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NSG Visit April 21, 2007

Buffalo's Downtown Treasures


Donovan A. Shilling

Saturday, April 21st, 2007, was a truly splendid day. Members and guests of the New Society of the Genesee met in the atrium of the Market Arcade in Buffalo. Lots of sunshine and a great day for a walking tour to explore some of the architectural treasures that compose a unique component of Buffalo's downtown buildings. The New Society event was led by Alan Oberst as a part of his graduation examination as a docent for Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier and Buffalo Walking Tours.

Alan began by explaining that we were about to explore many of the "fine turn-of-the-century, neo-clasical commercial buildings in the 600 and 700 block of Main Street. The first, the one we assembled in at 617 Main Street, was once called "The Palace Arcade." Built in 1892 with a Neoclassical Beaux-Arts design, it was a forerunner for our present suburban malls.

From there we rode the city's metro rail line (Niagara Transportation Authority) past vacant Main Place Mall to the Merchants & Traders (M&T Bank) Headquarters. Built like the World Trade Center, it is constructed with a rigid external support providing a maximum of space unhindered by interior columns. The two-story atrium is stark white, impressive in its being devoid of any decoration save an off-centered clock on one wall.

Our next stop was to observe the former Federal Post Office building. Built in the Flemish Gothic style in 1894, the huge structure, decorated with carvings of buffalo and other animals, is now on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as the campus for the Erie Community College. Some civic-minded Buffaloians once wanted to see it destroyed for use as a parking lot to serve the nearby Dunn Tire Ball Park. Some city fathers considered the elegant edifice a "monstrous pile of death-like stone." Hummm!

In Ellicott Square we beheld the 500,000 square foot, ten-story high Ellicott Square Building named for Joseph Ellicott planner for the village that would grow into the city of Buffalo. The architect, Daniel Burnham, used tons of iron, acres of terra cotta tiles and a mountain of Italian marble to create this Renaissance Revival masterpiece, the largest office building in downtown Buffalo.

We arrived at Shelton Square, once the hub for trolley cars, where Alan gave an impressive lecture of the edifice there the Epicopal Cathedral for the Diocese of Western New York. Designed by architect Richard Upjohn in 1851, the Medina sandstone church fits neatly into its irregularly shaped lot. Inside, light passing through its dramatic stained glass windows, some of the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, lend a most reverent quality to the interior. However, its richly painted ceiling with gold stars red, blue and gold trim tends to create a more down-to-earth feeling to the soaring area above the nave. We also learned that President Millard Fillmore's funeral was held there in 1874.

At 112 Pearl Street, Alan pointed to the Dun Building, named for Robert G. Dun founder of Dun & Bradstreet, the nation's foremost credit reporting agency. Built in 1894 in Renasissance Revival style, its ten stories of yellow brick, steel and concrete made it perhaps, the first fire-resistant building in the city. Its ten stories also makes it the city's first official skyscraper.

Perhaps the most significant building on our tour for its architectural significance was the impressive Guaranty Building located just a block east of the Dun Building on the corner of Church and Pearl Streets. Here the architectural firm of Dankmar Adler and his partner Louis Sullivan, mentor for Frank Lloyd Wright, designed a modern-type edifice in 1895 using steel framing entirely clad with an eye-pleasing outer layer of geometrically decorated orange, terra cotta tiles. Elaborately designed baked clay tiles frame the windows and the vertical columns between them. The thirteen-story structure is the second of the earliest buildings considered to be termed skyscrapers in the world.

We were welcomed into the law offices by Harry G. Meyer, partner for the firm of attorneys that have become the building's newest owners. Mr. Meyer was a most accommodating host allowing our group to enter and tour the premier office building's interior. We found it richly decorated with marble mosaics, delicate iron work and an art glass skylight illuminating the inner court and lobby. We felt highly pleased to learn that this urban treasure had fallen into the enthusiastic stewardship of the firm of Hodgson Russ Attorneys, one of the 200 largest law firms in the United States. Both presidents, Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland, are counted among the firm's alumni.

Thanking Mr. Meyer, we walked over to the Niagara Square site of the McKinley Monument, erected in 1906, as a tribute to the president assassinated while visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901. Four 15-ton, marble lions, carved by A. Phinister Procter are seen at the base of the obelisk-like monument. To some they resemble the twin lions that bracket the stairway to the New York City Central Library.

Beyond the monument towers Buffalo's city hall. The massive 32-story structure overwhelms the eye. Its Art Deco structure, built during the Great Depression at a cost of seven million dollars, fills the skyline. Its cnetral tower, a "step-faceted glass dome," represents a fitting "crown" for the Queen City. someday we'd like to ride an elevator up to the 28th floor where an observation deck allows visitors to gain a panoramic of this second largest city in the Empire State.

A brisk walk led by Alan, took us over to 70 Pearl Street, home to the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery. A hearty lunch of good food accompanied by a mug of on-site brewed beer helped us complete a most memorable trip discovering Buffalo's downtown treasures. Our hats are off to Alan Oberst for an outstanding tour. We also offer Alan our congratulations for his successful graduation as a full-fledged Buffalo City Docent. For those seeking an enjoyable walking tour of the Queen City, be sure to ask for Alan.

© 2007, Donovan A. Shilling
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