by Chris Clemens
Buffalo’s City Hall was once the tallest building in the city, until 1970 when One Seneca Tower stole the top seat. But, it’s still one of the tallest buildings in all of Western New York and the 32nd floor boasts a feature that no other building in the surrounding region can claim–making it an ideal destination in Upstate to explore.
Ground was first broken for the building in 1929 and then construction was completed on November 10, 1931. The Cowper Company built the entire structure for $6,851,546.85, which in today’s dollars would be almost $95 million! There are more than a few fine details that led to the exorbitant costs associated with creating such a magnificent structure, and today they make for an almost museum like experience to walk through.
For starters, there are 32 floors to City Hall stacking up to be 398 feet tall. The Art Deco styled design was intended to create a modern architectural feel, but incorporated a nod to the designs that the Greeks used in their structures. Even the lintel above the outside entrance is intended to tell the story of Buffalo’s inhabitants by including educators, steelworkers, electricians, and even a person in the center telling their story.
The lobby of City Hall beckons first-timers to walk in through the doors and immediately gaze up at the ornate arched ceilings. Tiled mosaics and paintings pay homage to the founding of Buffalo and the development of industry. The painting directly over the exterior doors is called “Frontiers Unfettered by Any Frowning Fortress” and tells the story of Buffalo’s position as the gateway to Canada.
Be sure you take the elevators in the lobby to the 13th floor and check out the Council Chamber. The bright, colorful overhead stained-glass ceiling is another of many nods in the City Hall’s design to the Native Americans who once ruled the land. The sunburst form of the window is intended to represent a blessing over government from the heavens. Seating upwards of 383 individuals, the intricate patterns that govern the layout of the room make it one of the most striking of public council chambers in the entire country. Take notice of the symbolic faces in the keystones on each pillar, too. And, if you happen to find yourself wondering what that wire rack under each of the seats is for; it’s to hold your hat!
From the 13th floor, you can ride a different set of elevators all the way to the 28th floor of the building. From there, visitors can climb a few sets of stairs to gain a few more floors to the very top of the building.
For those that aren’t afraid of heights, you can walk right out to an observation deck on the very top floor of the building and walk entirely around the outside. Getting a full 360 degree view for miles in every direction is one that never seems to get old. Though there is a plastic screen to prevent you from dropping your camera 32 floors down to pavement, there are a few open spots where the cold wind off Lake Erie whips right through, so hold on to your phone.
If going it alone seems intimidating, there are a few ways to get a guided tour of Buffalo’s City Hall, and totally worth letting someone point out all the intricate details of the design and history that make up one of Western New York’s tallest structures. Weekdays at noon, there is a free one-hour tour hosted by Buffalo Tours. Additionally, the Explore Buffalo group has a great ‘Buffalo Classics‘ tour for only $15 and it gets you into multiple buildings, including City Hall.
Resources and Additional Reading
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens