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. He 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. He 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.
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