Guaranty Building - Table of Contents ............Louis Sullivan - Table of Contents

2002 Photos
Exterior - The Guaranty Building

(formerly the Prudential Building)
28 Church Street, Buffalo, New York
National Historic Landmark

TEXT Beneath Illustrations

Click on photos for larger size - and additional information


"Prudential" added the company refinanced the building in 1898

Oval milkweed pods - one of the botanical mofifs

Foliated exterior column

"Prudential" VS. "Guaranty"

The building was intended to be named after Hascal L. Taylor (1830-1894), the Buffalonian who commissioned Dankmar Adler (1844-1900) and Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) to build what he wanted to be "the largest and best office building in the city." Unfortunately, he died in November of 1894 just before construction plans were to be publicly announced.

The Guaranty Construction Company of Chicago, which was to construct the building for Taylor, bought the property and completed the project. Construction began in 1895, and the Guaranty Building was occupied on March 1, 1896. It was renamed the Prudential Building about two years after it was completed at the time of refinancing though the Prudential Insurance Company.

Historical Setting

As American cities and industry grew, so did office buildings, which wanted to be in the thick of things, and that meant an urban setting. Owners of such buildings, therefore, wanted to get the most out of crowded. valuable downtown sites. This. in turn, created a demand for taller buildings.

Historically, there were two limitations that restricted the height of buildings.

The remaining challenge was to make the end result aesthetically pleasing. Louis Sullivan was the first with the best solution. His skyscrapers looked tall, proud. and soaring.

Buffalo's Prudential and St. Louis's Wainwright

Most architectural historians consider Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building, along with his Wainwright Building in St. Louis, his greatest architectural achievements in office buildings.

Louis Sullivan called the Prudential Building a "sister" to his prototype skyscraper, the Wainwright Building (1890-1892) in St. Louis, both designed within the decade following William Le Baron Jenney's Home Insurance Building (1884) in Chicago, the first tall, metallic-framed structure. With the Wainwright, Sullivan first expressed the essential nature of the new tall buildings - the power of their verticality.

With these two structures Sullivan established the basic form of the American skyscraper. He seems to have followed the principal divisions of a classical column with a base, a shaft, and a capital.

Using the narrow piers to give an upward thrust to the building, Sullivan created the archetype of the modern skyscraper, a column holding up or "scraping" the sky.

The Prudential, his most mature skyscraper, is a glorious refinement of the Wainwright. Its ruddy terra-cotta facade is embellished with Sullivan's rich foliage and geometric ornament, some of which (most of the exterior cladding except for the cornice) was detailed by George Grant Elmslie, Adler and Sullivan's chief draftsman. (The modeling was done by Christian Schneider)

Prudential / Guaranty Building

The Guaranty was one of the first steel-supported, curtain-walled buildings in the world, and its thirteen stories made it, at the time it was built, the tallest building in Buffalo.

Terra cotta: Sullivan's lively reddish brown
terra cotta ornament adorns the piers, spandrels, tympani, columns, and arches of the Guaranty Building, giving the structure an exuberance and personality that remind one that Sullivan's father was an Irish dancing master. The designs seem to be derived from American nature forms and perhaps from the Celtic Book of Kells.

The main motif is a kind of oval pod or seed shape, which Sullivan used to suggest man's potential for spiritual and creative growth. The pod is sometimes superimposed on a rectangle and connected to it with stem-like filaments. It recurs profusely in the interior of the building, in the stairway balustrades, the elevator cages, the letter drops, and the Tiffany-like art glass ceiling. The swirling lines and the opalescent glass also reveal Sullivan's interest in
Art Nouveau.

Lightwell: The Pearl Street lobby features a skylight adjacent to the elevators. In the original U-shaped building design, the elevators and the skylight filled the "cutout" section of the U shape, with offices receiving light from either the outside of the building or the interior lightwell. The lightwell is about 30' wide with a depth of about 68'. The lightwell was infilled in the 1980 restoration, adding an additional 1,400 square feet of office space. The lobby skylight is now artificially backlit (above the skylight).

Elevators: The original Sprague Gear Driven electric elevators were so bad that they were replaced in 1903 with water hydraulic ones.

Lavatories: Most of the offices from 2-12 had their own "lavatory" a sink with both hot and cold running water. These features were not unique but somewhat uncommon


Photos and their arrangement 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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