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Hodgson Russ LLP celebrates bicentennial and opening of the Guaranty Building’s Interpretive Center

The law firm of Hodgson Russ LLP kicked off its 200th anniversary last week by announcing the opening of the Guaranty Interpretive Center. The oldest continuous business in Buffalo, the firm was founded in 1817 by attorney Asa Rice, who established the City of Buffalo’s Charter and was an integral part of the completion of the Erie Canal. 

Also as part of its history, the firm can claim two former attorneys who went on to be U.S. Presidents, the first female partner in the U.S for a firm of its size and stature, and the U.S. Supreme Court argument by gay-rights pioneer Attorney William Gardner.

But Hodgson Russ didn’t call us together to celebrate the past. Rather, to celebrate its continued investment in Buffalo’s future. In 2002, the firm purchased Louis Sullivan’s Guaranty Building at the corner of Church and Pearl. Considered to be an architectural masterpiece, Sullivan’s building was one of the world’s first steel framed skyscrapers and at the time it was built, was the tallest in the world with 13 floors (clearly Louis was not a superstitious man).

Terry Gilbride, the partner at Hodgson Russ  who oversaw the development of the Interpretive Center, said that the firm realized the experience for visitors was lacking so they agreed to turn almost a quarter of the first floor from meeting space to a welcoming interpretive center with museum quality exhibits. Hodgson Russ employed architects Flynn Battaglia and Hadley Exhibits to assist on the design and construction of the interpretive center.

One of the exhibits is a 4’ replica of the Guaranty building, recreated in stunning detail. Professor of Architecture at Alfred State College, David I. Carli, along with twelve architecture students, worked countless hours over the last several months to produce the 1896 version of the Guaranty Building. The model was formed using drones, historic photographs, 3D printers and laser cutting and was crafted out of thousands of individual pieces constructed from cardboard, wood, and paper.

We were also told that the firm is not finished with its work on the building; they still have plans to restore the lights on the outside, and the interior of the elevator shaft, which originally had windows that look out on the Buffalo River. They can still be seen from the first floor.

The attorneys of Hodgson Russ have entered into a collaboration with Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN).  Jessie Fisher, Executive Director of PBN, called the Interpretive Center a “thoughtful and workable place.” Fisher said, “This space will be seen by people all over the country and in fact all over the world. We know from our tour work of downtown Buffalo, people come to Buffalo in droves. Cultural and architectural tourism is a rapidly growing and important part of our local economy.”

Local officials also complimented the firm on their ongoing commitment to Buffalo. Senator Tim Kennedy stated that Hodgson Russ is “a law firm older than the city, in the heart of the city” and Mayor Byron Brown acknowledged that Hodgson Russ has “played a significant role in the ongoing rebirth of Buffalo. ”We are grateful that Hodgson Russ’ partners chose to invest in our City’s history, to innovate, and protect this world class landmark.” The Hodgson Russ investment in the Guaranty Building illustrates its commitment to the City of Buffalo, as well as our community.

I encourage all of you to go visit the Interpretive Center, located on the first floor of the Guaranty Building, 140 Pearl Street. The Center is open during regular business hours, Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment with Preservation Buffalo Niagara.

Photos: Jessica, Rachacha, Queenseyes

Written by Jessica Marinelli

Jessica Marinelli is a WNY native, born and raised in the Lincoln Park area of Tonawanda. She has been involved in local politics from an early age and is currently a Tonawanda Democratic Committee Member. As an avid equestrian and animal-lover, she trained and re-homed over 40 horses. For over a decade, she was an event planner with the law firm, Hodgson Russ LLP, and now owns her own marketing and event management company. She has worked with international and national organizations on large and small scale events. Jessica writes on politics and local events, as well as working with Buffalo Rising as a social reporter.

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  • wcperspective

    LOVE this! Wouldn’t it be great to have similar displays in a few of downtown’s other gems such as Ellicott Square, City Hall, Old County Hall, Sheas, Market Arcade, Electric Tower, churches? It would make for a top-notch self-guided walking tour of downtown.

    • UrbanLove

      love that idea!!

  • OldFirstWard

    Years ago, I used to think that those ground floor bay window projections were added during a modern makeover. They look so awkward and hide the columns. Every time I drove by I would wish that someday the windows would be removed and the ground floor restored. Then I researched it and found out that they are original. I still don’t like them.

    This building has a magnificent terra cotta facade that gives the building an illusion of a stand alone appearance, but in reality, the ornamental tile is only on two sides. This is the forgotten lesson for the modern architect. When you view the exterior from a side without the terra cotta it looks like just another building. Viewing it from the front and one side and it looks like a masterpiece. The facade matters.

    Congratulations on a fine job of modeling the building by Alfred State University Professor David Carli and his architecture students. At least one of our colleges gets it.

    The Richardson Center should pay close attention to this. While they were worrying about the hotel, restaurant, and conference space they quietly and drastically shrunk the space for the Architecture Center down to one small room. An absolute tragedy for complex of this size and stature.

    • Vandra

      You don’t like the windows? Are you crazy? That’s what makes them special, how they stick out and encapsulate the columns. If it appears unusual to you now, imagine how starkly new it must have looked 120 years ago. It’s a shame this storefront space has never seemed to be fully utilized, until now.

      And you don’t like that the terra cotta doesn’t run up all four sides? Other people own the adjoining properties, and it was assumed that the neighbors might build right up and block the side walls, hence the need for the former central light well. A very common urban condition. That’s what would have happened in NYC or Chicago, but we just never got that big and dense.

      • OldFirstWard

        ” That’s what would have happened in NYC or Chicago, but we just never got that big and dense.”

        Well lets see, M&T Bank, Ellicott Square Building, HSBC Tower, Main Place Mall, Rath Building, City Hall, County Hall, Old Post Office, etc…

        • Vandra

          A dense block of individual buildings like they used to build, not the individual buildings on their own block like you list. Sure, if it’s surrounded by an open plaza, or fills an entire block, it should have all of it’s sides considered.

          Speaking of dense.

        • Nick

          So you’re naming buildings that take up entire blocks…. hard to have buildings on either side in those cases. not exactly a good comparison.

    • Mr. B

      “The Richardson Center should pay close attention to this. While they
      were busy allocating space for the hotel, restaurant, and conference
      rooms, they quietly and drastically shrunk the space for the
      Architecture Center down to one small room. An absolute tragedy for a
      National Historic Landmark complex of this size and stature.”

      No — an “absolute tragedy for a National Historic Landmark complex of this size and stature” would be leaving it empty and deteriorating, which is what the state was doing before lawsuits were filed and NYS formed the Richardson Center Corp. for its rehabilitation . . .


      • OldFirstWard

        Are you even paying attention to what is written? You just went off on some silly rant about what?

  • benfranklin

    They deserve credit for doing this. It’s one thing to tell people…’go checkout this or that building’… being able to point visitors to a building that is historically important, that also has details about the building’s story, is quite an advance. Great building, great project.

  • eagercolin

    I knew that Grover Cleveland was a partner at Phillips Lytle, but I guess he must have been one at Hodgson Russ, too. Something something non-consecutive occasions.

  • Michael Jarosz The building was modernized in the 60s (some would say
    vandalized). A lot of the cast iron was torn out and put out on the curb to be
    carted away as trash. I happened to be downtown that very day and found it
    lying there and rescued some of it. The full story was published in the Spring
    2014 issue of Western New York Heritage on page 7. In particular, the open cage elevator shafts
    were crudely enclosed. The elevator lobby walls were finished with 4 x 4 ceramic tile, the
    kind found in bathrooms, and an aluminum ashtray. I found a picture online.
    Looked like this:

    • greenca

      It’s unbelievable that anyone would consider the “modernization” in the photo above to be an improvement over the original cast iron.

  • breckenridge

    That model is really impressive. Can’t wait to go check out the space.

  • TrueStoryBflo

    That model is incredible. Those architecture students should be proud of that.