Commercial Districts

ALLEN STREET

This is the neighborhood’s major east-west route, once a dirt path where cattle meandered. Storefronts are intermixed with offices and some residential housing, and most commercial buildings provide housing and professional office space. Many of the buildings date from the 1920s. The street runs between Main Street to the east and the charming cul-de-sac of Days Park to the west.

The Allendale Theatre at 207 Allen was built in 1913 as a house for stage productions and silent movies. This Neo-Classical structure hosts some marvelous design elements, not the least of which is the intricately carved tympanum of triangular pediment capping the building. In the early 1980’s the building was another Allentown candidate for the wrecker’s ball. When the 1930’s style movie marquee tumbled from the building in 1985, it revealed stained glass transoms which had been hidden from view for nearly a half-century. The Allentown Association purchased the building at auction for $1,000 in 1985, as a temporary measure, and helped oversee its renovation. It is now the home of the TOY Theatre Company and is owned by the City of Buffalo.

Seven brick Italianate residences were constructed in 1870 by W. Tifft on the northern side of the street from Park Street to Irving Place. The three nearest Irving have been converted for commercial use, although the conversions have been artful. The four remaining as residences are known as the Tifft houses and recall the early streetscape.

An interesting example of how older structures can be renovated for contemporary purposes is the Hamilton Houston Lownie architectural office, which consists of three adjacent structures: 2 Italianate residential properties joined by a circa 1930 storefront in the center.

DELAWARE AVENUE

Stretching from downtown to beyond the northern city line, this is Buffalo’s grand boulevard. The older portion, which includes three blocks in Allentown, speaks of the affluence and influence of a generation of gentry who propelled Buffalo into world prominence before the turn of the century.

Buffalo’s newest luxury hotel at 414 Delaware is descriptively named the Mansion on Delaware Avenue. It was built as an 1870 residence for Ohio Street grain elevator owner Charles F. Sternberg. The mansion was turned into a 100-room hotel in time for the Pan-American Exposition. After World war II, restaurateur Hugo DiGiulio bought the establishment, transforming it into the celebrated Victor Hugo Wine Cellar. In 2001, entrepreneurs Dennis Murphy, Gino Principe, and Diana Principe bought and again remodeled the building as a hotel — complete with butler service. The building contains more than 20,000 square feet, with 18-foot ceilings and 200 windows, including several 12-foot tall bay windows which flood the interior with light.

Nos. 477 to 497, a group of extraordinary row houses built in 1893-1895 — referred to as “The Midway” — display wealth and amazing diversity of styles, including Georgian Revival, Renaissance Revival, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Richardson Romanesque and Louis Sullivanesque styles. Today some remain prestigious residences and others are in commercial use.

At No. 672 on the northwest intersection with North Street stands the exquisite Butler Mansion, currently UB’s Jacobs Executive Development Center. Designed by Stanford White of the prestigious McKim, Mead and White architectural firm, it was built in 1894 in the Neo-Classical style. The building is fronted by a monumental portico supported by fluted Corinthian columns. Its gorgeous garden on North Street was the site of another Stanford White-designed house, the Metcalfe House, whose salvaged rooms are on display in the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

Built in 1903, the University Club at 540 Delaware was designed to be a residential club, with thirty-nine rooms for members and a central entertainment area on the second floor. The second floor — now divided into three apartments — featured a large ballroom with majestic pillars, a library, and other graciously appointed reception rooms. The exterior of the building features a flat roof with modillion brackets, egg-and-dart molding, six-over-six light window sashes with stone keystones, paired Ionic columns and eight-light French doors with a wrought iron balconet on the second floor. In redeveloping and rechristening the property as the Bellasara with fourteen rental units, Ellicott Development aimed at creating historically significant apartment units with contemporary conveniences.

ELMWOOD AVENUE

This north-south commercial street also stretches from downtown (which is called South Elmwood Avenue) to beyond the city line. In Allentown, the street is home to some of Buffalo’s most interesting antique shops. North of Allentown, the so-called “Elmwood Strip” has become the city’s premier specialty shopping district. Much of the residential and commercial stock on Elmwood has been altered to extend storefront space or to provide display windows. As an example of a structure that has been restored to its original beauty, consider No. 45, headquarters of the Junior League.

FRANKLIN STREET

Once named Tuscarora Street, Franklin Street is the product of Judge Ebenezer Walden’s subdivision of his personal estate, the southern boundary of which was Edward Street and which abutted Lewis Allen’s farm to the north. From the beginning the street attracted professionals who wanted to combine comfortable suburban living with the proximity to the boom of commerce So many doctors hung out their shingles on Franklin Street that it was called “Pill Alley” by Buffalo wags. This street boasts many lovely (mostly Italianate style) residences, a number of which have been converted to offices.

At Nos. 459-461 stands a rare Italian Villa duplex built in 1870. The young artist Charles Burchfield lived here during his salad days as a designer for the Birge Wallpaper Co. He was inspired to paint his famous “Red Houses” looking out his rear window at the houses behind. Another Italian Villa, the Clinton House at No. 556 was built in 1867 and later was acquired by the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur to provide additional space for St. Mary’s Seminary for Girls, which was next door at No. 564. Both structures were restored in the 1970s and house offices today.

At the end of the Civil War, a huge exhibition hall was constructed at the corner of Edward and Franklin streets to house war memorabilia. This later became the Grosvenor Library, a research library that was mostly demolished in the 1960s when a new main Buffalo and Erie County Public Library was built downtown. The only portion that survived is the 12-sided Cyclorama Building, built to display panoramic scenes in 360-degree splendor. The building was completely renovated in the 1980s as a two-story office structure with striking interior spaces.

No.432 Franklin (1860-66) is one of a handful of Italian Villas built in Buffalo, characterized by low pitched hip roofs and decorative elliptical lights at the floor level of the attic story. It was built by Cicero J. Hamlin, a prominent businessman and father of a dynasty of influential Buffalonians, active in the civic and cultural areas. A three- story tower on the left side of the structure provides an asymmetric grace. The entryway porch and the porch on the right-hand side are supported by Corinthian columns under bracketed capitals, and ornamented with heavy bracketing and dentil-molding under the eaves. The 1977 owner and 1992 occupant was American Legion Post 665, and the building now houses a restaurant called Hamlin House, a local mecca for Friday fish frys.

MAIN STREET

A neglected stretch of commercial avenue ripe for reinvestment, yet at the corner of Main and Edward streets stands the beautiful Gothic mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, St. Louis Church, constructed 1886-1889. It is home to the first Catholic parish in Buffalo, dating to 1832.

NORTH STREET

This street was the northern boundary of the Village of Buffalo. Today it is a model of lately-built cosmopolitan serenity, a mix of stately apartment houses and massive brick “country” houses, along with some churches and office conversions.

Among the latter is the Bemis/Ransom Mansion at No. 267, a dour Queen Anne structure of arched forms and terra cotta ornament that is now home to a law firm. Two roaring lionesses crown the tops of the south and west gables.

SYMPHONY CIRCLE

One of Buffalo’s grandest intersections, this is the western entrance to Allentown. It is dominated by First Presbyterian Church, built in 1889 for a congregation that moved from Main and Church Sts.. The church, designed by famed Buffalo architects Green & Wicks is Romanesque in style. Its vaulting arches enclose exquisite stained glass windows, while its stately copper-topped campanile towers over the neighborhood. For generations, the daily 5 PM sounding of bells from that campanile have signaled cocktail hour for the matrons and gentry of Allentown.

Across the intersection stands the Georgian-style Birge Mansion, built in 1897 for George Birge, president of the Birge Wallpaper Co. and the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. Two pavilions flank a center section incorporating three round-arched windows supported and separated by two tiers of Tuscan columns, and fronted by faux balustrades at the second floor. In the early 1980s, this masterpiece was a candidate for demolition, but was rescued by developer John Chew, who turned it into office space. Subsequently, it was a banquet facility operated by one of Buffalo’s finest restauranteurs, and was in constant use as a venue for corporate social functions and for elegant wedding receptions.

Kleinhans Music Hall, built in 1939 and currently nearing completion of a $10 million renovation, is home to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra that gives Symphony Circle its name (Buffalo Park System designers Olmsted and Vaux had named it The Circle). It is one of three traffic circles on Richmond Avenue designed by Olmsted. They have all recently been magnificently restored with new plantings and period lighting standards. Eliel Saarinen designed Kleinhans Music Hall in the International style, with curvilinear outer walls that create a womb-like core incorporating the chamber music room and the great hall. After 60 years it remains one of the world’s most acoustically excellent music venues.

Written by Chuck LaChiusa, 2002.