Lafayette Hotel - Table of Contents

History of The Lafayette: The Interior
By WCPerspective
Buffalo Rising, October 8, 2010   (online July 2017)

Source: National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, prepared by consultants Martin Wachaldo & Frank Kowsky and Daniel McEneny, New York State Historic Preservation Office.

The Hotel Lafayette was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places .... Under National Register Criterion C, the Hotel Lafayette is nationally significant in area of architecture as the most prominent and highly styled design of Louise Bethune.  Locally the building is significant under Criteria C as one of the finest examples of a grand early-Twentieth Century hotel in the City of Buffalo and a remarkably intact example of the French Renaissance style of architecture.


In 1928-1929, the present elevators were installed, placed on axis with the Washington Street entrance, and the old elevator shafts filled in.  In 1942, the lobby was completely remodeled in the Art Moderne style under plans drawn by Roswell E. Pfohl and Design, Inc.  The grand staircase was removed and a smaller staircase installed to the north, and the original decoration was removed or covered.

The floor is polychromatic terrazzo laid in an abstract geometric pattern.  Eight large smooth columns on octagonal bases of red Numidian marble dominate the room.  The center of the ceiling is recessed and flat, and is lit indirectly by a decorative ledge that extends around the room, rounded at the corners.  In the center of the ceiling is a stalactite chandelier.  

There are two large murals of inlaid wood (a medium known as intarsia). The south wall intarsia mural features the Buffalo River, with lake freighters within a canyon of grain elevators, while the north wall intarsia mural features a fighter aircraft flying above the Buffalo Airport (right).

On the east side of the elevators is a lounge room with a similar decorative treatment to the lobby; originally open to the lobby, it is now walled off but is largely intact. 

The lobby passageways to the streets were remodeled at the same time as the lobby itself, and still retain the natural finish Art Moderne woodwork and circular light fixtures suspended by decorative brackets.  

The former lobby space at the northwest corner of the building became a drugstore, a contemporary account praised the change for “brightening the corner of the Lafayette Hotel where once were a dozen or so overstuffed lounges and guests and a décor more fashionable during the early part of the century than in the forties.”  The new corner drug store measured 43 feet on Washington Street and 55 feet on Clinton Street, and had about 3000 square feet of floor space.  Lit by over a mile of neon tubing fixtures, it featured a stainless steel soda fountain and lunch counter.

Grill/Lafayette Room

On the south side of the Clinton Street entrance corridor is a room now identified as an office, subdivided into small soundproof booths for a radio station within the last forty years.  This was the Dutch Grill Room in 1904 and was somewhat remodeled as the Lafayette Room in 1909-1911.  Despite many modifications, it retains a high degree of its original integrity and is by far the best preserved public space from the original 1904 Bethune designed hotel.  The original appearance of the space was described in 1904:
The woodwork in the grillroom and bar is Flemish oak.  The decorations are on genuine leather, representing different studies of Falstaff, the execution of that work being hand tooled, divers colors being inserted.  The drapings are of leather, and the windows have obscure leaded glass.
The remodeled space was given a more extensive description in 1912 by the Buffalo Express:
The principal public parlor or conversation room of the hotel for the comfort and convenience of men and women guests.  It is a room 40×50 feet, with three large plate-glass windows opening high enough above the street to prevent intrusion.  The room is designed in late English domestic style of the Elizabethan period and executed in English oak of soft brownish tint, which is reproduced in the furnishings.  The draperies are deep antique blue.  The ceiling is massive elliptical groins…  The decorative scheme of this essentially English room commemorates America’s emancipation from British rule.

The massive carved oak fireplace from Knole House, Sevenoaks, the ancient seat of the Archbishops of Canterbury, has its large center panel occupied by a fine painting of the coat-of-arms of the Marquis de La Fayette…  The lofty frieze which occupies the elliptical lunettes between the groins commemorate other Revolutionary patriots who were the young Lafayette’s instructors in the principals of liberty.

Ballroom Foyer

Along the south wall of the corridor are a large ladies room, the foyer to the ballroom, and two coat rooms; one of these is richly paneled in dark natural wood, and may be what was once referred to as the Mahogany Room, possibly a private dining or meeting room.

Although the fireplace appears to be gone, much of the plasterwork on the walls and ceiling is intact though damaged, the ceiling preserved above a later drop ceiling (right).  Two freestanding columns and pilasters along the walls support this vaulted ceiling.  The warren of booths and offices below were constructed largely without disturbing the wood and plasterwork of the original space.  The original quarry tile floor of the original space appears to be intact.

Corridor [Grand Hallway/Peacock Alley]

This space, part of the 1909-1911 Bethune addition, extends eastward from the lobby, with the grill/Lafayette room and dining room opening off the north side.  The treatment was identical to that in the original lobby, with a high wainscot of red Numidian marble, some of which appears to be intact beneath white paint.  The rich plaster ceiling features heavy beams with rich classical ornamentation, also identical to that in the original lobby. 

The floor is of mosaic tile, while above there is one large leaded glass skylight visible near the west end of the corridor, another near the east end has been covered over.  The space was originally described as “a spacious promenade, at once a picture gallery and reception-room,” and there remains one large painting attached to the wall on the north side of the corridor.

Dining Room [Crystal Ballroom]

This large space, on the north side of the corridor and east of the grill/Lafayette room, is part of the 1909-1911 Bethune addition.  Although significantly modernized after World War II, the room retains much detailing from its original appearance.  It is bisected by three freestanding square columns and lit by large widows facing Clinton Street.  The Corinthian capitals of the columns and pilasters as well as the richly detailed cross beam ceiling rendered in plaster are original, as are the chandeliers; featuring an “L” for Lafayette, ones like these hung in most of the public spaces of the hotel, both original and addition.  Sections of the original mosaic floor are also intact.

The space received a festive postwar Art Moderne makeover in 1946: two freestanding columns were faced with mirrors for most of their height, while the pilasters and another column received high relief decorative detailing (right).  The floor level was slightly raised on the south and west sides of the room, and separated from the lower floor by solid curving balustrades.  To the east of the dining room, at the northeast corner of the principal floor, is a space most recently used as a serving kitchen, but details such as the mosaic floor suggest that it was originally a public space.  Though closed for years now and considerably run down; it looks today much as it did in the 1940s.

Automobile Club Room

South of the later service kitchen space, fronting on Ellicott Street, is a large room with a rich architectural treatment in plaster similar to the dining room, also part of the 1909-1911 Bethune addition.  Now subdivided into small rooms with a drop ceiling, the room features pilasters supporting a beamed ceiling rendered in plaster.  When the hotel addition opened this space was used as the downtown office of the Automobile Club of Buffalo, later part of the American Automobile Association (AAA), and served as such for several decades.

Ballroom Foyer

This space links the western end of the ballroom with the corridor.  It is probably an adaptation of a room in the 1909-1911 addition that was built for a different purpose.  Its most distinctive features are the large octagonal pilasters with Corinthian capitals supporting a heavy beamed ceiling, and the large scale broken pediment framing an urn above the entrance to the ballroom.  The spaces between the large pilasters are divided in a way to suggest a two-story space, with smaller pilasters rising to a cornice two-thirds of the way up the wall.

Ballroom [Grand Marquis Ballroom]

The largest public space in the building, the ballroom is situated in an addition constructed southeast of the hotel in 1916-1917.  Unlike the other large spaces on the main floor, it is unobstructed by columns, as there are no guest room floors above.  The ceiling features large beams supported by fluted Corinthian pilasters along the side walls.  The upper sections of the walls between the pilasters swag decoration in plaster relief.  At the western end of the space is a small stage in the form of a semicircular exedra, which was added within the westernmost bay of the original space during the alterations to the hotel during 1924-1926.  Three large windows on the south and one on the east originally lighted the space, but these have been filled in, and now contain small sash windows.

Lafayette Tap Room

Located in the southwestern corner of the building, this was actually three spaces: a bar and restaurant to the west and a cocktail lounge to the east, linked by a foyer.  This was the main floor of the 1924-1926 addition, and the entire space was originally the billiard room, but was immediately converted into a bar at the end of prohibition.  The barroom features a long bar along the north wall, backed by neoclassical woodwork, while the south wall has a wainscot of Travertine marble.  The adjacent foyer features a large fireplace of Travertine marble.  To the east is the lounge, dominated by a gold shallow vault ceiling supported by slender fluted pilasters.  Important feature of this space are two large wall murals depicting the life of Lafayette.

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