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19th Century Commercial Architecture in Buffalo: Pearl Street Block

When walking on the Pearl Street between Seneca and Swan Streets, one can take a journey through a commercial architecture timeline of the mid to late 19th Century. It is also a story of successful adaptive reuse: something of which Buffalo can call itself a leader.

Explore Buffalo staff member and docent Suzanne Ernst describes the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, the Lofts on Pearl, and the Dun Building. All three of these buildings are stops on Explore Buffalo’s Masters of American Architecture walking tour, now being offered several days a week throughout the summer.

The Pearl Street Grill and Brewery (1841), the Lofts on Pearl/Webb Building (1888), and the Dun Building (1895) are all typical of what one would see on the streets of downtown Buffalo in the late 1800s. The reason for so many commercial buildings in this area was their proximity to the Canal District, once one of the busiest commercial centers in the country.

Today, when looking south toward Lake Erie from this block, one will see the Skyway, parking lots, and the Marine Drive apartment complex. But in the late 19th Century, buildings like these three would have extended all the way to the lake. They were all alike in structure: four to five stories high, made of brick with load bearing walls and iron store fronts.

76 Pearl Street has reopened time and time again as different businesses. It was originally built in 1841 as a four-story warehouse. It operated as a dressmaker’s warehouse for one H.O. Putnam beginning and ending in 1891. The dressmaker’s business did not last long as within the same year, R.C. Neal Co. bought it and opened a hardware store. On the street level, a restaurant, MacGarry’s, existed and it evolved into Garcia’s Irish Pub in 1983. In 1997, it reopened again as Pearl Street Grill and Brewery and has remained as that business ever since. Today, the brewery and restaurant occupy all floors of the building and it is a popular spot for hosting special events.

Next door is the Lofts on Pearl at 92 Pearl Street, built in 1888 for a prominent local entrepreneur named Jewett Richmond. Richmond made his fortune in the grain silos in Buffalo and has a street on the West Side named after him, as well as a chapel in St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral downtown. It was designed by architect Cyrus Eidlitz in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, easily identifiable as that style through its arched windows that extend multiple stories. It was originally built to house a belt and hose factory.

It 1 sat vacant for decades during which time, the roof had caved in. In 2006, it was purchased by local developer Rocco Termini, who adapted the building into loft apartments. Termini teamed up with Hotel at the Lafayette to recreate the space as a boutique hotel known as the Lofts on Pearl. Today, the hotel operates under Wyndham Hotels. There are two attractive events spaces on the ground floor, whose catering is managed under the Pearl Street Family of Companies. This adaptive reuse project was notable because other than roof repair and minor alterations on street level, the exterior is completely original.

One of the most unique looking buildings, easily identifiable by Buffalonians, is the Dun Building, built between 1894 and 1895. It was designed by Green and Wicks, the firm known for the original 1905 section of the Albright Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo Savings Bank (now M&T Gold Dome at Fountain Plaza), and several other area homes and buildings. It is Buffalo’s very first high rise building. As cities’ populations continued to grow in the late 19th century, architects and builders considered how they could build more on less land to offset real estate costs: enter the high rise building. The Dun building is actually three different elevations set on top of one another. The four-story high arched window on the front of the building is meant to give uniformity to each elevation. Green and Wicks knew that they were up against a challenge when it came to building a high rise: how to keep a tall building standing against the high winds and strong storms that come off of Lake Erie. Their solution was to use a combination of thick, load-bearing walls and a steel skeleton.

Their method obviously worked as the Dun Building is still standing today! Its style is High Rise with Classical Ornamentation. Classical elements include the bulls eye windows on the front of the building, egg and dart molding, and dentils. The Dun Building is so unique looking due to how narrow it seems from the front. However, the building widens behind the façade – but then narrows to come to a point at the back of the building, along what was once Erie Street and is now a small park. The reason for this is the unusually shaped plots of land that Joseph Ellicott, the city’s designer, plotted out in 1799. Green and Wicks shaped the building to its plot. The Dun Building was originally built for R.G. Dun & Company, a business credit rating company. The company no longer works out of the building, but several other businesses rent space there from its current owner, Priam 2 Enterprises, LLC. A restaurant, Sato Brew Pub, occupies the basement level.

Photo Credit: Laura Calandra and Brad Hahn


You can discover more local architecture and history by signing up for Explore Buffalo’s weekly email newsletter, which is filled with local history content every Monday, and by following Explore Buffalo on Facebook at facebook.com/ExploreBuffalo. In a typical year, more than 80% of Explore Buffalo’s revenue comes from tours, events, and other public programs, all of which were suspended until July 2020. You can help Explore Buffalo to continue its mission of promoting Buffalo architecture and history during this time by:


Also see Explore Buffalo Building Profiles:

M&T Plaza 

Calumet Building

The Buffalo AKG Art Museum

Fontana Boathouse

The Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation

The Clement House

Blessed Virgin Mary R.C. Church

Buffalo’s Armories

St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church

Old Post Office

Holy Angels Church

Electric Tower

Kleinhans Music Hall

Blessed Trinity Roman Catholic Church

First Presbyterian Church

Written by Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo is a nonprofit organization with a mission of promoting Buffalo and Western New York history, architecture, and neighborhoods through quality education to learners of all ages. Explore Buffalo's volunteer docents lead a wide range of guided tours by foot, bike, bus, kayak, and boat to explore our city's history and architecture; in 2019, more than 25,000 people participated in an Explore Buffalo tour or program. Learn more at explorebuffalo.org

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