DOWNTOWN HISTORY

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

From Genesee Square to Roosevelt Plaza

First Residents

In the early nineteenth century, the land that now holds Roosevelt Plaza was in the early stages of western development. Aaron Brink bought inner lot 21. Asa Coltrain, a physician who worked with Dr. Cyrenious Chapin, purchased inner lot 22 in 1814.

Joseph Stocking, the village’s first hat manufacturer, arrived in 1811 and purchased inner lot 20 in 1826.

Moses Baker, purchased lots 24 and 26 on the north and south sides of Main at Genesee in 1826 and 1833. He was an active early citizen, serving as a village trustee for eight years, and as an alderman after Buffalo was incorporated as a city. Baker’s rented business space on east Main between Mohawk and Genesee was the temporary site for court proceedings following the burning of Buffalo in 1813. He built the building that stood at the site of Buffalo Savings Bank from the 1830s to 1889.

Major Andre Andrews purchased inner lots 202 and 203 in 1828, where he built a “rural attractive home” on the sizable lot that became the site of the Electric Building. He was a lawyer and served as an alderman before becoming the second mayor of Buffalo in 1833. Andrews died of cholera the next year.

The home became Gruener’s Restaurant and then Gruener’s Hotel, before the building was demolished for construction of the Electric Building.

Map of Buffalo Village Inner lots as surveyed by Joseph Ellicott. From the History of Buffalo and Erie County Vol. 2, page 31, H. Perry Smith. Click here to view full image.
Click to enlarge. Moses Baker building, site of Buffalo Savings Bank, at Main and Huron. SUNY Buffalo State College Archives and Special Collections, Courier Express Collection.
Click to enlarge. Residence of Major A. Andrews, Mayor of Buffalo, 1833. Courtesy of the Buffalo History Museum.
Click to enlarge. Gruener’s Garden, Genesee and Huron Streets. Courtesy of the Buffalo History Museum.

Embedded to the left is artist and historian Raymond Massey’s video "Buffalo 1836" telling the story of Buffalo and the real estate bubble created by Benjamin Rathbun. Click here to view more information posted on Raymond Massey’s extensive website.

Living Above the Store

The buildings standing on Genesee Street east of Main are likely the oldest buildings in Downtown Buffalo, built when the Erie Canal and railroad were bringing westward migration and delivering Midwest farm bounty to the East. The brick buildings would have been similar to the style of Benjamin Rathbun, Buffalo’s first building entrepreneur whose empire collapsed in a financial scandal in 1836.

Photographic Tour of the Corner of Main and Genesee between 1881 and 2015

The Genesee Block at 5–9 E. Genesee was built in 1825 and has returned to its original utilization, with commercial uses once again limited to the ground floor and residences above. Similarly, 535 Main, just around the corner, has returned to traditional mixed use. In the 1830s, it was merchant Henry Colton’s store. The current structure was built in 1851 with residential upper floors. As downtown prospered, the upper floors were taken over by commercial businesses until they eventually went vacant in the mid-twentieth century. Now after a full restoration, upper floors have apartments and a restaurant is on the first floor.

In the 1830s, author Samuel Welch recalled the wagon shop of Thomas Spicer at the corner of Main and Genesee. The current building at 537 Main, built in 1860, is again residential on the upper floors with restaurant space in the storefront.

Click to enlarge. 1870—Al l of the above pictured businesses were sited at the Genesee Block in 1870. 533 Main was occupied by Karl Huwerth & Son until 1875. Irlbacher & Davis, plumbers and pipe fitters, conducted business at 503 Main and later built a four-story building and relocated to 533 Main by 1882.
Click to enlarge. 1916-1920—The four-story Stewart Clothes building at 529- 533 Main was built by Irlbacker & Davis, plumbers and pipe fitters, in 1881. The Electric Tower, at the far left, was built in 1912. 513 Main Street, at the far right, was built in 1916. This is prior to construction of the American Savings Bank at 15 E. Genesee Street in 1930. 510 Washington, built in 1920, is not seen.
Click to enlarge. 1932—Note the Rand Building on the top right built in 1929, and 510 Washington built in 1920 on the top left. Embassy Theatre at 525 Main was open from 1932 to 1941. Siegel’s at 535 Main was open from 1929 to 1937. Sidney Mursten was at 537 Main from 1931 to 1932 (owned the building until 1934). Whelan Drugs was open in 1930-1952, but United Cigar Stores was only from 1929 to 1932. Rouge Box Beauty Salon was open from 1929 to 1934
Click to enlarge. 1938—The sign on 5 E. Genesee on the top left announces that Howard Kredit Jewelers is moving from 5 E. Genesee, where they had been located since before 1929, to 535 Main, just around the corner. The new store opened in 1938 and appears open in this photograph. The Cotton Shop was at this location in 1937 – 1939. Thank you to Western New York Heritage Press for allowing us to use this image.
Click to enlarge. 1972—This Buffalo History Museum image shows Joey’s Men’s Shop at 537 Main, where it was located from 1971 to 1979. C&A Texas Hots was at 5 E. Genesee from 1963. Texas Red Hots remained at this location and expanded to adjacent 7 E. Genesee until the early 1990s. Enna Jettick Burk’s Boot Shop was at 7 E. Genesee from 1964. Standard Shoe Repair opened at 9 E. Genesee in 1930 and operated there until 1992. Enna Jettick Burk’s Boot Shop shared the building until it moved next door to 7 E. Genesee in 1964.
Click to enlarge. 1983—Arby’s Restaurant opened at 537 Main in 1979. This photo was taken during Metro Rail construction which started in 1982 with relocation of utilities and construction of the track bed, shown complete here. Construction of the sidewalk and former street area followed the track bed, with the Main Street project complete in 1986.
Click to enlarge. 1938—The sign on 5 E. Genesee on the top left announces that Howard Kredit Jewelers is moving from 5 E. Genesee, where they had been located since before 1929, to 535 Main, just around the corner. The new store opened in 1938 and appears open in this photograph. The Cotton Shop was at this location in 1937 – 1939. Thank you to Western New York Heritage Press for allowing us to use this image.
Click to enlarge. 1985—The Arby’s and Howard’s Jeweler’s screen walls were removed with the assistance of a City of Buffalo façade renovation program, and the screen wall at 5 E. Genesee was expanded to cover all upper stories and provide a unified, “cleaner” look. Main Street construction was underway but wouldn’t be complete until the next year.
Click to enlarge. 1985—This image depicts the holiday season. Note new sidewalk pavement and an unfinished tree pit in front of 9 E. Huron, part of Metro Rail construction. The second-floor tenant remained for a short while longer. A cigar store took over the building when the shore repair closed in 1992.
Click to enlarge. Bagel Brother’s was open at 5 and 7 E. Genesee from 1993 to 2005
Click to enlarge. 2011—Rose Nails opened at 535 Main after Howard’s Jewelers went out of business in 1999, after 70 years at the corner of Main and Genesee. 537 Main was showing neglect. It had been vacant for the previous five years, until purchased for mixed-use development the next year.
Click to enlarge. 2014—Cars on Main Street in front of renovation at 535 and 537 Main Street, both as mixed-use buildings with residential upper floors and store front restaurants.
Click to enlarge. 2003 Ball Drop, by Joe Cascio, courtesy of Iskalo Development Corporation.
Click to enlarge. Buffalo General Electric Company Building

Electric Tower

The Electric Tower was built in 1912 and modeled after a building erected for the 1901 Pan American Exposition called The Tower of Light, which was in turn modeled after the classical Lighthouse of Alexandria that once stood in Egypt. After the building’s completion, the Buffalo General Electric Company occupied it as its headquarters. Thank you to Iskalo Development Corporation for use of these photos.

The Electric Tower expanded twice. Space was added to the first floor and a second entrance was opened in 1924. Three additional stories were added to the rear wing in 1926, and the interior and tower were renovated in the Art Deco style to standardize its look with its sister building in Syracuse.

The Tower has always been known for its light shows and displays during holidays and events. In 1926, the tower was lit green, white, blue, and gold to draw attention to the power of electricity. The tower was studded with 44,000 lightbulbs and had a massive searchlight on its finial, which was so powerful people living in Canada and Niagara Falls were able to see it. Since 1988, the building has been the site of Buffalo’s annual New Year’s Eve Ball Drop.

In 2003, the tower was acquired by Iskalo Development after being vacant for a number of years. An $18 million renovation was unveiled in 2007, featuring restoration of the two-story lobby space and tenant office suites. The Electric Building was listed on the National Register of Historic places in 2008 and is preserved as a historic landmark. At 13 stories, it stands as the seventh tallest building in Buffalo.

Buffalo General Electric Company Building

Like many of the buildings built in Buffalo in the early twentieth century, the GE Company Building was constructed in a Beaux Arts style by local architect Esenwein & Johnson. The building itself was meant to showcase the revolutionary power of electricity that the Buffalo General Electric Company could now provide. In this sense, the Electric Tower was a giant advertisement for electricity and was capable of being brilliantly lit up in order to sell the “wonders of electricity” to Buffalo citizens.

Thomas Edison Movie Clip of 1901 Pan American Exposition Light Tower. Copyright: Thomas A. Edison; October 17, 1901, posted by the Library of Congress
Click to enlarge. Night view at the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, 1901, by Ascar A. Simon & Bro Photographers, copyright 1901. Library of Congress

Hiker Monument

“The Hiker,” created by Allen George Newman, was erected in May 29, 1920, in front of the Buffalo Savings Bank. The monument was dedicated to Army, Navy and Marine soldiers who served in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection that occurred between 1898 and 1902. These wars were significant because of the large volunteer force that participated. During these wars, volunteer infantry men referred to themselves casually as “hikers.” The sculpture incorporated this nickname into its title to memorialize these volunteers.

Buffalo is not the only city to feature this statue. A copy was installed in 1928 in the nearby town of Niagara Falls. Additional copies of “The Hiker” are installed all over the United States, including in Pittsburg, PA; Ypsilanti, MI; Staten Island, NY; Southbridge, MA; Woonsocket, RI; Westerly, RI; Wichita, KS; and in Arlington National Cemetery.

Twenty-five years after it was commissioned, the monument was refurbished in 1945 for Memorial Day by the Buffalo Savings Bank.

Sources: WNYheritagepress.org/photos_week_2009/war_1898_pt3.html
Click to enlarge. Courtesy of the Buffalo History Museum.
Click to enlarge. Thank you to the City Arts Commission and the City of Buffalo Public Works Department for use of this image of the Hiker.
Click to enlarge. Thank you to the City Arts Commission and the City of Buffalo Public Works Department for use of this image of the Hiker.
Click to enlarge. Photo Courtesy of Buffalo History Museum
Click to enlarge. 1984, Century Theatre before the lobby was demolished, posted by Hotel Dennis

Century Theatre

Construction on the new movie house that would become Century Theatre began in 1920. It started out as Loews State Theater, part of the Loews chain. The new theater opened in 1921 to sellout crowds. Three thousand people came to opening day to watch five vaudeville acts and the silent movie, “Mother of Mine.” Eugene O’Brien and Leo Carillo, actors in the movie, came to greet movie goers. Opening night tickets cost 30 and 40 cents.

In 1928, the movie theater was reopened as the Kenmore Theater. Later the same year, Michael Shea began to lease out the theater and it was named The Century. It became the only movie theater in competition with the Hippodrome.

In 1939, ownership of the theater changed again. The Dipson and Basil families bought the Century Theatre and named it D&B Century. Dipson and Basil spent $50,000 in improvements. They also dropped the prices for the tickets. Balcony seats were 15 cents while orchestra was 25 cents. Children had the lowest prices at 10 cents a ticket.

Dipson bought out Basil in 1940 and filed a lawsuit against Michael Shea for monopolistic practices in movie distribution affecting his business. The lawsuit demonstrated the rancor between these competing theater companies. It dragged on for several years and then was dismissed. Century Theatre was modernized in 1950 to better compete with new suburban theaters.

Ownership was taken over by Samuel L. Yellen in 1955. The Century Theatre had a string of hits in 1958. Tickets for the theater were $3 a seat at this time. Attendance began to drop. The Buffalo News reported in 1965 that the Century Theatre was the best kept theater in downtown for its time, but patronage fell. In 1970, Century Theatre began showing X-rated films to draw an audience. This tactic was not effective, and Century closed down in 1971.

Harvey Weinstein and Horace “Corky” Burger, friends from freshman orientation at UB and fellow members of the University Union Activities Board, launched Harvey and Corky Productions, a concert promotion company in 1972. They produced 50 concerts in various venues in Western New York including Memorial Auditorium and Melody Fair before purchasing Century Theatre with friend Dr. Joseph Takats from attorney Samuel L. Yellen in 1974. The opening concert was Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, followed by 100 concerts, 20 stage shows, 125 film festivals and the Muhammed Ali- George Foreman heavyweight title fight. After four years of operation, Harvey and Corky needed to address building renovation issues estimated at $200,000 to $500,000. They did not find a buyer interested in renovating and operating the theater. Part ownership was sold to Northern Demolition of West Seneca, and the Century was demolished on March 14, 1979.

Click to enlarge. Rock Promoter Corky Berger, November 12, 1974, SUNY Buffalo State Archives & Special Collections, Courier Express Collection
Click to enlarge. 1978, by Paul Pasquarello, SUNY Buffalo State Archives & Special Collections, Courier Express Collection.  Note the three story building to the right of the Century is now a one story building, VIPTix, following damage to the building.

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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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Send Buffalo Place a Message