Best of WNY Architecture
Chuck LaChuisa's Website of Architectural Wonders
By Glenn Gramigna
As Western New York’s political leaders continue their dogged attempts to find new and even more unlikely ways to attract moneyed visitors to our area, a single question remains:
Have they ever averted their attention long enough from their various esteemed pronouncements to simply look around?
If they did, in the view of many experts, they just might find enough architectural wonders and related historical curiosities to keep tourists shelling out their cash for tours and lectures from now until the current Financial Control Board is little more than a faint memory.
Could it be that we’ve spent so much time wringing our hands over our economic Waterloo that we’ve become blind to the many priceless assets we’ve had all along?
Many think soincluding one highly energetic retired English teacher who has poured hours of effective toil into giving us both an aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating alternative to the prevailing gloom.
“It all started about six years ago when I went on a tour offered by the Preservation Coalition,” recalls sixty-one year old Chuck LaChiusa, a veteran of over three decades as a Buffalo public school English teacher. “I found it interesting, went on a second tour, joined the organization and volunteered to be its webmaster. They took me up on the offer and I started photographing and creating pages on the buildings I saw on the tours. And it just grew from there.
“There are a thousand pages on the site, with thousands of photographs including pages on about 200 buildings in the Buffalo area from the Ellicott Square Building to Blessed Trinity Church to the Guaranty Building,” LaChiusa adds. “Each page contains photographs, history, and architectural analysis. But then the more I got into the architecture the more I realized that I needed to know more about Buffalo’s history and so I created a separate section about that, which became quite large also. And then I realized that I needed to know more about architectural terms so I created a dictionary of them which contains about 200 entries with illustrations from Buffalo architecture.”
The result is a cyberspace super-mall of both visual and informational splendor containing stellar examples of every brand and rank of local architectural distinction. Among them: the William Butler Mansion, with its “marble Corinthian columns that so exemplify the lavishness demanded by wealthy patrons of the architect, Stanford White.” Then there’s St. Casimir’s Church whose “glazed clay terra cotta religious ornamentation” is the work of Buffalo’s own Chester Oakley. Or the Buffalo Psychiatric Center Administration Building, which must have terrified generations of emotionally challenged people with its “dramatically steep copper roofs, mysteriously punctuated by dormered windows, all of which gave it a rather sinister appearance.”
What’s that you say? You’re only pretending you understand what “dormered” means? No problem. The ever-accommodating LaChiusa’s handy glossary of architectural terms defines dormer as “a structure projecting from a sloping roof usually housing a vertical window that is placed in a small gable.”
(Gable? “A triangular wall segment at the end of a double roof.”)
Want to see local illustrations of the architectural terms that boggle your mind? Click on to photos of the dormers that highlight the upper regions of notable landmarks such as the Coatsworth House or the Watson House/Buffalo Club.
Chuck LaChiusa’s Top Ten Buildings
(text is LaChiusa’s from his website, except where noted)
Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan
Photo by Jim Bush.
The Guaranty was one of the first steel-supported, curtain-walled buildings in the world, and its thirteen stories made it, at the time it was built, the tallest building in Buffalo.
Sullivan’s lively reddish brown terra cotta ornament adorns the piers, spandrels, tympani, columns, and arches of the Guaranty Building, giving the structure an exuberance and personality that remind one that Sullivan's father was an Irish dancing master. The designs seem to be derived from American nature forms and perhaps from the Celtic Book of Kells.
The main motif is a kind of oval pod or seed shape. It recurs profusely in the interior of the building, in the stairway balustrades, the elevator cages, the letter drops, and the Tiffany-like art glass ceiling. The swirling lines and the opalescent glass reveal Sullivan's interest in Art Nouveau.
John J. Wade and George J. Dietel
Groundbreaking for City Hall was held on September 16, 1929. The building was completed November 10, 1931. The building was dedicated July 1, 1932, to commemorate the City Centennial.
The thirty-two-story-high structure was built on two triangular lots on the west side of Niagara Square, spanning Court Street. The construction of City Hall in 1929 closed off Court Street from the square. This was the first interruption of Ellicott's street plan. The completion of the similarly-styled Art Deco State and Federal Buildings in 1935 on the east side of Niagara Square realized the concept of a city center group of governmental buildings, first suggested in 1920.
The City Hall Building serves as a reminder of Buffalo's past. Its decorative art illustrates significant elements in the area’s history. Some of the facade depictions include:
•themes of the Iroquois Indian nation
•the development of the Erie Canal
•the United States's relation to Canada
•the pioneering and industrial spirit of Buffalo's citizens, past and present.
Included, too, are statues of Buffalonians who were Presidents of the United States: Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland.
Walls are faced with tawny Ohio sandstone and gray Minnesota limestone, above a base of gray granite.
George L. Williams built this house on the Delaware-North location, the most prestigious corner in the city. His brother, Charles, built the house next door (the Williams-Pratt House /LiRo Group Building). Williams left six years after the house was built and, in 1905, sold the mansion to Edward H. Butler, publisher of the Buffalo Evening News.
This Neo-Classical mansion was built on a grand scale and cost nearly $175,000a breathtaking sum in those days. The three stories include 16,000 square feet; the carriage house has 8,000 square feet. The structure is constructed of Roman brick and limestone, with a granite foundation. It is one of the last houses Stanford White built before he was assassinated by jealous Harry K. Thaw.
Green & Wicks
This large mansion at Delaware and Summer street is one of Buffalo’s best examples of the Tudor style of architecture. It boasts several interesting features, such as a one-and-a-half story music room with organ, interior walls of limestone, and a garage heating plant that was connected to the main house by means of a four-foot tunnel. The house is set well back on an unusually large lot. Architectural historian Henry Russell Hitchcock notes in his survey of Buffalo architecture 1816-1940 that the Clement residence was based on an English manor house.
The exterior is faced with limestone and has many intricate chimneys with gables. The house was designed to be castle-like but its many large windows allowed for the house to be bright and cheery. Accenting the medieval character of the house is the use of gray sandstone in the construction. The interior contains Indiana (Bloomington) limestone floor marble blocks laid diagonally in a diamond pattern.
Like several owners of Delaware Avenue mansions, Mr. Clement did not live to see his completed mansion. He died in 1913 before his $300,000 Delaware Avenue mansion was completed. Clement, president of Marine Bank, purchased three former mansions on the site and demolished them to create his opulent home.
After the death of Mr. Clement, Mrs. Clement became one of Buffalo’s great philanthropists. Mrs. Clement had six children and was an accomplished musician, as she played the harp, organ, and piano, hence the prominent music room in the mansion.
Mrs. Clement gave her palatial home to the American Red Cross in 1941.
(text by Chris Brown)
George M. Allison
Architect George M. Allison, about whom little is known, designed several costly dwellings on Delaware Avenue in the 1860s and 1870s. Only the Sternberg house remains. Sternberg owned a grain elevator on Ohio Street. Unfortunately, he died before the mansion was finished.
The house contains more than 20,000 square feet, has eighteen-foot ceilings, and has 200 windows, including several twelve-foot tall bay windows which flood the interior with light. According to Tim Tielman, director of the Campaign for Buffalo, "this would not have been unusual for a house in the Second Empire style at that time on a large American lot. Like the Gothic, the fenestration helped to emphasize the verticality of the style."
The mansion was turned into a 100-room hotel in time for the Pan-American Exposition. Some exposition visitors were forced to sleep outdoors in then-costly cardboard boxes. But the new hotel commanded the highest price in the citythree dollars a night.
An annex to the hotel was built on what is now the Buffalo Club parking lot. During the great Depression, the hotel was rumored to be a bordello, allegedly frequented by some club members.
After World War II, restaurateur Hugo DiGiulio bought the establishment, turning it into the celebrated Victor Hugo Wine Cellar. The restaurant closed in the 1970s and remained abandoned until 2001, when The Mansion, a twenty-eight-room luxury hotel, opened for business after a $2.7 million dollar renovation.
The exterior of the building is brick with hand-carved stone cornices. The centerpiece of the facade is the elegant entrance porch, elevated several feet above the street, approached by two curved flights of marble steps and trimmed with delicate, cast-iron Corinthian columns from which spring small pointed arches.
H. H. Richardson
Buffalo Psychiatric Center.
Photo courtesy Buffalo CVB and Angel Art.
In 1864 Dr. James White, a leading physician in Buffalo, proposed to the state legislature that an asylum be established in Western New York. Largely because of his efforts, the Buffalo State Hospital organization came into existence in 1869.
In 1870 H. H. Richardson, whose office was in New York City, was chosen as architect; at the same time, A. J. Warner of Rochester was named supervising architect. Groundbreaking ceremonies took place in June 1871, and the first patients were received in the half-finished complex in 1880. The entire complex was eventually completed in 1895, nine years after Richardson's death.
Many architectural historians regard Richardson as America's greatest architect, if not of all time at least of the period before Frank Lloyd Wright.
Richardson's design, executed in rough, rock-faced reddish brown Medina sandstonefive feet thickis the first major example of his personal revival of Romanesque, the style with which his name is popularly identified. The hospital consisted of connected pavilions, ten in all, stretching from either side of the administration building in the center.
The administration building has monumental, medieval, identical double towers (each 185 feet tall), each with four corner turrets and dramatically steep copper roofs mysteriously punctuated with dormered windows, all of which gives the administration building a rather sinister appearance. These great paired towers make the Psychiatric Center one of the most striking public buildings in America. The towers were never intended to house any functions and to this day are unfinished. This building once housed officers and their families on the second and third floors, and a large chapel occupied space on the fourth floor.
The five pavilions to the east (the outer three were demolished in 1969) were constructed first. Richardson wanted all of the buildings to be constructed of stone, but for reasons of economy the outer pavilions were constructed of brick, a change to which Richardson agreed.
Landscaped parkland surrounded the main buildings and provided a space for quiet recreation. Behind the buildings a large tract of farmland extended to Scajaquada Creek. Here the institution grew much of its own food and provided workconsidered to have therapeutic valuefor many patients. The present Buffalo State College campus occupies most of the original farm.
The masterwork of architect George Cary (1859 - 1945), the Historical Society building was originally erected as the New York State pavilion for the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 at a cost of $375,000.
Built of Vermont marble (quarries located at Isle la Motte and Danby) in the style of a Grecian Temple, the building was the only permanent exposition structure (the others were constructed of plaster).
After the Exposition the building became the permanent home of the Buffalo Historical Society, whose large collection of WNY-related historical objects, documents, and displays it contains.
The north facade of the building is faced with three-quarter columns and the public entrance is through two-ton bronze doorsthe gift of Society president Andrew Langdon.
A textbook example of the neoclassicism popular after the Chicago Fair of 1893, George Cary designed the building in the Neo-classical style with the eight-columned south portico representing a three quarter scale version of the great Doric Parthenon in Athens.
In 1925-1929 the building was enlarged by Cary with the addition of identical wings on the east and west .
Richard Upjohn/Robert Gibson
With the consecration of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in 1851, the young city of Buffalo had its first national architectural landmark. Situated a short distance from the terminus of the Erie Canal and designed by the noted Richard Upjohn, it symbolized the progressive spirit of a youthful city.
Today, St. Paul's is classified as a National Historic Landmark. Upjohn had earned a national reputation for his design of New York's Trinity Episcopal Church (1846) which firmly established the Gothic revival in American church architecture.
Built of Medina sandstone, the church follows the Early English parish church Gothic of the thirteenth century, which had come to surpass in esteem the later Perpendicular phase (upon which Upjohn had based Trinity Church). The major ecclesiological advance over Trinity is the chancel, which terminates the nave and is the most important liturgical area of the church. As "ecclesiologistic correctness" demanded, its roof line was lower than that of the nave. To churchmen of the 1850s, this identified it as an up-to-date parish.
After a devastating 1888 gas explosion, Robert W. Gibson took charge of repairing the damaged building. Gibson endowed St. Paul's with the composite charm possessed by many medieval buildings combining different period styles. Drawing upon the 14th-century Decorated style of English Gothic, Gibson inserted such details as the leafy capitals of the nave arcade and the curvilinear tracery of the end wall of the chancel ... Thanks to Gibson's sensitivity, St. Paul's, erected in the style of the thirteenth century and rebuilt in the style of the fourteenth century, remains Buffalo's finest church of the nineteenth century. (text by Francis Kowsky)
Frank Lloyd Wright
Darwin Martin House.
Photo courtesy Buffalo Niagara CVB and Angel Art.
The complex of buildings that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Darwin D. Martin consisted of a main house and four outlying buildings, which were unified by Wright's rigorous and consistent use of cruciform plans, piers and cantilevers, and other Prairie house principles.
The Martin house was distinguished from most of Wright's other prairie style houses by its unusually large size and open plan. It is said that Wright was given a virtually unlimited budget for this commission.
Today, after periods of neglect and vandalism, the Martin house is partially restored, although the conservatory, pergola, and carriage house have been demolished. Presently, the Martin and Barton houses are open as a museum and the entire Martin complex will be restored by 2007 for about $23 million.
St. Francis de Sales Roman Church.
Photo by Chuck LaChuisa.
St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church
This is an Italian Romanesque Revival Church suggestive of churches in Ravenna, Italy. Its campanile, plain exterior wall surfaces, small frontal window, and squarish basilica configuration all suggest Ravenna.
George J. Dietel, chief architect of Buffalo's City Hall, had a hand in its design. The church is made of Indiana limestone and its 140-foot tower is easily visible from the Kensington Expressway.
The interior boasts a colorful barrel-vaulted nave, and the aisle and transept windows beautifully illustrate the history of the church through its saints, while the rose window in the north transept contains an impressive portrait of Christ.
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