoy all the faces on the facade. I’ll admit that after I pointed out the Medusa heads lining the cornice of the building, they scared her a little bit. So I told her they were little girls welcoming her into their building. She accepted it.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The architect was Charles Atwood of Daniel Burnham and Company, one of the most prestigious architectural firms in the U.S. What a fantastic example of Italian Renaissance design this building is!

But to me, it’s the interior of the building that puts it on Aoife’s list of Buffalo castles. Whenever I walk into the atrium, I can’t help but look up and around the room. The staircases, the Italian marble mosaic floors, the elevators! It’s still stunning after all these years. 124 to be exact, having been completed in 1896. At that time it was the largest office building in the world. In the world!

It’s definitely castle worthy.

The Old Post Office / ECC City Campus

Back out on the street, I take Aoife through an alley over to the Old Post Office. She takes one look and states, “I think this one is a castle, Nana.” I agree. What do you think?

It was completed in 1901, and had three government architects, Jeremiah O’Rourke, William Aiken and James Knox Taylor. It’s a mix of styles between Victorian Gothic and Richardsonian Romanesque.

And to a kid this one is perhaps the most castle-like of all. It’s a real stunner! And like city hall, there are a lot of details to look at here. Gargoyles, eagles, lynx and bison. And, like the Ellicott Square Building, the inside is amazing! In Aoife’s words, “Woah…”

One M&T Plaza

As Aoife and I head back to Main Street, we see One M&T Plaza. She tells me she doesn’t think this one is a castle. But the closer we get, I can see the wheels turning. And I think she’s changing her mind.

Then we see it. The fountain. That puts her over the edge. It goes on the list. It’s a castle to Aoife because of the fountain. Ah! To be three and have your only responsibility be the discovery of everything around you. That fountain made her so happy.

I’m beginning to think Aoife does have a great eye, because this fountain was designed by Harry Bertoia, and I’ve heard his larger sculptures now sell for upwards of a million dollars! It is a beautiful fountain, and its curves are a nice contrast to the modern, straight lines of the building.

So One M&T Plaza was designed by Minoru Yamasaki and was completed in 1966. He was finishing up this building while starting his next job, the World Trade Center (Twin Towers) in New York City. I don’t have to tell you what happened to that building. Let’s suffice it to say that I am grateful that we still have this building to show off to our grandchildren.

One M&T Plaza is the Buffalo Headquarters of M&T Bank here in Buffalo. And I gotta tell you, they have been Buffalo boosters since their inception in 1856. They’ve stayed true to Buffalo all this time. And they continue to do so. No, I do not work for M&T. I just happen to think that they’ve been good to Buffalo.

The Hotel Lafayette

As we head into Lafayette Square, Aoife points out the Hotel Lafayette and says, “I pick that castle, Nana.” I was wondering what she meant, when she went on to say, “It’s a good one! Just look!”

She’s right. Just look at it.

Completed in 1904 (with two additions to follow), it’s an awesome building. And it was designed by the first working woman architect in the country, Louise Blanchard Bethune. She was a Buffalonian! And apparently she was quite a woman. She reportedly would be shouted at in the streets for riding her bicycle, something that was considered unseemly for a woman in the 1880s and 90s. Can you imagine? No, I can’t either. I would have been in trouble all the time back then!

Read my post here for more about Louise. She was really an interesting woman.

The Hotel Lafayette is now a mix of apartments and hotel rooms, banquet halls, a coffee shop, full service restaurant, and a working brewery. That’s a mouth full. The Lafayette is excellent, inside and out. Castle worthy.

The Rand Building

The Rand Building is, to me, a beautiful building that I don’t think gets enough respect. In fact, I wrote a post about it, where I give my humble opinion about why it doesn’t get the respect I think it deserves. Because I think this building is cool. Strong, solid, and true.

It was built for the Marine Bank and named for George F. Rand Sr., who was at one time the President of Marine Bank here in Buffalo. It was completed in 1929 and was the last commercial building to be built in Buffalo before the stock market crash and the depression began. True to its time period, it’s a decent example of Art Deco design. But you’ve got to really look at it to notice all the subtleties of the design.

I love it, and so does Aoife. Come to think of it, so does Aoife’s father, my son. All fans of the Rand. It’s a castle.

Coincidentally, the next commercial building to be built downtown post depression (1959!) was the Tishman Building, which is now the Hilton Garden Inn, pictured here, to the left of the Rand.

Buffalo Savings Bank / Goldome Bank / M&T Bank

This is probably Aoife’s least favorite Buffalo Castle. I don’t have a clue why. What child wouldn’t be impressed with that shiny gold dome atop this incredible neoclassical, Beaux-Arts style building?

Well, Aoife apparently. She told me that she likes it, but she doesn’t love it. To be fair, we didn’t go inside. That would have elevated its status, I’m sure. The inside is nothing short of magnificent. I love it.

It’s a Green & Wicks design and was completed in 1901 as the Buffalo Savings Bank. It was billed as the working man’s bank. You see, up until this point, banking was reserved for the rich. It gave regular people incentive to save their money for whatever it is they desired. Cool.

Interesting side note: the dome was not originally gold. 24-carat gold leaf was added when Goldome Bank took over the building. The cost to cover the dome with 140,000 sheets of gold leaf was $500,000. More than it cost to build the original building!

It’s a Buffalo castle! I don’t care what Aoife says!

My Impressions of Buffalo Castles

Well, I’m exhausted! Aoife wore me out ‘going walking’ looking at all the Buffalo castles. You know, there’s a reason why people have babies when they’re young! I’m just kidding. Aoife was exhausted too! But not too tired to pose with Daddy at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the center of Lafayette Square.

Photo Credit: Kristen Zelasko

Sometimes I think it’s a good idea to look at something through someone else’s eyes. And sometimes it’s great to see things through the eyes of a child. We walk, ride and drive around the streets of downtown Buffalo and totally miss the amazing architecture all around us.

These buildings that Aoife and I have deemed ‘castles’ are not by any means a complete list. These are just some of our favorites.

Take an urban hike. Look around. Really see our city. Choose your own castles. If you’ve got children or grandchildren, take them with you and look at the city through their eyes. It’ll be like seeing it for the first time. And they may surprise you with their insight and their opinions. Even Aoife, at three, offers these. The way she fell in love with the fountain, or the Hotel Lafayette. It was pretty cool to see.

Get out and enjoy your city Buffalo!

*Get the book! They make great keepsakes or gifts for friends and family.  Click here or on the photo below. They make great gifts!

*All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.

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:

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.

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