An Early "City Beautiful"
Buffalo History Architecture
The City Beautiful Movement was a Progressive reform of architecture and urban planning that flourished from 1890 to 1915. It espoused beautification and monumental grandeur to counteract the "moral decay and poverty" of urban environments. Its vaguely classical architectural style was called Beaux Arts, after the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where order dignity, and harmony were encouraged in the work of artists and architects.
Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham was highly influential in spreading these ideals. The "White City." Burnham's vision for the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, was at once beautiful, dignified, orderly, and efficient, a model city that inspired many cities to begin to incorporate Movement principles.
In 1895, Bumham's firm was commissioned to design an "office block" within Ellicott Square, a partial tract of the original 100 acres Joseph Ellicott reserved for his estate. The $3.5 million Italian Renaissance design by Charles B. Atwood, designer-in-chief of the Chicago Exposition and Bumham's "master of all artistic matters," wraps around a large interior court that provided natural light to surrounding offices. Its glass-covered concourse is one of Buffalo's most ornamental public spaces, with ironwork balconies, twin grand staircases, and a mosaic floor of 23 million pieces of Italian marble depicting ancient sun symbols, designed by William Winthrop Kent and James A. Johnson and installed 35 years later.
Thanks to Elliott's visionary planning and to the park and parkway system designed here in 1868 by Frederick Law . Olmsted, an early champion of the Movement, Buffalo already had the foundation for a "City Beautiful plan" long before the Movement started to spread. Olmsted and his partner, Calvert Vaux, had envisioned broad, expansive thoroughfares planted with double rows of American Elms to link three parks, and spacious landscaped circles with radiating streets, which, intentionally or not, echo Elliott's radial street plan. By the 1890s the Olmsted-Vaux vision for Buffalo, expanded to six parks, was already being realized.
A flurry of buildings, many in Beaux Arts style, nevertheless soon followed, especially along Main Street, as progress moved northward.
On early Ellicott land south on Main Street, the 1877 Stanton Building is the only surviving Buffalo structure with an entirely cast-iron facade. As a port between the ore fields of the upper Great Lakes and the coal mines of Pennsylvania, the city played a dominant role in iron production, and many such buildings were built here.
Three streets east, at Swan and Oak, the monumental Flemish-Gothic Old Post Office building, largely credited to architect James Knox Taylor, was completed at a cost of more than $1.5 million in 1901 . Among the first of the federal government's "City Beautiful" constructions, the building is regarded as inspired by H. H. Richardson's Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh. Vacant for two previous decades and threatened with demolition, the building was magnificently restored in the late 1970s and in 1981 opened as the downtown branch of Erie Community College. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
A modem addition to the "Ellicott estate" is the $16 million, 21-story International style M&T Plaza office tower north of the Division Street arteries. It was designed in 1965 by internationally known Seattle-born architect Minoru Yamasaki, who was simultaneously designing the twin World Trade Center towers in New York City.