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What It Looked Like Wednesday: Buffalo's hotels sit on rich history

When it was announced that a Wyndham Hotel would occupy the long-dormant AM&A’s flagship department store, it was the most recent of several upscale hotel chains to enter into the city’s burgeoning hospitality market. Over the last four years, the Hilton, Marriott and Westin brands have planted their flags alongside such stalwarts as the Hyatt Regency and, more recently, Embassy Suites.

The most discerning of guests should have no trouble finding somewhere to lay their heads. But while countless visitors enjoy these hotels, the history of these buildings or of the sites they stand on often goes unnoticed.

The Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn and Suites, and the Westin Hotel all tower over Delaware Avenue today, but over a hundred years ago, it would have been residences much like the mansions further north that lined this stretch of road.

In fact, the home of Buffalo’s very first mayor, Ebenezer Johnson, was where the Westin Hotel now stands. Built in 1834, it was a sprawling country estate comprising of nearly 30 acres and a man-made lake. The estate, however, was divided into parcels, and more residences – such as the Ford-Meadows House – were built.

The Ford Hotel towered over Delaware Avenue until it was demolished in 1999 for a parking lot adjacent to the Hampton Inn and Suites. (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

That house, in turn, was demolished in 1922 for the behemoth 12-story, 700-room Ford Hotel. That building stood until 1999 when it was demolished for a parking lot for the adjacent Hampton Inn and Suites.

Further south, where the Courtyard by Marriott at One Canalside now stands, the Hamburg Canal was constructed in 1849 to divert traffic from the heavily congested Erie Canal. It proved, however, to be terribly problematic and was blamed for an outbreak of cholera in the city.

Author Steve Cichon, in his article for the Buffalo News, said it was called both a “horrible bed of pestilence” and “mass of decaying filth.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the city’s residents.

Torn-Down Tuesday: The fetid, festering Hamburg Canal

Fortunately, at the turn of the 20th century, the stinking waterway was filled, and a grand train station was built at the site in 1916. The Lehigh Valley Terminal saw its passengers ferried back and forth across the state to New York City, but it became obsolete with the advent of the automobile and demolished in 1960.

Returning north on Main Street, the sleek Hilton Garden Inn was known as the Tishman Building to generations of Buffalonians. Before that building's construction, the lot was the site of the Buffalo German Insurance Building until 1957. Its name, however, was changed to the Buffalo Insurance Company following the outbreak of World War I.

The Buffalo German Insurance Building, shown on the right in this photograph from 1904, was demolished for the Tishman Building — now a Hilton Garden Inn. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The nearby Hyatt Regency, at the intersection of Main and Huron, breaks up Joseph Ellicott’s radial street grid. Long before its atrium encroached on Genesee Street, it was the site of two different hotels constructed in the nineteenth century. In 1922, a 16-story office building, designed by Green and Wicks, was built on the site. Facing foreclosure in 1976, it was saved from the wrecking ball when it was bought by Paul Snyder and transformed into the Hyatt Regency.

While the sites have a long, rich history, all the buildings that sit on them today date from either the 20th or 21st centuries.

Next week, we will look at three hotels whose buildings date back to the 1800s.

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