City Hall - Table of Contents .............. Niagara Square - Table of Contents

Buffalo City Hall - History
65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, NY

TEXT Beneath Illustrations



The location of City Hall before the 1931 building on Niagara Square was built


Jumbo Postcard (7"X9").
Note that the statue of President Grover Cleveland has not yet been placed at side of the building, and that to the left of City hall are apartments behind St. Anthony of Padua Church that were later demolished.
Postcard courtesy of Gothic City Architectural Antiques (August 2012).
Text on the back of the postcard:


John J. Wade

John J. Wade was the chief architect of Buffalo City Hall.

He was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1893, to a family of artists. His mother was on accomplished tapestry weaver.

When his father died, Wade was still in grammar school. His mother secured a job for him working in an architectural firm.

Before and alter studying architecture at the Beaux-Arts Institute of New York City, Wade worked for Henry Hornbostel and Sullivan W. Jones. The firm specialized in the design of major public buildings, including the Oakland City Hall, the Pittsburgh City and County Buildings, and the Wilmington City Hall. Sullivan W. Jones, who was Wade's mentor at the firm, became New York State Architect in the 1920s.

After military service in World War I, Wade married in New York City, then relocated to Buffalo, where the burgeoning industrial city seemed to offer great opportunity for a young architect. In Buffalo he joined the practice of local architect Harold Jewett Cook, with whom he designed the Masonic Consistory on Delaware Avenue, now the auditorium and foyer of Canisius High School. The likelihood that Wade was himself the designer of the Common Council skylight is strengthened by its similarity to the sunburst design on the ceiling of the auditorium.

In 1926 he formed the partnership with George J. Dietel (1876-1974), called Dietel and Wade. The firm designed the St. Francis de Sales Church on Humbolt Parkway, St. Francis Home for the Aged in Williamsville, and the Queen of Peace Church on Genesee Street.

In 1926, when the City Architect's city hall design was found unsatisfactory, the Common Council turned to amiable, quick-witted, 33-year-old John Wade, who probably had more practical experience with the planning and design of city halls than any other local architect.

John J. Wade died on January 2, 1990 in New Jersey.

George J. Dietel

George Dietel was a native of Buffalo, He was a graduate of Canisius High School and College, and a fourth degree Knight of Columbus and a 50-year member of the Knights of St. John.

Mr. Dietel was a past director of Lincoln National Bank and Mt. Calvary Cemetery. He was also a life member of the National Architects Society.

Dietel also designed many Catholic churches in Buffalo and the surrounding area, as well as St. Mary of the Angels Home and the first addition to Sisters Hospital.

He died on March 29, 1974, at the age of 97, in the Brothers of Mercy Home, Clarence.

Illustration: Dietel's long-time home on Humboldt Parkway. Photo taken 2006.


For additional historic photos see

Buffalo City Hall - Façade
and
Newspaper Construction Photos

In the centennial year of the United States, 1876, Buffalo dedicated a new City Hall (the gray granite building now called Old County Hall). Between that time and the dedication of the present City Hall in 1932, the centennial year of the City of Buffalo, the population of the city had quadrupled. The need for a new building was recognized in 1920, when a citywide referendum authorized the Buffalo Common Council to select a site and develop a new "city center."

The site chosen was Niagara Square, the most important of the several squares of the Joseph Ellicott Plan of 1804. Niagara Square is considered the center and cultural heart of Buffalo as well as its official location. The City hall tower overlooks the renowned waterways of Lake Erie and the friendly shores of Canada.

Groundbreaking for City Hall was held on September 16, 1929. The building was completed November 10, 1931. The building was dedicated July 1, 1932, to commemorate the City Centennial.

The 32-story-high structure was built on two triangular lots on the west side of Niagara Square, spanning Court Street. The construction of City Hall in 1929 closed off Court Street from the square. This was the first interruption of Ellicott's street plan. The completion of the similarly-styled Art Deco State and Federal Buildings in 1935 on the east side of Niagara Square realized the concept of a city center group of governmental buildings, first suggested in 1920.

The City Hall Building serves as a reminder of of Buffalo's past. Its decorative art illustrates significant elements in the area history. This, among, other things, the following are shown

Included, too, are are statues of Buffalonians who were Presidents of the United States: Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland.

Walls are faced with tawny Ohio sandstone and gray Minnesota limestone, above a base of gray granite.

Architects

John J. Wade, a young architect who had experience in the design of city halls, had written an article in 1925 in The Buffalo Arts Journal called "Choosing a City Hall Architect," which brought him to the attention of the Common Council. They hired him as a consultant architect for the design of City Hall, January, 1927. He formed a partnership with Buffalo architect George J. Dietel (1876-1974) to provide these services.

Wade produced, in 1927, a design for a twenty-five-story square tower, supporting a colonnaded octagon, surmounted by a hemispherical dome of colored tiles. Wade's design was rejected as too expensive and lacking in sufficient floor space; however, it was not disliked.

The Council hired the firm of Dietel, Wade, and Sullivan W. Jones (b. in 1878 in New York City where he also died in 1955) to produce the final design, which was adopted. Wade had been an apprentice of Jones before and after attending the Beaux Arts Institute in New York City. Jones, formerly the the New York State Architect, was designer of the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building in Albany, a building massed similarly to the Buffalo City hall.

Dietel & Wade had offices in Delaware Court

The general contractor was the John W. Cowper Co., Buffalo, established 1915. This was the principal construction company of the city.


Evaluation

Architectural historian John H. Conlin, in his book "Buffalo City Hall: An Americanesque Masterpiece," evaluates the final design:

John J. Wade's powerful 1929 design for City Hall is among the best realizations of the Art Deco style, free of Classicism.

Architectural historian Reyner Banham described City Hall as an "astonishing Art Deco bulk."

Landmark status: Joseph Ellicott Historic Preservation District


Sources of text:


See also:


Photos and their arrangement © 2006 Chuck LaChiusa.
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