Work on converting Buffalo's newest landmark into upscale lofts is in full swing. Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation is redeveloping the Buffalo Meter Company Building located at 2917 Main Street into 87 residences. The building was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Designed in 1915 by the nationally recognized engineering company Lockwood, Greene & Company, the Buffalo Meter Company Building is an excellent and largely intact example of a reinforced concrete frame daylight factory. The building, also known as Bethune Hall, was one of the buildings which inspired noted Architectural Historian Reyner Banham's work A Concrete Atlantis, a pivotal work which connected early American industrial architecture to the Modernism movement of the mid-twentieth century. Banham taught and worked on his book in this building.
From the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form prepared by Jennifer Walkowski of Clinton Brown Company Architecture:
The Buffalo Meter Company Building is a four-story reinforced concrete daylight factory with a fifth story penthouse and roof monitor and sits on a raised basement level. The industrial building is simply designed with an exposed concrete framing system, and large expanses of metal industrial windows with red brick spandrel panels between the structural framing members. Designed and erected in 1915-1917 by the prominent engineering firm of Lockwood, Greene & Co., the Buffalo Meter Company Building is located on the eastern side of Main Street near the intersection of Hertel Avenue.
Originally, the building was constructed on a large, nine acre parcel of land in what was at the time a sparsely developed area of Buffalo. The building is now located on approximately six acres and is nestled between Bennett High School to its south and other historic industrial buildings to its north. Although the building presents a narrow façade to the Main Street artery at its western end, the main entry to the building is located on the long south façade and was designed to be accessed via a private street running off of Main Street.
The Buffalo Meter Company Building was designed using a typical reinforced concrete structural method of columns and concrete floor slabs, which created equally sized square modules measuring 20 feet by 20 feet (on center); overall the main original building measures four modules by ten modules. The building contains a large four-story original block which is set on an elevated basement level. This block also features a small fifth-floor penthouse and roof monitor which floods the fourth floor below with ample sunlight.
A three-story addition constructed with a similar design connects to the eastern facade of the building and measures two bays across its east and west facades by three bays from north to south. A smaller two-story addition to the west façade was constructed to house company offices and measures approximately two bays by two bays in size. The Buffalo Meter Company building's primary façade is its long southern façade which contains the small entry pavilion; however because of the reinforced concrete frame construction of the building, all of the building's elevations are similar in their overall design, function and appearance.
Originally, the main building was occupied as a factory by the Buffalo Meter Company, who housed main offices and shipping on the first floor, the Machine Shop and Assembling on the second, another Machine Shop and tool room on the third floor and the brass foundry on the fourth floor. The basement housed several service spaces for the building, including a large boiler room which appears to date to the origins of the building in 1915-1917 and is located in the north-eastern bay of the main building. Areas in the western portion of the basement have been divided for use as classrooms.
The Buffalo Meter Company was originally located in a third-floor loft at 363 Washington Street, located across from the rear of the old Iroquois Hotel. The company's first order for water meters was shipped to the Village of Bath on April 7, 1893. By 1896 the Buffalo Meter Company had supplied their products to municipalities as distant as Seattle, Washington.
Business continued to grow and in 1901, the Buffalo Meter Company was one of several exhibitors which displayed their products in the Machinery and Transportation Building at Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition. By 1903, owner and head engineer George Barclay Bassett relocated the expanding business to 290 Terrace. The Buffalo Meter Company continued to grow and prosper and gained a larger audience for its products at the Exhibit of Water Saving Appliances exposition and show in Philadelphia which was held in October-November of 1912.
By 1915, the need for another new facility was apparent, and Bassett asked his key employees for suggestions on where to locate the new factory. Based on their recommendations, the Buffalo Meter Company decided to relocate to a large nine-acre site at 2917 Main Street. The company enlisted the nationally prominent firm of Lockwood, Greene & Co., based in Boston, Massachusetts at the time, to design a new manufacturing plant on the site.
The engineering firm of Lockwood, Greene & Co. was perhaps the most recognizable such firm in the country during this period. Founded in 1832 by David Whitman, the firm was taken over by Amos D. Lockwood in 1858, at which point the company quickly became one of the most prominent designers of textile mills and other similar industrial buildings.
Construction of the new Buffalo Meter Company Building began in 1915 and by 1917 was occupied by the industrial manufacturing company. The building cost approximately $70,800 to construct.
While the plans for the building were furnished by the Lockwood, Greene & Co. firm, the local contractor and builder of the building was the Turner Construction Company whose headquarters were in another famous work of engineering, Adler and Sullivan's Prudential (Guaranty) Building.
Housed in their new facility on Main Street, the Buffalo Meter Company continued to be one of the nation's most prominent makers of liquid meters during the first half of the twentieth-century
On April 14, 1955, at the age of 93, George Barclay Bassett, owner and founder of the Buffalo Meter Company, passed away. Following his death, the Buffalo Meter Company was run under the ownership of his sons, Robert and Charles Bassett. They owned the company until 1958, at which time they sold the company to the American Meter Company, based in Philadelphia. The American Meter Company purchased the building and company for $5.25 million in this year.
The sale of the company led to a very public battle between members of the family, which raged for several years. During this time, the American Meter Company was sold to General Precision Equipment Corp of Tarrytown, NY which in turn was then purchased by the Singer Company.
Better known as a manufacturer of sewing machines, the Singer Company had become a large conglomerate of various businesses by the mid-1900s. In 1969 or 1970, the Buffalo Meter Company left their long-time home on Main Street. The company cited the fact that its multi-level manufacturing facility was outdated compared to contemporary factories which were single-level plants. The company also cited the high taxes in the State of New York as an obstacle to remaining in business, noting that the owners "don't like the taxes here."
On May 27, 1971 the former Buffalo Meter Company Building was purchased by the University at Buffalo for a cost of $472,000. The building was then used by the university to house the Department of Art, the Architecture Department and also portions of the Division of Continuing Education beginning in 1973. The building was renamed as the Louise Blanchard Bethune Hall, after the first professional woman architect and the first woman fellow of the American Institute of Architects, who maintained an active architectural practice in Buffalo at the turn of the twentieth-century.
The former Buffalo Meter Company Building/ Bethune Hall had a "starring" role in the 1983 movie The Natural starring Robert Redford; the building was one of many Buffalo-area buildings and sites filmed for the movie and was used as a stand-in as an early 1900s industrial building. By 1994, the university had relocated many of its programs to other buildings on its North and South campuses and vacated the former Buffalo Meter Company Building, using it for storage.
Ciminelli Real Estate purchased the property in June 2011. The building will house a mix of luxury one- and two-bedroom loft apartments and an on-site fitness center when complete. Carmina Wood Morris designed the conversion project.
Get Connected: Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation, 716.631.8000