Architecture Around Buffalo: The Granite Works
By Lucas Watson, Features Contributor
On Main Street, hidden behind a tree and tucked amongst a series of buildings, is The Granite Works — the McDonnell & Sons Architectural and Executive Office in Buffalo. The company is known for creating large granite works across the region, as well as memorials.
The company originally came to Buffalo to help restore the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Lafayette Square downtown; their impact and work on the monument is still seen today.
According to Buffalo Architecture and History’s website, in 1889, a contract was created to repair the foundation, and it went to a “local mortuary monument company” that was new to the area. The company was known as McDonnell & Sons.
And according to Buffalo Research’s website, “McDonnell & Sons altered the open-stepped base of the monument, creating a tight walkway around the shaft by eliminating some of the base, walling in what remained, forming stairs at each point of the compass, an arrangement which survives today.” They came in on contract and rescued the monument, as the original construction was unstable and was done in an abhorrent, sloppy manner. In 1889, when McDonnell & Sons rescued the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, they were still relative newcomers to the Buffalo scene, having opened their Buffalo office only five years earlier. This became one of the many successes and commissions the company has had in the area.
The McDonnell office still stands. The structure’s elaborate granite façade served as an advertisement for the company’s products and showed the quality that the company could offer with granite work. An arched pediment is surmounted by finials in the shape of funerary urns like those you would see in a cemetery. Supporting it are beautifully polished pilasters with rough florets. The building also features eastlake-style columns alongside the entrance. The building itself is rather small, with expansions made upon it that make up much of the property. On the side, it features a simple mansard roof. An early company advertisement described the façade as being “the handsomest in the United States — a recognized work of art that attracts the attention of every passer-by and excites admiring comment from all,” which I do feel still rings true today. Being tucked away there, it takes a moment to recognize and notice when walking down Main Street.
The work of McDonnell & Sons includes the Main Street entrance to Forest Lawn Cemetery, just across the street from the Koessler Athletic Center and Science Hall and familiar to many Canisius students as a landmark. In Forest Lawn, McDonnell & Sons’ major work includes the Blocher Memorial. The bell-shaped stone above and a circular stone directly beneath the pilasters were the largest pieces of granite ever quarried and shipped by rail in this country up to 1885, the date of the erection of the Blocher Memorial. Including the Becker Memorial, another significant memorial completed by McDonnell & Sons in Forest Lawn, the company’s prolific work is seen across the nation from NYC to Arlington, Indiana and even Lackawanna.
According to the same website, at some point in the 1940s, “McDonnell & Sons moved out of 858 Main and into a comparatively plain brick building further north on Main Street.” And in 1968, after 84 years in Buffalo and 111 years after its founding in Quincy, “McDonnell & Sons vanished from the annual ‘City Directory’ of households and businesses.” The old headquarters building was continuously occupied until 1978. It was vacant for a period of time. However, in recent years the area has expanded and experienced a revival as The Granite Works, offering luxury apartments in the historic Allentown Neighborhood.
It is not always the building which has the largest impact on a surrounding area, but the hardworking people inside that building. Without McDonnell & Sons, many of the notable monuments around the area may not have even existed. Although the building is small, the impact of this company and building has been monumental.