City Hall - Table of Contents ........................... Niagara Square - Table of Contents

Buffalo City Hall - History
65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, NY
On this page, below:
Drawing: Mayor Samuel Wilkeson's House

Selected Photos from HABS

Photo

Postcard

Newspaper Construction Photos

History

Mayor Samuel Wilkeson's House


Mayor Samuel Wilkeson's house was demolished for the first gas station in Buffalo, Kendall Gas Station (see below), which, in turn, was demolished for City Hall.
illustration courtesy of Victorian Buffalo, by Cynthia Van Ness

Selected Photos from HABS
Library of Congress: Buffalo City Hall (online July 2020)












Photo


The location of City Hall before the 1931 building on Niagara Square was built

Postcard


Jumbo Postcard (7"x 9").
Note that the statue of President Grover Cleveland has not yet been placed at side of the building, and that to the left of City hall are apartments behind St. Anthony of Padua Church that were later demolished.
Postcard courtesy of Gothic City Architectural Antiques (August 2012).
Text on the back of the postcard:



Newspaper construction photos
The illustrations below were copied from the Buffalo history scrapbooks in the Buffalo Central Library.
Special thanks to the librarians at the Buffalo Central Library for their assistance.

















John J. Wade






John W. Cowper   ...   John J. Wade



History

In the centennial year of the United States, 1876, Buffalo dedicated a new City Hall (the gray granite building now called Old County Hall). Between that time and the dedication of the present City Hall in 1932, the centennial year of the City of Buffalo, the population of the city had quadrupled. The need for a new building was recognized in 1920, when a citywide referendum authorized the Buffalo Common Council to select a site and develop a new "city center."

The site chosen was Niagara Square, the most important of the several squares of the Joseph Ellicott Plan of 1804. Niagara Square is considered the center and cultural heart of Buffalo as well as its official location. The City hall tower overlooks the renowned waterways of Lake Erie and the friendly shores of Canada.

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 32-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 of Buffalo's past. Its decorative art illustrates significant elements in the area history. This, among, other things, the following are shown

  • themes of the Iroquois Indian nation
  • the development of the Erie Canal
  • the United States's relation to Canada, and
  • the pioneering and industrial spirit of Buffalo's citizens, past and present
Included, too, are 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.

Architects

John J. Wade, a young architect who had experience in the design of city halls, had written an article in 1925 in The Buffalo Arts Journal called "Choosing a City Hall Architect," which brought him to the attention of the Common Council. They hired him as a consultant architect for the design of City Hall, January, 1927. He formed a partnership with Buffalo architect George J. Dietel (1876-1974) to provide these services.

Wade produced, in 1927, a design for a twenty-five-story square tower, supporting a colonnaded octagon, surmounted by a hemispherical dome of colored tiles. Wade's design was rejected as too expensive and lacking in sufficient floor space; however, it was not disliked.

The Council hired the firm of Dietel, Wade, and Jones
to produce the final design, which was adopted. Wade had been an apprentice of Jones before and after attending the Beaux Arts Institute in New York City.  Sullivan W. Jones (b. in 1878 in New York City where he also died in 1955) formerly the the New York State Architect, was designer of the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building in Albany, a building massed similarly to the Buffalo City hall. Dietel & Wade had offices in Delaware Court

The general contractor was the John W. Cowper Co., Buffalo, established 1915. This was the principal construction company of the city.


Evaluation

Architectural historian John H. Conlin, in his book Buffalo City Hall: An Americanesque Masterpiece, evaluates the final design:

John J. Wade's powerful 1929 design for City Hall is among the best realizations of the Art Deco style, free of Classicism.

Architectural historian Reyner Banham described City Hall as an "astonishing Art Deco bulk."

Landmark status: Joseph Ellicott Historic Preservation District


Sources of text:



Page by Chuck LaChiusa.
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