Buffalo architectural history minute!

Buffalo Architectural History Minute!

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

Old Post Office

The Old Post Office was the subject of controversy before it was even built. The 1893 Tarnsey Act required architectural competitions for major federal buildings. The Buffalo post office was the first major government building to occur after the act became law. But the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry G. Carlisle, who was responsible for the erection of government facilities, asserted that a design by the federal government’s supervising architect, Jeremiad O’Rourke, had already been submitted and approved when he act was passed. The brouhaha must have inspired O’Rourke to extraordinary effort, because he designed a monumental building incorporating Romanesque Revival, Chateauesque, and French Gothic features executed in expensive pink Vermont granite. Features of the building include a 244 foot tower, Sky lit 6-story atrium, and Hand carved gargoyles, pinnacles, finials, animal heads and eagles on each of the facades, and a 400-seat auditorium. The building was dedicated March 1901, and officially opened with mailing of its first letter to Pres. William McKinley, who would be assassinated in Buffalo at the Pan-Am Exposition several months later.

Regarded as having been inspired by H.H. Richardson’s great Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, this building possesses a similar dominating tower and clearly defined pavilions on the exterior and a central light court surrounded by galleries on the inside .The Venetian palazzo-like interior space is one of the most impressive in the city. Exterior ornamentation includes an appropriate bison head, as well as an eagle up above the entrance door .The building is largely credited to architect James Knox Taylor, who designed a sister post office (now bustling with boutiques and ethnic food counters) in Washington, D.C.

Jeremiah O’Rourke, (1833, Dublin – 1915), was an Irish-American architect known primarily for his designs of Roman Catholic churches and institutions and Federal post offices. O’Rourke was appointed to the office of the United States Supervising Architect in Washington, D.C. on the recommendation of both New Jersey senators in early 1893 at an annual salary of $4,500. He was a founder of the Newark-based architectural firms of Jeremiah O’Rourke (active from 1850s to the 1880s) and Jeremiah O’Rourke & Sons (active from the 1880s until his death).

O’Rourke’s plan received added design improvements by his successors, William M. Aiken and James Knox Taylor, and Cannon Design in 1979-1981 as Renovation for reuse as Erie Community College city campus. ECC City Campus is Buffalo’s greatest example of adaptive reuse – a former post office was converted into a community college after years of abandonment and neglect. Today it stands as a testament to the gilded age in which it was built and to the will of the preservationists who, in the 1970s, saved it from an uncertain future.

Andy Petruzzelli

HOLT Architects, P.C.
217 N. Aurora St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
phone 607 273-7600 Ext. 151
fax 607 273-0475


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