The Gates Circle rotary (circa 1900) is found at the furthermost end of Chapin Parkway, intersecting Delaware Avenue – just down from Millionaire’s Row. While most Americans view these types of roundabouts as automobile access points – to simply get from point A to point B – Europeans view these architectural gems more as placemaking conveniences. Whereas in the US, the roundabouts are mostly for cars, in Europe they are also for people.
Roundabouts such as Gates Circle were not always deemed mere transportation conveniences in worldly cities such as Buffalo. For example, when this particular “parkway bookend” was constructed, life was much slower, and so was traffic. It was an era when horseback riders could be seen trotting down bridle paths along the scenic Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parkways. At the time, the roundabouts were built as gathering points where people could picnic, enjoy the scenery, listen to the fountains… and talk.
And talk they did!
What they might not have known was that other people sitting within the harmonious Gates Circle roundabout might be eavesdropping. That’s because the carved circular stone bench that encompasses the perimeter of the large fountain was designed as a “whispering gallery,” thusly named because of the words that effortlessly travel around the seating arena. The sounds “hug” the curvature of the stone, working their way outwards as far as 115’ away, or possibly before that if they are intercepted by an unsuspecting fellow visitor (or spy!)
When renowned architect EB Green designed Gates Circle, he did so with European sensibilities in mind. Not only is the focal point – the dramatic fountain – a pleasure to view, it’s also a cacophonous distraction that beguiles visitors into letting their guards down while seated within the whispering gallery, which is believed to be the only one in Buffalo.
The roundabout, part of the Frederick Law Olmsted park system, is at the intersection of Delaware Avenue and Chapin Parkway