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The Cyclorama Building Home Page-Historic Canada/U.S. Border Landmark
Turn this page into a double-sided digest size booklet. Give to other decision makers in your company or to your prospective employer. Link will take you to an independent Website for a software download. (5 minutes at 28.8k)
We are pleased to announce our move to Buffalo NY's historic Olympic Towers effective January 1, 1998. We are no longer in the Cyclorama Building, but will leave this page on the Web as a public service. Here is my new address for your records:
After five years in the Cyclorama Building, our lease has expired. We are now moving into the downtown core, closer to the Federal Building and the INS office. Olympic Towers is also known as "the YMCA building."
Local architects E. B. Green & W. S. Wicks designed the YMCA building during the City's greatest period of urban expansion. The 1902 building features a 10- story Flemish Renaissance tower. The tower is a distinguishing feature of Buffalo's skyline. It is the most elegant YMCA building in the United States and was only the second in the country to offer living accommodations. An award-winning renovation produced unusually beautiful and functional Class A space. The building---in the downtown core---attracts some of N. America's leading business and professional tenants.
An office environment can say a great deal about an organization. The Law Office of Joseph C. Grasmick, Business Immigration is in one of Buffalo's most historic and functional office facilities----the Cyclorama Building. We hope you're as interested as we were in finding out more about the extraordinary rehab of this 1888 building. Thanks to the efforts of Linda Fiscus, of the Frank L. Ciminelli Construction Company, this historical report has been prepared for your review. The building is in Buffalo, minutes from the international Canada-U.S. Peace Bridge.
Our location is of practical significance to our clients:
We are proud of our offices and invite you to visit us.
by Linda Fiscus
Everything has a history, whether it is a country, government, business or even family lineage. This history helps to shape people and things into what they are today or will be in the future. The Cyclorama Building, located on Franklin Street in Buffalo's Theater District, is one building that has a varied history. (The word "cyclorama" comes from the Greek word "cycl," meaning circle, and "orama," meaning viewing. (BF, 1985)). This building, which dates back to 1888 and contrary to popular belief was not used for bicycle races, definitely exudes a sense of the past from the first time you walk into its impressive atrium. As the saying goes, "if these walls could talk, what a story they would tell." This Buffalo landmark conjures up many images of a time gone by in the history of Buffalo.
the full size photograph of the Cyclorama Building, showing distinctive brick
portal.: a creative solution to a design problem---where to enter a round
building.(175K GIF file)
To trace a path back to the history of this unique 16-sided building, one has to begin with a prisoner in an Irish jail in 1788. It was here that the idea for three-dimensional exhibits was born. The cycloramas would be both a form of education and entertainment. The paintings would be housed in circular buildings and hung in chronological order. (Fess, 120). The birth of the prisoner's dream in this area began with the Buffalo Cyclorama Company. In May 1887, in connection with the Buffalo Cyclorama Company, Henry Altman traveled to Europe to help promote an exhibit on canvas of the grandeur of Niagara Falls (BDC, 4). The famous French artist, Philippoteaux, was commissioned to paint a view of the Falls on a 400 ft. long and 50 ft. wide canvas. The exhibit of this grandiose depiction took place in London (October 1888) and Paris (1889). The response was so great to these exhibits in Europe, that the Buffalo Cyclorama Company decided to bring the experience to those on American soil. So, on July 18, 1888, the ground breaking took place for the Cyclorama Building in Buffalo (BCA, 3).
At a meeting of the officers and board of trustees of the Buffalo Cyclorama Company, in August 1888, they discussed the first exhibit to be housed in the newly constructed building, "Jerusalem on the Day of the Crucifixion." William Wehner, who was the owner of the Milwaukee Panorama Studio, as well as a trustee of the Buffalo Cyclorama Company, was instrumental in obtaining this magnificent piece of artwork for the opening of the building.
The German artist, Karl Frosch, was commissioned by Munich to go to Jerusalem to do extensive research and then create a panoramic view of the city as it appeared on that ill-fated day (BCA, 3). Wehner knew Frosch, so, he negotiated with him to create a panorama for this country. Wehner was successful and Frosch came to Buffalo to create his masterpiece. This was a major accomplishment not only for the Buffalo Cyclorama Company but the City of Buffalo as well. It was pivotal to have secured such a renowned painter to create the first exhibit to help the venture take flight. People began rapidly buying up stock in the new enterprise and shortly before its opening only a few shares remained. It was apparent that the Buffalo Cyclorama Company was on the road to success. Now all that was needed was for the building to be completed and the exhibit to arrive.
The exhibit arrived on Saturday, August 18, 1888. It measured 400 ft. long and 50 ft. high and was to be housed in the new building, which was 130 ft. in diameter and 92 ft. high (BCA, 3). On the day of its arrival, the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser contained this excerpt from a Chicago Daily News reporter,
"It is a work of magnitude, of beauty, and of delicacy. Of the many cycloramas which, during the last five years, have been viewed by the Chicago public, there has been no other that approached this one in the particulars of sublimity and fineness of treatment. In no other work of its kind have we found so vast a multiplicity of detail; the demands upon the artists have been most extraordinary, involving, in addition to the archeological research and the most careful study of sacred and profane history. Here then, we have a reverential treatment of that sublime sacrifice, which for nineteen centuries has constituted the faith of civilization. The data was obtained in Jerusalem. Artists spent many months in the holy city preparing drawings and sketches, which were submitted to recognize authorities and thus was produced a cyclorama historically correct. The work as a whole, and in each of its detail, is simply marvelous (BCA, 3)."
This glowing review of the cyclorama was a tremendous boost for Buffalo and it showed that the city had a cultural side to its very industrial image.
On Saturday, September 8, 1888, the Cyclorama was opened with a private showing for reporters, artists, clergyman and other prominent citizens. The first guests were awed by the painstaking detail and overwhelming amount of work that went into the building and the artwork, which was quite an accomplishment since the building was erected in about two months time. F.C.M. Lautz, a reporter for the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, was among one of the guests. He made this somewhat prophetic statement about the building, "It is not necessary to say that the building, so quickly raised, is thoroughly well-constructed and is likely to remain one of the permanent attractions of the city." (BCA, 3). He concluded his story by saying that, "in view of its genuine merits and the excellent auspices under which it is opened here in Buffalo, the Cyclorama can hardly fail to be successful." (BCA, 3).
It was not long after its grand beginnings that some improvements were added to the newest hot spot in Buffalo. The crowds were especially large for the "Crucifixion" because of the lessons being expounded at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, which was and still is adjacent to the Cyclorama. Seats were added to the upper plateau, much to the appreciation of the patrons. The Buffalo Cyclorama Company also decided to add an engine room to house electricity and heat, so people would even come on the dark and chilly days of a Buffalo winter.
The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser sang praises to the building and exhibit in the September 19, 1888, issue by saying, "The Cyclorama is one of the best drawing attractions ever exhibited in the city." (BCA, 3). One can only imagine that Wehner and the company's other trustees were shocked, but pleasantly so, that over a thousand visitors graced the building on a daily basis.
Religious beliefs and church community were at the center of the lives of many early Buffalonians. A September 6, 1888, article in the Catholic Union Times had nothing but praise for the accomplishments of the Cyclorama exhibit. Until this exhibit, many other religious renderings had been created but none captured the spirit and the essence of this pictorial representation. This reporter's description is yet another shining example of the miraculous feat the Buffalo Cyclorama Company has established.
"Buffalo's Cyclorama of Jerusalem on the day of the crucifixion will be recognized not only as a superior work of art, but as the most faithful representation of sacred scenes of Golgotha and that which surrounded it. It revises the scene in all its solemn reality, without any attempt at emphasizing that which we today see without difficulty on Golgotha, but which could not be seen there while the great teacher of humanity surrendered his spirit on the cross."
The people involved in this venture were not only padding their wallets but they were also taking a place in history among the many cultural aspects of the City of Buffalo.
Many guests of the Cyclorama were impressed with the graceful stairway which led up to the platform surrounding the panorama. The impressive center column was a fine example of the strength of the building and its message. People felt compelled to reach the pinnacle of the staircase even though the wait was sometimes lengthy. It was especially gratifying to the creators, who labored long and hard, to see people take such instructive values, as well. The Buffalo Cyclorama Company had definitely created an attraction that the city could take universal pride in. A reporter for The Buffalo Express had these comments to make on the building and its exhibit. (TBE, 11).
After about a two year run, the Cyclorama Building displayed another panorama. The second one depicted the Battle of Gettysburg by Felix Emmanuel Philippoteaux. (BCE, 1). Like its predecessor, it enjoyed about a year or two year engagement. After that, for no known reason, the popularity of this form of entertainment began to dwindle. The two famous cycloramas can still be enjoyed by people today. The "Crucifixion" is in the Shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec City and the cyclorama of Gettysburg can be found in a special building on Gettysburg's famous battleground, Pickett's Charge. (Company archives).
The building was acquired by the City of Buffalo from the Duquesne Investment Co. for $40,000 in 1910, and then deeded to the Grosvenor Library in 1913. (Fess). Over more than the next two decades, the building was used for a variety of different ventures. It was a livery stable, a roller skating rink and a taxi cab garage. Few repairs were made to the building over the years and the building fell into disrepair. The roof sagged, bricks were grimey and crumbling, and the air inside was foul from years of misuse. The library was receiving lease payments from the taxi cab companies, but it just wasn't worth their time and effort. Many had laughed at the purchase of this "white elephant" by the city in 1910, and at this point, it appeared people's intuitions were correct. In 1937, the building was so badly in need of repair that is was condemned.
The future of the once majestic and renowned building was in jeopardy.
A rebirth of the building began when the city decided to use the building as a reading room for the Grosvenor Library. The federal project was undertaken by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1937. (Pyke, 10). Doubts began to surface again about whether this ramshackle building could again have a viable use. Fortunately, the WPA and library officials believed in the project and fought to get the job done.
The Grosvenor Library was experiencing some over-crowding problems, so the additional space gained by the use of the Cyclorama Building would help by storing books, records and research catalogs. It would also have the capacity for approximately two hundred forty (24) people. The cost of the project was $36,408, with the federal government picking up $25,336 and the City of Buffalo, $11,072. (CE, 1938). The new renovations included a new roof, a new floor, and new windows (the original Cyclorama did not have any windows, just skylights). The brick on the outside of the building was also repaired and refaced. The center column was strengthened and covered with improved woodwork. On the east side of the building, workers also constructed a small room, which was to be used for lectures. (CE, 1939).
As the remodeling progressed, library officials were pleasantly surprised at their new acquisitions. So much so, that they decided to use the building primarily as a reading room and not for storage as originally planned. Many felt a sense of pride in knowing that the Library of Congress and the British Museum also had circular reading rooms and now Buffalo was to join them. (CE).
It was with a sense of great accomplishment that the library opened its new reading room on February 15, 1942. The original use of the building was educational as well as entertaining, so it was exciting to see the building return to its roots, so to speak. People who recall using the reading room remember it with a bit of wishful nostalgia of a time gone by.
The library reading room was used for approximately the next two decades by students, scholars, and other library patrons. Many enjoyed the well-lit unique building and were saddened when it was announced, in 1963, that the Grosvenor Library was being closed and combined with other county libraries to form the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. (FOX). The original library building was demolished but the Cyclorama Building was spared from the wrecking ball again. Unfortunately, this time the building stood vacant for the next quarter century. Its only inhabitants were pigeons and other rodents who decided to call the Cyclorama home.
As mentioned, the Cyclorama stood vacant for approximately the next twenty-five years. However, in the fall of 1981, an interest was taken to reopen the Cyclorama as an office building. In the October 14, 1981, issue of The Buffalo Evening News, Austin Fox discussed an interest in restoration circles to "re-cyclorama" the building. The venture was being backed by the Rand Capital Corp., headed by George F. Rand II, along with American Restoration, led by Stan Colesano and Dennis Insalaco. (FOX, BEN). The plan was to restore the building for commercial use with WGR Radio being the principal tenant. Many were excited by this venture because it would return the Cyclorama back to its roots as a center for entertainment. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, the plan was aborted and the building remained an empty, decaying remembrance of the past.
A hope of new life was breathed into the Cyclorama building when it was purchased by Frank L. Ciminelli in August 1985.
The building was acquired by Ciminelli Development Co., Inc. from Edward Franklin Cyclorama of Buffalo, Inc. for the purchase price of $110,000 plus an additional $25,000 to cover delinquent property taxes. (Company archives). These outstanding debts were a major concern to those who had looked at the building in the past, so by agreeing to eliminate them, Ciminelli was given the go ahead to purchase the building. In a 1985 Business First article, Mr. Ciminelli was quoted as saying, "This is like a dream. I see a lot of challenges in it...it will be like bringing a new life to a proud lady." In another article from the News, Ciminelli had this to say, "I used to drive by and see it vacant and wonder why somebody didn't do something about it. When it went up for sale, I was the first one at the auction. It turned out, I was the only one at the auction, besides the bank." (Cardindale, BEN).
Even though there had been interest in the building in the past, none seemed to have the genuine desire to save this piece of history like Mr. Ciminelli. The plan for the building was to convert it from a one-story structure into a two-story office building. The building, which is "a gateway to downtown" (Dapper, 1), held a lot of possibilities and Ciminelli hoped to be able to tap into them.
The Cyclorama Building had recently been certified as a part of the Allentown Historic District, so it could be used for an investment tax credit. Also, according to James Melodiously, Commissioner of the Buffalo Community Development Department, "it's a piece of property that's been targeted by the community for restoration for many years. It's also a building that's well- suited for the (federal) Urban Development Action Grant program." (Dapper, 1). So, with backing from city officials and preservation groups, Ciminelli set out on his campaign to save the Cyclorama.
This would then begin what would be a see-saw battle between Ciminelli and the State government over the next two years.
The plan to convert the building into a two-story structure also included the plan to extend 12 windows down toward the base of the building to provide adequate window space for the two floors and plenty of natural light. (Simon, BEN). This was a major bone of contention from the state preservation officials who believed that the windows should stay as they were originally designed (which was odd because the building, which was opened in 1888, had no windows, just skylights). The state preservationists also required no use of power tools to re-point the brick work and to use nothing stronger than detergent to clean the brick (Simon, BEN).
Mr. Ciminelli agreed with certain points but found some to be economically infeasible and a waste of a lot of people's time and money. Ciminelli felt he would be better off tearing down the building and putting up a new one than go with the state's request.
It was astounding that with so much support from local government and preservation groups, that this project could basically be held up for one issue, the change in the windows. Ciminelli was becoming very frustrated but was buoyed by community support and his genuine love of the building. David W. Rumsey, Chairman of the Buffalo Preservation Board said of Ciminelli, "I think he should be commended. He is doing it because he wants to see that building restored. He'll come out of it okay, but it's not going to make an awful lot of money." (Simon, BEJ). These problems were not only stumbling blocks to Ciminelli, but they were also taking their toll on the building. It had been in disrepair for such a long time that it was almost to the point where it would not be worth saving.
After all the squabbling was said and done, Frank Ciminelli announced on December 9, 1987, that an agreement had been reached with state and federal officials.
The restoration project began in early 1988, three years after Ciminelli bought the building. Funding for the project was to come from three sources. First, was an Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) of approximately $760,000. This grant was made available because this type of restoration was the type of project that the UGDA liked to become involved in. Second, an Industrial Revenue Bond of approximately $1.5 million dollars was to be used to finance the project. Finally, the balance of funds, approximately $570,000, was to be supplied by Ciminelli Development Company. (Company archives).
After all the struggle to see the project get off the ground, this seemed like a reasonable amount to pay for a dream come true.
The new structural design of the building was provided by George Lukaszewicz Architect, P.C., which also included the distinctive brick portal that would mark the entrance to the restored building. This portal is a free-standing brick arch-way, which has a look of the past and really adds to the authenticity of the building. The window dispute was settled and an agreement was reached that would allow the windows to be lengthened, but would have a dividing section between the first and second floors. The original center column of the building was to be updated but was to remain intact. The column can be viewed from either floor and is encased in glass on the second floor, giving one the sense that it is in a museum. Other support beams were added to lend support to the new second floor. The interior design of the building was provided by espacio 1 inc. Their contribution added a somewhat art deco theme to the building with specially designed work stations and private offices.
The restoration project took 18 months to complete and was a huge testimonial to the time and effort of Frank Ciminelli, his staff and many supporters.
The building opened in April 1989 with Ciminelli Construction Company occupying the second floor space. Upon the opening, The Buffalo Evening News quoted Louis P. Ciminelli, President & CEO of the construction company, "The unique, circular layout of the building will make it conducive to teamwork and communication. It also makes a statement about your company. It's solid and it has a sense of permanence. The Cyclorama has stood for a hundred years and I feel it reflects the values that we built the company on." (Cardinale, BEN). By 1991, the additional first floor tenant spaces were filled by Strategic Investments, an investment banking firm, and by Ross B. Kenzie, formally of Goldome. In 1993, the Law Office of Joseph C. Grasmick joined the Cyclorama family of tenants.
In 1991, the Cyclorama was awarded as the historical building of the year by the Building Owners and Managers Association of Buffalo Inc. (Stouffer, BEN). This award was the crowning glory to the battles the building had won and lost over the years. Barely escaping the wrecking ball on two separate occasions, the Cyclorama proved that it was still a great contribution to the City of Buffalo. The award also proved to Ciminelli that his efforts were recognized and that it was worth everything they had put into it.
Today, the Cyclorama still stands as a beacon to the architecture of the City of Buffalo. From an entertainment center, to a roller rink, to a livery stable, to a warehouse, to a taxi garage, to a library room and finally to an office building, the Cyclorama has definitely had a very colorful past. Working in this building on a daily basis, I feel a sense of pride and history of what the building has been through and accomplished.
Its original designers and founders would be proud to know what a great history the building has had and stands to have in the future. Over one hundred years later, the Cyclorama Building still remains a rare building with architectural beauty and a real sense of Buffalo history.
"Cyclorama of Niagara." The Buffalo Daily Courier. May 5, 1887: 4, Col. 5 & 6.
Untitled. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser. July 18, 1888: 3, Col. 6.
"The Cyclorama Company." The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser. August 29, 1888: 3, Col. 2.
"Making a Cyclorama." The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser. August 27, 1888: 3, Col. 6.
"The Cyclorama." The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser. September 8, 1888: 3, Col. 6.
"Improvements at the Cyclorama." The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser. September 19, 1888: 3, Col. 1.
"The Cyclorama of Jerusalem." The Catholic Union Times. September 6, 1888: 5, Col. 4 & 5.
"A Great Work of Art." The Buffalo Express. September 9, 1888: 11, Col. 2.
"Building Famous for Display of Figures to House Books." The Buffalo Courier Express. January 3, 1938.
Margaret Pike, "Cyclorama Transformation to Relieve Library Crowding." The Buffalo Courier Express. December 26, 1937: 10., Col. 1-3.
"Building with Varied Past Turned into Library Annex." The Buffalo Courier Express. July 30, 1939: 2, Col. 5-7.
Margaret Richmond Fess. The Grosvenor Library and Its Times, 1956: 79-80, 199- 124.
Austin Fox. "Re-Cycloraming." The Buffalo Evening News. October 14, 1981.
Don Dapper. "Cyclorama will be bought by Ciminelli." Business First of Buffalo. August 26, 1985: 1 & 18.
Peter Simon. "Building Hoping to Recycle Cyclorama." The Buffalo Evening News. September 9, 1987.
Peter Simon. "State Preservation Official Supports Plans for Rehabilitation of Cyclorama." The Buffalo Evening News. September 11, 1987.
Peter Simon. "Ciminelli-Cyclorama is Match of Survivors." The Buffalo Evening News. September 12, 1987.
Anthony Cardinale. "Cyclorama Building Set to Re-open - Again." The Buffalo Evening News. April 1989.
Rick Stouffer. "Liberty, Cyclorama named 'Buildings of the Year.'" The Buffalo Evening News. March 12, 1991.
"Discovering Our Past, Designing Our Future." Company Publication.
Various information from Ciminelli archives.