The Witty City

The restored Hotel Lafayette.
My home town of Buffalo, NY is certainly one of the most beautiful cities in America. Each time I return, it’s in better repair.
Take the Lafayette Hotel, where I stayed this weekend. I remember it as a dilapidated building with one room open to the public. Local and out-of-town acts played the Lafayette Tap Room, using the former lunchroom as their Green Room. It was as if Father Time had locked the lunchroom door in 1960, not even bothering to clear away the dishes. I had lunch there yesterday; it is exquisitely restored to its 1911 grandeur. In contrast, the ballrooms, lobby and bar are all flamboyantly Art Deco in character.
Bar at the Hotel Lafayette.
Future Buffalo men watching the Bills from the mezzanine at the lunch room of the Hotel Lafayette (now run by the Pan American Grill people).
Next door is the former Adam, Meldrum and Anderson headquarters. There is a streak of whimsy in a city that maintains signage for a department store that’s been gone since 1994.
AM&A’s dress ads on Washington Street.
1912 Electric Tower.
Down the street is the Electric Tower, built in 1912 as a copy of the electric tower at Buffalo’s Pan American Exhibition. It is a Beaux-Arts confection of white terra cotta tile, an outstanding example in a city full of terra cotta architecture.
Buffalo’s City Hall
My favorite building, of course, is City Hall, which appears to be giving the finger to the world. In 1929, it was designed with a passive cooling system that took advantage of the prevailing Lake Erie breezes. Trendy, huh?
Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Monochrome I, Built to Live Anywhere, at Home Here (2010-2011, Nancy Rubins)
Somehow, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery has managed to continue obtaining fine work, despite the economic woes Buffalo has endured for the last half century. It has acquired an exuberant mash-up of aluminum canoes by Nancy Rubins for its front lawn. In a northern city threaded by fantastic waterways, it’s somehow topical (although, as the title indicates, that’s beside the point).
Across the street at the Burchfield-Penney Art Museum, there’s a son et lumière projection called “Front Yard.” Mercifully, it was cold, so our windows were rolled up. Thus we missed the soundtrack, which is computer-generated from local weather station readings. At the opening, “viewers were treated to work by ’70s heavyweights Hollis Frampton, Paul Sharits and Steina Vasulka,” reported Colin Dabkowski in the Buffalo News. (The visuals change constantly.)
That’s so Buffalo—centered around the weather and redolent of the age of mullets. All it needs is a paean to Lou Reed (dead yesterday at age 71) and a reference to sports and it would be the perfect Buffalo experience. But don’t think I’m critical. Both installations are more thoughtful and grounded than the anodyne sculptures by Tom Otterness acquired by the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, which are redolent of nothing more than a tag sale in Manhattan.

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