Urban Adventures: Buffalo Edition

As summer drew to a close we celebrated one year as husband and wife (hi-fives all around!).  We decided to treat ourselves to a much needed vacation to…romantic Buffalo, New York.

I know you think that statement was meant to be ironic – and perhaps prior to our trip I would have meant for it to be – but I am dead serious.

How did we decide on Buffalo?  Well, we’re members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and in a magazine article this past year they detailed out some of the incredible things happening in Buffalo.  This list of really fabulous projects included the most ambitious Frank Lloyd Wright restoration ever undertaken – The Darwin D. Martin House Complex.  This wasn’t the first time Buffalo had peaked our travel interest – NTHP held their annual conference there last year as well & we had heard about their phenomenal architecture & public spaces.

Once we decided to go, my hubster did the next most logical thing…he contacted Visit Buffalo Niagara & had them send us some visitors materials (laugh all you want but this was like having a free tour guide).  Shortly there after we received their Buffalo Stories DVD – which was actually super helpful and gave us a few additional places to add to our list.  I also reached out to a few bloggers in the area that gave me some additional sites – a special thanks to David Torke from fixBuffalo who hooked us up with a great list (in addition to the sites below we visited several from his blog).

We knew that we only had about 1.5 days in Buffalo (we planned to spend the rest of the long weekend in Toronto) so we made our schedule, packed the Volvo & headed east early on Friday morning.  After about 4 hours we landed at the Martin House Complex.  At first I thought we had made a wrong turn – this unbelievable site is located on the corner of an otherwise unassuming (but nice) urban residential block.

We’ve been on quite a few architectural tours between the two of us but we both agreed that this was the absolute best we had been on.  The tour was well-planned, interactive, multi-sensory & our guide was top notch.  As the restoration is ongoing, it was interesting to see portions of the property in various stages of being brought back to life.  The story behind the property lends to the intrigue – Mr. Martin commissioned the project as a means of reconciling a less than idyllic childhood.  He longed to have his family within close proximity and worked with Wright to design this compound-style site.  This would be his family’s primary residence for the next 25 years.  Sadly, as a result of the Great Depression, Mr. Martin died penniless and, though his wife & children attempted to maintain the property after his death, they simply could not afford it and abandoned the house in 1937.  Various organizations (including University of Buffalo – who used it as a former President’s residence) have owned the property over time, but none were willing to tackle the herculean task of restoring it to it’s original state.  Eventually, a group came together (The Martin House Restoration Corporation) and did the impossible – raising funds & painstakingly putting the property together piece by historically accurate piece (including complete re-builds of several structures).  I was mesmerized by this place – I cannot urge you enough to take a trip to see this masterpiece for yourself.

We wrapped the tour & headed over to our “residence” for the evening – The Mansion on Delaware.

What a special place to spend our anniversary.  The staff was fun & attentive – you even have your own butler for your stay!  Looking around at the other guests during the complimentary cocktail hour (#winning) I thought I had been transported in time to an upscale salon full of creme-de-la-creme industrialist millionaires.

Upon the urging of a friend who grew up in Buffalo, we made reservations at Tempo for dinner.  Now, we’re spoiled living in the epicurian epicenter of the Midwest (I’m not the only one who feels this way about Cleveland…) but it’s been a long time since we’ve had a meal quite like this.

Couldn’t resist the photo op with their stately “hunt”!  If you don’t know what that means, ask a Bubbi.  I digress…

Our evening began with cocktails at the bar – their bartender was one of the better that we’ve come across on our travels.  He made me a signature cocktail which included Pernod (I’m now a fan).  We then feasted on some out-of-this-world calamari, a tandoor lamb special (which I plan on replicating at home) & their signature steak (which included pan seared gnocci & braised escarole – Eric was blown away by this dish).  Knowing it was our anniversary, the staff treated us to a couple o’ glasses of the bubbly & dessert (I think they also felt bad because the 60-something equivalent of “girls gone wild” seemed to be at the table next to us.  We actually didn’t mind – it was like free entertainment!  Hey, we’re pretty easy going).

Both our hotel & Tempo were located on Buffalo’s equivalent of Millionaire’s Row.  It made my heart hurt to think about what we could have had in Cleveland now had people actually preserved those structures.  We’re lucky that a few still exist and I do hope to see them used more publicly, as in Buffalo, moving forward.  Time will tell.

The next morning we got up early and began our own, self-guided tour of Buffalo’s architecture – starting with City Hall.

Buffalo City Hall

Buffalo City Hall | Continued

Though it was a Saturday, the building was open & we were able to sneak up to the 360 degree observation deck that wraps the entire perimeter (which, as you can see, gives breath-taking views of the city center and north east bend of the mighty Lake Erie).  No detail (or expense, I imagine) was spared in erecting this gem.  It reminds me a little of the Guardian Building in Detroit with its Native American influenced, Art Deco style.  Truth be told, I couldn’t step out on the perimeter deck – my subtle fear of heights kicked in and I watched as the hubs did a lap.

We drove around the city visiting other sites like Larkin Square:

Though it was the middle of the day on a Friday & not many people were out, it was still fun to see how they have created a really great public space (which includes an outdoor cafe/bar as pictured).  I would love to see something like this in Cleveland – maybe on the lake front, flats or Public Square (nudge, nudge if anyone of of means is reading…).

We also visited the Guaranty Building, restored Lafayette Hotel & Ellicott Building:

While the Guaranty & Lafayette are in great condition & seem to be densely populated, the Ellicott (which was one of the buildings I was most looking forward to seeing – pictured above) could benefit from some love.  There is very little business inside and we were greeted by a less than friendly guard at the front desk who saw our cameras and made us sign a waiver which said that we would not sell the photographs (he did say that we could post them on the blog).  Amazingly, the leaded glass ceiling is still in remarkable condition.  I hope that they can find a way to put this building back into fashion soon – it’s too special not to be “lived in.”

Next up was a trip to The Colored Musicians Club of Buffalo:

Colored Musicians Club | Buffalo

Founded in 1917, this was the first Black musicians union in Buffalo & the 8th in the country.  If you’re into Jazz like we are, this is a must see.  Everyone has played here – I do not exaggerate.  From Duke Ellington to Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie – this long narrow club has seen the best that Jazz has to offer.  On the day we were there, it being afternoon and all, we thought it was closed.  On a whim we rang the doorbell and were buzzed up.  There was a group of teenagers playing jazz with an older mentor on drums (he seemed like a local legend from the way everyone was treating him).  We sat down with some younger students in the back and listened to them practice for a while.  This club is no longer an all-Black club and now people of all races make music together.  It’s a beautiful thing to see.

In the top right corner you’ll also see the famous Michigan Street Baptist Church – which is right across the street, the founding pastor’s residence still in tact & preserved as a museum (unfortunately we didn’t have time to go through but plan to on a future trip.  This was an important stop on the Underground Railroad).

Finally we grabbed a late brunch and strolled around Elmwood Village before heading to Canada (though we didn’t want to leave!):

Buffalo, you’ve found fans in shark&minnow.  Thanks for keeping it classy – we’ll be back.