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Torn-Down Tuesday revisited: Larkin beats Erie County Savings Bank, hands down

Last month, I asked our readers which demolished building they wished were still standing today — the Erie County Savings Bank or the Larkin Administration Building.

Readers cast their votes on a Chronicles’ tweet. I expected polling to be close, but I may as well have asked readers if they preferred blue cheese or ranch with their chicken wings. The results were, quite frankly, surprising: 65 percent of readers chose the Larkin Administration Building over the Erie County Savings Bank.

As I looked at both the numbers on Twitter and the comments on Facebook, I couldn’t help but come back to the same question: Sixty-five percent of readers can’t be wrong, can they?

Perhaps it’s a nod to the building’s architect more than anything else. Frank Lloyd Wright was arguably the pre-eminent architect of the 20th century, and several of his works in Buffalo remain wildly popular with visiting architecture buffs. Not only did Wright design the Larkin Administration Building, he also designed everything from the furniture inside it to the air conditioning system — one of the nation’s first.

Or perhaps it’s the building’s grand exterior, with cascading waterfalls flanking each entrance. Indeed, the Larkin Soap Co. spared no expense: It cost $4 million to build in 1906. It would cost well over $100 million today.

Sure, the Larkin Administration Building was impressive, but the Erie County Savings Bank is worth another look. It was designed by yet another prominent architect, George B. Post, who also designed the Statler Hotel.

Did I mention its electrical installation was overseen by none other than Thomas Edison? Yes, the same Thomas Edison who invented the electric light bulb (take that, Frank Lloyd Wright!). Its exterior included such architectural features as steel turrets measuring 15 feet in diameter and 20  feet in height, large compound arches that made up its entryways and vast, four-story windows, as well as gargoyles that leered from their perches atop the windows. It resembled something found in Europe, and yet here it was in Buffalo.

“In every city, there is what might be described as its heart or core. The Erie County Savings Bank was perhaps the primary valve in the heart of downtown Buffalo.” (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Perhaps that is its most important feature: its location. Towering over the intersection of Main and Church streets, it was an integral part of a neighborhood called Shelton Square. It was Buffalo’s version of Times Square, as noted by local author Steve Cichon.

Late Buffalo Evening News reporter Ellen Taussig once wrote of the neighborhood, “In every city, there is what might be described as its heart or core. The Erie County Savings Bank was perhaps the primary valve in the heart of downtown Buffalo.”

When the Erie County Savings Bank was demolished in 1968 for the construction of Main Place Mall, downtown was forever altered and lost much of its heart.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Larkin Administration Building was built in 1906.

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