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Introducing the Buffalo Architectural Index

When it comes to architectural history, Buffalo is an unusually sophisticated community. Decades of architectural journalism, tours, talks, and books have produced a lot of ordinary people who know much more than just the names Richardson, Wright, Sullivan, Olmsted, Green, and Bethune. Everyone with an old house wants to know who the first owner was and if it is associated with a prominent architect.

This strong interest in the built environment inspired us to start an indexing project. We identified multiple items in our collection that reliably identified an architect’s works, such as a thesis, dissertation, or promotional publication released by that architect. A series of volunteers entered the addresses, client names, and dates from these publications into a Google spreadsheet. We then sorted the spreadsheet by address.

The result is what we call the Buffalo Architectural Index.

buffalo-architecture-index-buffalo-ny-1For each address, there is a source. We don’t expect you to take our word that, say, Shea’s Bailey Theater was designed by Spann & Spann. By identifying where we found that information, you can look at the same thing that we did and judge it for yourself. In other words, we cited our sources. The Sources Explained tab at the top of the spreadsheet displays a complete bibliography of the publications we indexed. For each source, there is a link to WorldCat, which shows you a list of all libraries who own it.

Some of those sources include the venerable Buffalo Architecture: A Guide, released in 1981 and still our best architectural encyclopedia. Other examples include an architectural portfolio by William Beebe, a master’s thesis about Green & Wicks, and a list of Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs commissions identified by architectural historian Martin Wachadlo.

list-buffalo-ny-architecture

The Index now lists over 1,360 buildings, residential and otherwise, listed in A-Z order by name of street, followed by building or house number. The rest of the columns in the spreadsheet are for city (if other than Buffalo), architect, client, project description, year, and source. Each source is identified by a short code or nickname, usually the author’s surname. Any information in [brackets] means that it was lacking in the original source and we found it elsewhere.

architecture-map-buffalo-ny-1

If you visit the page, you’ll see a link to a map based on the spreadsheet. A few years ago, we got lucky and found a free site, BatchGeo.com, that auto-mapped the addresses, assigning each architect a different-colored place mark. Copy and paste the spreadsheet and it did the rest. We were thrilled! Credit goes to former volunteer Ron Schmitz, who did a lot of work on the spreadsheet and implemented the map.

Then BatchGeo got wise and capped free accounts at 200 addresses. Their premium accounts now start at about $100 a month, which is well beyond our reach. We compared as many alternatives as we could find, but did not discover a free site that would auto-map 1300+ addresses all at once and color-code them. If you know of one, please email us or leave a comment below. We would love to find a dedicated, GIS-trained volunteer for data entry and the implementation of an alternative to BatchGeo. Plus we have identified a few sources that we want to add to the Index. Not to mention that the spreadsheet could be the basis of a really cool mobile app. Hey, a girl can dream.

And now, a brief disclaimer: Unfortunately, not every house is the creation of a private architect. Plus, most architects come and go without their plans, drawings, and business records being saved. Most do not issue picture books featuring their designs. Identifying architects’ work after their records are gone is time-consuming work. If we don’t have lists or records created by the architects themselves, we rely on the spadework of architectural historians, the unsung heroes of the Buffalo built environment.

If you want to research your own house, come on in! With atlases, directories, photographs, and other resources in our collection, we might be able to help you answer a few key questions about your house, such as when it was built and what it first looked like.

Library hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays, 1-5 pm, plus evening hours 6-8 pm on the 2nd & 4th Wednesdays. No appointments are necessary. Admission is free for Museum members and $7 for all others. And if you have a deed or abstract of title, please bring it.

Questions? Contact library@buffalohistory.org.

Written by Cynthia Van Ness

Cynthia Van Ness

Cynthia has an Master of Library Science (MLS) degree from the University at Buffalo and a BA in art history from SUNY/Empire State College. After library school, she worked at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library for 13 years, half of were in the Grosvenor Room, the local history & genealogy collection, where she developed research and reference expertise in the people, places, things, and events Buffalo history. She was appointed Director of Library & Archives at The Buffalo History Museum in 2007. On her own time, she is the author of Victorian Buffalo (1999), Quotable Buffalo (2011), and the creator of BuffaloResearch.com, a guide to researching ancestors, buildings, and companies in Buffalo.

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