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Now and Then: First Presbyterian Church Sans Tower.

This historic image is not only a vision of what was but, is also a glimpse at what could be.  The vintage image shows the church building just a year or two old with a stump of the main tower existing.  The church opened for business in 1891 but did not have the funds available to complete the magnificent slender tower we take for granted today.  It took another eight years or so to bring the tower to fruition. Today, the church congregation is desperately working to raise money to save the tower from destruction due to its poor condition.

The vintage images is a bit jarring. The church, although still quite beautiful, is not quite right without the tower. The proportions are off.  The composition is missing a counterpoint to the heavy massing of roofs that make up the body of the building.  There is no denouement and as a result the building is not satisfying to the eye. This is a clear example of a great work of art in which the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.  Any individual part of this building is beautiful by itself but, when brought together as singular work of architecture the result is something extraordinary.

The church was design by Buffalo’s master Architect, E. B. Green when he was only in his 30s.  Green, more than any architect, crafted the Buffalo we know today.  He worked in with ease in the multiple styles popular at the time, at the highest level. This was one of his most important works and, though not widely known outside Buffalo, this church is one the truly great works of American architecture.  It was designed in the American Romanesque Style made popular by H.H. Richardson at the end of the 1800s.  The Architecture of this church compares favorably to anything Richardson designed.  The church and its tower anchor the south end of Richmond Avenue with a dramatic urban vista and contribute to completing the masterful civic space that is Symphony Circle. This circle, formed by the combined work of Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Green, and F.L. Olmsted along with others, is the a masterpiece in its own right.  Like the church, the circle is greater than the some of its parts.  The loss of the First Presbyterian Church tower would not be a loss to a just single building.  It would be a loss to the Circle, to Richmond Avenue, and the city as a whole.  As a civic work of architecture First Presbyterian was not designed to be in the city.  It was designed to BE the city.  The church and all of its parts cannot be separated from the city without substantially degrading the city.  The loss of this tower cannot be considered as an option to repair.  Saving this tower has to be adopted as a mission of the city and its people, to the members of this congregation alone.

You can help save this important piece of Buffalo.  You must help save this piece of Buffalo. The tower has been stabilized with a series of steel reinforcing rods which can be seen in the center image above.  This is good for now but is a temporary solution that is meant only to buy time.  To bring the tower back to its original structural integrity and assure its existence long into the future the church needs to raise over $323,000.  It is a big amount  but pales in comparison to the $1.2 M also needed to replace the building’s slate roof.  Each of these major capital expenditures is beyond the capability of this small congregation. This is when Buffalo needs to step up and decide, in this time of a resurgence in civic pride and investment, does it want to be ordinary or does it want to be extraordinary.  To be extraordinary this building and each of its parts need to be saved.  This tower needs to be saved.  It is time to be extraordinary Buffalo.

Get connected and donate now:

First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo

One Symphony Circle

Buffalo, NY 14201


Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

View All Articles by David Steele
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