11 Inspiring Examples of Buffalo’s Transformation

At every turn, new hotels, attractions, restaurants, breweries and distilleries are adapting the city’s world-renowned architectural legacy and historic buildings for the 21st century. In the last decade, there has been a sea change in how the city perceives itself;  visionary Buffalonians have realized that the buildings, neighborhoods and architectural fabric that have always existed here set the city apart and are key to its rebirth. Here are 11 inspiring examples of the city’s once-in-a-lifetime transformation.

The Richardson Olmsted Campus

THEN: The Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, built in the late 19th century by acclaimed architect Henry Hobson Richardson and set on grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. The building sat disused for over 30 years.

NOW: Hotel Henry, an 88-room urban resort and conference center, opened this spring and honors the building’s original architectural features. The Olmsted landscape has also been beautifully restored.

Buffalo RiverWorks

Buffalo RiverWorks

THEN: The Grange League Federation (GLF) operated an extensive grain milling and storage facility on Buffalo’s waterfront; Buffalo has one of the largest collection of grain silos in the world.

NOW: A restaurant, waterside patio and roller derby rink opened in a former GLF warehouse in 2015, while the summer of 2017 will see the completion of a craft brewery inside the property’s grain silos and the “Ruins at RiverWorks,” a beer garden, zip lining and rock climbing course woven into the property’s silo ruins.


The Curtiss Hotel

THEN: The Harlow C. Curtiss Building was an ornate early 20th century downtown office building was abandoned by the 1990s.

NOW: The Curtiss Hotel, a 68-room boutique hotel featuring an all-weather urban hot springs, rooftop patio and other high-end amenities, will open in the summer of 2017.



THEN: The Erie Canal ended its 363-mile journey on the city’s waterfront in 1825, making Buffalo an industrial boomtown. The westernmost portion of the canal was buried by the early 20th century.

NOW: The original western terminus of the canal was re-excavated and became the cornerstone of Canalside, Buffalo’s revitalized waterfront district that draws over 1 million annual visitors and features hotels, restaurants, shops and a host of year-round activities, from weekly summer concerts to ice biking.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex

THEN: The Martin House was Wright’s most significant commission to date outside of Chicago and his largest residential design when it was completed in 1907. But the building fell into disrepair by the mid-20th century; portions of the complex were sold off and demolished.

NOW: Following a 15-year, $50 million restoration, the complex’s outbuildings have been rebuilt and visitors are seeing the house in its restored grandeur for the first time in generations.


THEN: Home to the Larkin Soap Company, one of the city’s largest employers and considered the Amazon.com of its day. Larkin filled several sprawling warehouses that covered full city blocks.

NOW: This revitalized warehouse district features breweries, distilleries, new restaurants and a public square that hosts one of the largest weekly food truck rodeos in the United States, Food Truck Tuesdays.


Silo City

THEN: A collection of grain elevators along Buffalo’s waterfront housed several  grain storage facilities and a malting operation during the city’s heyday as a transshipment and grain milling center.

NOW: Silo City is a popular spot for architectural tours that climb to the top of the grain elevators, poetry readings, musical concerts that utilize the property’s unusual acoustics and a host of festivals that run through the summer.

Hotel at the Lafayette

Hotel @ The Lafayette

THEN: Designed by Louise Bethune, the first female architect accredited by the American Institute of Architects, this was one of Buffalo’s grand downtown hotels at the turn of the 20th century. It fell onto hard times and was considered a flophouse by the late 20th century.

NOW: The hotel was meticulously restored in 2012 and also features a microbrewery and coffeehouse on its first floor.


Shea’s Performing Arts Center

THEN: With interiors designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Shea’s debuted as a movie theater in 1926 built to look like a European opera house. By the 1970s, changing tastes in entertainment nearly brought about its demolition.

NOW: Following a 20-year restoration and stage expansion, Shea’s is now one of the most successful theaters in the United States for touring Broadway productions.

Breweries & Distilleries
Resurgence Brewing Company repurposed a former boat engine factory that was also once the city’s dog pound, while Big Ditch Brewing Company opened a two-floor brewery and taproom in 2015 in a former Verizon phone warehouse. Lakeward Spirits operates in a beautifully converted space in the 113-year-old Barrel Factory in the city’s Old First Ward, while Buffalo Distilling Co. opened in 2017 in the former Duchmann & Sons carriage manufacturing building in Larkinville.

Parkside Candy has restored the interior of its ornate, 1927 retail shop and ice cream parlor in the city’s University Heights neighborhood, with exterior restoration work to begin this summer. Ru’s Pierogi offers chicken wing, pulled pork and other unusual pierogi varieties within a former 19th century sarsaparilla bottling plant on the city’s Lower West Side. And a former box manufacturing plant is now the home of Roost, a popular restaurant that opened in late 2016.