By Khimm Graham
The Terrace Room at Statler City is a romantic venue where I attended a sublime wedding this September.
The old Buffalo Statler Hilton Hotel holds fond childhood memories of lunch with my sophisticated, avant garde Aunt Geri, who shopped at the exclusive Franklin Simon and L.L. Berger stores, where elevator attendants wore white gloves and announced each floor and their contents in syncopated diction.
Every trip led me closer to the city where I wanted to live and breathe the air of decadence.
But when I entered this once-grand building, scaffolds, dusty glass and pitted floors greeted me in stark reality of its neglect. Worried about my heels catching the floor, I carefully held the loose brass railing – wobbling in my grip to enter the reception, balancing each step against a clumsy entrance.
Down the hall, the elevators dormant, glistening in the reflection of massive crystal chandeliers, I was 12 again in a pair of two-inch, white slingbacks attending Lady Farrell’s Modeling and Charm School on the 17th floor. Since my gait was decidedly a waddle – at 12 my Auntie sought help.
“You walk like a duck!” she laughed after I was fitted for my first pair of heels.
I thought of the literal picture – orange feet slapping fast ahead of me! Being a logical kid, I was anxious for a solution. So, off I marched to the University Circle every week that summer for step training with my cousins Wendy and Denise.
We took the bus downtown to the Statler Hotel and exited the elevator on the 14th floor, walking up the stairs in our adult shoes to practice as instructed.
Our teacher had a beautiful silhouette of the mysterious Lady Farrell etched on the frosted glass door. Often stern, she commanded us to be seated for an intense ladylike inspection.
Feet flat in our pumps, knees together with hands gently folded in our laps, she counted our accessories, which could not exceed eight. Two shoes, two earrings, a purse and two gloves left enough room for a bracelet or necklace – never both.
Overdressed was overwhelming.
After the lady’s curt critique, it was time to pivot our posture.
With a book on my head and a pole behind my arms, I made the awkward trek up the runway stairs like Bambi on ice in my slight spikes.
Determined but not deterred, I shook at the ankles, tripped a lot and eventually mastered the walk of my dreams. Not the leggy glide of a Twiggy Brit model – but the effortless bombshell bounce of a real woman with a pair of hips.
As I inched to the bar in metallic stilts, accessories not exceeding seven – the wedding reception crowded with elegant guests, I heard the click of marble beneath my soles and smelled the sweet white orchids draped over seeded eucalyptus on gilded art deco pedestals. Soft jazz lit the night and danced with Statler spirits, a fraction of the grandeur in a fraction of that regal hotel.
Renaissance is a resurrection of the past – a new birth into the future and Statler City is an infant in the beautiful boom that Buffalo has built. Hope springs from scaffolds and gleaming crystals that reflect the great work.
The enormity of the project is marked on ornate pillars and corner cobwebs, worn on the soles of a glorious history and turning on the heels of childish whim.
But it takes extra effort to walk and a lot of time to grow.