Old Post Office - Table of Contents  ..................  Pan-Am Government Building

Exterior photos - Old Post Office / Erie Community College
121 Ellicott Street at South Division, Buffalo, New York

On this page, below:

Postcards

Photos

History



Postcards










Photos taken between 2005 and 2016


Granite from Maine




Neighbors:
Far left: Bison ballpark ... Ellicott Square Building ... Black tower: Main Place Tower ... White skyscraper: M&T Bank




Note skylight




Note:  Finial .... Crocketed spire ... Pinnacles ... Gargoyles ... Details below:




Granite ... Finial .... Crocketed spire ... Pinnacles ... Pointed Gothic arches




Gargoyles  and eagles ... Note the face on the upper gargoyles;  illustrated below:




Gargoyle  ... Not a waterspout








Gargoyle




Cross-gable roofs




Gothic mullioned window




Ribbon windows




Note skylight




Arcade windows








Finial .... Crockets




Details of both animals below:












Granite from Maine




Note multifoil in tympanum












Note animal head/gargoyle ... Details below:




Gargoyle




Gargoyle - water spout




South Elevation




Note two gargoyles just below the pyramidal roof ... Gargoyle details below:




Finial




Stone carved tulips? ... Gargoyle: Foliate design - not figural




Not a rainspout









East Elevation


Porte-cochere







Finial ... Quatrefoils  ... Rosettes




Style:

Victorian Gothic / Richardsonian Romanesque
See H.H. Richardson, Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Architects:

  • 1894-1897: Jeremiah O'Rourke 
  • 1897-1901: William Akin 
  • 1897-1901: James Knox Taylor   See alsoPan-American Exposition Government Building - also designed by Taylor

  • 1979-1981: Cannon Design  Renovation for adaptive reuse as Erie Community College city campus
"The original design of the building was prepatred under the administration of Mr. Jeremiah O'Rourke, who was succeeded by Mr. W. M. Aiken, and the completion rested with supervisisng architect Mr. James Knox Taylor. Buildimng operations actually began in the summer of 1895 and the construction of the superstructure was practically completedunder the superintendence of Mr. George  J. Metzger, who was succeeded by Mr. E. A. Kent." -  "Dedication of the New Post-Office Building, Buffalo, N. Y. March 20, 1901,"pp. 9-10

Superintendent of Construction:

George Metzger

Materials:

Foundation: Granite-faced

Exterior - Mai
ne Granite. See information supplied by the Maine Granite Museum. (Also, see The Maine Granite Industry Historical Society)

Roofs: covered with Spanish green tile laid in concrete

Interior - brick wainscoting; terra cotta walls; marble; mosaic tile finishes; principal office rooms and court rooms finished in Mexican mahogany; all other rooms finished in quartered, polished oak. The interior framing system is composed of steel beams.

Granite:

Pink granite quarried at Spruce Kent and Jonesboro, Maine.
The walls of granite
ashlar masonry have a slightly rusticated treatment on the first floor and elevated basement. All other surfaces are finished with highly dressed granite

Brick supplier:

Columbus, Ohio, Buff Brick and terra Cotta Co.

Cost of construction:

To December, 1900, $1,522,000.

Windows:

400. Most of them have one-over-one, double-hung sash

Dedication:

March 1901, 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.

Status:

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
See  National Register of Historic Places and scroll to New York State and Erie County. This is the official site.

Porches:

The three deeply recessed entrances are contained within projecting porches. Stone stairs extend beyond the enclosure of the porches.

Architectural Feature:

By relieving the mass of the block-square building by slightly projecting corner pavilions, the architects have reduced the Gothic revival decorative treatment to a surface exercise.

Notable Features:

  • 244 foot tower
  • Sky lit 6-story atrium
  • Hand carved gargoyles, pinnacles, finials, animal heads and eagles on each of the facades

Size:

  • 225,000 sq. feet on 6 levels
  • 400-seat auditorium

Blueprints:

Approximately 39 sheets of blueprints of the original plans are on file at the National Archives.

Photos:

The Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society has a minimum of 30 photographs contained within the Iconographic File

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 the 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. O'Rourke's plan received added design improvements by his successors, William M. Aiken and James Knox Taylor.

With its tall square tower with its many-crocketed spire, fierce gargoyles and glowering eagles, is one of the most visible and familiar sights of downtown Buffalo.

Regarded as having been inspired by H.H. Richardson's great Allegheny Country 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.

The Old Post Office has been magnificently restored and is now thriving as the Downtown Branch of the Erie County Community College.

Buffalo Post Office History

Buffalo's post office was established in 1804 when Erastus Granger received the appointment as Buffalo's first postmaster from Thomas Jefferson. He set up the first post office at a desk in Crow's Tavern on Exchange Street. The nearest post offices were at Fort Niagara and at Batavia. Mail to Fort Niagara went on horseback via the ferry and up the Canadian side to the Niagara River because the roads were better. In those days the the post office moved with the postmaster. It wasn't until 1837 that the first permanent building, a former Baptist church at the corner of Washington and Seneca Streets, was purchased.

Sources:

  • Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record - 8 data pages

  • Classic Buffalo: A Heritage of Distinguished Architecture, by Richard O. Reisem

  • "Designated Landmarks of the Niagara Frontier," by Austin M. Fox. Buffalo: Meyer Enterprises, P.O. Box 733, Ellicott Station, Buffalo, New York 14205. 1986. OUT OF PRINT.

  • "Buffalo Architecture: A Guide," by Francis R. Kowsky, et. al. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981

  • "Post Office," by Chris Andrle. Pub. in Art Voice, August 1, 2001





Dedication Ceremony


The
Buffalo Post Office
opened on March 20, 1901 with a dedication ceremony attended by the Postmaster General, the highest-ranking official to visit from Washington DC, and by many local businessmen. The Postmaster General symbolically mailed the first letter from the 1901 Post Office.  Addressed to President William McKinley, the letter was penned by Buffalo postal employees who wrote, “Our Pan-American obligation to show the Western world a high standard of postal service must be honored.” 

They were no doubt anticipating the opening of Buffalo’s majestic Pan-American Exposition in May 1901.  The Post Office contained a large postal sorting floor on the first floor, and a variety of federal offices including the Justice Department, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Department of Treasury, and Department of the Interior throughout the six-floor complex.
- Denise Prince, "Explore Buffalo Building Profile: Old Post Office."   Pub. on Buffalo Rising, May 15, 2020




Adaptive Reuse:  ECC


The Old Post Office served its purpose well for more than half a century until a modern post office opened on William Street in 1963 and a new federal office building opened on Delaware Avenue in 1971.  The Old Post Office was left largely empty as federal offices and departments abandoned the grand building.  In 1970, with plans to vacate the Old Post Office well underway, local Congressman Thaddeus Dulski promoted re-use of the building. Leveraging his position as a member of the House of Representatives, he contacted the General Services Administration (GSA) regarding grant money for historic preservation. Dulski was informed that federal grants were awarded to buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Just two years later in 1972 the Old Post Office was indeed added to the Register.

After that significant designation, plans to reuse the building languished until two Erie County Legislators, Minnie Gillette and Joan Bozer, joined forces in an effort to save the building which by this time – perhaps surprisingly – many considered an eyesore.  The exterior was covered in soot from decades of air-pollution and the building’s best days seemed to have long since passed.  Its
Victorian Gothic appearance was distinctly not modern, nor of the moment.  People wanted it bulldozed.

Thankfully, Gillette and Bozer persevered and after a decidedly uphill battle their vision for the structure prevailed in a vote by the Erie County Legislature in 1978. They envisioned the old office building being repurposed to serve as a college campus.  Under to the Surplus Property Act, Erie County purchased the Old Post Office from the Federal Government for the princely sum of one dollar, while the following renovation and restoration work cost roughly fourteen million dollars.

The Old Post Office became home to the City Campus of Erie Community College in 1981, and the College has resided there (with some expansion to neighboring buildings) since that time. Commonly known as “ECC,” the College has re-branded itself recently as SUNY Erie.  The Old Post Office conversion into City Campus was long considered Buffalo’s greatest example of adaptive reuse – the reuse of an existing structure for a purpose other than which it was built. 
- Denise Prince, "Explore Buffalo Building Profile: Old Post Office."   Pub. on Buffalo Rising, May 15, 2020





Special thanks to Martha Neri for sharing her research

Photos and their arrangement 2016 Chuck LaChiusa
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