Architectural History Minute (Buffalo)

Next we will continue to explore Buffalo landmarks, Today will focus on ….

Buffalo Public Library

Ground breaking for the building occurred in October 1884 after a nationwide design contest, which was won by architect Cyrus L. W. Eidlitz of New York City whose design was unanimously selected over designs submitted by H. H. Richardson and other prominent architects.

Architect Cyrus Lazelle Warner Eidlitz was born on July 27, 1853, in New York, New York. His father, Prague-born architect Leopold Eidlitz, was an influential theorist who became a founding member of the American Institute of Architects in 1857. Educated in New York and Europe, the younger Eidlitz is known for designing numerous public buildings, including Chicago’s Dearborn Station and the Buffalo Public Library. Cyrus Eidlitz’s work, like that of his father, was especially influenced by Gothic and Romanesque revival styles of the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1904, Cyrus Eidlitz collaborated with Alexander McKenzie on the New York Times Building—a steel-framed skyscraper with Beaux-Arts facade and Gothic accents created for New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs. Located at the intersection of 7th Avenue, Broadway, and 42nd Street, the building filled a triangle at the base of Longacre Square, soon renamed Times Square in honor of the building. At the time of its opening, the Times Building was the second tallest in Manhattan and soon became the cornerstone of a growing Broadway theater district.

Back in Buffalo, the Young Men’s Association had operated the buffalo library, but citing potential confusion with the Young Men’s Christian Association, the name was changed to “The Buffalo Library” in 1886. The Buffalo Library was not a free or public library, and patrons had to pay an annual subscription fee to borrow books until 1897 when an act of the State Legislature created the Buffalo Public Library. At this time Buffalo had two major libraries with modern new buildings. The Buffalo Public Library on Lafayette Square was a lending library with a substantial collection and the Grosvenor Library with a new building completed in 1896 at Franklin and Edward Streets was a nationally recognized reference library.

After the completion of the new building early in 1887 for $255,000 ($4,618,000 in 2005 dollars) , library Superintendent Larned said, “No library in all the land is more nobly housed. No library in the entire world is more safely and enduringly placed. So far as human foresight may discover, our books are stored for more centuries than one. If a calamity befalls them, it will need be of some strange and surprising sort. If they multiply beyond their bounds, it will be by some prodigious, unlooked-for increase. We can double their present number, and double it again, without filling by 50,000 books the space even now appropriated to them.”

By 1960 the Library was old, drafty, leaking, and quickly becoming too small for the growing collection. It was soon decided to keep the same site for the new library an too demolish the aging structure. Eidlitz’s Romanesque building was so beloved that when it was being razed in the early 1960s, the demolition firm received dozens of phone calls from Buffalonians begging them to save its gargoyles. They did not, citing extra costs. The current Central Library of the Buffalo & Erie County Library system was designed by J.W. Kideney & Associates,
Paul Hyde Horbach and Elon B. Clark. The construction costs to Erie County were $10,000,000 ($60,355,953 in 2005 dollars). The new design called for a much larger foot print including the adjacent city block to the west as well. The building would span Ellicott Street, and include multiple storage floors, between the two main public levels.

There is one Cyrus Eidlitz designed building remaining in buffalo, which has recently been renovated after being in a blighted condition for many years. The Webb building located on Pearl Street was completed revitalized in 2008 into a 32 unit apartment adaptive reuse project, providing a new chapter in long life of the circa 1888 structure.

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