#12 .... Buffalo's Best - Table of Contents
Buffalo Savings Bank
by Hilary Sternberg & R. Steven Janke
Green & Wicks
Francis, Savage & Davidson
Beaux Arts Classicism
Main, Huron & Genesee Sts.
M & T Bank Branch
Buffalo Savings Bank - Table of Contents
The Buffalo Savings Bank building is a majestic focal point in Buffalo and its banking history. Its design and sensibility toward the city around it easily outstrip those of its modern neighbors on Main Street.
The bank was chartered in 1846 as the first savings bank in the city. Among the founding trustees were Millard Fillmore, who became the 13th president on the United States and Nathan Kesley Hall, who became Postmaster General.
Beginning with six depositors, one of whom was the sole employee of the bank, Buffalo Savings Bank (later Goldome) would become one of the largest savings banks in the United States before insolvency caused its dissolution in 1991. M&T Bank currently operates a branch on the site.
Buffalo Savings Bank rode Buffalo's boom of the second half of the 19th century and soon found its quarters unequal to its stature. In the late 1890s - the peak of Buffalo's golden age - the bank held a competition for a grand new headquarters. The contest was won by Green & Wicks, Buffalo's premier turn-of-the-century architectural firm. Their design projected stability, security, and aspiration.
Edward B. Green (1855-1950) and William Sydney Wicks (1854-1919) employed the classical revival style, with a dome, for the bank. The style was popularized by the World Columbian Exposition of 1893. There was also the local precedent of Robert W. Gibson's Bank of Buffalo building of 1895 (dismantled 1989), located at the corner of Main and Seneca streets. Green and Wicks surpassed the earlier structure in size and grandeur, employing a colossal Corinthian order rising through multiple stories.
Of imperial scale, the Buffalo Savings Bank design skillfully exploits an irregular lot. (The lot owes its configuration to Joseph Ellicott's 1804 radial street plan for the village of Buffalo.) The Main and Huron elevations are joined together by a narrow entrance bay on axis with the Main and Huron intersection. The bay is a strongly articulated vertical element which emphatically marks and helps define this important city intersection.
The entry door is surmounted by a decorative balcony with doorway. Above the balcony door are carved garlands hanging between the capitals of the Corinthian columns, which support a massive entablature. Higher still, and breaking two secondary cornices, is a massive clock in a carved stone frame. This vertical progression is finally topped off by the shining golden pinnacle atop an expansive golden dome. The whole accentuates the building's deference to, and strengthening of, the dynamics of the streetscape.
The building's major exterior motif derives from the Roman triumphal arch. Here we have a module of large round-arched windows flanked by pairs of engaged columns. Enriching the surface is a string course on level with the springing of the arches.
This pattern is repeated on each side, or elevation, with modifications to meet the different requirements of each of the three principal street frontages. On Huron Street it appear in pure form. On Main Street an additional bay on the north repeats the triumphal arch motif, but in a smaller scale. Along Genesee Street the module is repeated twice, overlapping at the center, and expanded at either end with an additional bay.
The building's signature feature is the gold-leafed dome. (Indeed, when Buffalo Savings Bank expanded in the 1980s, it changed its name to Goldome) The ceramic tiles covering the dome were most recently regilded in 1979 .
In the mid-1920s the bank added murals by Francis, Savage and Davidson to the rotunda. Depicted are scenes from local history, industry and commerce.
The original bank building is linked to a larger 1982 addition (Kohn, Peterson, Fox) on the north. The north wall of the original building, removed during an earlier expansion but now exposed, has received granite sheathing (and fiber glass pilaster capitals) evoking details found elsewhere on the building.
Conducting one's financial affairs amidst such grandeur would certainly fuel one's aspirations. Indeed, the first saving passbook stated: "It is intended to encourage the industrious and prudent and to induce those who have not hitherto been such... "Consistent with that mission, in the early years accounts of more than $400 received 4% interest, while accounts of less than $400 received 5%!
There is another homey touch. The humble sandstone steps leading to the august granite portal bear the legend "The Steps to Success."
Buffalo's best is produced by
The Preservation Coalition of Erie County,
PO Box 768, Buffalo, NY 14213.
The Coalition sponsors educational tours, lectures, and special events It actively seeks to preserve and publicize the architectural heritage of Erie county. write for information and newsletter.
Series editor: Timothy Tielman.
© 1992 Preservation Coalition of Erie County
Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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