Earlier this April BWAF traveled to Buffalo, NY, to attend the 66th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), one of the most successful to date. It marked a pilgrimage of sorts – as Buffalo was home to Louise Blanchard Bethune (1856-1913), who in 1888 became the first woman architect to join the American Institute of Architects (AIA). As a tribute, BWAF co-sponsored “Louise Bethune and the Lafayette Hotel,” an SAH walking tour of the recently rehabilitated landmark in the heart of downtown Buffalo.
Leading the tour were two Bethune boosters: Rocco Termini, the visionary developer of the property, and Kelly Hayes McAlonie, interim associate vice provost of the University of Buffalo’s Capital Planning Group and immediate past president of AIA New York State. Hayes McAlonie co-curated an exhibit about Bethune’s life and prolific career that opened in 2011 at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.
Termini, a Buffalo native and one of the city’s leading developers, understands the cultural and economic value of preserving key historic structures as exemplified by the $35-million rehabilitation project of the Lafayette Hotel.
Bethune and her firm, Bethune, Bethune & Fuchs, designed the original seven-story steel frame and concrete building with its richly chromatic façade of red brick and white terracotta. Subsequent additions were by Esenwein and Johnson (1916-17,1924-26), and in 1942 the lobby was transformed into the Art Moderne style. When it opened in 1904, the Lafayette was considered one of the 15 finest hotels in the whole country, with its lavishly decorated public rooms, elevators, and each room featured hot and cold running water and a telephone.
The recent restoration was completed in 2012, and the hotel now comprises a mixed-use complex with 115 one and two bedroom rentals, 34 hotel rooms, several bars and restaurants (from affordable pub to haute cuisine), retail, and extensive banquet facilities. The restoration was the work of architect Jonathan Morris of the Buffalo firm Carmina Wood Morris.
Another BWAF connection to Buffalo was found on the grounds of the Darwin D. Martin House complex, the magnificent suite of buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright. Built at the same time as Bethune’s Layette Hotel, Wright’s work exemplifies his Prairie Style and ranks as one of his finest residential works. In 2009, after 12 years of extensive reconstruction and restoration efforts that are still ongoing today, the Martin House opened the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion, a 7,775 sqf. visitor welcome and interpretive center designed by Toshiko Mori Architect.
In her 2010 Women of Architecture presentation at the National Building Museum, Toshiko Mori articulated the design’s intent to “enhance the Martin House through contrast rather than imitation,” yet continue “Wright’s own lifelong interest in innovation through the exploration of new materials and technologies.” The glass façade, for example, reflects the public nature of the visitor building’s program—and literally reflects Wright’s structure—while contrasting with the heaviness and introversion of Wright’s design. SAH members flocked to the site throughout the conference, and the Visitor Center was a fitting and festive venue for the conference’s Closing Reception on Saturday evening, April 14.
All photo credits: BWAFArchives