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What It Looked Like Wednesday: The history behind three of Buffalo's grand hotels

Last week, Chronicles provided a whirlwind tour of some of the city’s most recent additions to its burgeoning hospitality market. Our tour, as expected, mentioned nothing of those hotels’ amenities – laudable as they may be – but explored the sites where they now stand.

These sites – once the place of homes, businesses and, in one instance, a canal blamed for the outbreak of cholera within the city limits – today offer no clues to their history. In this story, however, we'll explore three hotels whose history is on display for everyone to see.


Constructed in 1896, the Lenox Hotel is the city’s oldest operating hotel. The eight-story tower, near the intersection of Delaware Avenue and North Street, was initially a luxury apartment tower where, according to the history website Buffalo as an Architectural Museum, Edward and Mollie Fitzgerald and their young son, Francis, resided. You are likely familiar with Francis as he grew up to write a number of required high school reading list books; he is more commonly referred to as F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In 1901, the apartment building became a hotel and welcomed guests to the Pan-American Exposition. Today, the historic building offers more than 100 apartments and 22 hotel rooms to its residents and guests, and a restaurant in its basement reputedly has the city’s largest variety of beer.


The Mansion on Delaware Avenue today is a 28-room luxury hotel. The building was designed by architect George M. Allison for industrialist Charles F. Sternberg, who died before the mansion was finished. (Sharon Cantillon/News file photo)

Further down Delaware Avenue, industrialist Charles F. Sternberg built a home that must have been the envy of most of the city’s residents in 1869. Sternberg died before its completion, and it changed hands several times before Samuel Curtis Trubee turned it into a hotel. It, too, hosted guests of the Pan-American Exposition, and its rates were the most expensive in the city: $3 per night.

In the 1930s, it was rumored that the building was a brothel, catering to the city’s male socialites from the nearby Buffalo Club. In 1947, it was the site of the wildly popular Victor Hugo’s Wine Cellar, which shuttered 30 years later.

The building sat abandoned until Geno and Diana Principe bought the building with its familiar mansard roofs. Today, the Mansion on Delaware Avenue is the city’s only AAA four-diamond hotel.


Before it was the Hotel Henry, the building designed by H.H. Richardson was called the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The imposing towers of the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane have loomed over this North Buffalo neighborhood ever since it was built in 1880. At the time of the complex's completion, it could hardly be considered as being in a neighborhood: It was built on the outskirts of the city on more than 200 acres of farmland.

That same farmland would be cultivated by the asylum’s patients as part of their occupational therapy; the asylum was, in fact, self-sufficient. The grounds, thought to aid in the treatment of its patients, were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

The building itself was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, and it is a national landmark. It remained in use until the late 1970s. It sat vacant for more than 20 years until it reopened as the Hotel Henry this spring. Among its amenities is an architectural museum, scheduled to open later this year.

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