Webb Building - Table of Contents
Location and Physical Description
90-94 Pearl Street, Buffalo, NY
Located in the Joseph Ellicott Historic District
Text reprinted from the National Park Service Historic Preservation Certification Application
Joseph Ellicott Historic District
The Joseph Ellicott Historic District represents the nucleus of Ellicott's 1804 street plan for the village of Buffalo. As the core of the city, the district retains a significant number of high-style civic, religious and commercial structures, many of which were designed by local and nationally prominent architects. Although the area has constantly changed and developed, it retains a sense of cohesiveness through the overall quality and integrity of its architecture and maintenance of its historic street pattern. The district contains architectural examples of four phases of Buffalo's history from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. The first period is marked by the rebuilding of the village of Buffalo in 1815 after it was burned by the British during the War of 1812 and ending with the Panic of 1837.
The Webb building, which was erected in 1888 by local entrepreneur Jewett M. Richmond, dates from the second period of Buffalo's architectural history. The phase commenced with the advent of the railroad in 1843 and continued until the 1890s. Commercial buildings erected during this period exhibit the heavier and richer detailing characteristic of nineteenth-century Victorian styles.
The Webb building (so-called after a twentieth-century owner; earlier generations knew it as the Richmond Block) was designed by Cyrus L. W. Eidlitz (1853-1921), an important New York City architect. In 1884, Eidlitz had won the nationwide competition to design the Young Mens' Association Library (precursor to the present Buffalo & Erie County Public Library) which until the early 1960s stood nearby at Lafayette Square.
The Webb building is part of a group of nineteenth-century commercial structures (all of which are listed as contributing buildings in the district nomination) at 76-94 Pearl Street. These structures are among the last remnants in downtown Buffalo of buildings with ground floor cast-iron storefronts. The Webb building is the best example of Richardsonian Romanesque commercial architecture remaining in Buffalo.
Description of physical appearance
The five-story Webb building is a Richardsonian Romanesque brick commercial building with a flat roof. It is by 80 feet wide on Pearl Street and 120 feet deep and was originally intended to house two stores, each 40 feet wide.
Only the façade on Pearl Street (east elevation) is treated architecturally. This elevation retains a high degree of architectural integrity of design, materials, and workmanship from the period of its construction. The five-story facade of red pressed brick with Medina sandstone trim is topped by a central parapet with end urns and small, round-arched attic windows. A sandstone stringcourse supported by stone corbels defines the uppermost floor. Brick piers with simple stone capitals rise from the stringcourse to support a row of brick flat arches. The arches are glazed with double-hung sash windows that light the fifth floor.
Floors two through four have tripartite openings that were filled with plate glass windows, many of which are now missing. The fourth floor has round-arched windows with cast-iron pilasters, continuous sills, and spandrels between the floors. The second and third floors have flat-headed, tripartite windows with cast-iron pilasters and continuous metal sills . (Several windows have been filled with glass block or boarded up.) These floors are ornamented by a number of stone and metal decorative elements (notably carved sandstone floral and lion head corbels and metal guilloche moldings) that survive in remarkably good condition.
The ground floor consists of two cast iron and wooden storefronts. Although remodeled in the mid-twentieth century, the ground floor preserves most of its original structural and decorative features, some of which are partially revealed behind deteriorated sections of the later remodeling. (The north storefront window bay has been replaced by a modern garage door.) The corners are treated as banded stone pilasters as is the central pier which expresses the presence of an interior partition wall. The sidewalk in front of the building preserves several red sandstone pavement slabs.
The lots adjacent to the Webb building on the north and south are vacant, so the building's elevations on these sides are clearly visible. The shadow of a demolished earlier building is evident on the north elevation. The north elevation is a solid wall of common brick from the ground floor to the fifth floor. The fifth floor, which stood above the roofline of the demolished building, is lighted by a row of blocked up windows. At the rear, a two bay section is lighted by tall twin windows on each floor. These segmental-arched openings were filled with four-over-four sash windows. Because the demolished building did not extend this far back, this two-bay section could have fenestration in it. Because of the sloping ground, the rear section has a basement level, making the building six stories on the back.
The south elevation is all common brick with no fenestration. Brick corbels project at various levels and once supported floors of a demolished adjacent building. As on the north side, a two bay section at the rear of the building had twin, four-over-four sash windows in each floor. Because of the sloping ground, the rear section has a basement level.
The rear or west elevation is six stories in height. Several low openings at the ground level give access to the basement while additional openings have been bricked up. The first floor above the basement consists of several taller entrances beneath brick segmental arches spaced between four-over-four sash windows beneath exposed metal beams. Each of the floors above is lighted by twelve closely aligned, four-over-four sash windows with segmental arched heads. (Some of these windows have been blocked up.) These windows are identical to those on the rear portions of the north and south elevations.
The interior is composed of nearly identical floors of open plan. The ground floor is representative of all of the others, with the exception of the store fronts. A brick partition wall divides each floor laterally into southern and northern halves. Arches were built into this partition wall to allow communication between the southern and northern sections. Each floor of both halves of the interior is constructed of wood. Due chiefly to the infiltration of the elements through a large hole in the roof, all of the floors are in a seriously deteriorated condition. Each of the floors is supported by the brick partition wall, the parallel rows of slender cast iron columns positioned midway between the partition wall and the outer load bearing walls, and the outer walls themselves.