Guaranty / Prudential Building - Table of Contents
No. 1 of a series, "Niagara Frontier Landmarks" published in 1977 by the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier
The Prudential Building
28 Church Street, Buffalo, N.Y.
Text by Olaf William Shelgren Jr., John D. Randall, and Jason Aronoff
The photographs below were not part of the 1977 article reprinted on this page.
Click on each photograph for a larger view.
The photo above was taken in the Louis Sullivan Museum, no longer in existence.
The "modernizing" of the building took place in the 1970s. A 1980s restoration uncovered the original exterior and interior. See 2002 photographs of the elevators.
The "modernizing" of the building took place in the 1970s. A 1980s restoration uncovered the original exterior and interior. See 2006 photographs of the exterior
The Guaranty Construction Company of Chicago, which was to construct the building for Taylor, bought the property and completed the project. Construction began in March 1895 and the Guaranty Building was ready for occupancy on March 1, 1896. It was renamed the Prudential Building about two years after it was completed at the time of refinancing through the Prudential Insurance Company.
Adler and Sullivan had developed a splendid reputation for expertise in the planning and design of steel-framed buildings. In St. Louis they designed the prototype "tall office building," the Wainwright Building(1890-1892), and in Chicago the Schiller Theater and Office Building (1892) and the Stock Exchange Building (1893-1894) with Sullivan being largely responsible for the designs. The Guaranty Building was the last work Adler and Sullivan did together.
In notes accompanying an exhibition entitled Buffalo Architecture 1816-1940
at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery,
Henry-Russell Hitchcock, dean of American architectural historians, had the following
comments about the Prudential Building:
. . . metal skeleton construction, which made the skyscraper possible, was developed in the Chicago of the '80's. Louis Sullivan of Chicago was the first architect to find for the new tall buildings, with their interior supports, an appropriate expression.
His first skyscraper was the Wainwright Building of 1890 in St. Louis. But the Prudential is often judged his best.... Sullivan was not altogether a functionalist. It will be observed that there are two verticals in the upper floors to each of the steel supports which come through to the ground, because he preferred to stress the vertical, at least in his better known works...
Sullivan's architectural innovations were not wholly in major matters of design. He used terra cotta frankly, not as a substitute for stone ... but as a mere decorative sheathing and as a fireproofing of the metal skeleton. Sullivan was a virtuoso in the use of this material which lent itself to a wholly novel sort of surface decoration. . . .Sullivan esteemed himself even more as the creator of a new ornament than as the pathfinder of a wholly new approach to architecture ...
Except for changes to the glass at street level the exterior of the building is
virtually unchanged since its erection. The marvelous ornament remains intact with
its myriad foliate and geometrical
patterns covering completely the two street facades yet never interfering with the
basic order of the structure. The fine texture of this ornament gives a gentle vibrancy
to the facades that the smooth surfaces of later buildings lack. And the natural
color of the terra cotta still imparts its ruddy hue, albeit somewhat subdued by
Interior changes have been made, some dictated by matters of fire-safety, others brought about by the shifting winds of style. The stairs leading up from the lobby have been enclosed. The Sullivan-designed ornamental iron grille elevators are gone. But a mosaic ceiling inside the Church Street entrance and a mosaic frieze around the lobbies remain. The Pearl Street Lobby still retains a mahogany rail with supporting balusters designed by Sullivan, a fine pink Tennessee marble on the columns, and the exquisite stained glass skylight.
The nearby towers of Main Place (1965-1969), the Edward A. Rath County Building (1969-1971), and the New York Telephone Building (1907, 1913) are metal skeleton descendants of the Prudential Building. None of them have the uniqueness and individuality of the Prudential.
The Prudential Building has a worldwide reputation among aficionados of man's building art. It deserves a much greater appreciation, concern, and use by our community.
A local campaign to preserve the Prudential Building, the existence of which has been threatened by a major fire (1974) and a precipitous decline in tenants over a five-year period, 1972-1977, has received expressions of support from around the world.
In 1973 the Prudential Building was entered on the National Register of Historic Places. Two years later National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior honored the Prudential by declaring it a National Historic Landmark. Had he lived Hascal L. Taylor would have had his name on one of the world's finest buildings.