Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Buffalo City Hall, by Alec Frazier

Located at 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo City Hall is the seat for municipal government in the City of Buffalo, New York, was designed by Dietel, Wade & Jones, and was built by the John W. Cowper Company. Ground was broken on September 16, 1929 and the corner stone was laid May 14, 1930. The building was completed for occupancy on November 10, 1931, even though parts of the building were occupied as early as September 1931. The building was dedicated in July 1932. The building is in Art Deco style, and has a commanding view of downtown Buffalo and the waterfront. The following are some interesting statistics about City Hall:
  • The ground area of the site on Niagara Square is 71,700 square feet and cost $698,930, also making it one of the largest city halls in the country.
  • The building has 32 stories, 26 of which are usable office space, and is 398 feet high from the street to the tip of the tower.
  • The total floor area is 566,313 square feet of which 316,937 square feet is usable for office space.
  • There are 1,520 windows from the first to the twenty-fifth floor. An interesting design feature is that all of them open inward, making window washers obsolete in the new City Hall. 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 Co., the oldest active Elevator Company in the country, furnished the elevators. Otis Elevator Co., now the largest Elevator Company in the world supplied additional elevators added later.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 originally had 375 telephones with a master switchboard and 369 flood lights with an average candlepower of 350 each illuminating the exterior of the building at night from dusk to midnight.
  • City Hall was originally equipped with a non-powered air-conditioning system. The building is situated to face the wind that carries off Lake Erie and the architects used the power of that wind to cool the rooms throughout the building. Large vents were placed on the exterior of the building to catch wind that would then travel down vents to beneath the basement, where the ground would cool the air. This cooled air would then enter a series of vents that would distribute the cool air through the building. The wind off the lake was usually strong enough to power air through this system.
In the frieze above the main entrance, the central figure represents a historian, with pen in hand, ready to open the book of Buffalo’s history and write the next hundred years. The first group on the left of this portrait is representative of past generations of Buffalonians passing knowledge and guidance onto Buffalo’s youth. The second group on the left is representative of the steel industry and is portrayed by an ironworker. The advancement of Buffalo’s universities in science and medicine are depicted third from the left. The fourth image is representative of electrical energy and is portrayed by electricians and linesmen with a dynamo in the background. When looking to the right of the central figure above the main entrance to City Hall, the first group shows a man, woman and child. They are representative of the stability and fertility of the community. The second portrays stevedores and lake crews which represent the importance of Buffalo’s lake shipping. The third depicts law and education (note the figure reclining on the owl-adorned couch); while the fourth is representative of a locomotive engineer, ship captain and aviator (there is even a blimp!). These represent the diversity of this waterfront community.
The height of the domed ceiling of the Lobby makes quite an impression upon those entering. 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.
The east mural painting in the lobby, towards the front of the building, is entitled “Frontiers Unfettered by Any Frowning Fortress”, by William de Leftwich Dodge, a New York City artist, and depicts Buffalo as an international gateway to Canada. The mural illustrates the significance of Buffalo’s location at the border of Canada. The border of the mural consists of ears of corn and two doves symbolizing peace. On the Background, which is made of gold, are the Peace Bridge, another unknown bridge, and Niagara Falls. The central figure of a woman, Buffalo as the Angel of Peace, holds a warrior under each arm, uniting them with her grasp. One warrior represents the United States and the other represents Canada. Each clutches their respective flags: the 1932 American flag with the 48 stars and the 1932 Canadian flag with the Union Jack. Under Buffalo as the Angel of Peace are sheaves of wheat flanked by ears of corn and fruit above the word “Buffalo” and below in the form of a festoon. At the lower right is the artist’s signature: “Wm. de Leftwich Dodge”. At the left is the United States, represented by consumer prosperity. Some details:
  • Woman wearing 1920’s clothing styles, including cloche hat, boa, high heels, dress and wrap, and carrying purse, another shoe, jewelry and jewelry box, and bolt of fabric
  • Man wearing shorts and knickers, carrying two model cars (Thomas, 1902-1919, and Pierce-Arrow, 1901-1938, were auto companies prominent in Buffalo’s history).
  • Farmer with farming tools; woman with treadle sewing machine
  • Background: City Hall, Niagara Falls, Peace Bridge (dedicated 1927)

On the Canadian side is an offering of furs and fisheries. Some details:
  • Mother with her son who is clutching a book and pointing him toward the United States as the land of opportunity and youth.
  • Fur trapper, wearing fringed buckskin pants and moccasins, with snow shoe carrying trapped animals.
  • Man carrying basket of fish.
  • Native in canoe loaded with green branches
  • Background: A Canadian city (Fort Erie?), Peace Bridge (dedicated 1927)
The west mural in the Lobby, towards the rear of the building, is entitled “Talents Diversified Find Vent in Myriad Form”, also by William de Leftwich Dodge. The mural represents the industries of Buffalo at which her citizens work. Grain storage, agriculture, water commerce, steelmaking, construction, and transportation are all represented. Seated in the center is a heroic female figure of Buffalo, haloed in a sunburst. She is holding forth festoons of golden fruit. A Native American offers her a bundle of cattails. The farmer, a man with a sickle, is depicted venturing into fertile fields. Close examination of this mural shows the steel industry and the building industry emblematically portrayed in the background, while dredging machines, airplanes and many other Buffalo products are also depicted. Also, the boom of a ship represents the vast shipping interests while Buffalo is depicted giving up the fruit of her land.
Four smaller Dodge murals are located at the ends of the four secondary corridors serving the first floor. The corridors are two-story-high vaults forming, at their termination, a semi-circular wall at the second story level. Because of their shape, the murals mounted on these curved walls are called lunettes. They represent four major services rendered to the taxpayers by the city government. At the end of the corridor leading to the City Assessor’s Office is a depiction of Charity as a Welfare Worker in the form of an angel of mercy handing out a bag of coins to the aged and a loaf of bread to the infirm. Scattered around them is a bountiful harvest of food, all native to the area.
Access to the Council Chamber is gained from the thirteenth floor. As you enter the Chamber, it is very difficult not to be taken with the bright ceiling, which is a very large stained glass window. This window is another example of Indian artistry and is in the form of a sunburst. The sunburst is representative of the crowning glory and the blessing of heaven City government. The greatest portion of lighting in this room is concealed and due to the use of prismatic glass in the sunburst, the lighting from this beautiful piece of art is diffused in such a way that no shadow is thrown anywhere in the room. Below the sunburst, carved into the walls, appears to the legend “The People’s Councilors Reflect the People’s Will.” This was meant to be a daily reminder to those who enter the chamber of their purpose. The pillars that surround the Common Council Chamber represent the virtues that a member should maintain.
In this photo, I, Alec Frazier, am in charge behind the Council President’s desk!
The ceiling of the Buffalo City Common Council Chamber is stained-glass, and represents the view of the heavens from Buffalo the date that City Hall was completed. You can see the sun, the moon, and seven other planets.
Above, you can see a photograph representing the view from the front of the City Hall’s observation deck. Starting from left, you can see the Statler Towers hotel and event Center. Above and behind it, you can see the Electric Tower. To the right, you can see Lafayette Square with the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library behind it. To the left of Lafayette Square are the Tishman and Rand Buildings, while to the right and in front of it is the Liberty Building. In the immediate foreground are various government office buildings. To the right in the back ground you will see Main Street, and to the right of that is the Rath County Office Building in the right foreground is the Old Erie County and City Building. To the right of that in the background is the HSBC Building. And finally, to the right of that is the canalside event space.

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