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Our readers speak: The most unloved buildings in Buffalo

A while back, we published our own list of the most unloved buildings in Buffalo. We included structures that appeared dated, that looked out of place or that only a mother could love.

As we learned from the reader response to the original list, people have strong opinions about Buffalo's architecture and you thought there were a lot of buildings that deserved some un-love.

So we decided to produce another list, but this time we collected nominations through The News' Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

As with the original list, prominent, publicly accessible buildings in downtown Buffalo and structures built in the 1960s and '70s dominate.

1. Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Central Library

The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo. (News file photo)

Opened: 1964

Architects: J.W. Kideney & Associates, Paul Hyde Horbach and Elon B. Clark

It's doubly troubling when an unloved building took the place of one of Buffalo's grand old buildings, as was the case here.

The Central Library replaced the Buffalo Public Library, a Romanesque castle that opened in 1887. That building's roof leaked, it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but it had its charms, reports Western New York Heritage magazine. And when crews were tearing it down, members of the public begged the contractor to preserve its gargoyles, according to Chuck LaChiusa's Buffalo Architecture and History site (a fruitful source for this gallery). The demolition company did not, citing the extra cost.

A Buffalo Evening News editorial from October 1964 praises the new Central Library as an example of civic progress and an instrument of public service.

But in many eyes the library's modernist aesthetic hasn't held up well over the years. Even Mary Jean Jakubowski, the library system's director, agrees.

"It was the style of the day," she said.

The building was constructed with high-quality materials, including white Vermont marble and sleek dark granite on the façade, and it was designed in a way to allow for efficient management of its extensive collection of materials.

The building itself is massive, stretching two full blocks and containing 59 miles of shelving. The 400,000-square-foot library has one million volumes in storage alone.

"I do know a lot of thought was given to this," Jakubowski said.

The library has invested in gardens and landscaping on its Washington Street side to brighten the appearance of the building from that vantage point. That can only go so far, however.

"I'm a firm believer it's not what a building looks like on the outside, it's what happens on the inside," Jakubowski said.

2. The Buffalo News

The Buffalo News, One News Plaza (Washington and Scott streets), Buffalo. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Opened: 1971

Architect: Edward Durrell Stone

I'd be remiss if I didn't include the building I was sitting in as I wrote this sentence. Many, many, many (did I write many?) of you nominated the Buffalo News building for this list. People just aren't fans of this modernist style, even if the architect was the renowned Stone. An article from August 1969 unveiling the design for the building highlighted its terraced, penthouse-style top floor that, like the first floor, would be recessed; its spacious lobby to welcome visitors; a skylight opening into a fourth-floor garden; and an overall style concept of horizontal lines and a feeling of openness. Also unusual in a building of its size: a deliberate lack of interior columns, designed to create a wide-open newsroom.

"By its grace of line and simple beauty of style, it should greatly enhance the appearance of this section of the city, and we look forward with confidence to the area's continued modernization, beautification and revitalization," said Kate Butler, then the News president.

Not everyone is impressed. One reader wrote, "Is it really wise for The Buffalo News to shame city architecture? Your building looks like a shoebox chia pet."

Stephen Fitzmaurice, a Hunt Commercial agent who has listed space within The News building, disagrees. He said companies have appreciated the open interior spaces. "It's very user-friendly on the inside of the building," Fitzmaurice said.

3. Edward A. Rath County Office Building

The Edward A. Rath County Office Building, 95 Franklin St., Buffalo. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

Opened: 1969

Architect: Backus, Crane & Love with Milstein, Wittek & Davis

The seat of Erie County government doesn't get a lot of love compared to its neighbor across Franklin Street, the Romanesque 1870s Old County Hall.

The newer, 16-floor skyscraper built of structural steel, concrete and glass in the International style is functional more than impressive.

But County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said the Rath Building serves its purpose, helping people who have suffered a loss or who are in need, and he said its critics are too focused on its exterior.

Old County Hall "is a beautiful building, I'm not going to deny that," Poloncarz said. But it's not fair to compare them, he said, because the requirements of government changed dramatically during the century that passed between both buildings' construction.

The Rath Building gets a bum rap, Poloncarz said, because with its curtain wall façade it is similar in appearance to the much-revered One M&T Plaza.

He also praised how well-constructed the 50-year-old building was, but he is resigned to some critics' low opinions of it.

"I don't take it personally; I didn’t design it," Poloncarz said.

And, he said, county government isn't moving anytime soon.

If Poloncarz went to the Legislature to seek funding for a new, architecturally significant building, he said, "I'd be tarred and feathered for wasting tax dollars."

4. SUNY Buffalo State

SUNY Buffalo State, 1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo. (News file photo)

Architect: Numerous

Buffalo State has some attractive buildings on its campus. They weren't the reason the college is on this list.

The oldest of the 50 or so buildings on the campus are viewed the most favorably. They are the five buildings in the quadrangle closest to Elmwood, highlighted by grand old Rockwell Hall. Built in the Georgian style, they opened with the campus in 1931 when it was still the Buffalo Normal School.

The worst of the lot are the second batch of L-shaped buildings, constructed between 1949 and 1961, which serve as dormitories and office buildings. They are Bishop, Neumann, Perry and Cassety halls, and Steven Shaffer concedes they are mundane, boxy and utilitarian, built at a time of rapid expansion.

"I would agree they're not the most attractive," said Shaffer, the school's manager of design and construction.

But Shaffer defends the Brutalist design that marks the four buildings at the center of campus: Bulger Communications Center, Butler Library, Campbell Student Union and Cleveland Hall. They are known for their exteriors of rough clinker brick.

"Actually, there's a renewed interest in that form of architecture," Shaffer said.

The college has recently constructed, or renovated, a number of buildings, with more underway.

One, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, was on the original unloved list and has both fans and critics. "I'd rather have it that way than have a building that nobody cares about," Shaffer said.

5. Adam's Mark Hotel

The Adam's Mark Hotel, 120 Church St., Buffalo. (John Hickey/News file photo)

Opened: 1980

Architect: Clement Chen & Associates

A California-based team designed and developed the hotel in the late 1970s. It opened as the Buffalo Hilton Hotel in 1980, the centerpiece of a waterfront redevelopment project with $4 million in federal subsidies offsetting its $20 million price tag. The nine-story hotel has 484 guest rooms and 72,000 square feet of meeting space, including what used to be a tennis club. It has 500 parking spaces, a pool, health club and a lobby bar and restaurant. The main entrance leads out to a fountain, which the hotel and other structures wrap around.

The people who nominated the Adam's Mark didn't explain why, except one reader called it "embarrassing."

The main part of the complex is a long, narrow concrete slab, lined with windows. It is a battleship that appears to slowly sail across the Buffalo waterfront.

"It's similar to the (One Seneca) Tower, in that it was very purpose-built," Fitzmaurice said.

The hotel has changed hands several times over the years, most recently in mid-August, when Canadian developer Harry Stinson signed a contract to buy the property.

He plans to make significant upgrades while rebranding it as the Buffalo Grand Hotel, including subtle alterations to the exterior, said Fitzmaurice, who is working with Stinson.

6. Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's Metropolitan Transportation Center

The Metropolitan Transportation Center, 181 Ellicott St., Buffalo. (John Hickey/News file photo)

Opened: 1977

Architect: The Cannon Partnership

The NFTA's headquarters and bus terminal building is a Brutalist structure whose shortcomings are highlighted by its proximity to two of downtown Buffalo's most architecturally revered buildings: the Erie Community College City Campus and the Ellicott Square Building.

Sadly, the NFTA and its predecessor agencies previously were housed in the historic Niagara Frontier Transit Buildings, also known as the East Side Railway Co. Horse and Car Barn, from the late 1800s through 1977. The Italianate buildings were later torn down.

Today the NFTA has to make do with its oddly shaped building constructed of light-brown limestone panels fastened to a concrete and steel structure.

Half the complex is long and flat and covers most of a city block. The other half, where administrative employees have their offices, rises from the low-slung portion and features the same limestone along with a glass cube of windows.

“Our building may be considered unloved on the outside, but on the inside there is a great deal of warmth and beauty, mostly from our hardworking and talented employees,” said Kimberley A. Minkel, NFTA executive director. "We have recently made some interior improvements so those who are critical of the exterior may want to stop inside, so they aren’t judging a book by its cover.”

7. Delaware Tower Condominiums

Delaware Tower Condominiums, 1088 Delaware Ave., Buffalo. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

Opened: 1963

Architect: Michael J. DeAngelis Architects & Engineers

Buffalo is filled with structures of various shades of brown, tan, white, red and gray.

There aren't very many blue buildings here, but two of them happen to sit on opposite sides of Delaware Avenue just south of Gates Circle.

The Delaware, at 1217 Delaware on the east side of the street, and the Delaware Tower Condominiums, at 1088 Delaware on the west side, inspired nominations from people who didn't know their names but simply referred to "that tall blue apartment building on Delaware."

They look like giant Tiffany blue boxes with windows and balconies, minus the bows.

"I'm pretty sure there was a mix-up at the post office," one reader observed, "and we were mailed plans that were supposed to go to Miami Beach."

Joseph Urbanczyk, the building manager at Fairwood Management's 1088 Delaware, defended the tower's aesthetics.

"I think it makes a statement," he said.

The building, which has 17 residential stories, had 156 units originally but 142 today. Residents on the top floor can see Niagara Falls. The exterior façade is ceramic structural glazed brick in "soft sea foam turquoise," according to a marketing brochure Urbanczyk shared with The News.

"Elegance radiates from Delaware Towers, even at first glance," the booklet notes.

The building also is known for the sweeping canopy that covers the front entrance. He concedes the building looks more suited for South Florida, and he knows neighbors picketed when it opened in the early 1960s. But he said units change hands quickly.

"I think it sells itself," Urbanczyk said.

8. One Seneca Tower

One Seneca Tower rises over the downtown skyline, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

1 Seneca St., Buffalo

Opened: 1972

Architect: Skidmore Owings & Merrill

Marine Midland Bank and its chairman, Seymour H. Knox Jr., retained SOM in the late 1960s to design a new headquarters building for the bank in downtown Buffalo.

"They wanted a substantial building that would employ a lot of people," said Fitzmaurice, who worked in the tower for 16 years and served as chief operating officer of its property management company.

The bank got that, and then some. The buff-colored, 38-story tower, built from steel and pre-cast concrete, is the tallest, privately owned building in upstate New York.

Form follows function in the structure, Fitzmaurice said, with the support columns, elevators and stairs all in the building's core, or exterior, allowing for an open floor plan and expansive windows with unobstructed views for its workers.

"I think it's a great building that works very well," he said.

Or as one wag put it: "The best view of Buffalo is from an upper floor of the tower, because it's the only one that doesn't have the tower in it."

The modernist building was constructed at the height of urban renewal, and it towers over the rest of the Buffalo skyline.

"Like a chunky kid who threatens to sit down hard on the seesaw and pop the lighter kids into the air, the structure projects a sense of intimidation," Richard Huntington, The News' former art critic, wrote in 1988. "By straddling Main Street, this bully of a building stops the visual movement of the city toward the lake. It blots out the view and abruptly terminates all sightlines down Main Street."

Marine Midland Center became HSBC Center became One Seneca Tower as the bank's employees moved out.

Now almost entirely empty, the tower awaits its next act.

Washington, D.C., developer Douglas Jemal, who bought the building one year ago, plans to spend at least $200 million converting it to apartments, retail and office over the next several years, starting with the four-story outbuildings and with new construction in the plaza.

9. The Summit

The Summit, 6929 Williams Road, Wheatfield. (News file photo)

Opened: 1972

Architect: Unknown

Known as the Summit Park Mall when it opened, the shopping center in its heyday boasted dozens of local and national retailers, a two-screen movie theater and the Aladdin's Castle arcade.

The mall's fate was sealed by the opening of the Walden Galleria and Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls. It's been largely vacant since 2009. Today, only a Bon-Ton and Sears remain open.

It's bulky, boxy, made of brick, stone and concrete, with few windows to let in light.

"It's very typical of the malls of its day," Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said. "The aesthetics were on the inside."

Even there, he's being generous, because the inside seemed to be a vast expanse of inoffensive white: white ceiling panels, walls and floor tiles.

And where other malls have spruced themselves up in recent years, The Summit remains frozen in the 1990s.

"There's a lot of people who think the best thing that could happen to it is a good wind storm," Cliffe quipped.

Real estate developer Zoran Cocov, of Brampton, Ont., acquired the mall and 570 surrounding acres in 2014. He has an ambitious, multimillion-dollar plan to revive the mall by constructing sports facilities and a brewery there.

"It needs work, for sure," Cliffe said.

10. Robert H. Jackson United States Courthouse

Robert H. Jackson United States Courthouse, 2 Niagara Square, Buffalo. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

Opened: 2011

Architect: Kohn Pedersen Fox

The $142 million price tag for Buffalo's new federal courthouse wasn't the only thing that raised eyebrows when the building opened six years ago.

The design stirred mixed reactions. A News reporter who polled members of the public in late 2011 found a range of responses to the 10-story, elliptical shaped building of glass and pre-cast concrete panels.

"When you drive up Delaware Avenue and see that building, all lit up, with City Hall behind it, it looks absolutely beautiful," said Suzanne D'Angelo, a Buffalo hairstylist. "But I have a customer who says it looks like a giant tube of lipstick."

Local architects and artists interviewed about the design, however, generally gave it favorable reviews.

The courthouse architect, William Pederson, said he didn't want to create an intimidating building, even taking into account the security requirements that followed the 9/11 and Oklahoma City terror attacks.

The use of glass was meant to create a sense of transparency and openness, and the beige color complements the sandstone in nearby City Hall.

"It's a complete waste of money," Vince Capparra, a parking ramp worker from Derby, told The News in 2011. "But it looks OK."

Not surprisingly, Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny and District Judge Richard J. Arcara, who were intimately involved in the courthouse's design, defend its appearance.

"We expected naysayers, and that is perfectly OK. Not everyone appreciates modern architecture. And that is OK, too," Skretny said in a statement. "The design was intended to bridge Buffalo's rich architectural history with a measured vision for the future. The number of awards the courthouse has received gives testament to its success in achieving that stated purpose."

11. Lockport Municipal Building

Lockport Municipal Building, 1 Locks Plaza. (John Hickey/News file photo)

Construction began: 1972

Architect: Sargent, Webster, Crenshaw and Folley

There are two city halls in Lockport. One is a stately stone building, Old City Hall, that is now home to a winery and – soon – a burger bar.

"People still go in there and say, 'I need to pay a ticket,' " Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said.

The other structure, the Lockport Municipal Building, is a rather grim, gray monolith whose 1970s, urban renewal parentage is unmistakable.

That, unfortunately, is where the City of Lockport conducts its business today.

"I would call this building, maybe, utilitarian," McCaffrey said. "It's functional. It makes sense. Is it beautiful? Well, I guess beauty's in the eye of the beholder, right? We work with what we're handed."

Lockport's municipal building was built on the banks of the Erie Canal. Unfortunately, crews had to tear down other, historic buildings to make way for the new seat of government.

McCaffrey struggled to find a kind word to say about her building. She compared it to some of the other structures on the list.

"Well, they all have something in common? They're just a big concrete wall, with no character," she said.

But Rolando Moreno, the city's chief engineer, rose to the building's defense.

The gray, monochrome color of the imitation limestone used to construct the building masks some of the detail the architect included in the exterior design, Moreno said.

But Moreno said he is a fan of the generally clean appearance of the building, with its simple lines.

"It's not that bad," he said.

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