The J. N. Adam & Co. / AM&A's Department Store - Table of Contents

The J. N. Adam & Co. / AM&A's Department Store
385 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 

Martin Wachadlo

The "300,000-square-foot department store and 115,000-square-foot warehouse" are in actuality an architecturally rich complex of ten buildings built over several decades, starting in the 1890s, for the J. N. Adam & Co. department store; upon that company's demise in 1960, Adam, Meldrum & Anderson moved into the buildings from their original location across Main Street.

Main Street section: The Main Street section was built in 1935 to the design of Starrett & Van Vleck, a major New York architectural firm most noted for their department stores, which included Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdale's.

Outside of Buffalo, Starrett and Van Vleck designed 48 skyscrapers which are still active. At least two are landmarked: the 21 West Street Building and the Downtown Athletic Club Building. They designed at least the following department stores:

  • Sak's Fifth Avenue in NYC (1924)
  • Bloomingdale's Lexington Ave. flagship in 1930
  • Lord & Taylor's flagship at 5th & 38th (1914)
  • Garfinckel's Department Store, also known as Hamilton Square, in the District of Columbia County.
  • Abraham & Strauss flagship at 420 Fulton in Brooklyn (1929-35)
  • Alexander's Bronx flagship on Fordham Road (1938).

The facade is efficient and sleek, with polished dark granite framing the display windows, a second story of yellow Kasota stone, and the upper stories executed in brick of eight different shades of buff and tan, with bands of double thick brick to emphasize the horizontal.

It was one of the first examples of Modern architecture in this city, and was considered by the Buffalo Evening News to be "an outstanding example of the best modern department store design."

The store was greatly expanded in 1946-48 with a 12-story addition by Starrett & Van Vleck of complementary design, and featured new and remodeled interiors by the famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy, one of the progenitors of streamlined Art Deco design.

All this is merely the first movement of an architectural symphony that continues on Washington Street, for, like Bloomingdale's in New York, this is not a single building but an outstanding group of several earlier buildings with later additions by Starrett & Van Vleck.

Three Earlier Buildings

Middle Building: The middle of the three earlier structures on the west side of the street was completed in 1892 and boasts fine classical details gloriously executed in cast iron, terra cotta, and brick in a wide variety of buff tones. Green & Wicks, Buffalo's most noted architectural firm, designed this concurrently with the Market Arcade on Main Street.

Flanking Buildings: It is flanked on the right by an 1896 Green & Wicks design of red brick and iron that features unique brick detailing in the cornice, and on the left by a 1909 work by articulated by vertical piers with recessed spandrels.

All five buildings are to be demolished for a new office buildings.

Five Additional Buildings

On the east side of Washington Street is a five-building complex that last functioned as the AM&A's warehouse, but that originally functioned as an extension of the main store.

Corner of Washington and Eagle: The building at the corner of Washington and Eagle was designed by Esenwein & Johnson in 1912, and is sheathed in the bright white glazed terra cotta tiles with stylized classical ornamentation at the cornice that Esenwein & Johnson simultaneously used in the recently renovated Root Building at 70-86 West Chippewa Street, and in the soon-to-be-renovated General Electric Tower at Washington and Huron Streets. (The stores, offices and lofts idea of those renovations would work equally well at this site.)

Washington Street:

To the north is the oldest structure on the site, an exquisite circa 1886 loft building that still retains its original richly patterned facade of brick and stone, as well as all but one of the original first floor cast iron piers, but was painted white long, ago to harmonize with its white terra cotta neighbor to the south.

Washington Street: Next up the block is another Esenwein & Johnson design, completed in 1907, that was designed concurrently with that firm's landmark Calumet Building on Chippewa Street. Both buildings daringly celebrate their steel-frame construction with supporting piers brazenly suspended in mid air.

Ellicott Street: Immediately behind is the large 1913 concrete-framed warehouse building on Ellicott Street, designed by Colson & Hudson, who also designed the Holling Press Building on Washington Street, now being renovated for offices and apartments.

Ellicott Street: The last structure on the site was built as a warehouse and garage in 1965.

All five of these buildings are to be destroyed for parking, despite the fact that two entire adjacent blocks are devoted to parking, including a 9-story garage. All these buildings are ideally suited for offices and apartments.

Color photos and their arrangement 2003 Chuck LaChiusa
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