Buffalo’s City Hall is a building that is much
overlooked and often ignored, but Buffalo
would not be what it is today without this
building. Constructing City Hall where it is,
with the style it has, quite literally changed
the way the city of Buffalo looks. The buildings
eventually constructed nearby and throughout
the downtown business district would certainly
not have the same design nor even be
in their present location if not for City Hall’s
placement and design.
Buffalo City Hall is currently the seat for municipal
government in the City of Buffalo,
New York. Located at 65 Niagara Square, the
32 story Art Deco building was completed in
1931 by Dietel, Wade & Jones.
At 378 ft (115.2 m) height or 398 feet (121.3 m)
from the street to the tip of the tower, it is one
of the largest and tallest municipal buildings in
the United States of America and is also one
of the tallest buildings in Western New York.
The design was by John Wade, chief architect,
with the assistance of George Dietel. The
friezes were sculpted by Albert Stewart and
the sculpture executed by Rene Paul Chambellan.
It was listed on the National Register of Historic
Places in 1999.
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.
City Hall was built by the John W. Cowper
Company, the same firm who built the Statler
Hotel and the Buffalo Athletic Club, also on
Niagara Square. The cost of building City Hall
was $6,851,546.85, including the architect’s
fees, making it one of the costliest city halls in
Ground was broken on September 16, 1929
and the cornerstone was laid May 14, 1930.
The building was completed on November 10,
1931, though parts of the building were occupied
as early as September 1931. The building
was dedicated in July 1932. City offices were
previously located in County and City Hall.
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
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.
In the summer of 2009, Buffalo City Hall started
undergoing renovation on the south wing.
Buffalo’s tallest building until 1970, City Hall
has 32 stories, 26 of which offer usable office
space. The total floor area is 566,313 square
feet (52,612.2 m2) and the footprint of the
site on Niagara Square is 71,700 square feet
(6,660 m2). There are 1,520 windows from
the first to the twenty-fifth floor. A practical
design feature is that all of them open inward,
making window washers unnecessary.
It takes approximately ten days to clean them
all. There are eight elevators to the 13th floor
and four to the 25th floor. Curtis Elevator
Company furnished the first elevators, with
additional elevators supplied later by Otis Elevator
There are 5,000 electrical outlets, 5,400 electrical
switches, and 21 motor driven ventilation
fans. One hundred and ten miles of copper
wire weighing 43 tons, and 47 miles or
180 tons of conduit pipe, serve the building,
as well as 26 miles or 5 car loads of underfoot
conduit. There are either 138 or 143 clocks
(counts vary) regulated by a master clock in
the basement, and 37 fire alarm stations distributed
throughout the building.
It was originally equipped with 375 telephones
and a master switchboard. External illumination
was provided from dusk to midnight by 369
flood lights with an average candlepower of 350.
City Hall was designed and built with a nonpowered
air-conditioning system, taking advantage
of strong prevailing winds from Lake
Erie. Large vents were placed on the west
side of the building to catch wind, which
would then travel down ducts to beneath
the basement, to be cooled by the ground.
This cooled air was then vented throughout
the building. Winds off the lake were usually
strong enough to power air through this system.
It has been customary in the past to erect
triumphal arches memorializing the victories
of war, but the architect and builders of Buffalo
City Hall have endeavored to portray the
constructive rather than the destructive side
of life. Their focus was to accomplish in stone,
steel and glass what the ancient Greeks did in
stone and timber.
The importance of this Art Deco masterpiece
is immediately relevant upon viewing its command
of the downtown Buffalo and the waterfront.
When approaching City Hall from
Niagara Street, one is impressed with an architectural
style which is modern without being
modernistic and which depicts the age in
which it was built. Also, it generally balanced
its modernism with a taste of the symbolism
normally associated with classical architecture.
The exterior and interior are adorned
with symbolic figures and decorations, which
in bold relief portray an industrial theme.
In keeping with this approach, the main entrance
of City Hall is made up of symbolic
units forming columns and lintels. The shafts
of the columns represent large octagons
nut with rivet heads and stud heads applied
there. The molding of the lintel is styled to
depict a saw, thus portraying the power in
When approaching the main entrance, the
central figure perched above represents a
historian, with pen in hand, ready to open the
book of Buffalo’s history and write the next
The height of the domed ceiling makes quite
an impression upon those entering the main
lobby. The bright colors of the tile that make
up the Dome create an Indian Chief’s bonnet
laid out flat. The center of the ceiling depicts
There are four statues in the lobby, each which
represent the characteristic of good citizenship,
Virtue, Diligence, Service, and Fidelity.
There are four corridors off the lobby, each
holding colorful murals depicting Buffalo’s industry.