Story offers hope for revival of our beloved Hotel Niagara
It was wonderful to read on Sept. 1 of the new buzz of activity surrounding our beloved Hotel Niagara. The possibility that it can be revived is a happy one. The fact that experienced developer Ed Riley finds it to be “a very good candidate” for rehabilitation is enough to give us real hope.
I’d like to complete the historical summary. Frank A. Dudley co-founded United Hotels Co. of America to build and manage top-of-the-line lodging in midsize cities throughout the United States and Canada. The New York Times tells us that, by the 1930s, it was “the largest hotel group in the world under one control.”
United funded the design and construction of Hotel Niagara through subscription, meaning that residents of the city invested to make it happen. The architect was Norton Kirkpatrick of the Buffalo firm Esenwein & Johnson but it was built by the Falls firm of Wright & Kremers.
In 1929, the company built its own office building nearby, designed by James A. Johnson of the Buffalo firm. The hotel and office building were connected by steam tunnels. In 2010, the former United Office Building was beautifully rehabbed for mixed use and renamed The Giacomo.
During the Depression, architect Ernest Kremers of the Falls was sent to Cornell University’s School of Hospitality to learn hotel management.
It’s interesting to note that Dudley and his wife, Etta, so favored these Buffalo architects that they had Johnson design their 1927 home on the escarpment in the new development of Lewiston Heights. But their lives were not entirely tied up with business and social standing: He was a president of the Niagara Falls Historical Society and she was deeply involved in the restoration of Old Fort Niagara between 1926 and 1934.
We should also note that Wright & Kremers started out in residential architecture in downtown Niagara Falls; at least nine of those houses are extant. They also built the Jefferson Apartments, Unitarian Church and St. Paul’s Methodist, as well as the little 1940 stone gas station on Main Street that has just reopened as a pizzeria. Wouldn’t they all be surprised!
Susan Hale Whitmore
President, Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Society