This past week, on Memorial Day, the nation honored those who bravely served and ultimately sacrificed in the U.S. Armed Forces. For this week’s building profile, Explore Buffalo staff member and docent Suzanne Ernst profiles two historic armories in the city that have housed the United States Army National Guard/New York State National Guard for more a hundred years.
Two of the most – arguably, THE most – imposing buildings in Buffalo are not in the city’s center, but on the West and East sides of city. With their massive masonry and acreage spanning entire city blocks, the Connecticut Street Armory and the Masten Avenue Armory have both been the site of branches of the New York State National Guard for more than a century.
Prior to the U.S. Civil War, armories were more commonly known as arsenals, and their main purpose was to house weaponry and munitions. As the 19th century drew on, armories were built on a grander scale and architectural aesthetics were more carefully considered. In addition to serving as utilitarian storage facilities, the buildings now also included administration buildings, designated areas for training, and social clubs for the soldiers.
As the structure of the buildings themselves were reconsidered, so was the structure of the militias who utilized them. During the years surrounding the Civil War, state militias were renamed as the National Guard, largely in part to create an obvious military presence in the uneasy years of ante-bellum tension and post-war reconstruction. The physical presence of the soldiers was made even more known to the public with construction of these armories of grand scale.
The physical presence of the soldiers was made even more known to the public with construction of these armories of grand scale.
American armories from 1879 onward tended to follow the same pattern: European medieval architecture resembling castles or fortresses with grand central entrances complete with portcullis (gated entries) and thin, slit windows. The use of this architecture was not just aesthetic: the armories truly were meant to be used as military fortresses should unrest arise.
The Connecticut Street Armory, opened in 1899, was designed by Isaac G. Perry and Captain Williams Lansing. Encompassing an entire city block on Connecticut Street between Prospect Avenue and Niagara Street, it was the largest armory in the United States at the time of its completion. The building measures in at 280,362 square feet and 4.87 acres.
Isaac G. Perry, the lead on the project, was considered to be the “first state architect of New York.” He is best known for his design of the State Capitol Building in Albany, built between 1883 and 1899. His commission to design the Connecticut Street Armory was not a unique one: it was one of nineteen armories in New York State designed by Perry between 1872 and 1899. Other local armories by Perry include the Niagara Falls Armory and the Tonawanda Armory (now known as Tonawanda Castle).
Perry chose Buffalo native, and member of the New York National Guard’s 74th Regiment, Williams Lansing as his Superintendent of Construction for the project. A graduate of Buffalo State Normal School (now Buffalo State College), Lansing designed a number of other well-known Buffalo landmarks like the Lafayette Presbyterian Church and buildings on the Canisius College campus. He went on to earn the title of Supervising Architect of the Pan American Exposition in 1901.
In 1894, it was brought to the attention of the New York State Legislature that the local 74th Regiment of the New York National Guard had grown to over 500 members, and its original accommodations were no longer adequate. At that time, the Regiment was housed in the Virginia Street Armory (1886). (After the Regiment moved out, the building was eventually converted into the Elmwood Music Hall, now demolished.) The Regiment was able to acquire the large plot of land on Connecticut Street, an abandoned reservoir once used by the city’s firefighters.
Construction began on the armory in 1896 and was completed in 1899 in the midst of the Spanish-American War.
Construction began on the armory in 1896 and was completed in 1899 in the midst of the Spanish-American War. You can view historic photos of its construction on the New York State Military Museum’s website. Perry chose the style of Richardsonian Romanesque, the only style of architecture named after an American architect, H.H. Richardson. Richardsonian characteristics on the building include the illusion of “heaviness” with the use of massive stone masonry, Romanesque arches used in doorways and windows, a “cavernous” grand entryway and tall towers. The armory also has the aforementioned castle/fortress appearance, characteristic of most American armories built in that time period. The armory is made of Medina sandstone, like Buffalo’s true H.H. Richardson Building, the Buffalo State Asylum (now Hotel Henry).
Inside, there is a grand drill hall called the Great Court.
Inside, there is a grand drill hall called the Great Court (one of the largest enclosed drill halls in the world at the time of construction) a mess hall, a parlor and a social club. Though the exterior boasts of stone and fortification, interior features include elegant oak carved staircases, newels, fireplaces, wainscoting and crown molding.
The 74th Regiment remained at the Connecticut Street Armory until 1920, though its Veterans Association still meets at the building to this day. In 1982, a fire damaged the back half of the armory and that part was rebuilt. Through the decades, different regiments have occupied Connecticut Street. Today several National Guard regiments occupy the building including:
- 153rd Troop Command Brigade
- Co. C, 427th Brigade Support Battalion
- 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion
- 152nd Engineer Support Company
Like the Connecticut Street armory, the Masten Avenue Armory, located on Buffalo’s East Side between Best Street and North Street also suffered a fire. Unlike Connecticut Street, the Masten Avenue location was completely destroyed and an entirely new structure was built on the same site. Originally constructed between 1902 and 1907 for the 65th Regiment of the New York National Guard, it was even larger than Connecticut Street at 388,089 square feet on 10.42 acres of land. The current building, which this article will focus on, now stands at 267,266 square feet.
In 1932, architect William Haugaard was chosen to rebuild the armory. Like Perry before him, Haugaard was the official State Architect of New York. He had experience in building fortress-like structures, as he is responsible for twelve armories in New York, and best known for designing the Attica State Prison and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Haugaard redesigned the Masten Avenue Armory in the Art Deco style, which was widely popular at the time. (Buffalo’s City Hall, built just before the armory in 1931 is another well known example of Art Deco architecture in the city.) It features two large castle-like turrets flanking the grand entryway with brickwork making up the exterior of the building.
Today, the Masten Avenue Armory still functions in its original purpose. Like Connecticut Street Armory, it has hosted many different regiments over the decades. Today, it is occupied by:
- Headquarters: 42nd Infantry Division, Detachment 1
- 2nd Squadron, Troop C, 101st Cavalry
- Co. D, 427th Brigade Support Battalion
LaChiusa, Chuck, Buffalo as an Architectural Museum: https://buffaloah.com/a/conn/184/tc.html
The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center: https://dmna.ny.gov/historic/armories/armories.htm
Todd, Nancy L. New York State’s Armories: An Illustrated History. SUNY Press: 2006
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