Buffalo Architecture at the Time of
1: Ellicott's 1804 Map of
2: Olmstead's Parks
genius of Buffalo's architecture began with the plan that Joseph
Ellicott created in 1804 [Fig.
1] for the Holland Land Company, a radial configuration that
began at Niagara Square and fanned out eastward in a perfect metaphor
for the city's eventual identity as a center for the trans-shipment
and processing of goods-especially grain, lumber, beef, and ore-
from the western United States to eastern markets.
Aided by the
completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 and subsequently by dense railroad
lines, Buffalo quickly grew from a village
into a city of nearly 400,000 inhabitants. As new businesses swelled
the population, industry expanded south and eastward, often following
waterways like the Buffalo and Niagara rivers, while neighborhoods
moved largely northward. In 1868 William Dorsheimer, a Buffalo-based
Lieutenant Governor of New York, persuaded community leaders to
bring Frederick Law Olmsted to create a park system for the city.
Broadly conceived, Olmsted's parks [Fig.
2] describe an arc that perfectly accommodated the new
radial trolley systems and the Belt-Line railroad that would bring
the population to and
beyond the outer edges of the city. This was the framework into
which the architecture of Buffalo would be accommodated.
What was Buffalo like in the years immediately preceding the Pan
American Exposition? Vintage photographs [Fig. 3] remind us that
downtown was dense and bustling, the center of everything in the
days before the automobile. Among the hundreds of buildings comprising
Buffalo's downtown circa 1900, those forming Shelton Square
[Fig. 4a, Shelton Square] were especially
distinguished. St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral (1849-51, 1870-71)
by Richard Upjohn, Americas's prominent Gothic Revivalist, stands
immediately across Pearl Street from Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building
(1895-1896) [Fig. 4b] a masterpiece of
Chicago School rationalism, while George Post's Erie Savings Bank
(1893-5), a clever variation on H. H. Richardson's Romanesque, occupied
the site subsequently given over to the unfortunate Main Place Mall
and tower. With the demolition of Post's bank an outstanding Nineteenth
century enclave was lost. Less than 200 feet east of St. Paul's,
just across Main Street, stands Daniel Burnham's Ellicott Square
Building (1895-6) [Fig.
5], then famous as the world's largest office building
and still noteworthy for its interior light court and busy Mannerist
surfaces. Three blocks north on Main street stood Leopold Eidlitz's
Buffalo Public Library [Fig.
6] whose angular medieval design defeated a competing
design by the renowned H. H. Richardson. That all of these architects
were from Boston, New York, and Chicago is a testament to the vision
of Buffalo's Nineteenth century patrons.
Fig. 4. Shelton
Square: (above left to right) St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral,
Richardson's Guarantee Building and Post's Erie Savings Bank.
Louis Richardson's Guarantee Building (right).
Fig. 5. Daniel Burnham's Ellicott Square Building
Fig. 6. The Buffalo Public Library by Leopold Eidlitz
Fig. 7. (left) Dun Building, one of
several buildings by Wicks & Green.
ultimately the creation of scores of architects but among them,
Edward B. Green and his partner, William Wicks, dominated local
practice for more than fifty years and had a decisive impact upon
the character of the city. At the time of the Pan American Exposition
they had completed the Merchant's Exchange (c1887), the Granger
Block (c1887), the D. S. Morgan Building (1894), the O'Day and Rockefeller
Building (1890), the Hollister and Evans Block (1890-91), the J.
N. Adams Dry Goods Store (1891), the Dun Building (1894-5)
[Fig. 7], the Market Arcade (1892), the
Bank of C Commerce (1894-5), the Buffalo Real Estate Exchange Building
(1895-6) and the Buffalo Savings Bank (1900-1) [Fig.
8]. Most of these were sturdy, confident Classical buildings
often rendered in warm Roman brick with richly articulated terra
cotta details, though Green was equally adept in Gothic, Tudor,
and eventually Art Deco design modes.
industrial Buffalo extolled by Reyner
Banham in A Concrete Atlantis (Cambridge, Mass., 1986)
is a city of monolithic concrete grain elevators and reinforced
concrete-framed "daylight factories" that post-date
the Pan American Exposition. In contrast to the smooth curves
of the concrete grain silos of the Twentieth century, their
predecessors [Fig. 9] were dark, angular
and ungainly in proportion, and somewhat frail owing to their
metal frames and high-maintenance brick construction. The
lone survivor of the type is the Pillsbury or "Great
Northern" elevator [Fig. 10]
of 1898. In the days before reinforced concrete industrial
construction in Buffalo was dominated by the R. J. Reidpath
company, architectural engineers whose segmentally arched
windows, bull-nosed brick detailing, economical wall construction
and overall fine sense of proportion is still visible in the
Larkin industrial buildings on Seneca Street. Sadly, the artifacts
of Industrial Buffalo are disappearing at an astonishing rate
and must be ferreted out in isolated pockets such as Chandler
Street where the Buffalo Weaving and Belting Company still
Fig.10. The Pillsbury or "Great Northern"
Fig. 9. Nineteenth Century grain
elevators in Buffalo.
Fig. 11. H.H. Richardson, The Dorsheimer house.
Fig. 12. Pratt Mansion, by McKim, Mead and White
Fig. 13. Joseph Lyman Silsbee's J.M. Bemis House
Buffalo developed in a series of rings
determined by the advances in transportation systems across the
Nineteenth century. Joseph Ellicott's city was modest in size and
was negotiated on foot, horseback, or horse-drawn carriage. By mid
century, however, horse drawn trolleys expanded the perimeter of
the city by about two miles and promoted the development of the
neighborhoods north and east of Allentown and in South Buffalo.
In the 1880s the development of the Belt-Line Railroad and the electrification
of trolleys in the 1890s spurred new suburban neighborhoods four
and five miles from the city center. Throughout the century Delaware
Avenue, one of Ellicott's original streets, remained a street of
imposing mansions, some designed by such distinguished practitioners
as Boston-based H. H. Richardson (the Dorsheimer [Fig.
11] and Gratwick houses), New York
City's McKim, Mead and White (the Butler, Pratt [Fig.
12], Root and Metcalfe houses), and Joseph Lyman Silsbee of
Chicago (the J.M. Bemis House [Fig. 13]
and numerous other houses on Linwood and Delaware Avenues) while
most fell to such distinguished local architects as Green and Wicks,
Edward Kent, George Cary, C.W. Swan, and C.R. Percival.
William H. Gratwick Mansion, demolished in 1919, was a stunning
essay in monumental stonework wherein medieval forms are disciplined
by functional considerations. McKim, Mead and White's work is representative
of their embrace of Beaux-Arts Classicism tempered by a loyalty
to the American Colonial style. Silsbee was a passionate devotee
of the Queen Anne revival in which complex but sensibly organized
forms were arrayed in a rich surface of cut shingles, carved accents,
and decorative glazing. Frank Lloyd Wright said of Silsbee, his
first employer, that "he drew like a
has a wealth of Victorian domestic architecture but the greatest portion
of the fabric of the city consists of a standard plan two story, two-family
wood frame and gable roofed structure [Fig. 14]
inserted into the new, trolley-serviced neighborhoods, especially
north of the downtown area, by developers. The Parkside neighborhood
is hardly typical as it was designed by Olmsted with curving streets
to wrap the northeast segment of Delaware Park, but while Jewett Avenue
was treated as a gateway from Main street to the Park and features
many substantial houses, the lesser streets, such as Russell, are
populated with the standard developers' housing.
Fig. 14. Standard plan, 2
family wood frame home
Pan American Exposition stimulated the development of
the Olmsted boulevards that led from E. B. Green's First Presbyterian
Church at Symphony Circle
along Richmond Avenue to Bidwell and Lincoln Parkways and into the
park itself. Here a second wave of ealthy patrons built
homes to the designs
of local architects, a sign, perhaps, that fortunes were leveling
and visions were
dimming. Nevertheless, as George Cary and E. B. Green designed the
New York State Building (now the Buffalo and Erie County Historical
Society) and the Albright Art Museum [Fig.
15], respectively, in concert with the Fair, the city's cultural
institutions were clearly leaving the old downtown and moving to
the Olmsted-defined fringe, a region in which the far-sighted William
Dorsheimer had assisted H. H. Richardson in obtaining the commission
for the State Mental Hospital [Fig. 16a,
16b], with landscape by Olmsted, in 1870.
Fig.16. H. H. Richardson's State Mental Hospital
Buffalo, Industrial Buffalo, Victorian Buffalo, Classical Buffalo,
Olmsted's Buffalo, ethnic Buffalo, Downtown Buffalo; the city is the
usual synthesis of the ideas and visions and creativity of many minds
over time, but its uniqueness lies in the quality of the work up to
1900and its exceptional rate of survival.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
1. Ellicott's Plan for Buffalo, 1804 (image from Francis Kowsky The
Best Planned City The Olmsted Legacy in Buffalo, (Buffalo, N.Y., 1992,
2. Frederick Law Olmsted's Park System for Buffalo (Kowsky, Fig. 7.)
Fig. 3. Vintage Photograph
of Downtown in the 1890s (source?)
4a. Shelton Square (Richard Upjohn, St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral,
1849-51; Louis Sullivan, Prudential (Guaranty) Building, 1895-6; George
Post, Erie County Savings Bank, c1890 (from Prudential and Erie Savings
Bank in Post Card views)
Fig. 4b. Louis Sullivan, Prudential (Guaranty)
Building, 1895-6 (from Prudential post card view)
5. Daniel Burnham, Ellicott Square Building, 1895-6 (from Views
6. Leopold Eidlitz, Buffalo Public Library (from Quinan post card)
7. E. B. Green and William Wicks, Dun Building, 1894-5 (Quinan slide)
8. Green & Wicks, Buffalo Savings Bank, 1900-1 (Quinan slide)
9. Nineteenth Century Grain elevators in Buffalo (Photo courtesy of
the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society)
10. Max Toltz with D. A. Robinson, Pillsbury or Great Northern Grain
Elevator, 1898 (J. Q. Post Card)
11. H. H. Richardson, William Dorsheimer House, 1869-71 (Quinan slide)
12. McKim, Mead & White, Pratt Mansion, 1895-6 (Quinan slide)
13. Jospeh Lyman Silsbee, J. M. Bemis Mansion, 1883 (Quinan slide)
14. Common two-family wood frame house (Quinan slide)
15. Green & Wicks, Albright Art Gallery, 1900-5 (Quinan slide)
16a, Fig. 16b. Richardson,
Buffalo State Hospital, 1870-96 (Quinan slide)
2001 - Jack Quinan
Ph.D., is Curator of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Darwin D. Martin
House on Jewett Parkway in Buffalo and is adjunct professor of architecture
at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, Taliesin West, Scottsdale,
Arizona. His 1987 book, Frank Lloyd Wright's Larkin Building: Myth
and Fact, (Cambridge, Mass.: AHF/MIT Press,) is considered by Wright
scholars to be a classic.