Joseph Ellicott Historic District ...........Joseph Ellicott - Table of Contents

Certification of the Joseph Ellicott Historic District
Four distinct periods of the city's history from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century
Buffalo, Erie County, New York

By Claire L. Ross, SHPO staff

Statement of Significance:
The Joseph Ellicott Historic District represents the nucleus of Ellicott's 1804 street plan for the village of Buffalo, originally named New Amsterdam.  Influenced by L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D. C., Ellicott designed eight streets radiating at equal angles from Niagara Square the designated hub of the city. 

Incorporated in 1832, the Niagara Square area became the chief residential area of the city.  Downtown Buffalo developed along the radiating streets first as a village and then as the central business district of the much larger city.  The district contains architectural examples of four phases of Buffalo's history from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. 

As the core of the city, the historic district retains a significant number of high-style civic, religious and commercial structures, many of which were designed by local and/or nationally prominent architects.  Although the area has constantly changed and developed, it retains a sense of cohesiveness through the overall quality and integrity of its architecture and the maintenance of its historic street pattern.
From its start as a planned village in 1804, Buffalo grew slowly until 1825 when it was designated the western terminus of the Erie Canal.  By 1830, Buffalo was the shipbuilding capital of the Great Lakes area.  In 1843, the railroad established the city as a transportation center and the subsequent development of cattle, meatpacking, and lumber industries brought prosperity to the area.  Buffalo continued to grow throughout the nineteenth century and by 1860, it was regarded as the nation's grain center.  The city experienced its greatest boom in development following the Civil War and by the mid-1880's, it was considered the nation's leading inland port, earning the nickname the "Queen City of the Great Lakes."  In 1900, Buffalo was the eighth largest city in the United States.  Buffalo continued to prosper until after World War II, when, like most large American cities, it suffered a decline in population.

Four distinct periods of the city's history from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century

The district contains examples of architecture that spans four distinct periods of the city's history from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. 

First Period of History 1815-1837

The first period is marked by the rebuilding of the village in 1815 after it was burned by the British during the War of 1812 and ending with the Panic of 1837.  The Title Guarantee Building (110 Franklin Street) is the oldest building in downtown constructed by Benjamin Rathbun.  Built in 1833, in the Greek Revival style, it is the only remaining example from the fifty-one buildings constructed by Rathbun.
Second Period of Building History 1843-1900

The second period in Buffalo's history commenced with the advent of the railroad in 1843 and the city's new role as a transportation center and grain depot.  Rapid development occurred in the mid-1850' before the Panic of 1857.  The Balcom/Chandler House at 91 Niagara Street is the only Italian Villa style building and the only surviving residence [demolished in 2007] that surrounded Niagara Square during the period following city incorporation.  The commercial buildings erected during this period exhibited the heavier and richer detailing characteristic of the mid-nineteenth century Victorian styles.  The group of buildings at 76-92 Pearl Street are among the last remnants of the cast-iron storefronts and decorative details.  The Dennis Building (251-257 Main Street) a five-story Italian Renaissance style building, constructed ca. 1873 is the only surviving example of a building with a cast-iron façade.

During the second building phase of Buffalo's history, one of the foremost American architects of the time, Richard Upjohn, built what he considered to be his greatest work - St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral (113 Pearl Street).  The 1849 early English Gothic Revival style cathedral has asymmetrical elevations that are distinguished by lancet windows and gothic spires (National Register listed 1973).  Another fine example of a Gothic style church is St. Joseph's Cathedral (50 Franklin Street) build in ca. 1851 by Patrick C. Keeley.  These two buildings are the only surviving ecclesiastical remnants of mid-nineteenth century in downtown Buffalo, which was distinguished by its churches, small office blocks and residences.
The area within the historic district did not evolve into a central business area until the post-Civil War era.  A rapidly expanding and diversified economy along with a dramatic increase in population contributed to this phase of the city's development.  Frederick Law Olmsted's parks and parkways system (NR listed 1982) was designed between 1868 and 1898, that led to the development of residential communities to the east and north of the city.  The introduction of the electric streetcar in the late 1880's led to further decentralization of the downtown. 
With the population growth and demand for expanded services, the city came under pressure to consolidate the functions of city and county government in one central location.  During this time, the downtown buildings grew larger, heavier and richer with the use of detail characteristics of the Victorian age.  The Old County Hall (96 Franklin Street), formerly City and County Hall was designed by the prominent Rochester architect Andrew J. Warner in 1871 (NR 1976).  The elaborate High Victorian Gothic style building is distinguished by its symmetrical façade and seven-story bell tower.  Old City and County Hall was just one example of the new building types, which changed the face of Buffalo's downtown.
A new and more sophisticated age opened in Buffalo with the development of new construction techniques involving structural steel resulting in taller, larger office buildings prior to the turn of the century.  The Main Post Office and Federal Office Building (123 Ellicott Street), built in 1894 was a typical example of the third phase of Buffalo's development.  The massive Beaux-Arts style building features pink Maine granite, a Gothic tower 244 feet tall, pavilions, galleries and a four-story interior skylight court (NR listed 1972).  The Dun Building (110 Pearl Street), designed by Edward B. Green, represents another example of the late nineteenth century building techniques.  In marked contrast to the exuberant style and sprawling form of the Post Office Building, the refined Renaissance style Dun Building built in 1894 is extremely narrow and stands ten stories tall.  The building's narrow width, a result of its irregular site necessitated the use of exterior load bearing masonry walls to help support the internal steel frame.
In the 1890's Buffalo's two best-known buildings were designed by Chicago architects.  In 1895, D. H. Burnham designed the Ellicott Square Building (295 Main Street), an elaborate terra-cotta Beaux-Arts exterior, which conceals the large interior court.  When constructed, the Ellicott Square Building was the largest office building in the world.  The following year, 1896, Louis Sullivan designed the Guaranty Building (28 Church Street), recognized as one of the finest examples of the skyscraper-building form with a terra-cotta façade that is embellished with Sullivan's rich foliate and geometric ornament.  The building was designated a NHL in 1975.
Third Period of Building History 1900-1914

Architecture in Buffalo at the turn-of-the-century until World War I was more typical of the mid-west that the east, with its grain elevators and Chicago skyscrapers.  Light manufacturing buildings, such as the Merit Building (35 Franklin Street), built in 1915, is also characteristic of Chicago architecture.  Franklin Street had become one of the dividing lines between the downtown business district and dockside manufacturers to the south.
In 1907, Niagara Square, the centerpiece of Ellicott's plan, that was redesigned by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1870's to reaffirm its position as the main thoroughfare within the city underwent a redesign by Chicago planner and architect D. H. Burnham, who recommended that it become the site of government buildings.  The center of Niagara Square contains an obelisk with fountains, commemorating President McKinley's assassination at the Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo in 1901.
Fourth Period of Building History 1920-1948

The fourth phase in Buffalo's downtown building history occurred from 1920 until 1948.  The building boom beginning in the 1920's again altered the character of Buffalo's central business district in terms of scale, function and image.  The new construction resulted in large prominent civic buildings in the characteristic styles of the early twentieth century. 

From 1920 to 1935, Niagara Square was finally developed as the governmental hub of the city.  An excellent example of Neo-classical styling, the New York State Office Building (65 Court Street) was constructed in 1928 by Green and Sons Architects.  The following year Niagara Square became the site of one of the most outstanding Art Deco public buildings in the country.  Designed by the firm of Dietel and Wade, Buffalo's City Hall is distinguished by its monumental proportions and twenty-nine-story tower (NR 1999).  The construction of City Hall also represented the first major alteration to Ellicott's 1804 plan since it blocked Court Street on the west side of the square.  In 1935 the United States Court House (64 Court Street) was build to the southeast of the square completing its development as a government complex.  The Art Deco building is marked by its stylized scroll motif and two-story setback.  In the northeast corner of the square, stands the Statler Hotel (107-109 Delaware Avenue), built in 1921-23 by the well-known New York City hotel designers, George B. Post and Sons.  The twenty-story building is one of downtown Buffalo's first modern hotel buildings and is an excellent example of state-of-the-art urban hotel design of the early twentieth century.  The Second Renaissance Revival style hotel and the Georgian Revival style theater are significant as an early twentieth century hotel/entertainment complex.  The former [demolished 2007] Erlanger Theater (120 Delaware Avenue) and the Statler Hotel were both a planned/joint venture by Elsworth M. Statler, who chose Buffalo, because it was his home city and where he began his successful hotel career.
One of the most prolific architects in Buffalo's history, Edward B. Green, who with his partner, William Sydney Wicks headed the leading architectural firms in the city at the turn-of-the-century.  The firm , whose office was in the Title Guarantee Building (110 Franklin Street), designed several buildings in the district: the Fidelity Building, 1902/1926 (284 Main Street) and the Marine Trust Building, 1913 (237 Main Street). 

The firm [E. B. Green & Sons aftrt Wicks's retirement] designed several of the most prominent buildings in the district including the Buffalo Athletic Club, 1922 in the Neo-classical style (69 Delaware Avenue); the United States Court House Building (64 Court Street) and the New York State Office Building (65 Court Street). 

After the death of Edward B. Green, Jr. in 1931, the firm became Green and James and they designed the Erie County Sheriff's Department Holding Center (10 Delaware Avenue) in the Art Deco style in 1938.
The Depression and World War II

The Depression and World War II halted building activity in the city.  When constructed resumed, the focus had shifted from the downtown area to the rapidly developing suburbs.  Since the 1960's, however, the attention has slowly returned to downtown area.  The Joseph Ellicott Downtown Historic District is architecturally and historically significant as the epic center of the city of Buffalo, which throughout its history has seen continued development, while maintaining much of Ellicott's 1804 street plan.

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