A twenty-first century look at the Twentieth Century Club
By Barry A. Muskat; photos by kc kratt

The fabulous oval Ballroom is grand in size and proportion. It is fringed with French doors and Corinthian columns.
The Court is an elegant large square room graced with leaded glass skylights and Ionic columns.
The frieze that rings the upper walls replicate Luca della Robbia’s Cantoria, originally designed for a balcony for the organ in Florence’s Duomo. The detail features children singing and celebrating with Drums.
The Glenny Room still boasts the original murals painted by Alice Russell Glenny, a noted artist and Club President at the turn of the century.
The oak paneling of the Delaware Avenue Gallery beautifully frames a view into the Magazine Room, whose massive marble fireplace is mirrored by an equally handsome fireplace in the Director’s Room.
A landscape painting in the niche of the East Loggia is framed with exterior shutters. Below it rests a Carrera marble baptismal font from Italy.
Bifurcated marble staircases with elaborate balustrades ascend from the ground floor Lobby. Above them hangs a large Cary portrait of Charlotte Mulligan, the club founder, dated from 1900.
A venerable anchor of Buffalo’s beautiful Delaware Avenue streetscape, the handsome Italian Renaissance edifice of the Twentieth Century Club was designed by the prolific architectural firm of Green and Wicks. The exterior is Indiana limestone, brick, and terra cotta. It bespeaks an era of dignity, grace, and privacy—an atmosphere that has survived for over a century.

In fact, the Twentieth Century Club (which happens to be the second oldest women’s club in America and may be the oldest still in its original location) is gearing up to celebrate its 115th anniversary at the end of September. Founded in 1894 by Charlotte Mulligan (a music teacher and the music editor of the Buffalo Courier newspaper), the club was created and nurtured exclusively as a women’s organization, conceived to be rich in tradition, education, and culture. All three of these attributes continue to be strong values amongst today’s members. And unlike many of the grand structures built on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo’s heyday a century ago, this one has essentially the same façade, is still being used for the same purpose for which it was built, and is still home to the original owners.

The building was designed as and has always functioned as a clubhouse. As such, it is both spacious and gracious. Its wide hallways and generous spaces entice a leisurely procession through its lovely and elegant interiors. From the ground floor foyer, there is a pair of grand marble staircases with elaborate bronze balustrades that ascend to the second (and principal) floor.

The Court is a large central room, square in shape, elegant in proportion. Its high traditional ceiling is punctuated with leaded-glass skylights, and the room is ringed with ionic columns, its symmetrical openings arranged in a beautiful rhythm. It serves as an elegant organizing space, around which the entire floorplan circulates. Especially captivating are the horizontal panels of a sculpted frieze that circle the room high on each wall. These are replications of Della Robbia’s Cantoria, originally sculpted for the Duomo in Florence, Italy. The sculptures depict the 150th Psalm, featuring “The Singing Boys,” music-making adolescents and youths singing praise with trumpet, lute and harp, timbrel and dance, strings, pipe, and cymbals. (Astute observers may know another Buffalo building where different della Robbia plaques from another Florence landmark have been replicated, but that’s the subject of another article currently in progress.)

The “Magazine Room” and the “Directors’ Room” are at opposite corners of the building, at the southern and northern ends of the beautifully paneled gallery that runs across the Delaware Avenue façade. Each of these rooms features similar marble fireplaces on the exterior walls, broad in proportion and beautiful in material and shape. The rooms have their own furnishings and memories bespeaking the legacies of past presidents and the histories and traditions of the club.
The “Glenny Room” (named after Alice Russell Glenny, an artist who was Club president at the turn of the century) is also known as the “Music Room.” Although a double ceiling accommodated a working musician’s gallery (which no longer exists), the original murals painted by Mrs. Glenny are preserved and are still in place. It is said that she was assisted by Urquhart Wilcox, the son of the Wilcox family whose nearby home is now a National Historic Site. The murals are painted in rich jewel colors. One shows the Muses of art and music. Another full wall illustrates the Seven Ages of Woman (from early childhood through old age). Yet another mural symbolizes the essential qualities of womanhood. The challenge for Mrs. Glenny was to define women’s roles as she saw them transforming in the twentieth century.

The “Presidents’ Room,” or director’s dining room, is dominated by a massive mahogany banquet table. The table is surrounded by Hepplewhite shield-back dining chairs, each with a unique history of having its needlepoint seat stitched by a different past president of the club. The similar designs each weave the signature of its maker into its pattern. A handsome sideboard sits on one wall opposite a classic Adams fireplace, which is accented by exceptional wall sconces. Beautiful accessories complement the room.

Another especially inviting room is the library. A fine collection of books and an emphasis on literature is a revered tradition of the club, and the lending library is still a popular and regularly used amenity. Its library tables overflow. The room is lined with both open and glass-door bookshelves housing contemporary books along with vintage leather-bound volumes and memorabilia. Oak woodwork frames an exceptional fireplace with malachite surrounds. Although the original historic wallpapers were lost due to water damage, the beautiful replacement papers are a classic English design which continues the malachite’s verde tones. Together, all the elements of the library (including the handmade clock and other wonderful collectibles) speak of Buffalo’s history and exude warmth and welcome. On a quick tour of the club, this would be the room where a visitor would want to linger.

The main ballroom/dining room is a graceful oval room, spectacular in size and shape. It is flanked on two sides by glass-paned loggia. The room is stunning in its quiet craftsmanship and gorgeous proportions. Pairs of French doors rhythmically punctuate three walls of the ballroom, each capped by a fan window or painted fan-shaped tympanum. Georgian in style, it draws from other influences, with neoclassic features like the marbled Corinthian columns that ring its border. The original domed ceiling has been compromised by an acoustical treatment, but the room still oozes elegance and boasts a beautiful crystal chandelier, itself oval in shape. The east and south loggia have panes of glass that are random pastels showing soft hues of yellow, blue, mauve, and pink. Paired with the soft blue/green colors of the floor tiles, they are very pleasing elements of the building. Intriguing is the landscape painted in a niche in the north wall, framed on either side by a pair of exterior shutters. A well-worn Carrera marble fountain sits on the floor below the painting. The piece is believed to be an Italian baptismal font.

The club members are particularly proud of their gorgeous garden—and rightfully so. It’s a veritable oasis, secluded in the hub of the urban grid. Its mature trees, beautiful shrubs, and lush ferns form a backdrop to manicured beds of annuals and perennials. A Tuscan fountain completes the picture, and a large patio offers the best setting in town to fulfill any bride’s wedding fantasy. A glance back toward the clubhouse shows a delicate arched colonnade reminiscent of Brunelleschi’s Florence.

Left: Green and Wicks designed The Twentieth Century Club’s Delaware Avenue building. Its Italian Renaissance façade was a popular choice of styles for private clubs of its era. The arched colonnade of its loggia graces the Allentown Historic District.

Middle and Right: The Club’s gorgeous gardens are the pride and joy of the members and offer a secluded green oasis on the east side of the building. Paths wind through plantings that are lush and beautiful. Capped with a Tuscan fountain, a patio is used for special events.

History abounds in these rooms and in the entire spirit of the club. It’s not just the architecture, furniture, and artifacts or the genteel commitment to music, art, and literature; a lost tradition of elegance and culture is imbued in the very essence of the building. The membership of the Twentieth Century Club deserves hearty congratulations for their meticulous stewardship of this local treasure.

Barry A. Muskat is Spree’s architecture critic.


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