Exterior - Knox House...........Knox Family - LINKS
History - Seymour H. Knox, Jr. House
An excerpt from
Oakland Place: Gracious Living in Buffalo
By Martin Wachadlo
Published by Buffalo Heritage Unlimited
This is perhaps the most palatial home on Oakland Place, befitting the merchant prince who lived here for more than six decades, millionaire philanthropist Seymour Knox.
Construction began on this magnificent Georgian Revival mansion in 1924, the year after Seymour had married Helen Northrup. Construction was completed the following year and Seymour and Helen moved into their new home, which was a gift from Seymour's mother [Grace Millard Knox]. The architect was C. P. H. Gilbert of New York City, who had designed the Knox mansion at 800 Delaware Avenue a few years earlier.
Seymour and Helen's first home was a massive Georgian Revival design rendered in Flemish bond brick. It presents a balanced façade to the street and the eye is drawn to the great central Palladian window of the staircase. The low hip roof, sheathed with slate that becomes smaller and thinner towards the top, is pierced by small round roof dormers. The entire composition is anchored by massive chimneys with quoins and arches. A unique cornice of coved brackets above fret molding adds visual and architectural interest.
The main entrance, accessible through a stone porch supported by freestanding Ionic columns on the north side, faces an auto turnaround and a sunken garden. There is also a tunnel-like vine arbor leading to the door from the street.
The house features a magnificent series of rooms, many of which overlook the extensive gardens behind the house. The L-shaped main hall leads to a grand staircase that has a slender balustrade of steel and brass. Under the large Palladian window, the staircase curves gracefully upward to the second floor. Beyond the hall is the large, elegant dining room. An exquisite marble fireplace, with simple, classical ornamentation embellishes this room where the ceiling is made of exquisitely detailed plaster with a large oval medallion in the center. Separated from the dining room by a removable steel and glass screen, the breakfast room has French doors that open onto the garden terrace. The large ballroom, located in the basement, was the location for many grand Buffalo society functions.
Seymour H. Knox, Jr. (1898-1990) had a giant impact on his city and he was one of its wealthiest and most influential citizens for most of the twentieth century. He was the only son of Seymour H. Knox, Sr., who partnered with Frank W. Woolworth in pioneering the 5-and-10-cent store. The senior Knox later established a chain of them, known as S. H. Knox & Company. When the chain merged into F. W. Woolworth & Company in 1912, Knox became vice president. A fellow Woolworth official, Elbert S. Bennett, lived at 110. With his great fortune, Knox moved into banking, but he died suddenly in 1915 at the age of 54.
Seymour Jr. thus came into a vast inheritance at a very young age. He proved to be very adept financially; as a result of his skill, the family fortune grew tremendously. In addition to managing the family finances, he served as a director of numerous local and national companies. Most notably, he was the longtime chairman of Marine Midland Bank; during his tenure, he was the principal force behind the construction of the bank's new office tower. That structure, which straddles lower Main Street, is still Buffalo's tallest building. It now houses HSBC Bank, the international banking company that purchased Marine Midland.
Though Knox excelled at business, modern art was his great passion. A. Conger Goodyear, who lived around the corner from Knox at 160 Bryant Street, sparked Knox's interest shortly after Seymour and Helen moved onto Oakland Place. Although Goodyear later moved to New York City and became the first president of the Museum of Modern Art, Knox's passion for modern art never waned. Knox purchased millions of dollars worth of art for the Albright Art Gallery over the years; his dedication and generosity were pivotal in making it into one of the nation's leading venues for modern art. He donated a new wing to the Gallery in 1962; when it was completed, the Gallery was renamed the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in recognition and appreciation of all he had done.
Knox was also an enthusiastic sportsman and his skill made him one of the top polo players in the nation; he led his team to a national championship in 1932. He shared his passion for sports with his two sons and their enthusiasm resulted in the creation of the Buffalo Sabres, the city's team in the National Hockey League (NHL)
The Knox family lived in great style. The family's fortune enabled them to enjoy luxuries such as a household staff even when servants were rare in other homes on Oakland Place. Just before the start of World War II, for example, 57 Oakland Place was home to eleven people, including servants. In addition to this grand mansion, the family enjoyed their residences in East Aurora, approximately 20 miles from Buffalo, and Aiken, South Carolina.
See also Exterior - Knox House