Bricks. Mortar. Concrete. Window.
Indeed, outsiders often praise Buffalo for its "world-class architecture." But it isn't just the buildings by famous architects that create such a great mosaic of architecture in this city. Every building in Buffalo has a story, and it is these buildings that are key to unlocking the city's past -- and its future.
The Liberty Building, built in 1925, was once home to the Liberty Bank, one of many large banks that made Buffalo a center for banking in the 20th century. The statues of liberty were placed facing east and west on the top of the building to represent Buffalo's strategic position on the Great Lakes. The replica statues are 36 feet high with six and a half foot long torches. The statues blink at night, thanks to 1,000-watt light bulbs that are accessible through an 18-foot-high, four-foot-wide stairwell in each arm!
Ellicott Square, (built in 1895-1896) at 295 Main St., was built on a plot of land known as Ellicott Square. This plot of land, which takes up an entire large city block, was originally reserved for Joseph Ellicott, one of the founders of Buffalo. When it was built, it was the largest office building in the world. Once inside, visitors are greeted by an elaborate atrium, covered entirely by a large skylight. Some scenes from the 1984 movie "The Natural" were filmed in Ellicott Square. The atrium is open to the public.
Shea's Performing Arts Center triumphantly stands at 646 Main St. in the heart of the city's revitalized theater district. The theater opened in 1926, and was regarded as one of the finest "movie palaces" in the nation. In addition to showing movies, Shea's would host such legends as George Burns, the Marx Brothers, and Bob Hope. The theater lost much of its original prominence and was nearly demolished in the 1970s. It was saved, though, and magnificently restored back to its original glory by a number of organizations. Just last year, the theater was adorned with a replica of the marquee that once stood attached to the theater. Viewing a production at Shea's magnificent theater really gives a sense of how important Buffalo once was.
The centerpiece of Buffalo's skyline is undoubtedly City Hall, which was built between 1929 and 1931, an example of what is known as Art Deco architecture. It takes 360 floodlights to light City Hall up at night (how much taxpayer money is that?). Carvings above the front entrance depict important features of life in Buffalo and certain aspects of industry that made our city rise to greatness. Father Time is also depicted above the front entrance, ready to write Buffalo's future. Note in the impressive lobby the painting "Frontiers Unfettered of Any Frowning Fortress," which illustrates Buffalo's important location between the U.S and Canada.
In addition to visiting the awe-inspiring council chambers on the 13th floor of City Hall, you must visit the observation deck on the 28th floor. You can see for miles and miles; on a clear day, one can pick out Ralph Wilson Field house or the Lackawanna Steel Mills or the mist from Niagara Falls. Try to count the church steeples in the city or just take all of the city in, as well as Lake Erie and Canada. The observation deck is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Because of its truly unique, irreplaceable design, the Buffalo Psychiatric Complex, at Elmwood and Forest Avenues, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Henry Hobson Richardson, who is regarded by many to be one of America's greatest architects, constructed the center. Ground was broken for the building in 1872, but the complex was not completely finished until 1895. Areas for patients were only built on one side of the building so that all areas for patients would be well-lighted and ventilated, which was a new idea in patient care in the 19th century. Since then, the building has fallen into disrepair, but last year New York State appropriated $100 million for restoration of the building.
The Darwin Martin House, at 125 Jewett Parkway, is the largest and most famous of five buildings in Buffalo designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was built for Darwin Martin, an executive of the Larkin Soap Company, which was one of the city's largest employers at the turn of the last century. This was the largest of what were known as Wright's "prairie-style" buildings. The tour of this building is a must-do; through April, they are offered at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays with additional tours, at 11 a.m. Fridays and 2 p.m. Sundays in May. Call 856-3858 for reservations and details.
Long before there were shopping malls, there were arcades. The Market Arcade, from 1892, is a perfect example of this. E.B Green modeled this arcade after the Burlington Arcade in London. The Market Arcade connected Main and Washington Streets and served as a connector to a public market on Chippewa Street. Just like in a mall, the arcade was an enclosed space where people could shop at a variety of shops and boutiques. Although there are not nearly as many retailers as there once were, the Market Arcade still serves a number of purposes. In the late 1990s, a part of the Arcade was renovated and converted into mid to upscale apartments. The Arcade, after extensive renovations, is once again open to the public.
Here's a random assortment of other interesting architectural facts:
The Colonel Ward Pumping Station at the foot of Porter Avenue was the largest water pumping plant in the nation at the time it was built (1916).
Minoru Yamasaki, who designed One M&T Plaza, also designed the World Trade Center Towers.
The very first registered female professional architect in the country, Louise Blanchard Bethune, designed the Lafayette Hotel at Lafayette Square. The hotel was the first to offer running water and a central vacuuming system in each room when it was built in 1904.
It cost more than a half a million dollars to refurbish the gold dome at M&T Center in 1998. It took 140,000 ultra-thin sheets of 23.75-carat gold leaf in order to restore the famous gold dome.
Even though the people that brought this city to greatness are no longer with us, the spirit of the city remains in the buildings that they created. Rediscovering Buffalo's past through the city's architecture will help pave the way for the city's recovery, as some significant buildings in the city have already been restored. Buildings can't save themselves though; that task is left to us.
Brian Hayden is a junior at St. Joseph's Collegiate.