Buffalo Through the Eyes of a Newcomer
I’ve worked in downtown Buffalo for just over 6 months. When I joined Freed Maxick in November, one of the first things I noticed was how ornate some of the buildings are. Some bear names etched over their doorways that hearken back to when they were first built, and some, at least to the eye trying to navigate traffic and sight-see at the same time, are nameless. But not to the locals.
The Buffalo News speaks of these buildings as if everyone knows what they are talking about. The locals know these names and places. Having relocated here from Washington state, I do not. I have lived here just long enough to learn how to pronounce Scajaquada! As a naturally curious person, it bothers me, the not knowing; even if I have figured out a few of the easy ones, like One Canalside and the HarborCenter!
Recently a coworker mentioned that, on her daughter’s field trip, she had taken a walking architecture tour of the city. My interest was sparked immediately. I found the information online, and planned a day to take the tour. The “Queen City Downtown Tour” is offered year round, but only on Fri/Sat during the off season. You can find out more details here. (It’s about 2 hours of walking around downtown, so comfortable shoes are a must.)
Even though I moved here from Washington, I grew up in Virginia and attended college at William & Mary. I’m no stranger to beautiful, historic buildings filled with marble. By comparison, there is not a lot of that on the West Coast. I didn’t realize how much I had missed that until this tour!
The tour departs from the Visitor Center, located in the Market Arcade building, so naturally that is the first building you learn about. Stepping inside, I was surprised to find an indoor (though sparse) shopping area. The bakery is what I remember most, but that’s just how I “roll” (Couldn’t resist a bad joke). I had been so concerned about finding where I needed to go inside, I completely missed the beauty of the building’s exterior and was happy we stopped outside for a look.
From there, we walked to the historic Buffalo Savings Bank, now M&T. If it were not for this tour, I never would have walked inside. After all, a bank is a bank, right? Maybe not…
The tour wound its way around downtown, and we got to go inside the Electric Tower (photos hung inside show electric appliances that used to be sold by the electric company, displayed as if the electric company were a department store showcasing all things electric powered), the Lafayette Hotel (including the tap room and the ballroom), the old post office (my favorite), the Ellicott Square building, the Prudential building (off-limits to large groups, but my group was a small group of 5 so we were allowed in), and concluded at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. St. Paul’s has a painting of the Madonna that dates back to the 1500’s, and a magnificent pipe organ.
Along the way, I learned a little bit about Buffalo’s history as the world’s largest grain port in the 1800’s, how some of the buildings bear a resemblance to other famous buildings that were being built in the same time period in other cities, and some were the largest or tallest of their time. This is the kind of tour that will be different every time you go, depending on your tour guide and the interest of the group.
Too often, we don’t play tourist in our own back yards. We see it all the time, drive by it every day, and take it for granted, longing for other places to get away. If you are a history buff or into architecture at all, or even if you’re just curious about what is right in your own work neighborhood, I highly recommend it as an enjoyable way to get out and reconnect with your city.