The Hotel Lafayette was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Developer Rocco Termini is planning to restore the landmark property and fill it with a mix of banquet and restaurant space, a boutique hotel and apartments. When the hotel opened for business in 1904, the one-million-dollar structure designed by Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs was touted in the national press as “one of the most perfectly appointed and magnificent hotels in the country.”
The hotel’s principal entrance was at the northwest corner, facing Lafayette Square. From here, one entered the main lobby, which occupied the northwest corner of the first floor, extending 72 feet on Washington Street and 84 feet on Clinton Street. (This grand Neo-Classical lobby was replaced in 1942 by the present Art Moderne style lobby. Part of the original lobby was remodeled for commercial space.) The carriage entrance was at the middle of the Washington Street façade. All of the principal public rooms on the ground floor were richly decorated, and received natural light from enormous windows overlooking the street and from large skylights located in light courts.
First Addition, 1906-1912, by Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs
The popularity of the Hotel Lafayette led to its being expanded and remodeled several times in its heyday. When it opened, the building extended just 122½ feet on Washington Street and 147 feet on Clinton Street. (The original east end of the building was just beyond the vertical band of terra cotta in the center of the present north elevation.) The new hotel, however, did not remain this size for long. In 1906, Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs began working on plans to expand the Hotel Lafayette eastward to Ellicott Street, virtually doubling the size of the original building. Land acquisition for the expansion was completed in 1908.
Impetus for the expansion came in part from the construction of the first Statler Hotel (1906-1908; demolished 1968) at 279 Washington Street, the first permanent hostelry of Buffalonian Ellsworth M. Statler, one of the great hotel innovators of the period. Most notably, the Statler was the first hotel in the United States to have a bathroom in every guest room. This subsequently became a feature of all hotels of any pretension. In response, all the rooms in the new addition to the Hotel Lafayette would also have their own bathrooms. Plans for the addition were filed with the city on July 1, 1909, and the steel frame of the addition was completed before the end of the year. Although largely complete by the summer of 1911, the reconstructed hotel did not have a formal reopening until the spring of 1912.
The exterior treatment of the original building was repeated on the addition in the same dark red brick with white terra cotta trim. This exterior remains almost completely intact today. A new entrance was installed on the Clinton Street facade, fronted by a fifty-foot wide wrought iron carriage porch. The original entrance on Washington Street became the “men’s entrance.”
A new stand-alone brick building was constructed in 1910 south of the hotel, across Darrow Alley, for the heating and electrical plant; the permit for this building was signed out to “Louise Bethune,” further evidence of her close involvement in this project. The powerhouse was connected to the hotel through a tunnel under Darrow Alley. This building was demolished in 1961.
The ground floor spaces were significantly altered. The dining rooms were moved from the southwest side of the original building to the northeast side of the addition, connected to the lobby by a wide corridor; there was also an additional dining room in the basement at the northeast corner, lit by large leaded glass windows. There was a large lounge or assembly room on the main floor overlooking Ellicott Street. These spaces remain largely intact today. The kitchen was relocated to the basement, below the main dining room. The billiard room and barber shop were moved up from the basement into the reworked ground floor spaces formerly occupied by the restaurants. (These spaces are no longer extant.) The original grill room was somewhat reworked, according to a contemporary description in trade journal Hotel Monthly, to become…
…the Lafayette Room – the principal public parlor or conversation room of the hotel for the comfort and convenience of men and women guests. It is a room 40×50 feet, with three large plate-glass windows opening high enough above the street to prevent intrusion. The room is designed in late English domestic style of the Elizabethan period and executed in English oak of soft brownish tint, which is reproduced in the furnishings. The draperies are deep antique blue. The ceiling is massive elliptical groins. One broad doorway commands a wide view of the spacious lobby, elevators and main staircase, and a corresponding doorway opposite opens into the dainty Orchard Restaurant.
An antique fireplace mantel was installed on the east wall of the room, emblazoned with the Lafayette coat-of-arms, while the arms of other Revolutionary War patriots replaced the paintings of Falstaff in the lunettes around the room. This space is partly extant.
The new and remodeled rooms were described by the representatives of Hotel Monthly when they visited the hotel in 1911:
Since our last visit to Buffalo two of the leading hotels, the Statler and Lafayette, have been nearly doubled in size. We spent an hour going over the new part of the Lafayette, which hotel now takes up the entire block fronting on Lafayette square, and the ground floor is changed around almost completely. The lobby remains in its original corner, except enlarged. The main dining room is moved to the Lafayette square front, which, other than the bar, is taken up altogether with dining rooms, and a wide corridor gives access to all. The main dining room is finished with mahogany walls over marble base. One very beautiful dining room is Tiffany decorated in light green, and is similar to the Grecian room in Chicago’s Blackstone. There is a large lounge and assembly room, and a new public lavatory on the ground floor; also a music gallery, serving the dining rooms and lobby.
The kitchen, located in the basement, is all tile lined, and there is a large dining room in the basement located convenient to the kitchen.
The Lafayette has self-contained engine plant located away from the hotel.
There are 200 rooms in the annex, making a total of 460, we are told. The lay-out of the floors was designed by Mrs. Bethune, who provided for every room a large clothes closet. In the new part, all outside rooms are finished in mahogany, the inside rooms in oak. The rooms are papered. The dressers have glass top and lace scarf. The beds are brass, on glass sliding shoe. Rooms are connected with double doors. Each room has mirror-faced door, Cadillac desk, trunk rest, portable lights, fireproof waste basket, and the ‘phones are provided with scratch pads. Fifteen parlor suites are furnished in Colonial style with silk window draping. The water pitchers are Syracuse china.
The bath rooms have porcelain tubs built in, large lavatory, and medicine chest; brackets and medicine chest taking the place of shelves over the lavatory. The onliwon toilet fixture is used, and this is built into the wall. The bath rooms are tiled to a height of four feet, and have tile floor.
The sixth floor is devoted to sample rooms, all with abundance of light, and with drop lights from the ceiling all around.
Alterations and Additions, 1913-1937 by Esenwein & Johnson
One of the most pressing needs of the hotel after the opening of the new addition in 1912 was the installation of individual bathrooms in all of the guest rooms in the original building. The management chose not to return the original architectural firm (which by the spring of 1915 consisted only of William Fuchs), but instead commissioned the local firm of Esenwein & Johnson, who had added a large semicircular marquee to the principal entrance in 1913. One of the largest architectural offices in Buffalo, Esenwein & Johnson served as architects to the United Hotels Company, the largest hotel chain on the continent, and thus had a national reputation in hotel design. Over an eight year period (1914-1922), Esenwein & Johnson oversaw the installation of bathrooms in every guest room that did not originally have one, and the replacement of the communal bathrooms on each floor with new guest rooms. This highly complicated task was exceeding difficult to accomplish without disturbing guests or hotel operations.
In 1916, Esenwein & Johnson was commissioned to add a ballroom to the hotel. A two and three-story brick addition was constructed south of the recent addition, extending the hotel footprint to the north line of Darrow Alley. Completed in 1917, this addition was constructed of brick, with white terra cotta trim on the Ellicott Street facade that is more restrained in design than that used on the earlier building, but nonetheless in sympathy to the original building. The principal space was the large rectangular ballroom, with a classically detailed interior unobstructed by columns. The northwest end the ballroom was connected to the dining room corridor by a foyer, which was likely an earlier room modified for its new purpose. At the northeast end the ballroom opened into what was likely the large lounge or assembly room in the earlier addition. The present women’s lounge, rest room and coat check room were also evidently installed at this time. All of these spaces are largely intact, but the large windows in the ballroom, three facing south and one facing east, have been considerably reduced in size (see current first floor layout at bottom).
Competition on Niagara Square
Hotel accommodation in downtown Buffalo dramatically changed in 1923. In that year the new Hotel Statler opened on Niagara Square (the original Statler became the Hotel Buffalo). To ensure that his new building was to be the premier hostelry in the city, E. M. Statler bought the Iroquois Hotel, which was still greatly favored by the city’s elite, and turned it into an office building. Also in 1923, the new Genesee office building replaced the old Genesee Hotel. In order to stay current, the management of the Hotel Lafayette embarked on a program of renovation and expansion.
To keep the Hotel Lafayette current with the latest trends, Esenwein & Johnson were commissioned in 1924 to make further alterations and additions. The most significant of these was an addition to the south, which was seven stories high facing Washington Street but only two stories to the east, so as not to cut off daylight to the numerous light courts. Construction began in 1924 and was completed in 1926. Like the ballroom addition, it was also constructed of red brick with white terra cotta of a much simpler design than the original building. The ground floor contained the new billiard room, while additional hotel rooms were located in the seven-story section; the second story of the rest of the addition contained hotel work rooms. In the early 1930s, the billiard room was converted into a bar, the first hotel bar in Buffalo to open after the repeal of prohibition; soon named the Lafayette Tap Room, it has remained open until earlier this year. Overall, the addition has had only minor changes since it was built.
The construction of the addition brought about simultaneous changes in the ground floor spaces. The former billiard room (originally the restaurant) was gutted; at least a part of the south wall of the lobby was evidently moved south, encompassing part of the former billiard room. The new lobby spaces were decorated to match the existing scheme. The remainder of the former billiard room became a coffee shop, reputedly the first in a Buffalo hotel. Also, a new semicircular stage was constructed in the west end of the ballroom in the form of an exedra.
Esenwein & Johnson supervised the installation of new elevators in 1928-1929. The position of the elevators was shifted to the southeast, to be on axis with the Washington Street entrance; two new elevator shafts were installed for two new bronze Otis elevator cars, and the original elevator shafts were filled in. A section of extra-wide corridor on each guest room floor indicates the former position of the original elevators. The 1929 elevators remain in use today. Esenwein & Johnson were involved in numerous other alterations to the hotel over the years. For example, they supervised the redecoration of the grill room in 1920. The firm continued its involvement with the hotel until about 1937.
Current West Elevation
The Washington Street elevation of the original building (completed in 1904) is seven bays wide, with an additional bay to the south (completed in 1926) which is wider and stylistically distinct from the original design but still complimentary. The northwest corner of the building, facing Lafayette Square, is chamfered and entirely clad in white terra cotta, and reads as an additional bay. The main floor exterior consists of an arcade of wide segmental arched openings framed by terra cotta rusticated ashlar, set upon a stone base. The large keystones at the top of each arch feature cartouches framed by wreaths.
The present main entrance is located in the fourth bay from the chamfered corner, which was the location of the original main entrance (which retains a small rectangular marquee suspended by chains from the façade). The present entrance (remodeled in 1956) is sheathed in plain stone panels and sheltered by a rectangular aluminum marquee with the name “Hotel Lafayette” in large raised white plastic letters facing the street. On either side of the marquee appears the word “Lafayette.” (This entrance and an identical one on the Clinton Street elevation are the only significant changes that have been made to the original exterior elevations.) The southernmost bay consists of a plain terra cotta post-and-lintel design framing a small storefront (this was the entrance to the Lafayette Tap Room, a venerable local bar and grill that recently closed).
The second story (first floor) of the façade features a single large window above each arcaded bay of the main floor in the five-bay central section of the elevation and two large windows above the original end bay. This story is of brick, with terra cotta belt courses at the sill and lintel level of the windows. Each large window is framed by terra cotta quoins topped by triangular pediments framing small cartouche and wreath designs, alternating with brick planar wall, except for the paired windows at the original corner bays, which are topped by the terra cotta balconies of the story above. Each large window opening on this story features a wrought iron railing. A pair of smaller windows, also framed in terra cotta, flanks the large window in the fourth bay from the north (above the entrance). There are also small windows between the large windows, between the second and third, fifth and sixth, and sixth and seventh bays from the northwest corner that are cut into the planar brick walls and have terra cotta sills only. These smaller windows light the bathrooms. An elaborate wrought iron bowed balcony is the notable feature of the chamfered corner at this story. The single bay of the southern addition has two windows and features a simplified version of the original second story treatment. The terra cotta belt courses continue into the addition and terra cotta quoins framing the windows and corners, echoing the original portion of the building. All of the hotel room windows in this building are non-historic aluminum replacements for the original one-over-one frame sash. These original windows still exist in the stairwells.
The next four stories duplicate the fenestration pattern of the second story, but these are simply treated openings in the solid red brick wall plane, with terra cotta sills and keystones. The exceptions are the end bays, which are framed in terra cotta for the entire height of the building; those at the third story (second floor) feature terra cotta balconies with wrought iron railings. At the sixth story of the fourth bay, there is a small terra cotta balcony with wrought iron railing, which is flanked by a pair of small windows. The four-story oriel window in the chamfered corner terminates in the sixth story, with a rounded glass top beneath a large cartouche and wreath; the oriel is also flanked by a pair of shield and wreath designs. The four stories of the southern addition feature window openings with terra cotta sills and lintels in the plain brick wall.
The top story is simply treated with alternating bands of brick and terra cotta sandwiched between a terra cotta belt course and a projecting terra cotta cornice. The fenestration pattern is the same as on the third through fifth stories. A pair of terra cotta cartouches on flaming torches flanks the window of the fourth bay, while the pairs of windows in the original end bays flank stylized lion heads above plaques containing the letter “L” back to back. The same device appears in the chamfered bay, flanked by the pair of windows, which are in turn flanked by a pair of vertical modillions. The richly molded cornice is supported by modillions, which frame underside rosettes, and is crowned with cartouches alternating with fleur-de-lis motifs. The top story of the southern addition continues the raised belt course at sill level, and features simple quoins around the windows and corners. Above is a pair of cartouches at either end of the bay and a simple cornice supported by dentils.
1899 Hotel for this site first mentioned (H. H. Little / Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs)
1900 Construction begins and stops at foundation (Henry Ives Cobb)
1902 Construction begins again, with new design (Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs)
1904 The original hotel is dedicated
1906 Expansion first proposed
1909 Construction begins on east addition (Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs)
1911 Addition is largely complete
1912 Addition is formally opened
1913 New marquee for main entrance (now gone); beginning of Esenwein & Johnson involvement
1914-1922 Bathroom alterations in original section (Esenwein & Johnson)
1916-1917 Ballroom addition (Esenwein & Johnson)
1924-1926 South addition, interior alterations (Esenwein & Johnson)
1928-1929 New elevators (Esenwein & Johnson)
1942 New main lobby installed (Roswell E Pfohl and Design, Inc)
1946 Dining room remodeled
1952 New windows installed in all guest rooms
1953 Television antenna installed
1956 New marquees at both entrances
1962 Sold by Yates family to Carter chain
1970 Dropped ceilings installed in main floor spaces
1978 Sold by Carter chain to Tran Dinh Truong
Source: National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, prepared by consultants Martin Wachaldo & Frank Kowsky and Daniel McEneny, New York State Historic Preservation Office.
Part One: The Lafayette Takes Shape
Next: Interior Changes