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Visiting a fine specimen of Richardson Romanesque-style architecture: West Avenue Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, New York

Updated on April 7, 2011
State Flag of New York
State Flag of New York | Source
The Richardson Romanesque-Style West Avenue Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, New York
The Richardson Romanesque-Style West Avenue Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, New York | Source
Detail of tower, Richardson Romanesque-Style West Avenue Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, New York
Detail of tower, Richardson Romanesque-Style West Avenue Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, New York | Source
Portrait of H. H. Richardson by H. von Herkomer, in the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Portrait of H. H. Richardson by H. von Herkomer, in the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC | Source

Built in 1888, a Buffalo, New York landmark with distinguished features

West Avenue Presbyterian Church (1), Buffalo, New York, is an interesting building and, in order to understand it well, it can be useful to consider first of all its historic context.

The American architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886) is one of the few architects whose renown is so great that a style of architecture has come to incorporate his name: in his case, Richardson Romanesque. In his work, H. H. Richardson was interested in emulating the styles inspired by Medieval French, Spanish and Italian Romanesque characteristics. Thus, Richardson Romanesque features might typically include Romanesque arches, rustication, cylindrical towers with conical caps, and the Syrian Arch. Many famous buildings, especially in North America, are either directly the work of H. H. Richardson, or else display Richardson Romanesque style.

Among buildings for which H. H. Richardson was directly responsible, these include: Trinity Church, Boston, Mass. (1872-77); Albany City Hall, Albany, New York (1880); Austin Hall (1878), and Sever Hall (1881) at Harvard University, and numerous other works, including an entire district of North Easton, Mass., known as the H. H. Richardson Historic District of North Easton, now a National Historic Landmark District.

Among structures influenced by Richardson Romanesque, dating from the late 19th century and early 20th century, are included: Brooklyn Genral Post Office (1885-91), New York City; the Old Dallas Courthouse (1891), Dallas, Tx., Orton Hall (1891) at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati City Hall (1893).

Canadians will particularly recognize Richardson Romanesque at Toronto's Old City Hall (1889-99) and the Ontario Legislative Building (1893).

Richardson Romanesque at Buffalo

Buffalo, New York, has important buildings which evidence these features, whether designed by H H Richardson himself, or influenced by Richardson Romanesque. These include: the H. H. Richardson Complex, or Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane (1870), now a National Historic Landmark; First Presbyterian Church (1891); Delaware Avenue Baptist Church (1894); the Connecticut Street Armory (1898-1900).

Another Buffalo, New York, building of note, which displays Richardson Romanesque is West Avenue Presbyterian Church. This fine building was built in 1888, two years after the death of the creator of the style which inspired it.

West Avenue Presbyterian Church incorporates familiar elements of the style, which include a cylindrical tower with a conical cap, Romanesque arches and rustication.

However, sad to say, H. H. Richardson's Gratwick House, Delaware Avenue, Buffalo (1888) was demolished in 1919.

Also demolished was the 1881 Noyes House, formerly in North Street, Buffalo, another example of Richardson Romanesque.

Regrettably, demolition has been the actual or intended fate of all too many properties which are valuable, historic treasures. For example, the Ansley Cox Mansion (itself not in Richardson Romanesque) in Buffalo's Delaware Avenue was also due for demolition by a contractor in the 1960s. However, concerned individuals and groups, including Robert F.Kennedy , Senator for New York, stepped in and saved the property for posterity.

It is not for me to say whether such high profile intervention would ever be necessary for the preservation of the example of Richardson Romanesque architecture seen at West Avenue Presbyterian Church. But at the very least, interest on the part of people prominent in the state would assist in any such process, should it become desirable, although, again, this is strictly not for me to say.


(1) This building was known as West Avenue Presbyterian Church, given its location at the corner of West Avenue and West Ferry Street, since the late 19th century, and indeed continued to be used by Presbyterians into the 21st century. I have retained the title of the building, while not seeking to diminish the fact that in recent years it has been used by the All Nations House of Prayer, of Pentecostal emphasis. Prior to 1888, the Presbyterian congregation met at Breckinridge Street Presbyterian Church (sometimes referred to as the Church of the Puritans), where attendees included Grover Cleveland . This predecessor church was built on land donated by General Peter Porter , distinguished in the War of 1812, and later Secretary of War in John Quincy Adams ' cabinet.

Also worth seeing

In Buffalo itself:

Broderick Park , Black Rock, Buffalo, situated a relatively short distance along West Ferry Street, has poignant memories of the Underground Railroad. In addition to the Buffalo buildings already mentioned in the article, above, other notable buildings include: the Ellicott Square Building (which was originally the world's largest office building); the Electric Tower (originally known as the Niagara Mohawk Building); the Art Deco City Hall.

Beyond Buffalo:

Old Fort Erie , Fort Erie, Ontario (distance: 6.47 kilometres); this stone fort has many memories of the War of 1812.

Bergholz , New York (distance: 30.7 kilometres); the site of an historic German Lutheran Settlement. Bergholz's 'Das Haus' German Heritage Museum is sponsored by the Historical Society of North German Settlements in Western New York.

The US Post Office, Niagara Falls , New York (distance: 28.9 kilometres) at the Main Street and Walnut Avenue intersection, is a very fine building which dates from 1904-1907, and was designed in French Neoclassical style, with Beaux Arts details, by James Knox Taylor. The American Falls themselves are of course an outstanding visitor attraction.

Lewiston , New York (distance: 36.3 kilometres); the historic Frontier House, which in its day was classed as an outstanding hotel, is one of various, noted buildings in Lewiston's Historic District. The first railway in the US was built at Lewiston in 1764. This remarkable locality also has significant associations with the War of 1812.


How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Buffalo Niagara International Airport (distance from West Avenue & West Ferry Street: 18.2 kilometres), where car rental is available. Buffalo, NY is linked with Albany, NY via the I-290 and I-90. From Canada, accessible via the Peace Bridge, the QEW links Fort Erie, ON with Hamilton and Toronto. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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