The History of Buffalo Architecture
By Henry-Russell Hitchcock Jr.
In 1893 the first edition of Baedeker’s “United States” signalizes with stars five Buffalo Buildings: St. Paul’s, The First Presbyterian Church, St. Louis’, Trinity, and the Public Library, as well as Delaware Avenue, the Park and Cemetery. The two monuments for which Buffalo is best known today—the Prudential Building, by Louis Sullivan and the Larkin Administration Building, by Frank Lloyd Wright, were not mentioned as they were not yet in existence. Most of the houses and public buildings of the first decades of Buffalo’s existence were already destroyed.
After nearly half a century the beauties of Olmsted’s parkways still impress visitors. Delaware Avenue, although many of its finest houses have been destroyed, still rates as one of the handsomest residence streets in America. Upjohn’s St. Paul’s, and Green and Wick’s First Presbyterian Church will still find many admirers, though the Public Library is more likely to be esteemed an eyesore.
The four sections of this exhibition deal with four stages of Buffalo’s development. These are graphically illustrated in a series of maps. The first section covers the early town as it grew up between the peace which prevailed after the War of 1812 and the coming of the railroad. The second section illustrates the city of the mid-century down to the panic of 1873, which terminated the post-Civil War building boom. The last two sections deal with modern Buffalo, the latter decades of the nineteenth century and the first four of the twenties.
Houses, churches, hotels, business buildings, elevators and factories all serve to tell the story of Buffalo’s growth, and also to display, in terms of architecture, its peculiar position as an outpost of the east and a gateway to the middle west. This is a cross-section of a city, the buildings included, naturally varying greatly in merit. Many will admire chiefly the early buildings, now mostly destroyed, the product of simple “builders” before architectural sophistication and eclectic taste destroyed and homogeneity of the Post-Colonial and Greek Revival. Others will prefer the distinguished examples of the work of eastern architects like Upjohn and Richardson and of the middle westerners like Sullivan and Wright. Some will feel that the great industrial edificies, the grain elevators and newer factories better display the spirit of Buffalo and hope of an American architecture. After ten years of depression, the present is not well represented; but a new store and government housing development, as well as the unfinished Music Hall, indicate better than private construction and new architectural possibilities of the mid-twentieth century.
Buffalo may well be proud of the architectural story outlined here and hope for an architectural future as brilliant and perhaps more homogenous than the last hundred years. Two plans, the early ones of Ellicott and the park developments of Olmsted, neither one adequately continued, indicate frames, within which Buffalo for a time sought to discipline its growth. The hope of the future must lie at least as much in the establishment of a new and broader frame of planning, as in the erection of single buildings of distinction. The future ought also to provide some means of preserving the finer moments of the past, instead of allowing that indiscriminate destruction which has, during the present century, removed far more excellent buildings that have been built.