H.H. Richardson - Table of Contents

H.H. Richardson's Project for the Young Men's Association Library in Buffalo

by Francis R. Kowsky

Explanation of Plans Submitted by H. H. Ricardson of Brookline

Reprinted with permission from "Niagara Frontier," Vol. XXV, 1978, No. 2. Pub. by the Bufalo & Erie County Historical Society, 5 Nottingham Court, Buffalo, NY 14216

Project for the Young Men's Association Library, Buffalo, N.Y., 1884, submitted by H. H. Richardson. The view shows the arcaded Broadway facade with the Washington St. elevation and partrking at the right. Source: American Architect and Building News, XXI (23 April 1887).

In 1884, Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886), America's most celebrated Victorian architect, participated in the competition sponsored by the Young Men's Association of Buffalo for their new library building ( Footnote 1). One of the eleven entries, Richardson's design was passed over in favor of that by Cyrus L. W. Eidlitz (1853-1921) (Footnote 2), Richardson's collaborator on the building of the State Capitol in Albany.

Excepting his lost proposal of 1874 for the Library of Congress (Footnote 3), the Young Men's Association building would have been Richardson's largest library. Until now, this important project, for which preliminary sketches and a plan are in the Houghton Library at Harvard University (Footnote 4), has been imperfectly understood (Footnote 5). Recently, however, the detailed description that Richardson furnished the building committee at the time of the competition has come to light. It was discovered mounted in the Rare Book Room of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, the successor institution to the Young Men's Association Library (Footnote 6). The document, written in longhand on sheets of 8" by 8 1/2 light blue paper, runs to 21 pages. With it was found a large photograph (17 1/2" by 20") of Richardson's perspective drawing.

In 1883, the Young Men's Association, a local philanthropic organization devoted to educating the working man and not to be confused with the national Young Men's Christian Association, joined with the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy (ancestor of the Albright-Knox Gallery), the Buffalo Historical Society, and the Society of Natural History to erect a new building for their combined use. The structure was planned for the nearly triangular piece of land in downtown Buffalo bordered by Broadway, Clinton, Washington, and Ellicott Streets. A building committee, which included the distinguished librarian, Josephus Nelson Larned (1836-1913), convened early in 1884. By then, however, Richardson may had been advised of the undertaking, for Larned had already visited "several eastern cities to confer with leading architects (Footnote 7)." In all likelihood Richardson was among those Larned had consulted. Then at the height of his remarkable career, Richardson was undeniably a "leading archiect," especially of libraries. Furthermore, his old friend, William Dorsheimer (1832-1888), who had commissioned a house on Delaware Avenue from Richardson in 1868 and who, as Lieutenant Governor under Tilden, had been responsible for bringing Richardson in on the Albany Capitol project, was a contributor to the library building fund (Footnote 8). He may have advanced the architect's name.

On April 16, 1884, official notices outlining the terms of the competition were sent to every architect in Buffalo and to thirteen in other cities (Footnote 9). Entries were to have been in the hands of the committee by July 1st. The prospectus, which included a plan of the site, was accompanied by model floor plans. What was called for was a structure to house 250,000 volumes on the "book-stack system" employed by Ware and Van Brunt in their 1874 addition to Gore Hall at Harvard University. An art gallery was also specified as well as a natural history museum.

The building committee made its choice on July 11th, but did not immediately announce its decision. The following day all the drawings were placed on public view (Footnote 10). They remained on display until the executive committee met one week later to consider the advisory group's report and to take final action on the matter. On July 18th, the unanimous judgement of the building committee to adopt Eidlitz' design, which he had wistfully designated "Utile Dulci" (the useful with the pleasant), was approved. Richardson, who had used a red cirle-symbolic of perfection to identify his entry, and W.H. Wilcox of St. Paul, Minnesota, recieved $300 and $200, respectively, for their drawings (Footnote 11).

Strong sentiment existed in favor of Richardson's proposal. During the week prior to the meeting of the executive committee, and for a time thereafter, a lively exchange of opinions took place in the press. The debate, however, stayed a local one for, as Richardson wished, the unaccepted compitition drawing was not published. The architectural world came to know the building only after Richardson's death when it appeared first in the English trade journal, Building News (Footnote 12), and the the American Architect and Building News (Footnote 13), and the Scientific American (Footnote 14). Montgomery Schuyler, in his essay, "The Romanesque Revival in America," calledf it "a striking illustration of Mr. Richardson's passion for simplification (Footnote 15)." Architects Long and Kees paid it the compliment of imitation in their design for the Minneapolis Public Library, put up in 1889 (Footnote 16).

Richardson's letter, which is transcribed here in full, descibes the proposed scheme in detail, deleting dimensions that would have been determined once construction was assured. The presentation drawing shows a stone building, the walls of which were to have been of red sandstone. This was the same material he had specified for the Buffalo State Hospital, begun in 1872, but still under construction in 1884. In the text Richardson mentions that the library could be erected in brick much less expensively. One wonders if in ignoring the $225,000 ceiling stipulated by the building committee and submitting a design that was obviously far beyond their budget Richardson had not seriously prejudiced his case. Offering an imposing edifice in stone and then allowing that an economy version could be built of brick may have seemed demeaning to the committee. Nonetheless, they agreed with his advice that Romanesque was the best style for their new institution. Ironically, the Eidlitz design they chose was "Richardsonian."

Young Men's Association Building, Buffalo, New York. Explanation of Plans Submitted by H. H. Ricardson of Brookline (Footnote 17).
Edward B. Smith , Esq.
Jewett M. Richardson, Esq.
George B. Hayes, Esq.
John C. Milburn, Esq.
J. N. Larned , Esq

I have the honor to submit for your consideration the accompanying series of drawings presenting plans, sections, elevations, and perspective views of your proposed building for Young Men's Association of Buffalo.

The following pages are designed to aid in making their intention clear to you by verbal description.

First: of the arrangement of the building with regard to convenience and for its getting abundant light.

Second: of the design with regard to suitability of architectural effect.

The plan of the building is strictly utilitarian, the aim being to obtain the greatest practicable advantages for its distinctive purposes that can be had within reasonable limits of outlay. In considering what is reasonable in this respect, the structure has been regarded one of the permanent character and probabilities of an enlarged population and an advancing standard of civilized requirements have not been overlooked. Bearing this in mind I have made two designs, one of stone, which I considered the most suitable material for the building; and in the short space of time allowed for the making of the drawings the question could not be thoroughly considered at first. Finding that the drawing in stone somewhat exceeded the amount named in your circular, I made a second design in brick for which I gave a bona fide estimate from a contractor of known responsibility, named Mr. Norcross, for two hundred and thirty thousand dollars which estimate can be easily reduced five thousand dollars and thus come within the limit named in your circular.

On considering the general layout of the building with respect to the shape of the lot, I thought best to reserve a portion of the lot on Washington St. for parking, thus giving a retirement to the reading rooms from the bustle and noise of the surrounding streets, as well as a dignified position to the building.

The general plan of the building takes the form of the lot reserving the portion towards Washington St. as a parking: at each of the four corners is a round tower or bay. The main entrance of the building is on Broadway where one enters on a mezzanine story . . . above the street grade. From the entrance hall stairs and two passenger elevators lead up to the first and second stories, and down to the rooms of the Society of Natural Sciences. On Ellicott St. is a large open court yard separated from the street by a narrow building giving communication between the two wings- and containing the elevators, service stairway, as well as closets, lavatories, water closets, etc.

The court yard is entered from Ellicott St. by an arched driveway ... giving ample room for drviving in teams.

The basement is given to the Society of Natural Science[s]. Large square headed windows extending to the ceiling both on the street and court yard sides provide ample light for the several rooms of the Society. The two wings towards Ellicott Street are given up to the rooms for the unpacking and storage of books and works of art. In these wings are also the two work rooms of the Society. A covered area occupies the acute angle of the court yard forming a shelter where boxes may be left until their contents are placed in the rooms of the Society.

The greater portion of the basement is occupied by the main hall of the Society. . . . The two round rooms and the room between them being devoted to Ornithology and Mineralogy. A spacious room on Broadway serves as a meeting room for the members of the Society. The large elevator adjoining the unpacking room, the storage room, of the art gallery. The smaller on the opposite side is for carrying the books from the unpacking room to the library. The first story is occupied by the Young Men's Association Library and its dependencies. One enters directly from the staircase hall into the general delivery room. . . . Immediately on the left on entering from the staircase hall are the coat room and lavatories, water closets, etc.

The two wings opening from the delivery room and lighted on both sides are the stack rooms. The arrangement of the stacks will be seen on the plan: a detail drawing on tracing cloth is with this report. They are thus perfectly accessible to the members of the association but not to the public. It is very desirable to have the book stacks inaccessible to the public both on the account of the organization and classification and distribution, as well, as the deterioration caused by the dust made by the public in passing through. The book stacks are thoroughly lighted by great windows, on both sides of the room, and are much shorter than those used in the Cambridge Law School, where the question of lighting is considered to have been successfully solved.

The corridor, on the Ellicott Street gives communication from one stack room to the other. On a level of the second floor of the book stacks, a corridor above the one just mentioned . . . connects the two stack rooms and gives a place for the assorting and arranging of books. The delivery desk is so arranged as to be most convenient to the stack rooms and to give room for the employees to stand at the desk and still have clear passage behind them. Opening from the general delivery room is the pubic catalogue room conveniently placed, as regards the reading rooms. Opening from the public catalogue room and adjoining the general reading rooms is the Librarian's office and cataloguing room. The reading rooms are entered through a sort of ante room between them and the general delivery room, thus making the reading rooms secluded from the noise attending the delivery of books and the coming in and going out of the public.

Thw whole of the first floor west of the staircase hall is taken up by the reading rooms divided into the general reading and newspaper rooms, with its large alcove . . ., the chess and conversation room, the woman's reading room, and the reference room. Over the central portion of the general reading room and newspaper room is a large skylight, which together with the large windows on the several sides, gives an abundance of light throughout the rooms. The chess and conversation room and the woman's room occupy the two round towers on Washington Street and adjoin both the reference room and the general reading room. The woman's room has its own lavatory and water closet. Above the two woman's rooms and the chess room in a mezzanine story are two rooms reached by two circular stairways and connected by a gallery. These may be used as rooms for special study.

A commodious room for the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Association occurs in the mezzanine story just above the staircase hall and coat room on the first story. The arrangement of the rooms of the first story is such that a person may come in, get his book, and go away without disturbing anyone either in the reading or cataloguing rooms. The second story of the buiding is devoted to the Fine Arts Academy and the Buffalo Historical Society. Along the north side (along Broadway) is the gallery for Painting. . . . This is lighted by a broad skylight running the entire length of the gallery. It is a great advantage in this gallery that the light is broad and low in comparison with the height of the room: the general defect in picture galleries being that the light is to high.

On the front on Broadway are the Sculpture galleries lighted from the sides. The round form of the room being very well adapted for the exhibition of statuary. The rooms along Clinton Street, lighted on two sides, are inended for the use of the Buffalo Hstorical Society. The smaller room . . . being the library, the larger, . . . the Museum of the Society. The staircase opening from the large staircase hall leads to the classrooms which being situated in the upper story of the two towers just over the sculpture gallery are light and airy. Abundance accommodation in the way of water closets, lavatories, coat rooms, and closets is made for employees of the Association in the narrow building on Ellicott Street. In regard to the exterior, a free treatment of
Romanesque has been followed as a style especially adapted to the requirements of a large public building for which it maintains great dignity together with a strong sense of solidity; it lends itself at the same time most readily to the requirements of utility, especially in the matter of light. The four corners are treated with four great towers 36 ft. in diameter. By softening the corners in this manner the natural disadvantages of the shape of the lot is [sic] thus overcome. The basement is treated in the most simple and sturdy way in order to secure the effect of a firm base for the building. The first story, which is the principal story, is marked by a very rich arcade on two sides of the building. Above the arcade on the Broadway front where the art gallery occurs is a plain wall surface relieved by mosaic surmounted by a rich cornice. The upper half of the roof on this side is of glass. The small tourelle gives convenient communication between the several stories of the building for the employees and the janitor. The Clinton street facade in the second story where the Historical Society rooms are, is a continuous arcade. The towers on Ellicott St. being occupied by the book stacks are more severe in their treatment. The Ellicott St. facade being really the rear is one great simple wall surface broken only by the archway leading into the court yard. Between the two towers towards Washington St. is a balcony. The material of the building is all red sandstone and red terra cotta roof tiles. In case brick is used, the roof will also be of red terra cotta tiles.

1. The library competition is one of several commissions in Buffalo with which Richardson is identified. The others are: the William Dorsheimer House (1868); Christ P. E. Church (1869, never constructed); the Buffalo State Hospital (present Buffalo Psychiatric Center, 1870); the A.P. Nichols House (c. 1870, never constructed); Trinity P.E. Church (1871, never constructed); Civil War Memorial Arch (1874, never constructed); and the William Gratwick House (1886, destroyed).

2. Eidlitz' building was finished in 1887 and torn down in the 1950's to make way for the present Central Branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. For a picture of the former building see William Jordy and Ralph Coe (eds.), "American Architecture and other writings by Montgomery Schuyler" (Cambridge, Mass., 1961), Vol.1,p. 211.

3. See John Y. Cole, "Smithmeyer and Pelz, Embattled Architects of of the Libary of Congress," in The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congres," XXIX (October 1972), p. 285

4. See James O'Gorman, "Selected Drawings. Henry Hobson Richardson and His Office" (Cambridge Mass., 1974), pp.169-170

5. See Mariana G. Van Rensselaer, "Henry Hobson Richardson and his Works" (Boston, 1888), p. 83, where the ground plan is illustrated but not identified; Henry Russell Hitchcock, "The Architecture of H.H. Richardson and His Times," rev. ed., (Cambridge Mass., 1966), p. 258 and note XIII-13. (Hitchcock considers "the plan excellent, but the exterior was 'Richardsonian' in the worst sense." He suggests that it may have been largely the work of assistants.); and O'Gorman, "Selected Drawings," pp.169-170.

6.The oversized scrapbook bears the title "The Buffalo Libary Building, Documentary History." I am indebted to Mr. William Loos, Curator of the Rare Book Room at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libary, for calling this material to my attention.

7. "The Buffalo Libary and its Building" (Buffalo, 1887), p. 17.

8. "List of Subscriptions to the Building fund of the Young Men's Association, January, 1884." Mounted in "The Buffalo Libary Building, Documentary History" scrapbook.

9. Those who responded were: Richardson, Eidlitz, W.H. Wilcox, Van Brunt, and Howe (Boston), William Watson (Montreal), Warner and Brockett (Rochester), C.K. Porter (Buffalo), Beebe and Freeman (Buffalo), August Esenwein and F.W. Humble (Buffalo), and H. Mac Diarmid (Buffalo)

10. "Handsome Plans," "Buffalo Morning Express," 13 July 1884, p.2.

11. "Utile Dulci," "Buffalo Morning Express," 19 July 1884, p. 5

12. "Young Men's Association Building, Buffalo, New York," "Scientific American," IV (July 1887), p. 24, ill. supplied the illustration

13. "Design Submitted for the Young Men's Christian [sic] Association Building, Buffalo, New York. H.H. Richardson, Architect," American Architect and Building News," XXI (23 April 1887), p. 199, ill.

14. "Young Men's Association Building, Buffalo, New York," "Scientific American," IV (July 1887) p. 24. ill.

15. Jordy and Coe, "American Architecture," Vol. 1, p. 210

16. Ibid., pp. 289-290, ill.

17. Richardson's name appears inside a Red Circle. I assume it was written there by the complier of the scrapbook, since all competitors were to have submitted their plans anonymously.

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