Queen City Downtown
Guided walking tour, no reservations.
Our beautiful downtown landmarks provide a stunning backdrop for Buffalo’s most important stories, including the Erie Canal, several Presidents, master architects like Sullivan, Burnham, Upjohn, and Green, and the “Best Designed City” designation by Frederick Law Olmsted. See these stories come alive on this two hour walk. The Guaranty Building, St. Paul’s, and Ellicott Square are as magnificent on the inside as on the outside. In winter we take an “Inside Downtown” route, with more interior spaces.
Always at 10am!
All year: Friday, Saturday
May through October: Friday, Saturday, Sunday
June 15 to September 15: Daily
Holidays: Dec 26, 27, 30, 31
Meet at the Visitor Center, 617 Main St
$10 per person, $5 for students
Reservations are not required, but groups of ten or more should call ahead.
Buffalo City Hall (1929-1930)
George J. Dietel and John J. Wade, with Sullivan W. Jones
Inspired by the theatrical, futuristic renderings of Hugh Ferriss, Buffalo City Hall presents a dramatic profile to visitors of the city’s downtown. This Art Deco building also expresses Buffalo’s status as one of the most modern cities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while referencing the rich history of the site in the figures of its frieze, its decorative detailing and its numerous murals.
Electric Tower (1912)
August Esenwein and John Johnson
Based on utopian reconstructions of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and inspired by the Electric Tower at the Pan-American Exposition, the General Electric Tower is, ultimately, a tribute to light, and to the electrical power that transformed lighting conditions around the world.
Ellicott Square Building (1895-1896)
D. H. Burnham and Company
Like Louis Sullivan and H. H. Richardson, Daniel Burnham’s architectural production defined the stylistic trajectory of his time, and he enjoyed many important commissions in the late nineteenth century. However, unlike Sullivan, Burnham was much more comfortable working in established stylistic traditions, and was significantly less interested in developing a unique American style of architect. This is clearly seen in his Ellicott Square Building, which, like his earlier Rookery Building (1886) in Chicago, is constructed around an interior court with glass-covered concourse.
Guaranty Building (also known as Prudential Building) (1895 – 1896)
Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler
Louis Sullivan was perhaps the preeminent American early modernist architect, and along with H. H. Richardson and Daniel Burnham, he was also one of America’s most famous architects at the time of the Guaranty’s construction. The Guaranty represents the apex of Sullivan’s tall-building design, evincing a number of refinements on the architect’s earlier Wainwright Building (1891) in St. Louis. Here, the squat, Renaissance-inspired form of the Wainwright has been elongated, emphasizing the verticality of the structure, and the stringent tripartite division of the Wainwright’s façade has been softened, providing a more organic integration of its parts. However, while the facades of both the Wainwright and the Guaranty Buildings derive their organization from Renaissance palazzos, what sets Sullivan apart from his peers is his conscious attempt to develop a distinctly American architectural tradition.
Lafayette Hotel (1904)
Louise Blanchard Bethune
Designed by Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first woman to be a member of the AIA, this beautiful French Renaissance-style hotel is notable for the rich chromatic interplay of red-brick and terracotta in its façade. Situated next to the Public Library, in its heyday, the Lafayette Hotel was one of the 15 finest hotels in the country.
Market Arcade (1892)
Green and Wicks
There are incredibly strong associations between the architecture of E. B. Green and the city of Buffalo; not only was Green one of Buffalo’s most renowned indigenous architects, but his work can also be seen throughout the city. While the Market Arcade may not be emblematic of Green and Wicks’s architecture oeuvre, it does respond well to its intended program, while at the same time, finding a secure place within the tradition of spectacular architecture originating with the Garnier’s Paris Opera House, and with the emerging indoor mall that is indicative of the rise of the bourgeoisie in the 19th century.
Old County Hall (1871 – 1876)
Andrew J. Warner; Sculpture: Giovanni F. Sala
The grandest example of High Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in Buffalo, the monochromatic, symmetrical design of the Old County Hall is rich in sculptural effects, evincing a wonderful quasi-Baroque plasticity in its detailing. This is perhaps best captured in the play of light and shadow across the volumes of the building, resulting in illusionistic conditions of solid and void that emphasize the structure’s monumentality. The severity of the design, as well as its sculptural detailing may be influenced by the architecture of H. H. Richardson, on whose Buffalo State Hospital Andrew Warner served as supervising architect.
Old Post Office (1894-1901)
Jeremiah O’Rourke, William Aiken and James Knox Taylor
Described in Buffalo Architecture: A Guide as a progeny of H. H. Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse, this building reflects the importance of Richardson’s influence, which pervades many of Buffalo’s late 19th century architecture, and which can be seen firsthand at his Buffalo State Hospital complex. The building consists of numerous pavilions and galleries designed around a large, centrally lit courtyard, capped with an ornate glass ceiling, similar to that of the nearby Ellicott Square Building by Daniel Burnham, whose influence was perhaps equal to that of Richardson in his day.
C. W. and G. W. Rapp
With the popular rise of movie palaces and nickelodeons in the early twentieth century, public entertainment establishments, like Shea’s, vied with one other to create the most opulent and theatrical venues for their patrons. Buffalo was home to numerous entertainment establishments throughout the first half of the twentieth century, all of them emulating (to some degree) the emphasis on spectacle seen in Garnier’s Paris Opera House; venues, like the early shopping districts and covered markets, to which people came, not only to see, but also to be seen, and Shea’s is no exception.
St. Anthony of Padua (1891)
Designed in a reserved Florentine Gothic Style, St. Anthony of Padua was the center of a bustling Italian community once located were the current Shoreline Apartments (designed by Paul Rudolph) currently stand.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church (1849-1851)
Inspired by the social theories of John Ruskin and A. W. N. Pugin (who designed the Gothic detailing for the Parliament Building in London), Richard Upjohn turned to Gothic architecture as a salve for the “sickness” of industrialization, and as an alternative to the “corruption” of the classical revival (with its pagan associations), which were viewed as emblematic of the spiritual crippling caused by industrial environments. Thus, the language of St. Paul’s, which is derived from a particular form of 13th century British Gothic known as Early English, is at once a reference to the religious character of the building and a symbol of spiritual reawakening designed specifically to heal the wounds of industrial materialism by emphasizing craft over mass production and handwork over that of the machine.
Statler Towers (1921 – 1923)
George B. Post and Sons
Ellsworth Statler built several hotels in Buffalo at the turn of the last century, including one at the corner of Swan and Washington Streets between 1905 and 1908, and a second hotel on Delaware Ave. at Niagara Square between 1921 and 1923. The first hotel was notable for its innovation in plumbing design, which contributed greatly to the development of mechanical service cores for tall buildings. The system of stacked plumbing developed in this hotel is common in all tall buildings in North America, and is used in domestic architecture of more than one story today. It also made the Statler Hotel one of the first hotels to offer a private bathroom in every room with a tub and sink, and hot and cold running water.