M. Wile Factory - Table of Contents

M. Wile Factory
(Pronounced "while")
77 Goodell Street in Buffalo, New York

Statement of Significance
for the draft of the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places

By Dr. Francis R. Kowsky
Some research by Foit-Albert Associates, Architects

The complete nomination is online and may be found at
New York's State and National Registers of Historic Places Document Imaging Project

German immigrants
Mayer Wile
Architects Esenwein and Johnson
The Daylight Factory

The M. Wile & Company Factory Building is significant architecturally as an outstanding example of an early twentieth century "Daylight Factory." Constructed of reinforced concrete and glazed with metal sash windows, this building type superseded earlier factories that had been built with brick walls and wooden floors. It represented a great advance in workplace fireproofing, lighting, and spaciousness.

The building is also significant as representing the development of ready made men's clothing in America. This industry grew from modest beginnings in the late nineteenth century to a national industry by the 1920's. The M. Wile firm, founded in 1877 in Buffalo by Mayer Wile, was a pioneer of this type of retailing. Continuing today as a subsidiary of a larger company, it is one of the oldest manufacturers of men's clothing in the United States.

Finally, the M. Wile & Company Factory Building is significant for its association with the German-American heritage of Buffalo. At the time of its construction by a prominent member of this community (which made up forty per cent of the city's population), the M. Wile and Company Factory Building ranked as a landmark of the German section of Buffalo.

The four story M. Wile Factory Building at 77 Goodell Street in Buffalo, New York, with facades on Goodell (north), Washington (west), and Oak (east) was erected in 1924 to the designs of August Esenwein and James Addison Johnson. The building introduced state-of-the-art industrial architecture into a traditionally German-immigrant neighborhood where it proudly manifested the rise to success of its German-born owner. Architecturally, the building is a good example of the so-called Daylight Factory. This type of multistoried factory building used reinforced concrete in an exposed frame system of construction with the spaces between exterior piers filled almost entirely with steel sash windows. Unadorned except for twin Doric columns in antis at the main entrance on Goodell Street, the M. Wile Factory epitomizes this modern building type, which is especially identified with Ernest Ransome, C. A. P. Turner, and the Buffalo firm of Lockwood, Greene and Company. These firms developed this revolutionary factory type during the first decade of the twentieth century. By the 1920's, it had replaced the brick-pier walls and wooden beam supported floors of the nineteenth century factories as well as gained ascendancy over steel-framed manufacturing buildings. The Daylight Factory answered the need of manufacturers for wide open, naturally lit floor space in fireproof buildings that were inexpensive and quick to erect. Despite the fact that the original lobby area has been modified and a fifth story was added to part of the structure in the 1960's. The M. Wile Building, inside and out, retains a high degree of integrity.

German immigrants
The neighborhood around the M. Wile Building was home too many German immigrant families. Since the Civil War, immigrants from Germany had swelled the population of the city and by the end of the century they made up forty per cent of its citizens. Many of these people worked in the thriving industries that made Buffalo one of the primary manufacturing centers of America.

Mayer Wile
Mayer Wile, who came to America from his native Baden in the early 1860's, was a leading member of this immigrant community. In the area in and around the so-called Fruit Belt, where many streets bore the names of fruits, and out along Genesee Street were offices of German-language newspapers and many German run businesses, banks, and breweries. Indicative of the now vanished German ethnic makeup of the area was presence at the corner of Goodell and Oak Streets of the College Creche. The Creche, which was the second child day center in Buffalo, occupied the home of Judge Solomon Scheu, a prominent jurist of German descent. Wile demolished the Scheu house to make way for his modern factory.

Mayer Wile began his clothing business in Buffalo in 1877. At a time when most men had their suits custom made by tailors, Wile pioneered the idea of the ready-made, mass produced men's clothing. At first he plied his trade door to door, carrying with him a variety of garments in different materials, all with prices below those of tailor-make items. Wile's business flourished. By 1905, he had moved the manufacturing facilities at least twice to larger quarters.

(Over the years, the name of the company changed. Founded as M. Wile & Co., the business later bore the names of Wile, Block & Co., Wile Brothers & Co. and again M. Wile & Co. The company still exists in Buffalo at another site. As a subsidiary of Hart-Marx, it is one of the oldest clothing manufacturers in the country.)

By the early 1920's, Wile's business, which employed over 250 workers, required yet again larger quarters. This time he decided to erect his own building. He called upon the Buffalo architectural firm of August C. Esenwein and James Addison Johnson. The building they designed in 1924 provided nearly two million cubic feet of space and cost $425,000.00 to build. M. Wile & Company operated the building without interruption until 1999 when the business moved to another location in Buffalo.

Architects Esenwein and Johnson
August Carl Esenwein (1856-1926) was a prominent, senior member of the Buffalo German community, with a distinguished record of architectural commissions in Western New York. Undoubtedly his German background and reputation are reasons why Wile turned to his firm for the design of his new structure. The fact that both men had come from modest backgrounds in Germany and attained prosperity and position in their adopted city may also have drawn them together. (Esenwein and Johnson had also designed the factory that since 1905 Wile had leased on Pearl Street.) Failing health, however, may have limited Esenwein's participation in the design of the new building, for when he died in 1926 at age sixty-eight his obituary stated that he had been sick for more than a year.

Born in Wuertemberg, Germany, Esenwein had studied at the Stuttgart Polytechnic University before going to Paris where he worked for two years as an architect's assistant. In 1880 he immigrated to Buffalo, taking a job as a civil engineer with the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. Eighteen years later he launched his architectural career by winning the competition to design the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exposition of 1901.

Encouraged by the prospect of further commissions as a result of his success, Esenwein left the railroad and set up an architectural practice in 1898 with James Addison Johnson (1865-1939). Nine years Esenwein's junior, Johnson, a native of Brewerton, New York had worked for a time with McKim, Mead and White of New York City. There he would have learned the principles of the Neo-Classical style that dominated American architectural taste at the turn-of-the-century.

Esenwein and Johnson quickly became one of the leading firms in Buffalo. Among their major works that still stand are the Lafayette High School (a National Register property), the former Masten Park High School (present City Honors High School and a National Register property) and the former General Electric Building (present Niagara-Mohawk Power Building and a locally designated Buffalo landmark). In addition to public and commercial buildings, Esenwein and Johnson planned numerous housed for well-to-do clients on fashionable Delaware Avenue (the Curtiss House survives as the present International Institute and is part of a local Buffalo historic preservation district), along the Olmsted and Vaux Parkways, and elsewhere in the city.

Together with high style architecture, industrial buildings were an important part of Esenwein and Johnson's practice. Perhaps because of Esenwein's background in engineering, the firm enjoyed the confidence of leading members of the Buffalo business community. "Electricity Baron" Jacob Schoelkopf commissioned them to design his Hydraulic Power Building at Niagara Falls, and the directors of the Pierce Arrow Car Factory (a National Register property) hired them to erect several buildings at their sprawling Elmwood Avenue plant. The M. Wile Building, however, represents the firm's complete mastery of the new reinforced concrete-framed Daylight Factory, a type of building that had revolutionized American industrial architecture in the first decade of the twentieth century. The firm had been among the first to design these types of structures; in 1906 that had built the Forsyth Manufacturing Building in Buffalo in this manner.

The Daylight Factory
During the third quarter of the nineteenth century, Ernest Ransome, working first in California and later in New York City, developed a system of embedding steel rods in concrete to create a strong, fireproof structural system that supported concrete slab floors. This system proved especially suited to multistoried industrial architecture, for it allowed for the creation of layer upon layer of virtually unobstructed floor space. On the exterior walls, large windows filled the spaces between the exposed concrete frame, admitting abundant light and fresh air to each floor. Elevators and hoists linked the various work levels. Reinforced concrete construction was also inexpensive, easily standardized, and fire proof.

"Around 1900, then," wrote architectural historian Peter Reyner Banham in his book Concrete Atlantis, "the action and the excitement were not in iron and steel but in concrete, which was about to take off into the most spectacular stage of its development in the United States. The new men, headed by Ransome, were above all specialists in concrete, and their subject matter -- the Daylight factory and the grain elevator -- was to be (along with bridge building) concrete's primary province. The evidence of this is overwhelming, on the ground and in the professional literature" (p. 106). As Banham further argued in Concrete Atlantis, functional buildings like these came to influence significantly the course of high style modern architecture.

On the exterior of his buildings Ransmone, and other pioneers of this method of construction such as Buffalo's [sic?] Lockwood, Greene and Company, left the skeletal structure of vertical supports and horizontal floor slabs exposed to view. These simple, repetitive exteriors were thus composed of a concrete frame filled in with banks of simple, steel sash windows. Only a modest spandrel was sometimes present beneath the windows to provide space for radiators. By 1924, this revolutionary system, which Banham called the "daylight factory," was fully developed.

There were several major examples in Buffalo prior to the M. Wile Building by Lockwood, Greene and Company, notably the huge Larkin R/S/T Block of 1911, the Buffalo Meter Building of 1915, and the Pierce Arrow Factory of 1907.

The unadorned beauty of structure and proportions that these elementary exteriors portrayed deeply impressed architects such as Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe. Indeed, the M. Wile Building is contemporary with Gropius' Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, the icon of the International Style. The Buffalo factory was of the same type that, says Banham, "Le Corbusier had used to exemplify his arguments [for a new architecture]; multistoried American industrial buildings with exposed concrete frames, filled in only by transparent glazing; buildings like X-ray images, their bones on public display" (Banham, 23-26).

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