The History of Allen Hall
By Martha Neri
Explore Buffalo, The Compass, November 2019
[Cornelia Hopkins Allen (1896-1979) was an associate professor of Social Work at the University]
[Frank Burkett Baird (1852-1939) was a philanthropist and successful industrialist. By far his greatest accomplishment was as "Father of the Peace Bridge"]
Who knew there was a connection of the architect of Allen Hall, formerly Baird Hall, on UB’s South Campus, and the Albright Knox Art Gallery? It was news to me and here’s the story.
In 1956 the University of Buffalo approved plans for the construction of a music building as the first phase of a proposed Fine Arts Center to be located on Main Street near Capen Blvd.
Paul Schweikher (1903–1997) was a distinguished modern architect particularly noted for his sensitive use of materials. He established a reputation as a skilled modernist architect of churches, schools, public buildings, and residences. He was chairman of the School of Architecture at Yale University, 1953-1958.
Schweikher’s unique sense of scale and proportion, while suggesting a simpler attitude about structural expression is evident in the building. The original building had a recital hall with seating for about 150. It served as music education center till the new Baird Hall was opened on the north campus. It was also the home of WBFO radio. The remodeling and renaming to Allen Hall occurred in 1979-81.
Schweikher & the Albright-Knox
Coincidentally, in 1957 the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy was looking to expand the Albright Art Gallery. That year Paul Schweikher was asked to draw plans, which the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy Board unanimously approved. His plans, though, were so strongly criticized by the community that the work was rejected and a new architect was sought. Gordon Bunshaft, a partner in the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architecture firm, was chosen and his plans were accepted in 1959.
In 2007 glass windows at the front of Allen Hall (picture below) overlook the trees, an especially beautiful view during the fall semester. Allen Hall now serves as space for various administrative offices. A small, acoustically distinctive performance hall remains from the building’s history as a music center.
Buffalo Prep School
The next organization to be located in Allen Hall will be the Buffalo Prep School. It was founded in 1989 by education and community leaders to help talented underrepresented students prepare for, obtain entrance into, and excel at demanding college preparatory high schools. Buffalo Prep has grown exponen- tially over the years and now serves hundreds of students each year. When the renovation is complete it will have nearly 6,000 square feet of state-of-the-art classrooms, science and computer labs, staff offices, restrooms, a kitchenette, and much needed storage space.
Approximately 5,000 square feet of additional space will be shared with UB, including a 150-seat auditorium, overflow classrooms for evening and summerApproximately 5,000 square feet of additional space will be shared with UB, programs, plus meeting rooms for community programming. The school hopes to move to Allen Hall in 2020.
This is only a little of the history. For example, at the dedication in 1957, Aaron Copland gave a lecture on modern music. He was the first Slee Lecturer in Music at the University at Buffalo. There is so much more to be uncovered!
Cornelia H. Allen Hall
University at Buffalo, University Archives (online November 2019)
Current Name: Cornelia H. Allen Hall
Former Name: Frank Burkett Baird Music Building
Location: South Campus, Buffalo
Original Architect: Paul Schweikher, New Haven, Connecticut
Original Contractors: John W. Cowper Co.
Original Size: 43,434 sq. ft.
Allen Hall is well known as the former home WBFO, Buffalo's National Public Radio affiliate. It houses recording studios as well as a performance hall. Allen Hall was originally built as the music building (Baird Hall) for a proposed fine arts center.
Cornelia Hopkins Allen (1896-1979) was a pioneer in the field of social work. She was a member of the faculty of the University of Buffalo's School of Social Work for thirty-one years.
Frank Burkett Baird (1852-1939) was an ironmaster and a pioneer in iron and steel. Through his efforts the Peace Bridge, connecting the city of Buffalo with Ontario, Canada, was built. Baird was a member of the University Council from 1920-1939, and was a recipient of the 1927 Chancellor's Medal.
1956 -- (May 28) The University of Buffalo Council approves plans for the construction of a Music Building, the first phase of the University's proposed Fine Arts Center. (This South Campus Fine Arts Center was never built)
1956 -- (July 24) Groundbreaking ceremony
1957 -- (May 11) Cornerstone ceremony
1957 -- (October 12) Dedication of the Frank Burkett Baird Music Building
1979 -- (Spring) Controversy over the removal of asbestos flakes from Baird Hall
1979 -- (November 9) Cornerstone Ceremony for the new Baird Hall on the North Campus. The cornerstone box, which contained memorabilia and archival records documenting the Music Department's history, was transferred to the new building.
1982 -- The former Baird Hall is renamed Cornelia H. Allen Hall.
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