H. H. Little in Buffalo - Table of Contents  .................  Red Jacket - Table of Contents

H. H. Little and the Red Jacket:
An early Buffalo Apartment House
922 Main St., Buffalo, NY

Essay by Francis R. Kowsky
Art History, Buffalo State College

2002 photos Beneath Text

Many elegant apartment buildings went up along the new boulevards in Paris beginning in the 1850s, but the multiple dwelling failed to become popular in the United States until the last part of the 19th century. This lag time resulted more from social than from architectural reasons. To middle class Americans of the day, the multiple dwelling was chiefly identified with the working class tenement house. Proper Victorians also suspected that even more refined apartment buildings fostered an unhealthy moral climate. By placing men and women from different families in daily close proximity, the apartment house--or Paris flat, as the building type was often called--was seen as posing dangers to family life.

Calvert Vaux, the partner of Fredrick law Olmsted, was one of the first architects to champion the multiple dwelling in America. In 1857, he read a paper before the New York City chapter of the American Institute of Architects pointing out the advantages of the apartment system for urban living. Vaux, however, never had the opportunity to design a building of the class of which he spoke; nonetheless, he became one of the early tenants of Richard Morris Hunt's 1869 Stuyvesant Building, New York's first true apartment house.

In 1872, Vaux and his architectural partner, Frederick Clarke Withers, drew plans for a bachelor's apartment residence that William Dorsheimer, the leading advocate of Olmsted's Buffalo park system, apparently contemplated erecting in Buffalo.

By the 1890s, the American prejudice against apartment living had lessened and these structures began to appear in considerable numbers in all larger cities. Distinct in the public's mind from boarding houses and tenements, the apartment building actually became identified with modernity. Prior to 1900, Buffalo possessed several important family apartment houses. In a bid for respectability, these often took dignified names. Among the new addresses were the Marlborough (at Allen and Mariner), the Markeen (the largest apartment of its day in the city, located at Main and Utica), the Hudson (313 Hudson), the Valois (294 Hudson), the La Salle (Chippewa and Georgia), the Osborne (262 Delaware), the Haverford (Bryant between Norwood and Ashland), the Algonquin (Johnson Park), the Columbia (Whitney Place and Carolina), and the Greystone (Johnson Park).

The Red Jacket

The Red Jacket, at the southwest corner of Main and Allen, made reference by its name to local history. It recalled the famous Seneca chief who befriended George Washington. Erected in 1894 for $50,000, the Red Jacket began life as a comfortable family residence.

Designed by local architect H. H. Little, the building contained five shops on the ground floor facing Main and three stories of apartments above. There were eighteen flats in all, each decorated with attractive woodwork in oak and ash.

Unlike many New York City apartments and tenements, the red Jacket was built without an interior light well. Little touted this aspect of the design as forward looking. The Red Jacket flats, said an early description, "will have an outdoor light in every room by an arrangement which does away with the obnoxious court or "well-hole.'"

On the exterior of the Red Jacket, Little created a vibrant façade of red brick and Medina sandstone that he enlivened with terra cotta ornamental detail. This material, which was inexpensive and durable, enjoyed great popularity in the 1890s. Little used it to give special prominence to the Main and Allen corner of the building, which he turned at a jaunty angle to the intersection. Here he placed the name of the residence in bold lettering together with a ceremonious medallion of Red Jacket. Elsewhere on the exterior, Renaissance style terra cotta moldings and pediments decorate windows and doorways. Little's fashionable use of terra cotta on the modest Red Jacket building makes for interesting comparison with both the Roosevelt building directly across Main street and two renowned contemporary examples of terra cotta construction, D. H. Burnham's Ellicott Square Building and Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building. Indeed, the Red Jacket's terra cotta ornament is the building's most appealing and distinctive feature.

H. H. Little

H. H. Little was a fairly successful architect in Buffalo during the 1880s and 1890s. The facts of his life, however, are now unknown . Other buildings in the city that he was said to have designed were the Sibley and Holmwood Confectioners building, the S. O. Barnum building, the Nathaniel Brown residence on North Street, and the William W. Sloan residence on Delaware Avenue. Little may also have been associated with the Washington Iron Works, one of Buffalo's leading manufacturers of architectural cast iron. His name appeared together with the firm's on the ground floor iron front of a building at 109 Seneca Street.

With the Red Jacket, H. H. Little created an example of a relatively new building type and displayed a clever ability to use mass-produced architectural ornament. He may also have betrayed a punning sense of humor. For why else would he have chosen to cover the exterior of the Red Jacket with materials whose color self-evidently alludes to the building's name? Whether good-natured jest or not, even in its present forlorn condition, the Red Jacket still manages to evoke a festive, urban mood at a major city intersection.

March 2001

2002 photos by C. LaChiusa
Click on illustrations for larger size and additional information

The Red Jacket, at the southwest corner of Main and Allen

Stylized anthemion above Red Jacket; beed-and-reel and egg-and-dart in circular frame; cornucopia on sides


Unglazed terra cotta

Corbels; dripstone


Triangular and round pediments

Corbel supporting an oriel

Palladian window





View from Allen Street


Ancones supporting pediment; egg-and dart molding


See also: H. H. Little in Buffalo

Ancone; bead-and-reel

Allentown lamp post; oriel window



Text © 2002 Francis R. Kowsky
Photos and their arrangement © 2002
Chuck LaChiusa
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