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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 the country.

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 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.
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 Company.

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 Buffalo’s industry.
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 hundred years. 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 the sun. 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.
Sites Used
Buffalo City Hall Wikipedia
Buffalo History
City of Buffalo Homepage