Downtown Buffalo is packed with great architecture, interesting streetscapes and beautiful urban vistas (Court Street, anyone?), making it one of the most compelling places for a walk in Western New York. With the pandemic keeping much of the downtown workforce at home, there’s less traffic and street noise these days, so take this opportunity to explore the heart of the city. Things may be on “pause,” but that doesn’t mean you have to be.
Discover masterworks by Louis Sullivan and Richard Upjohn, an office building that was one of the world’s largest, a monument to a fallen president and Buffalo’s massive Art Deco City Hall.
The walk is approximately 1.9 miles in length and should take about one hour to complete.
Begin at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the center of Lafayette Square. Designed to honor those who fought in the Civil War, it was dedicated on July 4, 1884 by New York State Governor Grover Cleveland – a man who had served as sheriff of Erie County and mayor of Buffalo, and who would later become America’s 22nd and 24th president. Face the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, which is the black and white rectangular building set back from the square. The library is also home to one of the original manuscripts of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, housed in the Mark Twain room. As you rotate your view clockwise around the square, you’ll see the Louise Bethune’s Hotel @ The Lafayette, the Brisbane Building (1895, Milton E. Beebe & Son), and then the Liberty Building (notice the pair of Statue of Liberty figures atop of this 1925 building, which was designed by Alfred C. Bossom). Proceed down Washington Street between the Hotel @ The Lafayette and the Brisbane building, make a right onto E. Eagle, and left onto Main.
On your left, you’ll see One M&T Plaza. With its tall entryway arches and long white vertical lines, it was erected from 1964 to 1966 and designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the same architect who designed the World Trade Center twin towers in New York. Nearby you can also get an early look at the recently unveiled Nikola Tesla statue in the soon to be named Nikola Tesla Park at the corner of North Division Streets. Tesla’s discovery of alternating current electricity was integral in making Buffalo an early adopter of city-wide electricity.
Cross over Church Street and the first thing you’ll see on your left is a statue of Polish-born Revolutionary War general Casimir Pulaski, a gift from the country of Poland in 1979. Next to the statue, you’ll find the Ellicott Square Building. Step inside the building’s atrium and see an incredible mosaic floor. Order a classic Buffalo beef on weck sandwich at Charlie the Butcher.
Turn left on Swan Street and you’ll see Sahlen Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. Walk to the corner of Swan and Ellicott Street, where you’ll see the Old Post Office (O’Rourke, Aiken and Taylor, 1894-1901), which now serves as the city campus for Erie Community College and features a spectacular atrium.
Keep walking down Swan and right onto Michigan Avenue. At the corner of Michigan and Seneca Street, stop at the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum, where car aficionados and casual admirers will be in awe of the wealth and array of cars and memorabilia housed on site. From Corvettes to motorcycles, bicycles to, of course, Buffalo-built Pierce Arrows, it’s a walk through automobile history.
There’s even something in store for architectural lovers. As you enter the main room, stand beneath the copperlined awnings of a lovingly recreated 1:1 scale replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s long lost Filling Station design. Adorned with gravity-fed pumps, angular design features and a fully-equipped lounge, odds are good that you’ve never seen anything like it.
Head west on Seneca Street, turn right on Oak, left on Swan, left on Washington, then right on Seneca. When you get to Seneca Street, look straight ahead at Seneca One Tower, which straddles Main Street. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and constructed from 1969 to 1974, it is Buffalo’s tallest building. If you would like to connect to the Buffalo waterfront, continue straight on Main Street, travelling under the Seneca One Tower, until you reach Scott Street.
To continue on the downtown walk, turn right on Seneca Street. At the corner of Pearl Street, you’ll find the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, which features a line of house-brewed beers and an extensive menu. Turn right on Pearl. When you get to the corner of Swan Street, notice the oddly shaped Dun Building (Green & Wicks, 1893-1894) on your left, featuring Sato Brewpub, a Japanese-style brewery and restaurant. Turn left on Swan. At the corner of Swan Street and Franklin Street, you’ll see St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, built from 1851 to 1855 and designed by Patrick C. Keeley. Double back on Swan Street and turn left on Pearl Street.
When you reach the corner of Pearl and Church Streets, you’ll be standing between two of Buffalo’s greatest architectural masterpieces – Richard Upjohn’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on your right and Louis Sullivan’s Guaranty Building on your left.
Turn left on Church and then right on Franklin Street. On your left, you’ll see Old County Hall (Andrew J. Warner, 1871-1876), which once served as Buffalo City Hall. When you reach Niagara Street, turn left. Soon, you’ll be at Niagara Square, the epicenter of Buffalo’s radial street grid, which was laid out by Joseph Ellicott in 1804.
At the center of Niagara Square, you’ll see the McKinley Monument, which was erected in 1907 in remembrance of President William McKinley, who was assassinated during the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. As you look around the square, you’ll see everything from the brutalist concrete City Court Building (Pfohl, Roberts & Biggie, 1971-1974), to the elegant Statler City (George B. Post & Sons, 1921-1923), to the new glass-wrapped U.S. Courthouse (Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates). The highlight, though, is Buffalo’s massive Art Deco City Hall.
Leave Niagara Square via Court Street, which will bring you back to Lafayette Square, where you started.