I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing a few of Explore Buffalo’s tours over the past few years, and always come away learning something new about my hometown. And with that new perspective comes a renewed appreciation for my city. The Explore Buffalo Masters of American Architecture Tour explores Buffalo’s greatest downtown buildings, many of which are considered signature works by some of America’s top architects. Here are 7 fun facts I learned on this tour of our city’s most recognizable structures:
1. The Electric Tower, 535 Washington St. – Perhaps most recognized by Buffalonians for hosting the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, Buffalo’s Electric Tower was modeled after The Lighthouse of Alexandria. Built in the 3rd Century BC, the Lighthouse was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World located in Alexandria, Egypt. People often incorrectly think this building was built for the Pan-Am Exposition in 1901.
2. Brisbane Building, 403 Main St. – Built in the 19th Century, the Brisbane Building was the first mixed-used building in the United States. Who knew that such a popular strategy for commercial real estate development started in Buffalo?
3. Rand Building, 14 Lafayette Square – The top of the Rand Building was built and set up to land airships, like the Zeppelin. While the building was built for these airship landings, none actually ever came down for a landing.
4. Hotel @ The Lafayette, 391 Washington St. – The Hotel @ the Lafayette was constructed by the first woman architect in the United States, Louise Blanchard Bethune. Ms. Bethune was the first female member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the first woman to be made an AIA Fellow. The Hotel Lafayette is considered to be her crowning jewel.
5. Old Post Office, 121 Ellicott St. – now the site for Erie Community College’s City Campus. The building’s postal workers sent an invitation in 1901 to then U.S. President William McKinley to attend the Pan-Am Exposition being held in Buffalo that year. The story goes that McKinley’s wife, Ida, had a bad feeling about coming to the Exposition, so McKinley decided to send his Vice President, Teddy Roosevelt. But, McKinley ended up changing his mind and came to the Exposition anyway. The rest, as they say, is history.
6. Ellicott Square Building, 295 Main St. – built in 1895, the Ellicott Square Building is an entire city block long and 10 stories, and was hailed as the largest office building in the world at the time of its construction. The idea for this building was that a worker could be twice as productive because the building offered so many amenities, including a barber, shops and restaurants. To entice workers to stay on site, Ellsworth Statler hid $5 gold coins in sundaes at his ice cream shop. Needless to say, it worked.
7. Erie County Hall – this Romanesque building was built in the shape of a cross and holds many interesting facts, including that former Erie County Sherriff / former Mayor of Buffalo / former U.S. President Grover Cleveland used to have his office on the 2nd floor of this building and was known widely by the staff as “Big Steve.” A couple of bonus facts: Leon Czolgosz, the shooter who assassinated U.S. President William McKinley, was tried in this building; law enforcement used an underground tunnel to transport him from the Erie County Holding Center across the street, given he was the most hated man in Buffalo at the time. And perhaps the most quirky factoid about this building is that the four statues perched at each corner of the tower all have the same face, that of then Mayor of Buffalo Philip Becker’s wife, Sarah Goetz. It’s said that he wanted to come to work every day and see her face. Love wins.
Photos courtesy of Chuck LaChiusa