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intro lede



reorder sections if warranted?

History? (rename sec if nec)[edit]

get into Buffalo's architecture in general and how, as a destination for the architecture buff, it bases its reputation on its gilded age masterworks but yet, even after its postwar decline began, Buffalo and Western New York remained able to attract prominent architects for building projects at least through the end of the 1970s. Eero Saarinen, Minoru Yamasaki, Marcel Breuer, Gordon Bunshaft, Paul Rudolph, Edward Durell Stone, Max Abramovitz, César Pelli, and I. M. Pei all did notable work in Western New York in the mid- to late 20th century.

Buffalo's homegrown Modernist architects (rename sec if nec)[edit]

Name-check these architects/architectural firms and describe their distinguishing characteristics if possible/applicable

  • Gordon Bunshaft - worked for the prominent Chicago-based firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill - "a local boy made good whose other designs are the Lever House in New York, Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin"
  • Robert Traynham Coles
  • James, Meadows & Howard - descended from Green & Wicks, "Buffalo's most famous and prolific architectural practice of all time which designed the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the gold-domed Buffalo Savings Bank building, the Electric Tower, the Buffalo Athletic Club, the Market Arcade, and most of SUNY Buffalo's South Campus, among many, many others
  • Backus, Crane & Love - "among the more prolific Buffalo-based architectural firms of the Modernist era whose portfolio also included the Willert Park Courts, the former National Gypsum Company building on Delaware Avenue, and the Edward A. Rath County Office Building and whose partners had cut their teeth working with such eminent architectural offices of the previous generation as Bley & Lyman and E. B. Green and Sons."
  • others?

Modernist architecture: a primer[edit]

don't go too into the weeds on this, but readers may want a reference for some of the terminology used here. set this section up chronologically:

  • start by BRIEFLY going into the Bauhaus & describing how witnessing the horrors of WWI led to modernist architectural philosophy (pre-modern styles as hallmarks of same barbarous system that led to the war; out of the destruction comes a new style that's a conscious break from the past, rejecting all historical forms and tropes), then how persecution by Nazis led practitioners to emigrate to the U.S. where their ideas (dubbed "International Style") interacted with a nascent American modernism (use the quote below:)
"...streamlining of Art Deco into Art Moderne, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright's later-period designs (particularly his so-called Usonian houses, smaller-scale homes employing simplified designs that were intended to be affordable to the mass market), were coincidentally already beginning to sketch the rough outlines of an American Modernism"
...actually, you probably don't need much more detail than what I just typed
  • In the U.S., it was the cumulative effects of the over-a-decade-long Great Depression followed by several more years of WWII-era austerity measures that led to the International Style's popularity initially - the large ornate mansions that were once status symbols among America's upper classes were now seen as embarrassing and wasteful signs of conspicuous consumption, not to mention expensive to maintain - International Style architecture was cheaper to build, and the more intimate dimensions of the interior spaces (along with the style's preference for large windows which let in lots of natural light) cut heating costs dramatically
  • then flesh out your description more fully - contrary to popular belief (and their own stated philosophy) they didn't do away with form altogether; they just established a new stylistic language that's a lot more subtle than the blingy ornamentation of pre-modern and especially Gilded Age architecture (describe this a bit) - this initial stage of the International Style is what's popularly known today as "Midcentury Modernism"
  • however, as the 50s wore on into the 60s and America (along with the rest of the Western world) settled into a protracted period of prosperity, memories of the Depression and the war became more distant and the same frugal simplicity that was initially admired for its practical qualities began to earn backlash from the public, who considered it sterile and soulless - this in turn led to the establishment of new substyles of Modernism that pushed back against the strict austerity of the International Style:
    • New Formalism
    • Neo-Expressionism
    • Brutalism
    • Googie/Populuxe (that might not fit in here - reserve the right to address this elsewhere)
  • ...none of which is to say the International Style itself was some unchanging monolith. Cover the transition from Midcentury Modernism to Late Modernism (read up more on this before getting more specific - here are some resources - -, and the genesis of Postmodernism beginning in the 80s (New Formalism etc. as precursors?). Note that true Late Modernism is rare in Buffalo - during its early-1980s heyday, Buffalo was nearing the nadir of its postwar economic slump, and very little was getting built here. Emphasize also that Postmodern architecture is NOT part of this article's purview.
  • chronologically this is where the tour's period of significance ends, but you might include an epilogue describing modernism's continuation into the 20th century (Neomodernism, "fast-casual architecture" aka "developer modern") and Postmodernism's split into Neofuturism, etc. and how the dichotomy between the two overarching aesthetic philosophies continues to play out


intro blurb?

Part One: Downtown Buffalo[edit]

On-street parking in downtown Buffalo has always been hard to come by during work hours, but once upon a time, you could at least easily find a space after hours and on weekends. Not anymore! Logistically speaking, your best bet for the downtown leg of this tour is to park your car near one of the Metro Rail stations along Main Street (there's a large, free park-and-ride lot behind the LaSalle Station that should do you just fine), then take the train inbound to the end of the line at Erie Canal Harbor Station. From there, you'll work your way north through the business district on foot, and at the end you can hop aboard the train again at Fountain Plaza Station and head back to your starting point from there. Assuming a leisurely pace, this portion of the tour should take about two or three hours to complete, not including the time you spend waiting for or riding the train.

From the Erie Canal Harbor Metro station, head north up Main Street to Scott Street, then turn right and proceed one block to Washington Street. There you'll find the...

  • 1 Buffalo News Building, 1 News Plaza (1973; Edward Durell Stone)
Buffalo News Building
Dating back even before World War II, Edward Durell Stone was one of the first practitioners of the International Style not to hail from Europe, and — leaving aside a few notable New Formalist endeavors in the late 1950s, including 2 Columbus Circle in Manhattan and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi — it was an aesthetic to which he clung stubbornly for the entire length of his career. Not surprising, then, that Stone employs a softer touch in this uncharacteristic foray into Brutalism: the façade is concrete, but relatively smooth in texture; pillars and other structural supports are visible, but not especially prominent; sleek sweeping lines remain the name of the game. But the most integral design feature of the Buffalo News building is one that mostly can't be seen from the outside: the floor plan of the upper two stories consists of offices arranged around a spacious skylit atrium, which in turn are ringed by an enormous trough built into the exterior wall that's planted with luscious tropical ferns: a touch of greenery to soften the aesthetic of the façade. On the ceiling above the planter, just below roof level, you can see a good example of the "waffle-slab" surfacing common in Brutalist architecture.

The next intersection to your north is Exchange Street. Turn left there and head back to Main Street, where you'll make a right and proceed one block north (under the massive Seneca One Tower, Buffalo's tallest skyscraper) to Seneca Street. There, on the far side of the street to your left, you'll see the...

  • 2 Merchants Mutual Building, 250 Main St. (1965; James, Meadows & Howard)
Merchants Mutual Building
Does it look more like an enormous honeycomb or a bunch of old TV sets stacked on top of each other in rows? Opinions are mixed among admirers of the Merchants Mutual Building, one of the last major works designed by the firm that descended from the storied partnership of Green & Wicks, whose dominant feature is an almost proto-Brutalist façade wherein horizontal rows of octagonal recessed windows alternate with rows of black stone panels of the same shape, all set within a latticework of precast concrete. You'll still see the original signage on the exterior, too. Construction of the building coincided with that of the Robert Moses hydroelectric plant in Niagara Falls (more on that later), so the whole building was originally powered by electricity; the odd-looking hexagonal metal overhangs jutting out of the Main Street side of the building above the first floor are electric heaters designed to melt snow on the sidewalk below. Of course, most of the power generated at the Falls ended up being sold to Canada, thus the anticipated reduction in prices never came and the building's heating system was converted to gas in the 1990s. Merchants Mutual Liability Company was founded in 1918 by local grocer Urban Jehle and initially offered protection for grocery delivery vehicles; it's now expanded into the purview of casualty and commercial and residential property insurance, which it sells throughout the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.

Continue north along Main Street. In two blocks, you come to the corner of Church Street, which splits upon crossing Main Street into North and South Division Streets. Ahead of you, the pair of high-rise buildings standing across Main Street from each other serve as excellent contrasting examples of the two diverging paths Modernism took in the 1960s, as criticism of the by now dominant International Style began to emerge. The one on the right is...

  • 3 One M&T Plaza (1966; Minoru Yamasaki with Duane Lyman & Associates)
One M&T Plaza
Faced in gleaming white Vermont marble and standing at a height of 317 ft (97 m), the corporate headquarters of M&T Bank is the sixth-tallest building in Buffalo, and there's almost inarguably no better example of New Formalist architecture to be found in the area. Architect Minoru Yamasaki is best known for the original One and Two World Trade Center towers in New York City which were destroyed on September 11, 2001, and while the two designs share in common the trope of prominent vertical lines, here you have them terminating at Classically-inspired round arches at the top of the lobby level before recommencing above in a stylized colonnade, rather than crisscrossing each other at acute angles redolent of Gothic arches, an element that went on to become one of Yamasaki's stylistic signatures. Interestingly, the lobby arcade ends with a pair of half-arches on the north and south ends of the building that serve as cantilevers atop which the shaft of the tower itself rests. Another feature commonly seen in New Formalist architecture that derives from Classicism is the placement of buildings on a sort of podium (reflective of Ionic or Corinthian columns that rest on a base), and here it takes the form of a slightly raised pedestrian plaza facing Main Street that's the site of a lunchtime concert series that takes place on summer weekdays. The fountain at the center of the plaza, with its unusual undulating lines, is the work of Italian-born sculptor Harry Bertoia. The Manufacturers and Traders Trust Company was founded in 1856, and today counts some 780 branches spread from Connecticut through Virginia.

Directly across from it is the...

  • Main Place Tower
  • ...and its majestic predecessor, the old Erie County Savings Bank building
  • 4 Main Place Tower, 350 Main St. (1969; Harrison & Abramovitz)
The Main Place Tower's initial design dates back to 1965, but its monochrome ultrasimplicity, preponderance of right angles, and the slightly glossy finish of the curtain-wall façade presage the Late Modern aesthetic that would rear its head in the 1970s and '80s. As we've read, Late Modernist architects reacted to the challenge posed by New Formalism (and, later, Neo-Expressionism and Brutalism) essentially by doubling down, reducing the already austere International Style into even more streamlined forms — which, predictably, did little to appease those who were already criticizing Modernism as cold, antiseptic and soulless. Take that into account and then consider what was demolished to make way for the tower — the stunning, castlelike Erie County Savings Bank building, the centerpiece of the now-lost Shelton Square, the busy downtown nexus that served as Buffalo's answer to Times Square for much of the city's history — and the historical context in general, and it's not hard to see why Buffalonians have been slower than denizens of other cities in warming up to Modernism's newfound retro-chic cachet. The narrative that portrays it as the style of economic decline, shortsighted urban renewal, and lost glory is obviously an oversimplification that glosses over the diverse and nuanced factors that lay behind Buffalo's postwar miasma, but its hold on the public consciousness is a persistent stumbling block in local activists' struggle for Modernism to be taken seriously as historic architecture worthy of preservation. The fourth-tallest building in Buffalo at a height of 350 ft (110 m), Main Place Tower served as headquarters of the Erie County Savings Bank and its successor, Empire of America, until the company went bankrupt in 1990; the building now contains various corporate offices.

Turn left on Church Street and proceed three blocks to Delaware Avenue, then turn right and head toward Niagara Square.

  • Frank A. Sedita City Court Building (left) as seen from Niagara Square
  • Coronation Day (1980, Kenneth Snelson)
  • 5 Frank A. Sedita City Court Building, 50 Delaware Ave. (1974; Pfohl, Roberts and Biggie)
Housed previously in the Neoclassical-style office building just across West Eagle Street that's now home to the law firm of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria, Buffalo's municipal tribunal moved in 1974 to this high-rise whose unusually austere design is polarizing even among those locals who do appreciate the merits of the widely misunderstood Brutalist style. As you cast your gaze southwestward across Niagara Square onto the Frank Sedita City Court Building, the first thing that strikes you is the almost complete lack of windows. Sure, walking up Delaware Avenue you may have noticed a narrow column of them rising up from the entrance along the center of the façade to the roof, but on the elevation facing Niagara Square they're inconspicuous to the point of near-invisibility, tucked between enormous rough-textured, corduroy-ribbed panels of precast concrete. The idea was to make sure courtroom proceedings could be undertaken with a minimum of outside distraction, although local wags enjoy citing it as a metaphor for the opaque, closed-door machinations of the city government and justice system. Also on the sidewalk on the Niagara Square side of the building is Coronation Day, a tubular metal sculpture by Kenneth Snelson installed in 1980 that was the subject of one of the more memorable of former mayor Jimmy Griffin's famous one-liners: when asked by site planners where he felt the sculpture would be best placed, he quipped "at the bottom of Lake Erie".

From Niagara Square, head east down Court Street. In three blocks, you're at the corner of Main Street again. In front of you is Lafayette Square, and directly opposite you on the far side of the square is the...

  • 6 Buffalo Central Library, 1 Lafayette Square (1964; James William Kideney & Associates with Paul Harbach)
Buffalo Central Library
Like the Main Place Tower, the Buffalo Central Library is another Modernist building that comes in for criticism due to the demolition of what came before it, namely Cyrus Eidlitz's much smaller Romanesque-style Buffalo Public Library building that stood from 1887 through the early 1960s on what's today the gently sloping polished-granite entrance plaza and landscaped lawn sandwiched between its replacement and Lafayette Square. Much unlike Main Place, however, said criticism serves to obfuscate the fact that the present-day library is an architectural achievement of equally lofty stature, albeit of a very different kind: no less a body than the American Institute of Architects conferred upon it their Design Excellence Award the year it was built, citing both its success as a functional library and its grandeur as a civic statement. And what a statement it is: with its exterior of gleaming white Vermont marble (the same as graces the front of One M&T Plaza) accented both by black granite and glass curtain walls, its regime of sleek straight lines intersecting at right angles, and its extension past Ellicott Street via a two-story skybridge above an at-grade tunnel, it's an excellent exemplification not only of the midcentury International Style, but also — to borrow the words of Preservation Buffalo Niagara — of "the concept of a building as an open landscape, limited and defined by its structural grid". In addition to a much larger and more efficient space to house its collection, the library also contains a lecture auditorium and the Mark Twain Room, home of (among other things) the original handwritten manuscript of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the mantelpiece from the living room of Twain's mansion on Delaware Avenue, salvaged after its destruction by fire in the 1960s.

Around the corner from the library, on the square's northeast corner with Main Street, stands the...

  • 7 Tishman Building, 10 Lafayette Square (1959; Emery Roth & Sons)
Tishman Building (left)
More than any other single event, it was the unveiling of the Tishman Building — the first new high-rise office tower to be built in downtown Buffalo since the double whammy of the Great Depression and World War II all but halted new construction — that marked the true beginning of the Modernist era in local architectural history. It's easy enough for casual observers to overlook the foreshocks of a stylistic revolution when it's just a house here and a music hall there, but what a sensation it must have been to see it in the form of a 20-story, 263 ft (80 m) behemoth — all the more so given the ocean of difference between it and its predecessor, the six-story, floridly ornate Buffalo German Insurance Company building that had graced the northwest corner of Lafayette Square with its trademark mansard roof and cast-iron façade since 1876. The firm of Emery Roth & Sons was still best known at the time for the luxury Art Deco apartment towers they peppered Midtown Manhattan with in the 1920s, but after the war and the death of its namesake founder, the "sons" were beginning to build a comparable repertoire of their own after jumping on the International Style bandwagon — and their design for the Tishman Building saw them doing their best Ludwig Mies van der Rohe imitation (his Seagram Building in particular was acknowledged to be the model), containing unobstructed, free-flowing interior spaces within a starkly minimalist and strictly cuboidal curtain-wall façade of stainless steel and glass in what's a perfect encapsulation of his aesthetic of "skin-and-bones architecture". The Tishman was the headquarters of the Iroquois Gas Company (later known as National Fuel) until their move to the suburbs in 2002, then it lay vacant until 2014 when it was redeveloped as a hotel and the seat of the Hamister Group, the local development company that handled the remodel.

Make your way back to Main Street, then continue north from there for another two blocks. Across Huron Street, on your left, you'll see...

  • Norstar Building
  • 40 (center) and 50 (right) Fountain Plaza
  • M&T Center
  • 8 Fountain Plaza, 580 Main St. (1983-1991; Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects)
Fountain Plaza, in many ways, represents the chronological endpoint of this tour: it's the most recently constructed of the buildings listed here, it was the last major urban renewal megaproject in Buffalo to consume whole blocks of existing buildings, and — most significantly of all — the various buildings of the complex serve as an excellent demonstration, preserved in real time, of the changing of the guard from Late Modernism to Postmodernism. It was in 1981 when the demolition of the buildings that formerly occupied this block — including the old Shea's Hippodrome movie house and several midcentury retail buildings, such as Gutman's department store and the beautiful Streamline Moderne-style home of W. T. Grant — began, and two years after that when the first of the current ensemble, the Norstar Building at the northwest corner of Main and Huron (home then to the bank of the same name, and still today to the local offices of its successor, Bank of America), was completed. While the Norstar belongs firmly to the Late Modern school with its sharp corners, straight lines, ultrasimplicity, and near-total lack of ornamentation, across the street in Kohn Pedersen Fox's 9 M&T Center (1985) you see the stylistic shift already underway: the reflective glass curtain wall on the upper floors was an aesthetic that would soon pass out of style, while the stout columns, arched windows, and cornice on the lower floors point the way toward the future. Meanwhile, the so-called "North Block" remained planted with grass through the 1980s as a temporary park, and by 1991, when the ribbon was cut on the nearly identical high-rises at 40 and 50 Fountain Plaza and the Rotary Rink between them, Modernism had fully given way to Postmodernism, with all the stylized Classical flourishes that implies: an ersatz colonnade and entablature adorning the ground floor; those iconic pyramidal roofs up top. Originally known as the Key Center and home to the local offices of KeyBank, 40 and 50 Fountain Plaza have housed office space for a number of local and national companies over the years: Delaware North had its nerve center here in the 2000s and early '10s, and an IBM call center occupied several floors of the south tower for a number of years in the mid-'10s. Nowadays the flagship tenants are the law offices of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman and the architectural firm of CannonDesign.

This concludes the downtown leg of the tour. Conveniently, this block of Main Street is where you'll find the Metro Rail's Fountain Plaza Station, so whenever you're ready, hop on an outbound train to the station nearest where you've parked.

Part Two: Buffalo's Outer Neighborhoods[edit]

This leg of the tour was designed to be done while driving, but if you're a particularly avid cyclist, it's arguably even more suited for two wheels. (You'll see what we mean when you notice the complete lack of on-street parking along Delaware Avenue north of Allentown!) If you don't have a bike of your own, Buffalo's Reddy Bikeshare system is at your service (click on the link for more information); the nearest rack is at Canalside near the corner of Commercial Street and Marine Drive, a quick five-minute ride from the start of this portion of the tour.

You begin at the...

  • 1 Erie Basin Marina, 329 Erie St. (1974; DiDonato Renaldo Associates)
The observation tower at the Erie Basin Marina
Earlier in this article, we learned about the role Modernist architecture played in Buffalo's post-World War II decline: not a causative one, to be sure, but the style is nonetheless inextricably linked in the public mind with shortsighted urban renewal schemes, public housing projects, and the other signifiers of the city's newfound poverty. But, paradoxically, there was a silver lining to that cloud in which Modernism also played a role. When the 1959 opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway rendered Buffalo irrelevant as a port, the once-buzzing coal docks, warehouses, and chandleries of the Erie Basin became a ghost town — but there also came a real chance to get started remediating the pollution that had lately become a real problem in the waters of Lake Erie. Prescient minds soon began to foresee that the future of Buffalo's waterfront was not industrial but recreational. Thus, beginning in the 1960s, slag from the Lackawanna Steel Plant south of town was gradually appended to an old breakwall to make a man-made peninsula curving outward from the foot of Erie Street, docks for pleasure boaters were installed in the newly formed inlet as well as amenities for joggers and other outdoor enthusiasts, and in 1974, the Erie Basin Marina finally opened to the public. In addition to affording an impressive panoramic view of the downtown skyline from its top, the observation tower at the outer end of the peninsula is the best showcase for the Brutalism that characterizes the marina's design scheme: much like the City Court Building downtown, its façade is clad in panels of precast concrete textured with corduroy-like ribbing, but here it's diagonal rather than vertical lines that predominate. Notice the slight tapering from the base of the tower upward to the pod-shaped observation deck, as well as the shed roofs and recessed banded windows on the surrounding buildings. And if you'd like to enjoy an ice cream cone, hot dog, or hamburger in a concrete Brutalist paradise before continuing with the tour, head to The Hatch, situated in a cluster of shed-roofed concrete buildings just inside the entrance gate on the lakeward side of the street.

Head down Erie Street, then after passing the exit to the marina, make your first right onto Marine Drive. Proceed two blocks, then just before the Buffalo Skyway overpass, turn left onto Commercial Street, which passes under a series of highway overpasses and then turns into Pearl Street. Three blocks after that last overpass is Church Street; turn left and then right onto Delaware Avenue to Niagara Square (you'll probably recognize the route from the downtown leg of the tour).

At Niagara Square, pass to the right of City Hall (the tall, more-than-a-little-phallic Art Deco skyscraper) onto Niagara Street. You're now entering the Lower West Side; once an Italian stronghold, now Buffalo's designated Hispanic Heritage District. Your second left after the square is West Mohawk Street; turn left, and then turn left again on 7th Street. On your left, occupying the whole block, are the...

  • The Shoreline Apartments (left) as seen shortly after their completion
  • The Pine Harbor Apartments as seen in 2020: all that remains of Rudolph's vision
  • 2 Pine Harbor Apartments, 10 7th St. (1974; Paul Rudolph)
Paul Rudolph started off his career as an innovator of the "Sarasota Modern" style, a distinctly blocky take on Florida Modernism (more on that later) that, it could be said, pointed the way toward the inimitable brand of Brutalism with which he'd truly make his name in the 1970s. Arguably more than any of the other big names of his era, for Rudolph the boundary between architecture and sculpture was blurred almost to the point of irrelevancy, and that's a vision that's on full display in all three of the Western New York-era projects he undertook. Sadly, the newest of them (preceded by the Earl W. Brydges Library in Niagara Falls, which you'll see in the third part of the tour, and the markedly less interesting Waterfront Elementary School #95) is also the one that's suffered the most damage to its original architectural integrity. The Pine Harbor Apartments were only one portion of Rudolph's grandiose "Brutalist vision for the Buffalo waterfront", which also included the Shoreline Apartments on the other side of 7th Street and a series of never-built, roughly triangular high-rise towers that were supposed to abut the inland side of the Erie Basin Marina, where the Waterfront Village condos are found today. At the time, the plan was considered high-concept enough to be featured in a 1970-71 MoMA exhibit entitled Work in Progress, but despite these auspicious beginnings, the ensuing years weren't kind to Rudolph's creation: his designs in general were quickly developing a reputation as being prone to water leaks, which in the case of the Pine Harbor Apartments, the perennially cash-strapped New York State Urban Development Corporation was ill-equipped to fix. What's more, as the neighborhood began to fall victim to crime and social ills, affordable housing developments like these were easy scapegoats in the blame game. In 2019 and 2020, despite loud objections from the newly minted crop of Brutalism fans among Buffalo's preservationist community, the Shoreline Apartments across the street fell to the wrecking ball, soon to be replaced with suburban-style townhouses, leaving Pine Harbor standing alone as a testament to the all-too-brief Brutalist era. Even so, from looking closely at what remains, you can get a sense of the original site plan: one- and two-story buildings that look nothing if not chiseled out of concrete boulders, sporting vertically ribbed "corduroy" façades and projecting balconies, arranged in chains interwoven together with seemingly serendipitous patches of green space in between, the Pine Harbor Apartments "combine[d] Rudolph's spatial radicalism with experiments in human-scaled, low-rise, high-density housing development", to borrow the words of local architect and Brutalism aficionado Barbara Campagna.

Proceed north up 7th Street to the end of the block, then make a right onto Carolina Street. Cross back over Niagara Street and continue for seven more blocks past that, then make a sharp left onto West Tupper Street. Make a right at Maryland Street and then a quick left onto Cottage Street. On your right at the corner of Days Park, you'll see the unmissable...

  • 3 Peter Nowak House, 109 Cottage St. (1991; Peter Nowak)
The Peter Nowak House
Buffalo's leadership was nothing if not slow to awaken to the value of the city's architectural cornucopia — many say they still haven't fully done so — and the late 20th century was a particularly heart-wrenching era in which to be an aficionado of such in Western New York. No one would have agreed with that sentiment more than the late Peter Nowak, an architect of undeserved obscurity who was one of the most eccentric and cantankerous, yet visionary and forward-thinking, characters on the local scene. Nowak made a name for himself in the 1980s as one of the few voices in the wilderness who correctly predicted that the conversion of Main Street into a pedestrian mall would not revitalize downtown retail but put the final nail in its coffin, and as one of the loudest cheerleaders for what's now called Sahlen Field, whose design and construction kicked off a nationwide trend toward retro-styled baseball parks in downtown business districts. Yet, as time went on, it was that same increasingly bitter outspokenness that alienated him from his friends and reduced his architectural career to sporadic odd jobs accepted for the sole purpose of funding his months-long trips to the great cities of Europe and elsewhere, which he would spend "walking their streets, seeing what worked and what didn't, then bringing those ideas back to Buffalo long before anyone here was ready to accept them" (to quote from his 2015 obituary in the Buffalo News). At the end of his life he was living a monastic existence in the government-subsidized Stuyvesant Apartments on Elmwood Avenue, owning little more than a futon, drawing board and architectural tools, but for a good few years in the early '90s, he was the proud resident of what neighborhood residents lovingly called the "Boat House", which he designed for himself in Allentown and which serves as an apt summary of the stylistic mélange in which he worked. The flat roof, the smooth texture and glossy finish of the clapboard siding, and especially the curved façade facing the corner of Cottage Street and Days Park, with its deeply recessed window, are all suggestive of the early International Style designs produced by the Bauhaus. Interestingly, the backyard functions more like a courtyard, enclosed by a seamless extension of the lateral wall of the house itself, such that from certain angles one gets the illusion of a much larger building that covers the entire footprint of its lot; only after you come around toward the rear corner do you glimpse the stepped balconies and tapered lines that characterize the back of the house, all influences Nowak took from the paquebot (literally "steamship") style popular in 1930s France.

Continue north on Cottage Street to the end of the street (Hudson Street). Turn right, then make your third left onto Wadsworth Street. Enter Symphony Circle and take your third exit onto Porter Avenue. If you can't find parking on-street, try the parking lot at left. You're now at...

  • 4 Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Cir. (1940; Eliel and Eero Saarinen)
Kleinhans Music Hall
Representing their own separate strain of midcentury Modernism are the father-and-son Saarinen architect team. While the elder Eliel got his start around the turn of the century in his native Finland, where several noteworthy examples of his early work in a range of historicist styles still exist, he'd already emigrated to the United States along with his young son Eero and the rest of his family before Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and their Bauhaus cohort had made much of an impact: he sojourned as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan for a few years in the mid-1920s before being tapped to serve as head of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, an institution intended as an American answer to the Bauhaus. There, Eliel undoubtedly came into contact with the new ideas flowing out of Europe, yet the literal ocean of distance in between freed him (and, later, his son) to explore and innovate a wider range of forms than his relatively more circumscribed counterparts. Thus, while some of their designs do bear the straight-lined, angular hallmarks of the International Style proper, the Saarinens more often worked in a curvilinear, expressionistic version of Modernism that presaged both the Atomic Age tropes of Googie as well as the Neo-Futurism espoused much later by such names as Santiago Calatrava and Zaha Hadid. An early and seminal example is Kleinhans Music Hall, the new home for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra built thanks to an endowment from the namesake family of local retail fame as well as assistance from the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. The building is divided into two halves — a smaller, approximately semicircular chamber music hall on the Symphony Circle side, and an auditorium behind it shaped roughly like a guitar pick or a rounded arrowhead — with a lobby in between, and while its most renowned feature is its perfect acoustics (the Saarinens' groundbreaking innovations served as a model for Festival Hall in London, among others), the exterior is a phenomenal sight too. The best way to experience Kleinhans' architecture is to get out and walk around the building, admiring the sweeping lines, the varying textures on the brick façade, and such stunning features as a bow-shaped cantilever roof above the main entrance facing Pennsylvania Street, brick latticework just above the water level of the serene reflecting pool, and stepped projections on the façade of the southwest portion of the building (they symbolize a musical scale, some say). Appropriately, Kleinhans is Buffalo's most renowned example of Modernism: it was the first building of the style to be added to the National Register of Historic Places (in 1989, a rare honor for a building that was then less than half a century old), and was named a National Historic Landmark, the highest class of heritage property in the United States, the same year.

Backtrack to Symphony Circle, take North Street eastward to Elmwood Avenue, then make a right. You're now entering Allentown, which during the postwar years was a charming but down-at-the-heels neighborhood quickly making a name for itself as the stomping grounds of a motley population of starving artists, beatniks, and other counterculture types, as well as — a bit later on — the LGBT community. Nowadays it's been thoroughly spiffed up and yuppified, while somewhat incongruently, its main drag (Allen Street) has become Buffalo's main nightlife district.

After two blocks on Elmwood, you'll reach the corner of Virginia Street. Turn left, then make your second left onto Park Street and you'll see on your right the...

  • 5 Marcel Nadler House, 13 Park St. (1947; possibly L. Murray Dixon)
The Marcel Nadler House
It's weirdly off the radar screens of all but the most dedicated Buffalo architecture buffs — probably because, from the perspective of Virginia Street, it's tucked so far back behind the old National Casket Company warehouse as to be invisible. But venture a few feet north along secluded Park Street in Allentown, and soon enough you're face-to-face with what is surely the purest expression of the early International Style ever to exist in the City of Buffalo: the flat roof, the smooth stucco façade, the simple geometric forms, and the minimalist aesthetic are so pitch-perfect that, for the first few years after it was built, professors from the University of Buffalo's School of Architecture used to lead students on guided tours of the house to familiarize them with the ins and outs of the revolutionary new style. The Nadler House was maintained in pristine shape for decades after the 1955 departure of its original owner, a beauty shop owner native to Switzerland — a pamphlet from a 1996 Allentown tour of homes cites an original working fireplace, a professionally landscaped garden featuring all-white flowers, and an Art Deco interior in a black and white color scheme (and local lore recalls it as the venue of some of Allentown's most epic parties) — but unfortunately recent years have not been kind to it, as can be plainly seen from the photo at right: under its current absentee owner, it's suffered a good deal of damage from roof leakage, a common problem in buildings of the style, as well as other issues of deferred maintenance. The architect has not been identified, but local rumor ascribes it to L. Murray Dixon, who designed some of the notable midcentury architecture of South Beach (more on Florida Modernism later) and was well-known for favoring curvilinear glass-block windows of the type seen near the front entrance.

Continue north to the aforementioned Allen Street; make a right, then a left at the light onto Delaware Avenue. This particular stretch of Delaware is best known as Millionaire's Row, but that designation serves to obscure the fact that those blocks are also a concentration of some pretty good Modern architecture. Temple Beth Zion (coming up next) is the obvious example to point to, but keep an eye out for some other nifty midcentury buildings on the west side of the street (left as you head north) between Allen and North Streets, and a bunch more on the right side within half a block on either side of Summer Street (particularly impressive specimens include the Catholic Charities Administrative Center, Clauss & Company, and even some of the outbuildings toward the back end of the Beth Zion complex).

The next stop on the itinerary is coming up on your right as you pass Summer Street. If you're driving, make a right onto Barker Street and pull into the parking lot at the rear of the complex, then walk back to Delaware Avenue for a look. If you're biking, just look for the last building before Barker.

  • 6 Temple Beth Zion, 805 Delaware Ave. (1967; Max Abramovitz)
Temple Beth Zion
Marking a sharp contrast vis-à-vis the Gilded Age mansions on the opposite side of the street is the visually arresting home of Temple Beth Zion, Buffalo's oldest and largest Jewish congregation which cut the ribbon to the building you see before you three years after a tragic accidental fire claimed their previous home in Allentown. By far the more distinguished of architect Max Abramovitz's two Western New York commissions, Beth Zion's unusual design (its bowl-shaped form counts ten scalloped curves, symbolic of the Ten Commandments, and the outward pitch of the sides of the building is meant as a representation of arms outstretched in prayer) doesn't lend itself to easy categorization among the Modernist substyles popular at the time of its construction: it's a hybridization of several, with the precast stone panels that make up the façade hinting at a proto-Brutalism, the curved lines suggestive of Saarinenian expressionism, and elements of New Formalism coming into play especially with the entrance portico, wherein a pair of stylized columns flank a widely cantilevered canopy extending from the front of the building. Notable also is what lies directly above that portico, namely an enormous stained-glass window that's a work of noted artist Ben Shahn, depicting God appearing to the prophet Job in the form of a whirlwind. Framing the window on the inside are a pair of 30 ft (9.1 m) Commandment Tablets decorated with gold leaf. Temple Beth Zion's history dates back to 1850, when eleven German-speaking Jews seceded from Temple Beth El over the latter's insistence on conducting services in Polish; their building today houses not only the congregation's worship space but also the Edgar Cofeld Judaic Museum, documenting the rich history of the Jewish community in Buffalo and Western New York.

Continue further up Delaware Avenue, admiring along the way to your next stop another cluster of handsome 1960s-vintage buildings on the left side of the street: the former AAA Building, the doctor's office at 964 Delaware Avenue.

The next stop on the itinerary is on the left side of Delaware Avenue, taking up the entire block between Lexington and Highland Avenues. If you're driving, your best bet is to make a left on Lexington and immediately begin to look for on-street parking. If you can't find anything close enough to Delaware for your comfort, loop around to Highland via Elmwood Avenue and, one you get close to Delaware, try again to find parking. If you're on a bike, just proceed straight up Delaware.

Delaware Tower
  • 7 Delaware Tower, 1088 Delaware Ave. (1963; Michael J. DeAngelis Architects & Engineers)
After World War II, Florida became a popular destination for America's newly minted middle class who'd had enough of the harsher climate up North and sought a new start in balmier environs. Heretofore sparsely populated, the Sunshine State grew and developed rapidly through the 1940s and '50s as more and more affluent denizens migrated in, and by the 1960s its renown as a hotbed of some of the nation's most innovative Modernist architecture (especially in the residential sphere) was such that architects in other regions of the country began consciously incorporating a certain Floridian aesthetic in their designs as a way to appeal to the tropical fantasies of home and condo buyers. A good example of this phenomenon is Delaware Tower, whose ocean-blue façade of ceramic-glazed brick and breezy-looking latticed balconies scream "Miami Beach" even on the harshest winter day in Buffalo. Adding a Googie element to the mix is the swooping arch of the front entrance. Delaware Tower stands 17 stories tall, with 280 of what are still some of the swankiest condos in town.

The next stop on the itinerary is a few blocks further up Delaware Avenue on your right. If you're driving, first turn left at the light on West Ferry Street, right on Tudor Place, and right again on Cleveland Avenue, all the while looking for an on-street parking spot as close as possible to the corner of Delaware and Cleveland. Again, if you're on a bike, just proceed straight up Delaware.

1217 Delaware Avenue
  • 8 1217 Delaware Avenue (1963; Backus, Crane & Love)
The early 1960s was when high-rise apartment buildings started creeping up Delaware Avenue toward Gates Circle; here's another example. 1217 Delaware sports a design that's innovative in a way that's not immediately obvious: architects Backus, Crane & Love were tasked with accommodating 80 luxury apartment units plus ground-level parking on a narrow lot and subject to a height restriction, which (along with the generous cantilevered balconies included in each unit) necessitated some ingenuity on the part of Bethlehem Steel in constructing the building's framework, which nonetheless was erected over a span of only 17 days. The aquamarine blue of the façade is at first suggestive of the same Florida Modern influences as the Delaware Tower, but look closer and you'll see the overall design hews closer to a standard International Style aesthetic, with its scrupulously straight lines and right angles.

Proceed further north along Delaware. You'll soon come to Gates Circle. Going clockwise, your third exit from the roundabout is Chapin Parkway. Turn there and proceed northwest to Soldiers' Place, then head north along Lincoln Parkway. On your left, you'll see the...

  • 9 Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave. (1903; Green & Wicks; addition 1962 by Gordon Bunshaft)
Architect Gordon Bunshaft's International Style addition to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Though he was a Buffalo native, architect Gordon Bunshaft did his most notable work elsewhere — his legacy was essentially sealed right out of the gate in 1952 with Lever House, New York City's first International Style high-rise which set the gold standard in American architecture for pretty much the rest of the decade — but the best local example of his work is the addition he designed for the erstwhile Albright Art Gallery, funded by an endowment from local financial magnate Seymour H. Knox, Jr. whose name was added to that of the gallery at the opening. The original building is an exhilarating work of High Classicism wherein the storied local firm of Green & Wicks emulates the Erechtheion of Athens, while the masterpiece of Bunshaft's International Style annex is the auditorium portion, which with its sleek steel frame and façade of enormous black glass panels is an excellent example of the "glass-box Modernism" that was popular in midcentury museum architecture. But notice also the way it connects to the original building via a pair of low-slung corridors surrounding an inner courtyard, faced in white marble on the exterior side to match that of its counterpart and with more glass panels on the interior: an object lesson in how Modernism can be used to complement rather than compete with other styles (as the museum's website puts it, "the two buildings engage in an architectural dialogue", separate and distinct yet harmonious and balanced halves of the same whole). As of 2020, the Albright-Knox is set to expand again: construction is underway on a new annex to the Elmwood Avenue side of the building, which was hastily redesigned after preservationists cried foul at what would have been the demolition of much of the Bunshaft portion of the complex.

Veer left at Iroquois Drive, then at the light make another left onto Elmwood Avenue. Proceed to the next traffic light (Rockwell Road) and turn right onto the campus of Buffalo State College. Follow the signs for Parking Lot R-4, where visitor parking is available.

  • Cleveland Hall as seen from the visitor parking lot
  • Bulger Communication Center as seen from the center of the Student Union Quad
  • The Student Union Quad, with the Campbell Student Union at right and Cleveland Hall in the background at left
  • 10 Student Union Quad, Buffalo State College and surrounding buildings, 1300 Elmwood Ave. (1967-1973; Lawrence B. Perkins)
Brutalism is a style that's done no favors by its name: the term is not a pejorative assessment of its aesthetic but rather a reference to the typical material used in its construction, coming from the French béton brut (unfinished concrete). However, brick is employed occasionally as well, and among the most common places in the U.S. where you'll encounter brick Brutalism (and Brutalism in general, for that matter) are colleges and universities, which were undergoing rapid expansion in the 1960s and '70s when the style was in vogue. The Buffalo area's foremost example of campus Brutalism is undoubtedly the North Campus of the University at Buffalo, which you'll see later on this tour, but Buffalo State College has some good examples too, most of which are easily accessible from the visitor parking lot in front of 11 Cleveland Hall (1973), the college's administrative building which contains the offices of the president and vice-president, classroom space for postgraduate studies, and various other offices. First, take a minute to admire Cleveland Hall itself: the cantilevered upper story and boxy projections on the second floor call to mind the design of Boston City Hall, yet the warmth of the brick and the different fenestration pattern — wide horizontal bands of connected windows, rather than rows of narrow individual ones separated by projecting concrete fins — suggest a softer approach than its much-derided counterpart. Then, when you've had your fill, walk up the steps and through the pedestrian walkway (admiring along the way the waffle-slab ceiling overhead and the stout columns and other exposed structural elements, both textbook characteristics of Brutalism) and you'll soon come to the Student Union Quad, the core of the midcentury portion of the campus. On your left is the 12 Campbell Student Union (1952; addition 1967), with upper-floor cantilevering similar to Cleveland Hall; it houses the student dining hall, campus bookstore, and the studios of WBNY radio station, among others. At right is the 13 E. H. Butler Library (1951; addition 1970), whose interior is far more impressive than its exterior: if the building's open, step inside and marvel at a Brutalist wonderland of thick concrete pillars, catwalk-like overhead corridors, and snaking staircases leading down from the upper-level halls to the ground floor. Finally, straight ahead across the quad is the 14 Bulger Communication Center (1967), which marries Brutalism to a curvilinear take on the mid-period International Style and ends up with a construct of simple geometric forms that's similar to the work I. M. Pei was doing at SUNY Fredonia right around the same time. As you can easily imagine from looking at it, Bulger consists of a series of large amphitheater-style lecture halls arranged around a circular, multistory central lobby.

Backtrack down Rockwell Road and make a left at the light at Elmwood. Pass the ramps to the Scajaquada Expressway (NY 198) and the lights at the corner of Nottingham Terrace. Keep going for four more blocks after that, then turn right onto Bedford Avenue. The neighborhood you're now entering, known as Park Meadow, was one of the last in Buffalo to urbanize: development here began shortly before the onset of the Great Depression and picked up again after the Second World War, though suburbanization and the concomitant economic decline of the inner city meant that growth of the neighborhood was slow and the last vacant lots were not filled until the 1960s. As such, these blocks comprise the densest cluster of Modernist residential architecture you'll find inside the city line. A good representative example is the one you see on your right as you come to the corner of Dana Road, three blocks along Bedford past Elmwood.

  • 15 George Schemm House, 104 Dana Rd. (1951; Melvin Morris)
The George Schemm House
With redwood slats facing the exterior and an aesthetic that cribs from Richard Neutra's work in California with its signature butterfly roofline, architect Melvin Morris brings the so-called "Desert Modern" style to the unlikely destination of Western New York. (Sadly, the similarly Neutra-influenced interplay between interior and exterior spaces that characterized the original design has mostly been lost to subsequent additions.) Aside from the huge floor-to-ceiling living room window looking out onto the backyard and the horizontally-oriented flagstone fireplace next to it, the interior contains relatively few original elements (though it's been furnished in a period-appropriate manner by its current owners). Born in Buffalo, Morris entered the Harvard Graduate School of Design around the same time that Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius joined its faculty and European Modernist ideas were beginning to filter into American architecture on an institutional level. 104 Dana Road was one of the first buildings Morris designed after returning to his hometown and setting up his own practice; he had originally intended it as his own house, but sold it before construction was finished to George Schemm, namesake owner of the Schemm Machine Company on Clinton Street, who continued living there through at least 1960. Morris' body of work in Buffalo also includes the Isaías González-Soto Branch Library on the West Side and a widely-derided 1961 Modernist renovation of Delaware Park's Marcy Casino that was mostly undone by a later, historically sensitive restoration.

Continue eastward on Bedford. The next corner after Dana is Delaware Avenue. Turn left, then make your first right at the corner of Amherst Street and proceed eastward for three-quarters of mile (1.3 km) through the older portion of Park Meadow and then along the northern edge of verdant Delaware Park. As you approach the intersection with Parkside Avenue (the third traffic light after the turn off Delaware), the road splits into three; choose the middle fork, but move into the left turning lane as soon as possible thereafter, because traffic tends to back up at the light.

You're now entering the National Register of Historic Places-listed neighborhood of Parkside, with streets laid out by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and home today to the Darwin D. Martin House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most prominent works in the Prairie style, an important aesthetic precursor to Modernism. Definitely worthy of a side trip.

Turn left onto Parkside Avenue, proceeding north and passing under the Belt Line Railroad viaduct into North Buffalo. Your second light after the viaduct is Hertel Avenue; stay straight, but a couple blocks later, bear right at the stop sign at the fork in the road in front of North Park Academy. Eight blocks after the fork, at the corner of Parker Avenue on your left, is where you'll find...

  • 16 St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, 500 Parker Ave. (1965; Leroy H. Welch)
St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church
As we've learned, New Formalism was all about retaining the simplicity of the International Style while reneging somewhat on its categorical rejection of historic aesthetic forms — and while the majority of the time its practitioners drew on stylized Classical tropes like arches and colonnades, as in One M&T Plaza, there are also a good number of New Formalist churches in existence, wherein it's traditional elements of ecclesiatical architecture that are reimagined along Modernist lines. So while St. Rose of Lima has a cruciform floor plan, stained glass windows, and a tower in front like many other churches, the stained-glass windows sport abstract geometric forms and the tower is topped with a round arch (in apparent imitation of the multiple barrel vaults lined up in rows along the ceiling) with thin concrete bands extending down the front. Presenting quite a contrast is the more traditional Collegiate Gothic style of the other buildings of the St. Rose complex, both dating to 1926: the former school to its west, at the corner of Winston Road (which housed the worship space until the construction of the present-day church), and the rectory to its north facing Parker Avenue.

Make a right onto Parker Avenue and continue for about a mile (1.4 km) until the end of the road: Main Street, Buffalo's enduring dividing line between west and east, have and have-not (a dividing line that, at the height of the Modernist era, was more-or-less official, enforced through the discriminatory and now-illegal practices of redlining and blockbusting). Turn right and proceed for another mile and a half (2.4 km), where, at the corner of East Delavan Avenue, you'll find the next stop on the itinerary. Parking in the lot for Canisius College's Koessler Athletic Center at the southeast corner of Main and Delavan is technically not allowed, though if you put your blinkers on and don't stick around too long, they'll leave you alone.

  • 17 Delavan-Canisius College Metro Rail Station, 1863 Main St. (1985; DiDonato Renaldo Associates)
The Delavan-Canisius College Metro Rail Station
Inaugurated in 1986 after seven years of construction, Buffalo's Metro Rail is as much a subterranean, linear art museum as it is a transportation system, sporting a collection of some twenty works of Modernist sculpture, painting, photography, ceramics, and even neon art created by some of the heavyweights of the startlingly avant garde art scene that coalesced in 1970s Buffalo, all curated by renowned local gallery owner Nina Freudenheim and divided between eight underground subway stations. Aside from the art, the station buildings themselves serve as good representative examples of the architecture of the period, designed by a mix of locally based and out-of-town firms. The Delavan-Canisius College station is arguably the most interesting of them. By contrast with the other stations on the line, among which Brutalism is the predominant style, the firm of DiDonato Renaldo adds to the mix Neo-Expressionist elements such as abundant diagonal lines, unusual and dramatic geometric forms, and an oddly placed row of windows facing the corner of Main Street and Delavan Avenue.

Turn left on East Delavan and continue for three blocks, then, at the second light, turn left again onto Meech Street. Proceed north for four blocks, veer sharply right onto Loring Avenue, then turn right again at the end of the street onto Humboldt Parkway. You're now in the neighborhood of Hamlin Park. At the dawn of the Modernist era this was a desirable middle-class black area, but it would soon be decimated by the construction of the Kensington Expressway: a noisy, pollution-spewing, six-lane intrusion routed through the formerly tree-lined Humboldt Parkway. It's a story that's intrinsic to the significance of the...

  • 18 Robert T. Coles House and Studio, 321 Humboldt Pkwy. (1961; Robert T. Coles)
This is the onetime home of the recently deceased Robert Traynham Coles, Buffalo's most eminent black architect whose other works include the Frank Merriweather Library on Jefferson Avenue, the Utica Metro Rail Station, and the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center, which you'll be seeing later on in this section of the tour. Mark Goldman's book City on the Lake recounts the story of the Coles House: on the eve of the construction of the expressway, which no one outside the African-American community seemed to realize or care would tear the heart out of the neighborhood, Coles bought one of the last vacant lots on the street and designed a house for himself with a main entrance situated among a lovely courtyard and sculpture garden in the rear of the building, with a blank wall hidden behind hedges projecting an intimidating aloofness toward the street, thus symbolically "turning his back" on the Kensington. The building itself consists of two prefabricated rectangular units arranged in an L shape, with sliding glass doors and other nonstructural paneling in an homage to the period Coles spent working at the Techbuilt company under Carl Koch.

Continue southward along Humboldt Parkway for another mile (1.7 km), bearing left after the corner of East Utica Street to merge onto the Kensington Expressway. The next exit, which comes quickly after you enter the highway, is Best Street. Get off there and make a left at the light, proceeding eastward for another mile (1.7 km) down Best and its eastward extension, Walden Avenue. Make a right onto Oberlin Avenue and another right onto Sycamore Street, where you'll see on your left the...

  • 19 Providence Funeral Home, 1275 Sycamore St. (1932; Modernist addition 1960; architect unknown)
Providence Funeral Home
As Modernism grew in popularity in the 1940s and '50s, owners of older buildings found themselves in a bind. This new aesthetic regime of sleek, sweeping lines and simplified forms was fast becoming understood as the look of the future, whereas the brick Italianate and Romanesque storefronts of old were being left in the dust as stodgy relics. To be sure, that wasn't a problem that couldn't be fixed with some Dryvit: remember the 500 Block of Main Street from the downtown portion of the tour? By and large, the exquisite Classical detailing on those buildings spent the second half of the 20th century hidden behind modern paneling and snazzy neon signage, mimicking the smooth surfaces of Midcentury Modernism. Strictly speaking, the usual preservationist argument in such situations is that the integrity of the building's original style should be respected and restored where possible, but sometimes it's undeniable that those Modernist flourishes add just the right touch of pizzazz to an otherwise unremarkable structure. And such is certainly the case with the building at 1275 Sycamore Street, home to the Pacer Funeral Home until 1993 and to its current occupant thereafter: the original portion of the building is a two-story brick structure of relatively pedestrian design, but the newer addition extending eastward to the corner is unmistakably Modernist with its banded windows and low-slung dimensions, and that's also most likely when the Googie decorative elements adorning the façade were added.

Continue westward down Sycamore. The fifth traffic light you'll come to (after a mile and a half [2.5 km] — distances between traffic lights are quite long in this part of town) is Jefferson Avenue. Turn left and proceed south for half a mile (800 m). Turn right at the corner of William Street, then make your first left onto Hickory Street. Just after the first light, on the corner of Clinton Street, you'll see on your right...

  • 20 John F. Kennedy Recreation Center, 114 Hickory St. (1963; Robert T. Coles)
The John F. Kennedy Recreation Center
Robert Coles was preaching the gospel of preservation long before most other people in Buffalo had abandoned the urban renewal bandwagon: he was quoted in 1963 as saying "in wandering these downtown neighborhoods, one sees much that could be saved; one wonders whether it might be better for Buffalo or any other city to rehabilitate what it already has to attract its former residents back to the city, rather than to build at tremendous cost new towers on the horizon in the midst of blight and deterioration". But it was on a 72-acre (30 ha), 36-square-block expanse of Near East Side land leveled in the name of urban renewal only four years prior that he erected this community center for the neighborhood of housing projects that was planned for the site. Though it's constructed of poured precast concrete like many of the Brutalist buildings you've seen on this tour, make no mistake: with the low-pitched barrel-arched roof crowning the main portion of the structure and the sleek boxiness of the cantilevered second story extending northward toward Clinton Street, the JFK Recreation Center is a paragon through and through of the International Style's 1960s-era iteration. Today, along with the Postmodern-style Frank Merriweather Library erected in 2006, Coles cites the JFK Recreation Center as one of his two favorites among his own designs — in fact, the design served as the Master's thesis with which he graduated from the MIT School of Architecture, and Buffalo's city fathers of the time were so impressed with it that they invited him to actually construct the building on the site he'd proposed for it.

Make a right onto Clinton Street, headed toward downtown.

This stretch of Clinton Street presents you with a firsthand view of the urban renewal that Coles fought against. Most of the suburban-style tract housing you're passing was built in the 1990s — that's how long the old Near East Side lay fallow after the bulldozers came through.

Your third light, which you'll encounter after half a mile (750 m), is Michigan Avenue. Make a right.

Michigan Avenue has been designated Buffalo's African-American Heritage District, which is not to say that there's much history left along this stretch to preserve. The old Michigan Street Baptist and Durham Memorial AME Zion Churches, both listed on the National Register, are still extant, but the rest of the neighborhood they served — the old houses, the soul-food eateries, the jazz clubs — is for the most part long-gone.

Pass through numerous traffic lights and underneath the Kensington Expressway overpass bridges on your way north. About three-quarters of a mile (1.1 km) after turning, you come to the corner of Goodell Street, where you'll find...

  • St. John Baptist Church, as seen from the street
  • The church hall as seen from the parking lot, showing the arcaded rear entrance and covered parking
  • 21 St. John Baptist Church, 184 Goodell St. (1966; Wallace V. Moll)
At the New Formalist St. Rose of Lima RC Church in North Buffalo we saw traditional ecclesiastical architecture reimagined along modernist lines, but the one-year-newer St. John Baptist in the Fruit Belt throws convention to the wind and presents a fully, unabashedly Modernist church design. And a most unusual design it is, too: viewed from above the church looks like a eight-pointed star, with strikingly steep gables peaking at each of the four corners of the square-shaped building and slightly smaller ones at the center of each elevation, with a stylized metal steeple rising at the center of the "star" and stained-glass windows underneath the roof's multiple peaks, with tracery arranged in a geometric design to reflect the brickwork that characterizes the lower half of the façade. To the east of the worship space — with the main entrance in between — is the more conventionally Modernist church hall, whose rear side features sheltered parking underneath an arcaded canopy. Founded in 1927 by the Reverend Burnie C. McCarley (whose name graces the church-owned affordable housing development that lies across Michigan Avenue), St. John has grown to one of Buffalo's largest and most influential African-American religious congregations, not to mention a rising force in city politics (it's a frequent stop for visiting state and federal lawmakers, and its membership includes no less a figure than Mayor Byron Brown himself).

This concludes the second leg of the tour. To get back to where you started, turn left onto Goodell Street and, at the somewhat confusing intersection with Main Street, stay straight and then bear left onto Pearl Street, following the signs for westbound Route 5. Continue down Pearl Street (and its one-block southern extension, Commercial Street) for a mile and a quarter (2.1 km) until you get to the end of the street, at the corner of Marine Drive. Turn right and then left at the next corner, Erie Street, after which you'll be back at the Erie Basin Marina before too long.

Part Three: Niagara Falls and Suburbia[edit]

In Western New York as elsewhere in the U.S., the Modernist era coincided with the onset of suburbanization, and hence it's in the suburbs of Buffalo — particularly the inner ring — where you'll see the bulk of the area's Modern architecture. It would be a fool's errand to attempt to catalogue every Modernist building in these communities, or even every distinctive or noteworthy one; what follows is a curated selection that aims both to highlight the most preeminent examples as well as to provide a representative cross-section of the architecture these towns offer.

The third and final portion of the tour makes a 35-mile (55 km) arc around the outer periphery of Buffalo from Niagara Falls to Lackawanna; as such, it's really not suited for any form of transportation other than automobile. The bright side: unlike the earlier stages of the tour, you'll find that parking is a breeze.

We begin in Niagara County, on the border between the town of Lewiston and the city of Niagara Falls, at the precipice of the mighty Niagara River Gorge. There's ample free parking in the lot on the north side of Power Vista Drive just east of Lewiston Road. From there, follow the walkway to the...

  • The Niagara Power Vista visitors' center
  • The Niagara Power Vista observation deck (right) and the skybridge leading from the visitors' center (center)
  • 1 Niagara Power Vista buildings, 5777 Lewiston Rd., Lewiston (1963; Daniel Chait)
Sure, there is a bevy of museum-style exhibits on the inner workings of the Robert Moses Power Plant that will enthrall the hydroelectricity nerd in your crowd, but the real appeal of this place is the jaw-dropping view of the Niagara Gorge from the observation deck — hence the word "vista" in the place's name, and hence the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows ubiquitous on the three buildings that make up this boxy crystal palace. With the visitor center on the landward side, the observation deck across the way adjacent to the gorge itself, and the 257-foot (78 m) skybridge that traverses Lewiston Road and the Robert Moses State Parkway to connect the two, New York-based architect Daniel Chait wears his debt to Modernist pioneer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe on his sleeve: witness not only the aforementioned liberal use of glass on the façade but also the rigid minimalism and the cantilevered slab roofs that overhang the exterior walls so widely. To complete the tableau, the Niagara Power Vista complex also comprises a pair of concrete-paved outdoor plazas, one on each side of the skybridge, where the same regime of sleek lines and right angles predominates. Best of all, if you're keen to take in the view of the gorge as well as that of the architecture, admission is free!

Coming out of the parking lot, make a right on Power Vista Drive and then an immediate left onto Lewiston Road. Proceed southward for three miles (5 km). Somewhere around the halfway point to your next destination, Lewiston Road changes its name to Main Street, but unless you're watching the street signs like a hawk, you won't notice. On your left, at Main Street's oddly angled intersection with Lockport Street and Willow Avenue, you come to the...

  • Earl W. Brydges Public Library
  • ...and again
  • 2 Earl W. Brydges Public Library, 1425 Main St., Niagara Falls (1973; Paul Rudolph)
You might call Paul Rudolph the Frank Gehry of Brutalism, where the rough-textured concrete comes in shapes and angles so weird you might have trouble figuring out just what you're looking at. Or you might call him the Frank Lloyd Wright of Brutalism, with what Citylab calls a "well-established reputation for complex, monumental designs fueled by his individualistic zeal". All of the above-named qualities are on display loud and proud in his ambitious design for the City of Niagara Falls' central public library: the area around the entrance is a dramatic extravaganza of diagonal lines jutting haphazardly outward from the façade, while the rooflines on the northern portion of the building are dominated by ten large, angular dormer windows that collaborate with rows of clerestory windows stacked one atop the other along the staggered elevations below to bathe the spacious interior in natural light. Unfortunately, as we saw in his work on Buffalo's Lower West Side, the Achilles heel of Rudolph's architecture was its proclivity for water leakage through the roof, which in the case of the Earl Brydges Library showed up even before construction was complete. By the time it was, the city government was so incensed that they initially refused to accept ownership of the building from the contractor; the affair ended ignominiously with the city suing both the architect and the building contractor for $1.1 million each (which more or less equated to the cost of re-sealing the roof, which the city had been forced to do itself). The library was rededicated in 1982, but Rudolph's professional reputation was so damaged that he never worked on another major project in the U.S. And of course, that wasn't the end of the story with the leaks, either, which have reappeared and remain a persistent problem that the cash-strapped city government is hard-pressed to solve. In 2019, the latest resurgence of the periodic rumors of the building's imminent demolition and/or listing for sale coincided with Preservation Buffalo Niagara's inaugural "Modernism Week", whose programming prominently included a guided tour of the library led by Executive Director Tom Yots himself — a fortuitous omen, one hopes, for the future of the library in particular and Paul Rudolph's increasingly endangered architectural legacy in general.

Proceed south on Main Street, bearing right at the fork following the signs for State Route 104 and the American Falls. Your fifth traffic light, after a little under a mile (around 1.5 km), is Third Street. Make a slight left.

You're now entering Niagara Falls' ever-changing downtown. The wave of urban renewal that came over the city in the 1970s was unleashed by then-mayor E. Dent Lackey, who, a decade earlier in an era when the heavy industrial concerns that had served as the fundaments of the city's economy were fleeing town after the old Schoellkopf Power Station's disastrous collapse into the Niagara River, had been voted into office on the premise that the city should learn to "walk on two legs" (i.e. rely economically not only on industry but tourism also). Of course, as urban renewal always does, the scheme utterly failed to reverse the decline in Niagara Falls' fortunes — but it did succeed in transforming downtown into a veritable wonderland of Modernist architecture. Sadly, this era was all too brief: quite a few of the buildings erected during that period have themselves been lost to the wrecking ball as part of Niagara Falls' present wave of downtown development, such as César Pelli's Wintergarden (razed in 2009) and the Niagara Falls Convention Center (retrofitted beyond recognition in 2006 into the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel). But some prominent examples remain, like the one you're about to see.

Continue for two blocks down Third Street. You'll find the next stop on your left, immediately after the corner of Niagara Street. On-street parking in this part of downtown is surprisingly easy, but if you can't find any, the tree-lined parking lot on your left contains some "visitors only" spaces where you can park for a short time without worry.

  • 3 Carborundum Center, 345 3rd St., Niagara Falls (1972; Gordon Bunshaft)
Carborundum Center
The first of the Modernist buildings to be completed in Lackey's reimagined downtown was the corporate headquarters of the Carborundum Company, one of the few industrial employers that stuck it out in the Falls after the Schoellkopf debacle: they'd been manufacturing silicon carbide and other abrasives here since 1895 (not to mention uranium rods and plutonium carbide pellets during World War II, when their factory on Buffalo Avenue was a major local link in the Manhattan Project). Like the Main Place Tower in downtown Buffalo, the Carborundum Center is a blocky building of austere design whose aesthetic points the way forward to the Late Modernism that would come to dominance in office-building architecture in the 1970s and '80s. Predictably, reception among the public was mixed: architect Gordon Bunshaft was still riding a wave of popularity in Western New York after the accolades he received for his 1962 addition to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, yet a contemporaneous New York Times article described the building as a "forbidding gray block". The gray color, along with the slightly glossy finish, was due to the novel usage of another product manufactured by Carborundum — aluminum oxide, normally a component of industrial sanding belts — as cladding on the curtain-wall façade. The Carborundum Company remained headquartered in the building until its purchase in 1996 by Saint-Gobain Ceramics of France; today it serves as the home offices of the Seneca Gaming Corporation.

Continue southward down Third Street. Your second light after the Carborundum Center is Rainbow Boulevard. Turn left there, then right on John B. Daly Boulevard, following the signs for the Niagara Scenic Parkway.

At the bottom of John B. Daly Boulevard, you'll come to a roundabout. Take the second exit, continuing to follow the signs for the Niagara Scenic Parkway. About a mile and three-quarters (2.7 km) after entering the highway, you'll come to a turnoff for a scenic overlook (NOT the one marked "Waterfowl Viewing Area"; it's a little ways past that). You'll see two gleaming silver towers in front of you. They are the...

  • The Niagara Power Station Intake Gates as seen from the parking area
  • Close-up view of the East Gate from the base
  • 4 Niagara Power Station Intake Gates (1961; Uhl, Hall & Rich)
An integral part of the massive apparatus that provides the bulk of the region's electricity, the function of the Niagara Power Station Intakes is to divert water from the Niagara River and pump it northward to the hydroelectric station at Lewiston via a 4.5 mi (7.2 km) subterranean tunnel underneath the city of Niagara Falls. Fascinating enough from a mechanical perspective, to be sure, but the East and West Gates — a pair of identical steel-framed towers built to contain vertical lift gates and stoplogs, whereby the flow of water can be temporarily blocked when necessary to allow for inspection and/or repair of the tunnel — are equally of interest to the aficionado of Modernist architecture of a distinctly neofuturistic bent. Standing 100 ft (30 m) in height, the buildings are often described as looking like enormous harmonicas placed on end, and they certainly serve as an interesting complement to the more conventionally Miesian architecture of the Power Vista buildings: the façades are afforded a shiny luster by the stainless-steel panels that serve as cladding, with smooth and unadorned lateral elevations contrasting with more interesting textural elements on the broader sides, punctuated by sleek vertical I-beams and with subtle geometric patterns stamped onto the metal surfaces in between. Nowadays, the towers serve as the centerpiece of a small but pleasant shoreline overlook built on fill excavated from the digging of the tunnel; as great a place as any to witness the raging power of the Niagara in action.

Follow the signs to re-enter the expressway. After about a mile and a quarter (2 km), the road splits. Bear left, following the signs for Interstate 190 toward Buffalo and Lewiston, then exit right onto the southbound 190 and ascend the North Grand Island Bridge. About two and three-quarters miles (4.5 km) past the base of the bridge, you come to Exit 19 (Whitehaven Road) in Grand Island. At the end of the offramp, turn left and proceed for about a quarter of a mile (450 m). After crossing back over the highway, the second driveway on your right leads you to...

  • 5 Trinity United Methodist Church, 2100 Whitehaven Rd., Grand Island (1965; John N. Highland, Jr.)
Trinity United Methodist Church
The fourth building to have served as home to this historically German-speaking congregation that's been active on Grand Island since 1867 (you'll see the previous one, a more traditionally-styled Gothic Revival clapboard church erected in 1907, out front closer to the road), Trinity is the Buffalo area's foremost example of Neo-Expressionist architecture: a style that completely rejects the sleek lines and right angles of the International Style in favor of what might best be described as "architecture as sculpture"; an aesthetic of dramatic geometric forms calculated to elicit an emotional response. Irregularly-shaped windows are a hallmark of the style, and you'll see a number of those embedded in the thick stone exterior walls; the stained glass is the work of Pennsylvania artist Roy Calligan. The interior features rustic wood-panelled walls and a 30 ft (9.1 m) cross in the chancel made of epoxy-covered shards of waste glass upcycled from the Corning Glass Works and affixed to a latticework of metal rods.

Backtrack along Whitehaven Road to the 190 onramps. Follow the signs for the southbound lanes and get on the highway, crossing over the South Grand Island Bridge. Immediately at the opposite side of the bridge, you'll see signs for Exit 16 onto the eastbound Interstate 290. Bear right to take the exit.

Architecturally speaking, not all of Buffalo's suburbs are created equal. For instance, there are no particularly noteworthy examples of Modernism in Tonawanda, the first town you pass through on the highway after crossing the South Grand Island Bridge. For one thing, large parts of it were already built out before the Second World War began; for another, it counted a squarely middle-class population: folks of enough means to afford to live in the suburbs, but for whom a swanky architect-designed showpiece house was out of reach. So instead, we skip one town ahead to Amherst. Today Amherst is Buffalo's largest suburb and quite a diverse place both racially and socioeconomically, but in the 1950s and '60s it was on the far outer edge of Buffalo's suburban sprawl, home to the absolute crème de la crème of Western New York's postwar nouveau riche. Not surprisingly, it sports a wealth of fine Modern architecture.

After exiting the 190, proceed along the 290 for six miles (9.5 km) to Exit 4 (Interstate 990 northbound), then, a mile and a quarter (2.2 km) later, take exit 2 off the 990 to Sweet Home Road. Turn left as you come off the offramp, go about half a mile (600 m), then turn left again at the first traffic light, onto Skinnersville Road.

You're now approaching the gargantuan North Campus of the University at Buffalo. In the 1960s, as the oldest of the Baby Boom generation began to approach college age, UB was forced to confront the reality that there was no way to accommodate the imminent surge of new students on what was then its sole campus, a much smaller tract of land in the far northeast corner of the city proper that was already more-or-less built out. Thus, in 1965, the university purchased 1,200 acres (480 ha) of farmland in Amherst, and hired the firm of Sasaki, Dawson, DeMay to design a master plan for an entirely new campus where the majority of its academic programs would eventually be housed. The first buildings on the North Campus opened to students in 1973, and it's now home to all of UB's academic departments save for the Schools of Architecture and Planning, Dental Medicine, Public Health and Health Professions, Nursing, and Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (the former four remain on the South Campus, while the latter is housed in a new building just north of downtown Buffalo, adjacent to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus).

About a third of a mile (550 m) down Skinnersville Road, you'll see a sign marking the entrance to the UB campus. Bear right.

Subsequent phases of the North Campus's construction continued through the 1980s, '90s, and into the 21st century, and by now much of its architecture is better described as Postmodern or Neomodern. But the older buildings on campus constitute some of the finest examples of Brutalism and Late Modernism in Western New York.

Cross the bridge over Bizer Creek, then turn left at the end of the road. You're now on Frontier Road. To get the best view of the next point on the itinerary — the finest of those aforementioned fine examples of Brualism — pull into the Richmond B Parking Lot (the entrance to which is the first one on your right after turning) and bear right.

  • UB North's Ellicott Complex: Red Jacket (left) and Porter Quads (center and right) as seen from Richmond B Parking Lot.
  • UB North's Ellicott Complex: Fargo Quad as seen from the south.
  • 6 Ellicott Complex, University at Buffalo North Campus (1974; Davis Brody & Associates with Miltstein Wittek Davis Associates)
Affectionately known as "Legoland" among the student body, the obvious influence behind the breathtaking design of this enormous interconnected megacomplex of 38 buildings was Moshe Safdie's Brutalist masterwork Habitat 67: the motif of cuboidal modules stacked on top of each other seemingly at random, engendering characteristic imbalanced forms full of visual drama, is one that's shared by both the Ellicott Complex and its Montreal counterpart. More darkly, some sources — such as author and historian Mark Goldman in his book City by the Lake — claim that the decentralized site plan, its labyrinthine tangle of interior hallways, its lack of any open spaces large enough for mass gatherings, and the placement of important executive offices on upper floors accessible only by elevator were an attempt at "riot-proof" design in direct response to the violent student demonstrations that had paralyzed the South Campus in the late 1960s and early '70s. (It's important to note, however, that claims to that effect, which are frequently leveled at Brutalist university buildings of roughly contemporaneous vintage, are viewed as dubious by architectural historians, especially since the philosophy behind Brutalism was explicitly opposed to repressive social control mechanisms of that nature.) UB's original intent with the Ellicott Complex was to emulate the system used at British universities such as Cambridge and Oxford wherein students specializing in a particular area of study would live, study, and work together with faculty, hence the clustering of the buildings into six distinct "quads" that were designed to house 3,200 students between them. This plan quickly fell by the wayside, however, and save for a brief interlude in 1993 — when it was used as lodging for athletes participating in that summer's World University Games, many of whose events were held in the then-brand new UB Stadium — the Ellicott Complex has housed a mix of dormitories, faculty and administrative offices, classroom space, and student amenities similar to what you'd find at any other large university in the U.S.

Leaving the parking lot, turn right onto Frontier Road and continue to circumnavigate the Ellicott Complex. The first corner you come to (that's not a parking lot entrance) is John James Audubon Parkway. Make a right.

Look to your right after turning onto Audubon Parkway and you'll enjoy a fine panoramic view of the Ellicott Complex from across the man-made Lake LaSalle. The small island in the middle of the lake is named Kanazawa Island, after Buffalo's Japanese sister city.

Continue westward. At the roundabout, bear south (taking your third exit) onto Lee Road. Then, at the stop sign, make a left into the Commons Parking Lot.

Unlike most of UB's parking lots which are reserved for the use of students and faculty, the Commons Lot is open to the public — and parking is free, albeit limited to 60 minutes. That's plenty of time to take in the next point of interest on the itinerary.

Get out of your car and walk down White Road, the road that begins opposite the entrance to the Commons parking lot. On your left, you'll pass the Furnas Parking Lot and then the Neomodern-style Davis Hall. You'll see a narrow footpath at the far end of the latter building; turn left onto it, and soon you'll find yourself in Grace Plaza, a pleasant little courtyard-like area with benches to sit on. Cross to the far end of the plaza, on the other side of Mary Talbert Way, to get the best view of...

  • Furnas Hall (left, background) and Bell Hall (right, foreground)
  • Ketter Hall
  • Marcel Breuer's work on the North Campus. A protégé of Walter Gropius born in Hungary, Breuer got his start at the Bauhaus designing tubular steel furniture, then took up architecture after fleeing Nazi Germany for Great Britain and later the United States. Later in his career, his signature aesthetic gradually evolved from the International Style favored by his peers to the nascent Brutalist school. By reputation, Breuer often took a "softer" approach to the style — his designs frequently employed curvilinear forms that hearkened back to his Bauhaus roots and sported graceful, almost soaring appearances starkly different from the bulky ponderousness usually associated with Brutalism — but the cluster of buildings he designed for UB in collaboration with the local firm of CannonDesign, among the last projects he saw through to completion before his death, are all things considered a pretty conventional expression of the style. 7 Bell Hall (1974), 8 Furnas Hall (1977), 9 Jarvis Hall (1981), and 10 Ketter Hall (1981) each share an identical design motif: dark brick windowless surfaces contrasting with rough-textured pre-cast concrete ones elsewhere, the latter punctured with an almost mechanically repetitive fenestration pattern where horizontal rows of windows stepped back diagonally into the façade are interspersed with narrower bands of geometric ornamentation. The ground floors are bedecked with an ornamental concrete latticework in a header bond pattern. Together, these four buildings house UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Elsewhere in the world, Breuer's architectural CV is as extensive and distinguished as you might expect: his earlier International Style work is typified by the Maison de l'UNESCO in Paris and a number of historically-listed homes scattered around the northeastern U.S.; as a Brutalist, he designed the Pirelli Tire Building in New Haven, Connecticut and the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building in Washington, D.C. but is perhaps best known for his innovative concrete churches, such as that of St. Francis de Sales near Muskegon, Michigan.

Backtrack through Grace Plaza and along White Road to get back to where you're parked. Upon exiting the parking lot in your car, make a right at the stop sign, and you're soon back to the roundabout. Take your third exit, onto westbound Audubon Parkway, and proceed past the Interstate 990 onramp and around the curve, following the signs for Route 263 southbound toward Buffalo. Take the ramp and you'll wind up on Millersport Highway headed south. Soon after that, you'll come to another offramp, for Maple Road. Exit, turn left, and then proceed for a mile and a half (2.5 km) down Maple.

As you pass eastward down Maple Road, the built environment gradually changes from student-targeted apartment buildings to detached single-family houses. As mentioned, the Amherst of the immediate postwar era was the playground of Western New York's glitterati, but as the 1950s wore on into the '60s — the era in which many of those single-family homes were built — the middle class began making inroads.

Your third light is North Forest Road. Turn right.

Suburban tract housing of the 1950s and '60s was highly standardized: typically, developers would offer prospective homebuyers several preconfigured designs to choose from, which would then be mass-produced, essentially, onsite. The side streets off this section of North Forest make up the Siegfried Drive subdivision, which was actually proposed for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places as a relatively intact example of this pattern of development: a turn down one of them would lead to a parade of one- and two-story Ranch-style houses, many of which are identical to each other in design.

Three-quarters of a mile (1.1 km) along North Forest past Maple, you cross a bridge over Ellicott Creek. Soon after that, on your left, you'll see the entrance for Zion Dominion Global Ministries, a glitzy megachurch that's one of Western New York's largest religious congregations. Bear left as you traverse the parking lot, and in the far corner, to the left of the church itself, you'll see the...

  • 11 Howard F. Stimm House, 895 North Forest Rd., Amherst (1942; Sebastian Tauriello)
The Howard Stimm House
The Stimm House falls under the umbrella of the International Style, but the resemblance to the work Frank Lloyd Wright was doing at roughly the same time is unmistakable: the varied colors and materials used in the façade (concrete blocks, rough-textured fieldstone, and stucco all feature), the cantilevered roofs and balconies, and even the radiant heating system (this was allegedly the first house in the U.S. to have one; it was designed by Raymond Viner Hall, son of the head of the contracting company that built Fallingwater, and was featured in the October 1943 issue of Heating and Ventilating Journal) all betray a clear influence. Completed just as the World War II-era construction supplies rations came into effect, the house was one of the first buildings designed by local architect Sebastian Tauriello, whose admiration for Wright was apparently great indeed: in 1955, he purchased the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo for use as his home and studio, and his expert maintenance of the property during his time there is credited as a main reason why that masterwork was saved from demolition. Howard Stimm, meanwhile, was notable as president of a local civil engineering firm that specialized in the building of railroads and bridges (when the North and South Grand Island Bridges were twinned in the 1960s, it was Stimm's firm that built the newer duplicates). The house is now used by the adjacent church as an event venue and meeting space.

Exit the parking lot and turn left. The first traffic light is Sheridan Drive.

The side streets immediately north and east of this corner are filled with more good examples of midcentury Ranch houses; a detour to see them would involve turning left at the light and then left again along any of the nearby side streets. Tristan Lane, Fleetwood Terrace, and Troy-Del-Way are especially good choices. Otherwise...

...stay straight on North Forest, bearing right at the fork in the road where North Union Road and Reist Street intersect. Turn right onto Main Street, the first light after the fork, and proceed westward, passing along the overpass bridge that carries Main Street above its gargantuan cloverleaf interchange with Interstate 290.

Driving west along Main Street from Williamsville toward the city line is like a trip backwards in time through Amherst's suburban development. You're now entering the neighborhood of Snyder, named after pioneer settler Michael Snyder, who operated a general store and post office here beginning in the 1830s. The roots of Snyder's transition from independent rural hamlet to suburb stretch back to the 1893 opening of the Buffalo and Williamsville Electric Railway, which ran down Main Street and linked to the outer end of Buffalo's municipal streetcar network at the city line. For those who could afford it, the so-nicknamed "Toonerville Trolley" instantly made a daily commute from a downtown workplace to a peaceful, verdant "country estate" feasible. By the 1920s and '30s, these estates were being purchased from their original owners by land developers, divided into lots, and resold to homebuyers looking for their own escape from the hectic city life. Relics of this era of Snyder's history are the elegant Tudor Revival-style entranceways that grace Main Street at its intersections with many of its side streets, constructed by those development companies as signifiers to passersby of the genteel, dignified character of the homes that lay behind. Most of these entranceways are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Your third light past the ramps, about a mile and a quarter (2 km) from where you turned, is the corner of Harlem Road, the central crossroads of Snyder. Continue for another three blocks, then make a left onto Washington Highway. Your next stop is the fifth house on the right.

  • 12 William Eimer House, 55 Washington Hwy., Snyder (1936; architect unknown)
The William Eimer House
With its sleek boxy form, unadorned flat steel panel walls, and massive floor-to-ceiling front window all serving as testimony to the design ideas of Gropius, Le Corbusier, and other pioneering European Modernists, the house at 55 Washington Highway is a quite early example of the International Style. Not surprising, then, that local developer Sylvanus Nye built it as a show house, touting it as a "home of the future" in the pages of the Buffalo Evening News and other local media, and displaying photographs of it in the windows of all of Buffalo's prominent downtown department stores to catch the eyes of curious shoppers. Its design was so revolutionary and unusual that, according to archived records, the town refused to issue a building permit until the Engineering Department had been briefed in exhaustive detail on the methods involved in its construction. The lucky purchaser was William Eimer, a manager at Weed & Company hardware store in downtown Buffalo, who lived in the house until his death in 1977.

Continue further down Washington Highway. At the stop sign, turn right. You're now on Westmoreland Road, headed west.

As you pass the athletic fields behind Amherst High School on your right, you enter Eggertsville, which represents a still earlier phase in the suburbanization process. Like Snyder, Eggertsville started out as a rural hamlet named after a pioneer settler (Pennsylvania-born Christian Eggert, who, like Michael Snyder, ran a general store and served as postmaster). But the suburban phase of its history — and particularly that of the Amherst Estates, the subdivision where you'll find the next two stops on this tour — kicked off even earlier than Snyder's: around the time of the First World War.

Four blocks past where you turned, Westmoreland ends at a three-way intersection with Lebrun Road, a road with an odd trajectory that you may find confusing. Turn left and, for the next stretch of the itinerary, pay close attention to the directions given here.

Other than the chronology of their development, another main difference between Eggertsville and Snyder is that, while the homes in the latter were marketed to the merely upper-middle-class, the former was intended as the domain of the outright rich: a sort of 20th-century answer to Delaware Avenue's "Millionaire's Row". Development proceeded through the 1920s, but neither neighborhood was yet fully built out at the onset of the Great Depression, which both severely curtailed new home construction throughout the U.S. and also mostly wiped out the fortunes of those who would have bought houses in Eggertsville or Snyder in the first place. However, the loftier intentions of Eggertsville's developers helped it retain a certain upper-class cachet that Snyder lacked, so when building recommenced after World War II, swanky architect-designed Modernist houses (two of which you're about to see) began to sprout in between the luxurious Tudor- and Colonial-style mansions of old. Together, the housing stock on Westmoreland and Lebrun Roads represents the mixture of styles pretty well.

At the three-way intersection ahead, you can either bear left onto Saratoga Road or right to stay on Lebrun. Do the latter. Ahead of you as you complete the turn, you'll see two parallel driveways. At the end of the one on the left is the...

  • 13 Dr. George B. Rosenfeld House, 501 Lebrun Rd., Eggertsville (1960; architect unknown)
The Dr. George B. Rosenfeld House
Secluded behind a row of professionally maintained topiary, the Rosenfeld House is about as Midcentury Modern as Western New York residential architecture gets. The massive mono-pitched skillion roof is likely the first feature that catches your eye, perforated by a narrow brick chimney peeking its head out from the back, or perhaps the diagonal lines introduced by the placement of the flat-roofed two-car garage at an odd angle at the end of the driveway. But equally interesting is the varied composition and coloration of the façade: in front there's orange brick contrasting with wooden slats painted sage green, and if you were to go around to the back patio — perhaps via the grass walkway at the west end of the property, tucked under the cantilevered mass of the second-floor master suite — you'd see a wall made mostly of glass, courtesy of a series of French doors and the floor-to-ceiling windows that look from the living and dining room out to the backyard. (This remains a private residence, though, so please don't trespass.) At the time of the house's construction in 1960, Dr. Rosenfeld had just been named head of the Pediatrics Department at St. Joseph Intercommunity Hospital in Cheektowaga; he lived there until his death in 2010.

A little further down, on the opposite side of the street, is the...

  • 14 William and June Schreiber House, 370 Lebrun Rd., Eggertsville (1959; architect unknown)
The William and June Schreiber House
You've probably heard terms like "High Classical" and "High Gothic", but in the world of American Modernist residential architecture, is there such a thing as "High Ranch"? Almost certainly not, but if there were, the Schreiber House would handily qualify: with its sleek lines, flat roof (accented by a low-pitched skillion portion down the center, extending from above the entrance to the rear façade), and low-to-the-ground, sprawling dimensions, it exemplifies all the characteristic features of the style to the utmost. The midcentury time-capsule effect continues inside: the underside of the aforementioned skillion roof is the impressive vaulted ceiling of the parlor, with a gray flagstone fireplace tucked into the corner, behind which is an 40-foot indoor swimming pool with views of the patio and backyard. In a 1961 Buffalo Evening News article highlighting the house, original owner William B. Schreiber explained that the inspiration for the design came from the model homes he'd admired on travels to Florida and California, which often sported U-shaped floor plans surrounding a screened-in pool, though due to Buffalo's famously harsh winters, Schreiber knew his would need to be fully enclosed. This, in turn, accounts for the square footprint, unusual in Ranch houses which are more typically rectangular or L-shaped. Schreiber was owner of the Delaware Park Camera Mart in North Buffalo and lived in the house with his wife June until 1979.

The traffic signal at the end of this stretch of Lebrun marks the intersection with Eggert Road. Turn left here and proceed southward along a trajectory that more-or-less straddles Buffalo's eastern city limit. A mile and a half (2.3 km) later, you come to the onramps for the Kensington Expressway (NY 33). Turn left, following the signs for the eastbound lanes.

You're now entering the decidedly less tony suburb of Cheektowaga. Like Tonawanda, the Cheektowaga of the 1950s and '60s was a middle-class haven of cookie-cutter tract housing, rather than an upper-middle-class paradise of gawk-worthy Modernist masterpieces, as Amherst was at that time.

After merging onto the eastbound Kensington Expressway, proceed for a quarter of a mile (350 m) until you get to the next exit, for Pine Ridge Road and Harlem Road. There's a traffic light at the end of the ramp, at the corner of Pine Ridge; continue straight through it, still parallel to the highway.

However, unlike Tonawanda, Cheektowaga did not (outside of a few older enclaves near the city line) see a significant degree of prewar suburban development. Therefore, the public libraries and other institutional buildings you'll find around here are often fine examples of Modernism, whereas in Tonawanda they come largely in older styles like Art Deco and Colonial Revival.

The next light is at the corner of Harlem Road. Turn right, continue for one mile (1.5 km), and then make a left onto George Urban Boulevard and proceed for seven blocks. On your left, you'll see the...

  • 15 George Urban Pump Station, 390 George Urban Blvd., Cheektowaga (1956; Nussbaumer, Clarke & Velzy)
George Urban Pump Station
The George Urban Pump Station is another fine example of how Modernist architecture is far more versatile than people give it credit for. It's a stormwater treatment plant that could easily be seen as unwelcome in a residential area such as this, a challenge to which architects Nussbaumer, Clarke & Velzy respond beautifully with a design that, at every turn, seeks to blend in with the neighboring houses while still embodying all the defining characteristics of the International Style: a flat roof that cantilevers past the exterior walls, a regime of straight lines intersecting at right angles, a floor-to-ceiling window looking out onto George Urban Boulevard, even a faux chimney peeking up from the back. By far the most ingenious act of mimicry, however, is the brick wall that extends eastward from just behind the façade to reflect the L-shaped floor plan of the neighboring houses. Viewed from the street, one would think it's the exterior of an enclosed annex, yet in actuality it's merely a freestanding wall that curves backward around a grassy courtyard to meet the wraparound driveway that begins on the opposite side of the building, concealing the main entrance. Operated by the Cheektowaga Sewer Department as a reliever for its main pump station a few blocks away on Central Boulevard, the George Urban Pump Station kicks into operation during periods of peak flow, treating excess storm runoff and discharging it into nearby Scajaquada Creek. In the years before its construction, flooding after heavy rains had become a major problem in the newly-developing neighborhoods of Maryvale and U-Crest in the northern part of town, and accordingly the facility houses three pumps with a combined capacity of 35 million gallons (132 million liters) per day, as well as a chlorination unit to aid in controlling foul odors and to provide a modicum of pollution abatement.

Backtrack on George Urban Boulevard (the parking lot of Nestico Field, on your right a little further down the street, is a good place to turn around) and then turn left onto Harlem again. The next stop is two lights ahead on your right. For parking, your best bet is to turn right on Greenleaf Lane and pull into the lot.

  • 16 Anna M. Reinstein Memorial Library, 2580 Harlem Rd., Cheektowaga (1963; Foit & Baschnagel)
Anna M. Reinstein Memorial Library
As we covered in the introduction to this article, one of the most fascinating aspects of European-derived Modernism is how readily it interacted with Art Moderne, Prairie, and other styles that were popular in the U.S. in the early 20th century that, independently, had already begun to evolve similarly streamlined forms. Already in the design of the Howard Stimm House in Amherst we saw a hybridization of the International and Prairie styles; the Anna M. Reinstein Memorial Library sports elements of both of those aesthetics but also a soupçon of Craftsman architecture (itself an acknowledged Prairie antecedent): witness the exposed rafters underpinning the Modernist shed roof on the Harlem Road side of the building, with a distinctly Wrightian horizontal band of windows just below. The library was inaugurated in 1963 in honor of Dr. Anna Mogilova Reinstein, a most interesting figure in Western New York history: born in Imperial Russia in 1866, she fled the country with her husband Boris after the latter was implicated in a plot to assassinate the czar, settled in Cheektowaga, and became one of Western New York's first practicing female physicians, providing crucial medical care to the families of poor immigrant industrial laborers while simultaneously agitating in favor of the Socialist Labor Party and serving as financier for Buffalo's radical Marxist community. Her husband Boris worked briefly as a pharmacist, but returned to Russia in 1917 to fight in the Bolshevik revolution and ended up serving in the Soviet government as an adviser and secretary to both Lenin and Stalin while his wife stayed behind in the U.S. to attend to her medical practice. (How it is that a person of such a pedigree managed to get a library named after her in an American town at the height of the Cold War is one for which this author has no good answers.)

Turn southward back onto Harlem and proceed to the next traffic light, at the corner of Walden Avenue. Turn left and proceed for three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km), following the signs for Interstate 90 westbound. Enter the highway and proceed for five and a half miles (9 km) to Exit 55 (US 219 southbound toward Orchard Park and Springville). Bear right and then exit right, following the signs for Ridge Road westbound into Lackawanna, the eponymous company town built in the early 20th century around the gargantuan Lackawanna Steel Plant.

Bear right at the end of the offramp and proceed westward down Ridge Road for a mile and a half (2.6 km) to the corner of Victory Avenue, a block past South Park Avenue. On your right is...

  • Lackawanna City Hall
  • The same view before the construction of the Modernist addition (photo c. 1914)
  • 17 Lackawanna City Hall, 714 Ridge Rd., Lackawanna (1914; addition 1968 by Donald Love Architects)
With Lackawanna City Hall we end the tour essentially where we began: with Modernism as a fascinating yet misunderstood, forward-thinking yet polarizing juggernaut force that changed the face of architecture the world over (and, indeed, changed this building's face in a literal sense). As usually happens when a company town loses its company, Lackawanna fell on hard times after the 1982 closure of Bethlehem Steel (Lackawanna Steel's corporate successor), yet in the good old days of the 1960s it was a burgeoning place that had outgrown the handsome if unremarkable Neoclassical structure that then housed its municipal government offices. The solution? Not a new building but a striking International Style addition to the original one, faced in bright orange panels in homage to Bethlehem Steel's corporate color scheme. Intriguingly, the addition is raised as if on stilts by a series of exposed stainless-steel piers, accommodating ground-level parking underneath (a hallmark of Modernism's proactive embrace of automobile culture), and — similar to what we saw in the Niagara Power Intake Gates — the orange panels themselves are separated by a row of slightly projecting vertical beams that lend a bit of texture to the façade while reinforcing its Modernist angularity. The so-called "Orange Crate" is widely derided among locals, but it has its defenders in the preservationist community — all the more so now that Lackawanna mayor Geoffrey Szymanski has once again resurrected his proposal to demolish it (citing needed repairs, code violations, high utility bills due to poor insulation, and the fact that it's now too big for the city's needs) in favor of a new City Hall to be built down the street at the former site of St. Barbara's Catholic Church. And so the struggle continues...

To get back to downtown Buffalo, continue westward on Ridge Road for another mile and a quarter (2.1 km), then make a right to get on Route 5, aka the Buffalo Skyway, heading eastbound. You should see the skyline before you know it. To get back to Niagara Falls, hop on the northbound 190 at the end of the Skyway and follow the signs from there.

Go next[edit]

  • SUNY Fredonia (I.M. Pei)
  • Elevator Alley - grain elevators as stylistic inspiration for Le Corbusier and other early European Modernists
  • Albright-Knox Art Gallery - to go with your modern architecture, one of America's most highly regarded collections of modern art