Preservation-ready: Lackawana Iron & Steel Company's North Office
In the six months that Spree has been publishing this series on endangered buildings, no property has been as close to demolition as the old Lackawanna Steel Company main office. And few other buildings are as closely bound to Buffalo’s economic history.
The massive Beaux Art edifice opened in 1901 as the official administrative headquarters of what was then known as the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company. Thousands of workers were hired, fired, and picked up their paychecks here. Initially designed and built by Manhattan-based architect L. C. Holden, the structure more than doubled its size with a series of extra wings and additions over the years of its active existence. The ornate façade is typical of the Beaux Arts style: graceful columns are regularly placed across the symmetrical structure, which is crowned by beautiful pediments and dormers. (In use for many years as the only administrative office for the steel company, the building became known as the North Office when a new office was added in the 1950s.)
Industrial magnates like William Walker Scranton, who founded Lackawanna (later Bethlehem) Steel, sought to express their dignity and consequence by requesting the stately formality of classic Greek and Roman architecture as well as that of the French and Italian Renaissance. These were the styles featured in many of Buffalo’s Pan-Am buildings.
The North Office—if properly restored—would look right at home overlooking Hoyt Lake or South Park. Unfortunately, sited as it is amid Lackawanna’s decaying former industrial complex, an appropriate reuse seems an almost impossible dream. With the closure of Bethlehem Steel in 1982, the building has been vacant ever since. It is now owned by the Gateway Trade Center. There has been little to no attempt to protect the building from the elements—the owners have not even bothered to board up the windows, or protect the building from the elements in any way (as the photographs here clearly demonstrate). Inevitably, ceilings and stairways have collapsed from water damage.
The still-magnificent facade has distinctive Corinthian pilasters, while the pediment and dormers (above) of the structure feature ornate copper decorations.
Spencer Morgan, curator of the Steel Plant Museum of WNY—now housed in the charming Lackawanna Public Library—says: “I would love to move the Steel Plant Museum to that building,” but adds that this is unlikely to happen; the Steel Plant Museum is slated to move to another former industrial site in South Buffalo—the Buffalo Color property—where it will join the Western New York Railway Historical Society as part of a new Heritage Discovery Center.
Morgan is still passionate about the building, and hopes that with new attention focused on the Outer Harbor, the preservation and reuse of this still-beautiful structure can become a reality. Suggested uses include replicating the success of Station Square in Pittsburgh. Sadly, however, it is more likely that this building will have made its date with the wrecking ball before the year is out. And that will be a shame.
Elizabeth Licata is editor of Buffalo Spree. Thanks to David Steele, Spencer Morgan, and Ava Ferraro for their assistance. Another important research source was Douglas DeCroix’s “Another Look: The Lackawanna Steel Office Building,” Western New York Heritage, Summer, 2009.