At first glance, Buffalo and New York City would appear as different as two cities can be. However, over the past two centuries both have been connected by the Erie Canal, the Empire State Express that linked Buffalo’s Central Terminal with Grand Central Terminal, and the New York State Thruway. Infrastructure joining two cities not only moves people and goods, but ideas. During the late 1800’s, Buffalo was a proving ground for many innovative architects who transferred their ideas to the big city. A two-block area in downtown Buffalo has very significant architectural ties to New York City.
Above is the Ellicott Square Building. You may recognize it as the Ellicott Hotel from the movie The Natural. Built in 1896, it was the largest office building in the world at the time. In its basement was the Vitascope Theater, possibly the first movie theater in the United States.
On the marble floor of the Ellicott Square Building are several swastikas. Before Nazi Germany, the swastika symbolized good fortune and is still used for that purpose in India and Indonesia. The architect for the Ellicott Square Building was Daniel Burnham who six years later designed this building:
That, of course, is the classic Flatiron Building. The shapes of the respective buildings were both determined by the street layout. While most of Manhattan is laid out as a grid, the Flatiron Building lies where Broadway diagonally cuts across 5th Avenue necessitating its distinctive shape. Daniel Burnham’s architecture firm still survives in the form of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White in Chicago.
Next door to the Ellicott Square Building is M&T Plaza:
Does the exterior steel tubing and resultant narrow windows look familiar? The buildings below had the same type of framework:
Both M&T Plaza and the World Trade Center were designed by Minoru Yamasaki during the mid-1960’s. In each building, the exterior steel columns were intended to carry the load of the building’s weight. This precludes the need for interior columns maximizing floor space. A century before M&T Plaza was built, Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train stopped in Buffalo and his body laid in state on the site as some 100,000 filed by to pay their respects.
Minoru Yamasaki passed away in 1986 and his firm Yamasaki & Associates ceased operations in 2010, a victim of the Great Recession. Of course, we are no longer able to appreciate the World Trade Center in person, but their architect’s legacy lives on in Buffalo which set the stage for his most prominent work.