Electric Tower - Table of Contents

History - Electric Tower
535 Washington St., Buffalo NY

History of the Building
Adapted from the 2007 Grand Reopening Souvenir Brochure

During the proud era of the City of Buffalo's worldwide prominence, several architectural gems were created. Among them was the Electric Tower which opened in 1912. It was patterned after The Tower of Light which was a highlight at the 1901 Pan American Exposition held in Buffalo and the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The original building was designed in the Beaux Arts style by the local architectural firm of Esenwein and Johnson for the Buffalo General Electric Company, which was responsible for distributing and promoting the electricalcal power being harnessed at nearby Niagara Falls to the residents and businesses in the City of Buffalo.

A 1930's renovation by the Buffalo General Electric Company's successor, the Niagara Hudson Corporation, introduced black ornamental glass, stainless steel, chrome trim,, plaster moldings and ceiling medallions to the building's interior, blending the classic Beaux Arts style with the more modern Art Deco style of the 1930's.


Timeline:

1901 - Hydroelectric power harnessed from Niagara Falls was used to dramatic effect in the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo

1912 - Buffalo General Electric Company builds headquarters in Buffalo

1924 - The Roaring 20's brought two additions to the building, one in 1924 and one in 1926. The additions provided expansion of office space, as well as display areas for the latest in appliances and light fixtures.

1930's - Upon completion of its new Art Deco headquarters in Syracuse, Niagara Hudson renovates parts of the Electric Tower in Art Deco style and moves the entrance to Washington Street

1940's-1960's - The next few decades brings about minor changes to the building's interior while the exterior remains largely untouched.

1970's-1990's - "Updates" occur to some office floors while the interior character of the lobby begins to be lost. Some of the exterior terra cotta is refurbished and replaced. Terra cotta work is done by the Boston valley Terra Cotta, one of two remaining architectural terra cotta manufacturing companies in the country.

2004 - Iskalo Development Corp. buys the Electric Tower and begins a comprehensive building renovation incorporating input from the State Historic Preservation Office of NY State and the National Parks Historic Landmarks Program. The 1-story lobby is returned to a 2-story lobby.


Pre-1912 Illustrations


Residence of Major A. Andrews, Mayor of Buffalo, 1833. Site now occupied by the General Electric Building. From an early painting owned by Major Andrews' granddaughter, Mrs. Edwin B. English, New Haven, Conn.
Source: "The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo," Frank H. Severance, ed. Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Vol. 16, 1912



Gruener's Garden, Genesee and Huron Street From a painting by Carl Gruener, owned by the Buffalo General Electric Co., whose building now stands on this site. In the distance across Main Street, is seen the Old Genesee House.
Source: "The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo," Frank H. Severance, ed. Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Vol. 16, 1912



Source: "The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo," Frank H. Severance, ed. Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Vol. 16, 1912



On display on the first Floor of the Electric Tower in 2007.
Electric Tower, 1901 Pan-American Exposition which was used as the model for the 1912 Electric Tower at 535 Washington St.   ...   1901 photo by E. A. Arnold



Looking west on canal toward Electric Tower. Agricultural Building on the left
Source: A Souvenir of the Buffalo, N.Y., Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Great Pan-American Exposition. Pub. by the James Hayne Co. 1901



Source: A Souvenir of the Buffalo, N.Y., Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Great Pan-American Exposition. Pub. by the James Hayne Co. 1901



Model of the Pan-Am Electric Tower on display in 2003 at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society Museum




1911- 1933 exterior


On display on the first Floor of the Electric Tower in 2007.
Architect's drawing (Esenwein & Johnson) for the octagonal Electric Tower, 535 Washington St. (detail below:)



On display on the first Floor of the Electric Tower in 2007.
Detail - Architect's drawing (Esenwein & Johnson) for the octagonal Electric Tower, 535 Washington St.   ...   Note the 2 female figures. Compare the photograph of the two male figures - BELOW - that were actually built (no longer on the building)



On display on the first Floor of the Electric Tower in 2007.



On display on the first Floor of the Electric Tower in 2007.



Postcard courtesy of Jim Brown   ...   Note wings



On display on the first Floor of the Electric Tower in 2007.
Pre 1927 ?   ...   Note the absence of the left wing that is present in the 1927 photo (below:)   ...   Note also the different entrance.



On display on the first Floor of the Electric Tower in 2007.
May 24, 1927 Electric Bldg. at Night



On display on the first Floor of the Electric Tower in 2007.
Mar. 3 1932



On display on the first Floor of the Electric Tower in 2007.
Detail from previous photo. taken in Mar. 3 1932



On display on the first Floor of the Electric Tower in 2007.
Post 1932?    ...   Note parking lot on left side of the photo, something absent in the dated 1932 photo above
Historic interior photos on display in 2007


Oct. 29, 1926
Electric Building -
Appliance Department



 Sept. 12, 1927
Electric Building -
Appliance Department



Dec. 17, 1928.
Electric Bldg.
Xmas Decoratioins on Lamp Counter
































The text below was written for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. Reprinted from Buffalo General Electric Company

The history of The Buffalo General Electric Company is largely the history of the electrical development of Buffalo in the past twenty-five years.

In 1882, James Adams, A. P. Wright, J. F. Moulton, and H. G. Knowlton formed an organization for the purpose of distributing electric light in the city. The earliest application was for lights generated through what was then known as a Brush arc dynamo.

The first demonstration was across Buffalo Creek, on what is known as the Island. The business spread rapidly and another establishment was started near the freight house of the New York Central Railroad. Later a plant was built in Wilkeson Street and another in Prenatt Street, near Buffalo Creek.

The franchise was granted by the Common Council to The Brush Electric Light Company and to The United States Electric Company, but the progress of the electric companies was exceedingly slow, and they met with all sorts of difficulties in establishing their business, ignorance and prejudice being always potential factors.

The early efforts of the company were confined to what was then known as the First Ward and the outlying districts, for the reason that it was not an easy matter for the existing lighting organization to address themselves to the illumination of streets in other quarters. Much criticism was made by individuals and a hostile press because such streets as Abbott Road and Elk Street were lighted by electricity, alleging that it was farm land and not recognizing that the lighting was essential to these great highways for those who came into the city with their goods in the early hours of the morning. But the criticism was upon so flimsy a basis that it could not stand long in the light of use and appreciation.

In 1886 an organization was formed known as The Thomson-Houston Electric Light Company, which, in the main, purposed to do electric lighting on the west side. The results of the business of both companies was not entirely satisfactory, and a combination of interests, by the purchase of stocks and bonds of the respective companies by a common holder, was entered into in 1892 under the name of The Buffalo General Electric Company. The active elements of all the companies were associated in the new organization, with Mr. Daniel O'Day as president, Mr. George Urban, Junior, vice-president, and Mr. Charles R. Huntley general manager.

From that time on there has been a steady increase in the use and appreciation of electricity. In 1897 the steam plants of the various companies were gradually dismantled and the power was taken from Niagara Falls through The Cataract Power and Conduit Company. Today Niagara Falls power is distributed through The Buffalo General Electric Company and is probably the most potent factor in Buffalo's industrial life. At the present time there are different distributing stations in different parts of the city–in Wilkeson Street, Court and Main streets, Ohio Street, Babcock Street, and Ferry Street.

In Buffalo the use of electricity is becoming general, and the community is living up to its name - the Electric City. Particularly is the application of this force to all domestic requirements becoming popular; such as for house lights, heat for cooking and laundry purposes, for operating sewing machines, mechanical elevators, and so forth. The Buffalo General Electric Company has been the leading educator in this respect.

The offices of this concern are located in the new Fidelity Building, and the present officers are: president and general manager, Charles R. Huntley; vice-presidents, George Urban, Junior, and Andrew Langdon; assistant manager, William R. Huntley; treasurer, D. T. Nash


Reprint
Buffalo: Lake City in Niagara Land
By Richard C. Brown and Bob Watson.
USA: Windsor Publications, 1981, p. 306





Special thanks to Anthony Diina, President of Metrodata Services, Inc., for his cooperation and assistance in 2004
Photos and their arrangement 2004 Chuck LaChiusa
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