When I saw that Architectural Digest was doing a piece entitled “The Most Beautiful Public High School in Every State in America”, I was anxious to see if it would be one with which I am familiar. Buffalo is internationally renowned for its 19th and 20th Century architecture but I didn’t have any expectations of seeing a Buffalo school chosen, so this came as a pleasant surprise for a few reasons.
First, when I think of Buffalo’s treasures, public high schools don’t jump out me.When I think of the wonderful architecture we have in Buffalo, I can visualize the H.H. Richardson complex with its soaring Romanesque spires, the sprawling green spaces of Olmstead’s parks system. I can see the view from the top of the city’s art deco centerpiece, City Hall. While living downtown, I would loiter in Sullivan’s Guaranty Building and Burnham’s Ellicott Square and try to act nonchalant while photographing the country’s earliest “skyscrapers”, built in the time when America was deciding what it was going to be; how it would look.
While FLW’s Buffalo body of work garners the majority of the attention, the 1895 Guaranty Building built by Adler and Sullivan is a better-kept secret. Considered one of the first skyscrapers, every inch of the building is adorned with elaborate filigree, carved terra cotta blocks, and art glass amaze mask what was sophisticated construction for its time.
The buildings have become iconic to me: the H.H. Richardson complex with its soaring Romanesque spires, the sprawling green spaces of Olmstead’s parks system. I can see the view from the top of the city’s art deco centerpiece, City Hall. While living downtown, I would loiter in Sullivan’s Guaranty Building and Burnham’s Ellicott Square and try to act nonchalant while photographing the country’s earliest “skyscrapers”, built in the time when America was deciding what it was going to be; how it would look. My personal favorite is the modern Kleinhans Music Hall on Symphony Circle.
No Buffalo architecture post would be complete if it didn’t mention the inimitable Frank Lloyd Wright and the legacy left behind by the master and his patron, Darwin Martin. Might it not have been for the work of many dedicated individuals (mostly private citizens and not wealthy corporations nor generously endowed foundations) who sacrificed their time and often their savings to lovingly restore and repatriate Wright’s work, it wouldn’t be possible to enjoy masterpieces including the Martin House or Graycliff today. Posthumously erected projects built from Wright’s drawings like the Boat House and Filling Station at the Pierce Arrow Museum may not have even been conceived let alone brought to life.
Unfortunately, Wright’s Larkin Administration Building was lost to the bulldozer in the 1950s when things started to get tough. The only remaining part of the building, one if its brick support piers, a ruin, remains where it once held up its share of the weight from the massive office building. It can be found in the Larkin District, if you really want to look, under an overpass next to a KeyBank parking lot. While the building is gone, it remains the most influential of Wright’s work in Buffalo, if not in his entire career. It was the first office building to have such now-familiar features like floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows and open floor plans. The Larkin Administration building was the first office to have toilets mounted on the walls of the lavatories instead of the floors. For FLW’s 150th birthday celebration in 2016
For FLW’s 150th birthday celebration in 2016, the extremely talented AutoDesk CAD and 3D Studio Max magician, architectural historian, writer, artist, programmer, possible wizard, David Romero digitally resurrected the Larkin Administration Building in his eponymous project. To see what it would have been like to work at Larkin, don’t miss this opportunity. Thanks to David for his masterful modeling and rendering work. His Flickr photostream will take you inside the building, demolished over 65 years ago.
Although many of these treasures fell into tragic states of neglect, with parts and pieces being sold off, during those years of decline, a resurgence came with the new millennium. The citizen volunteers with a little help from charitable trusts as well as some support from the State protected a significant percentage of Buffalo’s architectural heritage from the wrecking ball. Years of restoration yielded spectacular results and the community has started once again to look forward. New designs like the magnificent visitor’s center at the Darwin Martin complex and the zinc-clad Burchfield-Penney Arts Center have garnered national recognition and the city is once again under construction.
Architectural Digest has been wonderfully supportive of all of Buffalo’s preservation efforts and extremely gracious in their mentions of the city so I could only assume that this good fortune couldn’t possibly continue. Right? I assumed that New York State must be dotted with public schools on the National Registry of Historic Places. The Leatherstockings must be chock-a-block with school districts dating back to the picturesque times of James Fennimore Cooper and Sleepy Hollow must have a lovingly preserved, colonial-era secondary school ripped right from the pages of a storybook, I was certain. It is these colonial and federal structures, evocative of Independence Hall in Philadelphia with its central spire topped by a bell and weather vein that would surely be chosen.
I did have one slim possibility in mind for a potential local contender, but I quickly dismissed it. I have always thought that Hutchinson Central Technical High School, colloquially Hutch-Tech, is magnificent. The wings with their tapered piers help to lift the eye upwards towards a bright future and the lower front entrance is beautifully styled and keeps one centered and grounded with the focal point being the clock so that one doesn’t miss the opportunities offered behind the large doors. Recently renovated, the brickwork is vibrant and perfectly pointed, the courses of windows with a smaller top course alternating to an arched form where they encountered the elongated piers which flank each side entrance seem to give it a strength of character as if it could withstand siege or storm and not give a fraction of an inch. Hutch-Tech is pretty cool looking. But AD specifically said it was choosing the most “beautiful” public high school and while I would describe it as beautiful, it didn’t sound like the style they were seeking. At least I had a rooting interest. If I had been at the track, I would have gone with a $2 trifecta, boxed all, with Hutch Tech, Fast Times at Natty Bumpo High and The Sleepy Hollow School for Cranially Challenged Equestrians.
And the Winner is …
I had largely forgotten to check the results and the issue sat on my coffee table for a week like an old Netflix DVD, while I thumbed through ads until hit the article with AD’s winning selections. Moving page by page alphabetically through each state, one institution was more beautiful than the next. I’ve included a few of my favorites below. When I got to New Mexico, I dug out my journal where I had jotted a few thoughts and with an imagined drum roll, I flipped the page, squinted for just a moment and then gave a small pump of the fist. A Buffalo school had won and it is possessive would have expected the chosen structure to feature.
PS198 is a magnificent building. Formerly Grover Cleveland High School, it is now the home of The International Preparatory School. The large structure occupies an entire city block on Buffalo’s West Side. Erected in 1913, it possesses enough Georgian and Colonial attributes to warrant adding the words “Revival” and affixing the label. It is a big building occupying the entire city block bounded by 14th Street to the north, Normal Avenue to the south, York Street on the west and Jersey Street to its east. Located about two blocks to the east of PS198 is Kleinhans Music Hall and perched high above Olmstead’s Front Park and the bluffs leading down to the Niagara River and across Lake Erie. We chucked a few paper planes at the Google Map machine in the event you get the opportunity to visit and need some directions.
This is awesome stuff! Congratulations to the Buffalo School District, PS198, I-Prep students and faculty, Buffalo Architectural Preservation Society and Buffalo Historical Society and citizens of Buffalo and WNY. You have another feather in your cap to further reinforce to the world that the Nickel City possesses the architecture deserving of both preservation and a visit. Visa, Mastercard, and American Express accepted and we will consider par on Canadian once you get over the bridge, okay?
Link to the selections from Architectural Digest’s The Most Beautiful Public High School in Every State in America
A few of my personal favorites. Let us know your favorites, or even better yet, let us know if any of these is your alma mater. It is almost impossible to pick favorites as we are blessed to have such marvelous architecture in our country.
While the structures may be treasures, it is the teachers inside them who are truly priceless. The Paper Plane supports charities for educators. If your life was impacted by a great teacher, consider giving back to a non-profit teacher support organization via simple online micro-funding.
Jared Connor is a software developer, writer, historian, maker from Philadelphia, PA living in Western New York. He is the creator of this publication and often its primary contributor except when spelled by his girlfriend or terrier. Their posts are easy to spot; there are fewer typos. The staff hopes you enjoy the content.