Frederick Schmidt House
356 Richmond Avenue, Buffalo NY

C. 1898
Beaux-Arts: Italian Renaissance Palazzo

The Shea Mansion Gets Buffed and Polished [Update]

Buffalo Rising, February 24, 2015
(online May 2016)

The house was built by Frederick Schmidt, probably around 1898 who sold it to Thomas Shea in 1909 .

"…To clarify a misconception: the house belonged to my great-uncle, Tom Shea. My grandfather, Michael Shea, his wife, and my mother, Mary, never lived here. Their home was on Vermont St. My mother spent a great deal of time in her childhood here with her many cousins. She and my father, Emile Giffioniello, bought the house from cousins in the mid 1940’s and I lived here most of my life. After my marriage, my family did live here and two of my sons continued to own the home after my mother’s death until they sold it in the 90s.

"When we moved into the house all the wood was natural – honey oak. I thought it was gorgeous! My mother didn’t and some of the panels in ceiling of hall needed to be replaced, so my mother had all the wood painted, including the fireplaces and their tiles. It was the ’40s…… When we moved in the front porch roof was in serious need of repair so it was simpler to remove it." - Donata Ahern, 2015

Schmidt/Shea House
History of Buffalo (online February 2023)

... the Schmidt/Shea House, located at 356 Richmond Ave. It was built in 1895 by William H. Schmidt, a well-known local builder who constructed a number of homes in the area. A unique home for the area, the 1897 Buffalo Merchants Exchange book described the home as “one of the most lavish and recognizable houses on Richmond Avenue, with its elaborate use of Medina sandstone and Beaux-Arts design.”

William lived in the home until 1909, when he sold it to Thomas Shea. A St. Catherine’s, ON native, Thomas came to Buffalo as an infant with his family, where he was raised in the Old First Ward. As a young man, he worked for a time on the docks with his brother, Michael Shea, a name well-known in Western New York as the creator of a theater empire, including the crown jewel: Shea’s Buffalo. While Michael enjoyed great success in the theater business, Thomas experienced his own success in the restaurant world.

With construction of the grand Ellicott Square Building completed in 1896, Thomas became one of the new building’s first tenants, opening a café on the first floor, known as Ellicott Square Buffet. It became known as the largest buffet restaurant between New York and Chicago, and it regularly attracted the city’s leading businessmen and politicians. Different from modern buffets, the Ellicott Square Buffet was also a local watering hole, with a wide array of alcohol, including over 300 brands of whiskey. Unfortunately, with prohibition enacted, Thomas closed the buffet. He operated a restaurant at the corner of Church & Pearl for about a year, before returning to Ellicott Square and opening a small confectionery stand in the central court.

Thomas passed away in 1939 at the age of 77. His home at 356 Richmond remained in the family for many years following his death before it was foreclosed on and nearly demolished. Thankfully, in 2007, new owners saved the home and worked hard to restore it to its former glory.

Schmidt-Shea House, Buffalo, New York
By Andre Carrotflower
Wikimedia Commons (online February 2023)

Built circa 1895, the gray- and mauve-hued tones of the sandstone façade make this palazzo-style French Renaissance Revival house stand out from the street, and the ornate Beaux-Arts style detailing (particularly stonemasonry on the third-floor frieze) and the recessed archway on the second floor above the Ionic portico only serve to reinforce that impression.

The building was the residence of building contractor William H. Schmidt (1847-1910), who sold it shortly before his death to restaurateur Thomas Shea (1862-1939), owner of the Ellicott Square Buffet and brother of theater impresario Michael Shea. After a long period of decline and vandalism, the house was fully restored in 2007.

Special thanks to Frits Abell for sharing his research

Photos and their arrangement © 2015 Chuck LaChiusa
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