One of the most underrated buildings in Buffalo's collection of great architecture is the General Mills building located at 54 Michigan Avenue on an isolated spit of land between the Buffalo River and the City Ship Canal. Even though the building is visible from downtown Buffalo it is easy to miss among the tangle of grain elevators and the Skyway. It is a wonderful mid century high rise factory that cannot be truly appreciated until you get up close and begin to see its wonderful subtle detail and streamlined forms. This factory is of course the source of that wonderfully sweet cereal smell that wafts over the middle of the city from time to time. Many will point to it as the place they make Cheerios but it is also a major grain milling plant where they make Wheaties, Gold Medal Flour, Bisquick, and several Betty Crocker mixes.
The plant started as a small local operation in the 1800s using wooden elevator structures. In 1903 it was purchased by a Minnesota company called the Washburn-Crosby Milling Company. In the 1920s the plant became the nucleus of the new General Mills company when it was combined with several mills across the country. It has been one of the largest General Mills facilities since, making it a somewhat historic site as well as a great piece of architecture. I could not find much written on the architecture of the building even though it is clearly a significant midcentury work. That is not unusual. We pay little attention to our stripped down industrial architecture reserving that for the highly decorated houses, offices and other buildings used most often in our daily lives.
This building is also interesting for another reason. As I mentioned earlier, at about 10 floors tall it is a high rise manufacturing facility. When transportation was difficult in the days before powerful engines and the plethora of high quality roads we have today, multi-floor factories were common. They remained common even up into the 1970s when manufacturing began draining out of the old dense cities to overseas manufacturing or large single-storey plants in the suburbs. Today operating high rise manufacturing facilities are extremely rare. This one may be the only one left in Buffalo. I can't think of any others. It is amazing that General Mills has kept this one going. As far as I know there is no movement to close it. If that should ever happen this is one building that should be pegged for special attention so that it is not allowed to rot in place by some delinquent owner.