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Architecture Around Buffalo: City Hall

Lucas Watson, Features Contributor

Buffalo City Hall is an icon of the city, an architectural masterpiece, a symbol of the rich history of our city and our hope for the future. As a staple of Buffalo, it has graced our skyline since 1931. With so many immediately recognizing it, its meaning is far more than its intricate and colorful facade. It symbolizes the past; the industrial and cultural might that Buffalo possessed.

The murals in the lobby show and display proudly the symbols and qualities of Buffalo, such as charity and protection, which quell the needs of the people. Then they show what builds a great city: education, construction, agriculture and railroads – all of which are depicted, as they are trademarks of Buffalo and what has helped build this great city of ours. The vast murals in the grand lobby truly exemplify these traits. One can feel the pride and power the city possesses when stepping into the lobby. The three-story building gives a sense of the building being more impressive, more inviting and more important. It evokes the feeling of freedom, with all the space above. At each end are two murals, one signifying the two industries of Buffalo, agriculture and railroads. It is remarkable how they join together and add wealth and industry to the city. On the other end is a magnificent mural of the cooperation of the United States and Canada and how the two are joined together by Buffalo. This harkens back to 1930, when Buffalo was the 13th-largest city in the United States, a powerhouse of industry and the arts with such architectural feats as the Peace Bridge, City Hall and the touch of Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Hobson Richardson and Louis Sullivan. Since the decline of the city's population and economy, which began in the 1950s, City Hall has stood as a symbol of the city's past and the hope for its everlasting future.

The murals in the lobby also have hidden details within them. The one mural titled “Talents Diversified Find Vent in Myriad Form” includes a heroic female figure of Buffalo seated in the center of the mural, haloed in a sunburst. She is holding garlands of golden fruit. A Native American offers Buffalo a bundle of cattails. The mural represents the industries of Buffalo at which her citizens work. It’s a representation of the city and its citizens, further bringing importance to the civic feel of the lobby. The other mural is “Frontiers Unfettered by Any Frowning Fortress.” It illustrates the significance of Buffalo's location at the border of Canada. The central figure of Buffalo personified by a woman, again, is now presented as Peace, holding a warrior under each arm while they clutch their respective flags. In the lobby, Native American designs adorn the ceiling, giving tribute to the pre-colonial past of the region and the natives who still live on its land. Such details are incredibly important due to their significance to the region and our rich culture and are key to the feeling of the lobby.

City Hall, as a building, is one of the most substantial in the city. It is the second-largest City Hall in the nation and one of the largest and best examples of Art Deco architecture in the world. The Art Deco styling in City Hall ennobles the idea of civic life by representing modernism and stature: it’s how the city wanted to represent itself during construction and planning.

The building occupies one side of Niagara Square, and with its wide base it truly draws all focus to the building and its stunning design pressed against the sky. With the McKinley Monument honoring President William McKinley standing in the center of Niagara Square, the view of City Hall when walking down Court Street is magnificent and truly highlights the beauty of this building.

City Hall has an impressive facade of granite, with statues and designs that once again harken back to the Iroquois heritage and Native American culture of Buffalo. The main entrance of City Hall is made up of symbolic units forming columns and supports. The columns represent a large octagonal nut with rivet heads. The molding of the supports is styled to depict a saw, portraying the power of Buffalo's industries. When coming to the main entrance, a historian is seen with a pen in hand ready to write down the years of upcoming history for the city of Buffalo.

The meaning of this building extends far beyond the physical sense and its intricate designs. It’s a representation of all that Buffalo is, what the present is and what the future holds for the city. A city which has gone from triumph to tragedy but still manages to rise up again. If you were to pick one building out of all of those in the city to represent what Buffalo is, our City Hall is that building: our City Hall is the quintessential symbol of Buffalo.

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