DOWNTOWN HISTORY

Click Here to open the sign posted on the NW corner of Main and Huron Streets.

A New Financial District

Beginnings

The north Genesee Square (now Roosevelt Plaza) neighborhood of Main Street was partially settled before the burning of Buffalo in 1813. Three residents were remembered on the east side (site of M&T Center): Manly Colton, who had a hardware store in the 200 block of Main the 1830s, the Campbell home and hatter shop, and a cooper by the name of Curtan. It wouldn’t be until the Erie Canal expedited western migration from the East coast through Buffalo in 1825 that the Holland Land Company would register sale of the lots on this block, all to residents of other parts of the village.

Samuel Welch’s Recollections of Buffalo in the 1830s mentions only a two-story frame home in the block during this period of wild speculation and growth in Buffalo. By the 1870s, it was fully built up with the original five Holland Land Company lots separated into over 30 mostly residential parcels. By 1881, the three- to five-story brick buildings held commercial and manufacturing businesses with some upper floor residential. Many businesses supported the building of Buffalo—a wood yard, carpenter shops, wall paper dealers, tin shops, stoves, carpets, paints, and furnaces.

Thank you to Stephen Drew, producer of Low Bridge Productions of Rochester, NY for sharing the video explaining how the Erie Canal linked Western New York with New York City.

Buffalo Savings Bank

Click to enlarge. Detroit Publishing Co.,1904, Library of Congress,

With new railroad connections to the east coast in the 1840s, Buffalo’s population surged. Industrious workers needed a secure storage place for their savings. News stories cautioned tales of sneak thieves making off in the night with hidden cash. Buffalo Savings Bank was created in 1846 for the common man, the twelfth savings bank in the state and the first in Buffalo. The state charter specified its purpose was to receive deposits “from tradesmen, clerks, mechanics, laborers, minors, servants and others.”

The bank’s original building at Washington and Broadway burned in 1865, with only the vault remaining. The bank used a temporary location for 40 years. Buffalo Savings Bank needed to expand and modernize by the 1890s. After initially determining to stay near Lafayette Square, the trustees agreed to relocate to Main at Genesee in 1897. Ten architects were invited to a building design completion, and Green & Wicks, the company of Buffalo architect E.B Green, was selected to build a new structure for “not over $300,000." Construction began in 1899.

Green & Wicks design was meant to project stability, security, and aspiration. Buffalo Savings Bank would be a technological marvel of engineering fitting the theme of the times it symbolized. It contains 400 tons of steel, which was extravagant for the time period when many buildings were constructed with wood. The bank contained more stone than any other building at the time in the country. Each column took three months to complete. A smaller interior dome was encased inside the exterior domed roof, and a law office was hidden between the two structures. The bank was finished without its iconic gilded roof, added in 1953. This impressive monument was a testament to banking and the wealth of Buffalo. Buffalo Savings Bank continued to expand over the years with additions in 1931, 1941, 1955 and 1967. The bank was a major tenant in the Genesee Building.

Buffalo Savings Bank had grown out of space and was considering a new building in the late 1970s, considering a lower cost suburban option vs. expansion adjacent to their iconic gold domed building. Downtown was selected because of the promise of adjacent downtown redevelopment resulting from the light rail rapid transit project, and importantly, because of support from a $7 million Urban Development Action Grant. The grant brought higher downtown development costs closer to market rates. Buffalo Savings bank agreed to build a $55,000,000 twelve-story headquarters building between the original bank building and Chippewa Street. Relocation and demolition was planned for the buildings between Buffalo Savings Bank and Chippewa Street in 1981, the Liberty Shoe Store, Buffalo Optical, Tanke’s Jewelers, and Brownie’s Army and Navy Store. All of these businesses found nearby locations downtown. Ground was broken May 5, 1981.

Click any image to enlarge. Thank you to M&T Bank for providing these mural images.

Images from City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning

Click to enlarge. East side of Main before construction.
Click to enlarge. Wind tunnel test results showed the first concept for the new building design created high wind conditions for pedestrians. The redesigned building did not worsen wind conditions.
Click to enlarge. Demolition of early additions to Buffalo Savings Bank on the Washington Street side.
Click to enlarge. Employees moved into the new tower in 1983. The 1967 building adjacent to the domed building was demolished and the elevated plaza was built in 1984, completing the Goldome Bank project.

While the headquarters building was under construction, Goldome expanded into new markets, acquiring nine banks and becoming the second largest saving bank in the country, doing business in 40 states. As the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980s deepened, Goldome eventually became a casualty and was dissolved by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1991. Goldome’s assets were split between Key Bank and First Empire (now known as M&T Bank Corp.). M&T Bank purchased the buildings later that year, renaming the complex M&T Center. In 1998, M&T invested $500,000 to refurbish the gold leafed dome. The building’s 15-feet-high finial was loaded into a truck and recoated with gold leaf at Robert Marshall Studios in Wexford, PA.

Across Genesee Square

James Chapin purchased Inner lot 58, the parcel that would become Genesee House (now the Hyatt Hotel) in 1811. Originally, the site was home to the Genesee House, a way station for farmers and their livestock on their way to market. In the 1830s, it was the only structure on the block, constructed as a wood frame farmhouse. The plot even included space for grazing animals and fit in with the contemporary market atmosphere of the city. As Buffalo filled with west-bound travelers, Genesee House was rebuilt in 1842 as a five-story brick hotel. It was rebuilt larger in 1881 and became the Genesee Hotel.

Click to enlarge. Genesee Hotel is featured in Main & Genesee panoramic photo, by W. H. Brandel, 1911. Library of Congress

Genesee Building

Opened in 1923 at a cost of $2 million (over $27 million in 2015 dollars), the Genesee Building was designed by Buffalo-based architecture firm Green & Wicks as a steel-framed, Renaissance-Revival office building. At the time of its opening, it was the fourth tallest office building in the city. The Genesee Hotel was torn down for the construction of the new Genesee Building in 1922. At the time of its opening, it was the fourth tallest office building in the city.

The building anticipated Buffalo’s downtown banking center shifting north during the building boom that swept through downtown in the early 1920s. Despite the banking core never moving north of Court Street, the building filled to capacity quite quickly, making the corner of Main and Genesee one of the most desirable locations in the city, a centerpiece of the burgeoning north end of downtown. The area was home to many upscale shops and theaters and was recalled as a “hot spot” by one former tenant of the Genesee Building.

The Genesee Building was financed by Norman Clement, a local publisher, and Sheldon Weed, the owner of Weed and Co., a hardware store which occupied a large space on the building’s first floor, and stayed under their ownership until 1948. In postwar years the building changed hands between out-of-town ownership groups. It returned to local ownership in 1962, when Buffalo native Leon Lawrence Sidell was convinced that redevelopment of the north Retail and Theatre Districts was imminent. Sidell’s hopes were not quickly realized. Vacancy north of Huron increased as businesses grew in the suburbs. The Genesee Building went into bankruptcy in 1976.

Click to enlarge. Main Genesee area, November 19, 1973. SUNY Buffalo State Archives & Special Collections, Courier Express Collection

Hyatt Hotel Development

The City of Buffalo launched a plan to construct a new neighborhood between Chippewa and Genesee Streets by securing the interest of the Hyatt Regency Company to develop a hotel near the theater, business and Convention Center districts. Original plans called for demolition of the Genesee Building and construction of a Hyatt Hotel glass tower. This created some angst in the community, which was desperate for redevelopment, but conflicted about losing the iconic green-copper roofed landmark.

Click to enlarge. Early Main-Genesee project model showing proposed Hyatt Hotel with a traditional glass tower, straddling Huron Street. Image from City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning.
Click to enlarge. Aerial View, Main-Genesee Area. Buffalo Savings Bank has acquired and demolished buildings for expansion. City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning

Local businessman Paul Snyder agreed in December 1980 to be the Hyatt Hotel developer. By October, architects Gruzen & Partners determined that the Genesee Building could be saved and be made part of the hotel project. The use of Genesee Street, already blocked by the Convention Center, for the hotel atrium and banquet center was seen as a compromise worth making to retain the historic Genesee Building. Using all the tools available to them for project financing including federal grants, commitments from current and future property owners, the city was able to put together an interdependent project including two bank headquarters (Buffalo Savings and Liberty), a new parking garage (Augspurger), public recreation space to be anchored in the by two future buildings, all linked by a 2nd floor pedestrian bridge network.

Click to enlarge. Hyatt Rendering
Click to enlarge. July 18, 1982, by Paul Pasquarello, SUNY Buffalo State Archives & Special Collections, Courier Express Collection
Click to enlarge. View of Hyatt Hotel construction from Main and Huron – Office of Strategic Planning
Click to enlarge. View of Hyatt Hotel construction from Main and Huron – Office of Strategic Planning
Click to enlarge. Hyatt Hotel atrium construction, 1983. Image from City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning

The Hyatt Regency Buffalo opened to the public on February 12, 1984, and immediately became a cornerstone of the Fountain Plaza section of Main Street. Today the Hyatt Regency operates in the building alongside other tenants including Spa Alexis and Morton’s Steak House. Its 396 rooms make the Hyatt one of the city’s largest hotels. The building has been continually updated including a $13.3 million update in 2007 and another $3 million in 2015. As Main Street again takes on a new shape with return of automobile traffic to Main Street, the Genesee Building has remained a constant.

Click to enlarge. Main Genesee Task Group at work. Images from Room 920, City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning. L to R: Fred Fadel (City Urban Design Group), Stuart Dawson (chief designer, Sasaki Associates), Henry Balling (contractor), Al Price (UB School of Architecture and Planning), Larry Quinn (Commissioner, Dept. Community Development), Will Clarkson (MGTG chair)
Click to enlarge. L to R: Al Price, Stuart Dawson, Alan Ward (Sasaki Associates Designer), Fred Fadel, Virginia Tillou, Will Clarkson, possibly Henry Balling

The Main Street History signs are a cooperative venture of the downtown community. Buffalo Place Inc. was honored to work with so many talented and committed individuals, and we thank you for your efforts:

Our advisory committee of residents, tenants and downtown advocates for their passion, oversight, advice and patience: Anne Conable, Angela Keppel, Steve Carmina, Sandra Wilkins, Robert VonLangen, and Elizabeth A Vealey

University of Buffalo History, and Arts Management Masters students whose spring 2015 field work project initiated the 500 and Fountain Plaza Block signs: Thomas Buttaccio, Alyssa M. McQuir, Xiaochen Chang and Aakashi Patolawala. The students identified the stories to be told, collected numerous historic resources, proposed designs, and drafted text for the signs and website.

Buffalo Place Interns Elias Reden and Mitchell LaRosa for their assistance identifying images, doing research and in drafting text.

Adjacent property owners and contacts who were generous with their images, information, and time

A special thank you to the agencies who took so much time to provide their exclusive images and videos:

Contact Us

We appreciate your questions and comments about Buffalo Place and Downtown Buffalo. If we can be of any assistance, please send us a message.

Buffalo Place 671 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203 (716) 856-3150

Photography by Mike Shriver at Buffalo Photo Blog.

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Contact Us

We appreciate your questions and comments about Buffalo Place and Downtown Buffalo. If we can be of any assistance, please send us a message.

Buffalo Place 671 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203 (716) 856-3150

Photography by Mike Shriver at Buffalo Photo Blog.

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