Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A tourist in one'shome town

Part three: Buffalo

As long as we were in Buffalo, I decided to pop into City Hall and get a copy of Mad Scientist's birth certificate, since I ruined his original one by spilling sun screen all over it. Buffalo's City Hall is a notable building in architecture circles. It's a 1929 Art Deco building, and although it's only 28 stories high, it dominates the skyline and is one of the biggest city halls in the country. Its location close to the waterfront keeps it apart from the clutter of the other downtown buildings.
The vital records office was on the 13th floor, and getting the birth certificate turned out to be not nearly as much hassle as I anticipated. Back in the lobby, I noticed a sign:
Was it possible for us to go up? Used to Washington, DC, I expected to be challenged, or searched by a bored-yet-hostile security guard, but no one seemed concerned by the sight of me, Mr. McP and Mad Scientist waiting for the elevator on the opposite side of the lobby from where there elevators were for citizens with legitimate business in City Hall. “What the hell,” I thought. I knew that if it turned out strangers weren't allowed unlimited access to the tower, I could just say, “I'm from Virginia and I'm lost.” Because one thing you can absolutely count on in Buffalonians is that they are friendly to out-of-town visitors. (Except those from NYC or Long Island.) So up we went on the express elevator to the 25th floor. From there we had to climb the last three floors on foot and came out into a bare, circular room with doors leading out to a tiny parapet that goes all the way around the outside of the tower. The zig-zag yellow and orange bakelite decorations at the top of the building form the railing around the parapet. Only now, there's a tall piece of plexiglass atop the railing. Some time in the 1950s or '60s, a man committed suicide by jumping off the railing of the balcony and somehow impaling himself on the flag pole, many stories below. You can see the flag pole in the pictures, only I'm sure it's a different flag pole.

We weren't alone up there either. A group of German and Japanese tourists were also enjoying the view from the top of the tower. Like most people from Buffalo, I was almost pathetically pleased that people from somewhere else (foreign countries, even) had come to appreciate the beauty of my city.
You can see the infamous flag pole in this picture.


Views from top of tower. Some of the water is Lake Erie, some is the Niagara River, dotted with islands.

Back in the lobby. (Ceiling.)
Then we hopped on the street car and went to the Erie Canal terminus, which is being restored. There wasn't much to see, really, but I remember rowing past these grain elevators when I did crew.

Street car station

We walked past the Guarantee building, designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler and built in 1896.


  1. Whew, what a view! Now I'm intrigued by Buffalo.

  2. They cut down that flag pole to remove that impaled jumper - but they could have saved money by just cutting the man in half.

  3. The 19 year old man who committed suicide and got impaled on the flag pole - it happened in 1976. And it didn't happen to the flagpole on the center of the building. It happened on the left side of the building - right outside my father's office window!

  4. Sorry Ruth, but you're wrong. He DID land on the flag pole directly in front of City Hall. I was there that day and saw him hanging on it. It was the most disgusting thing I ever saw. Traffic in Niagara Square was at a complete standstill with everyone in their cars staring and what was even worse was the employees of City Hall hanging out the windows at eye level with this guy. Also, there are no flag poles on the sides of the building that I ever saw, and I worked down there too! One thing that was done after this was the replacement flag pole was much shorter.