The Hotel Lafayette: Then

The recent renovations made to the Hotel Lafayette (Hotel @ The Lafayette) did not simply update the building, but rather, refurbished the original art deco and Renaissance architecture of this historical structure. This takes us back in time to when the hotel was first constructed at the turn of the 20th century…

The intended purpose of the Hotel Lafayette was to serve the influx of people visiting Buffalo for the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. However, because of financial hardships, the Hotel Lafayette did not open its doors until 1904.

The final design was a seven-story, fireproof, steel-frame and concrete building. The red brick and white terra cotta French Renaissance-style building was principally designed by Louise Blanchard Bethune. She was the first professional female architect in the country, and the first female member of the American Institute of Architects.

When it first opened, the one million dollar hotel received national attention as “one of the most perfectly appointed and magnificent hotels in the country.” The Lafayette was made famous for its interior décor, including ballroom chandeliers, skylights, marble columns, mahogany coatrooms, and an oak-paneled bar and dining room. With hot and cold water in all bathrooms, and telephones in all rooms, the seven-story hotel offered “the best that science, art and experience can offer for the comfort of the traveling public.”

Main lobby of the Hotel Lafayette

In its prime, the Hotel was considered one of the 15 finest hotels in the country. Despite missing the tourist influx during the Pan-Am Exposition, the Hotel Lafayette became the most popular place to stay in Buffalo; so popular that two additions were constructed (one in 1917, the other in 1926), doubling the size and capacity of the original structure. The main focus of the first addition was to incorporate ballrooms, allowing for business functions and banquets to be held on site. The second addition focused on incorporating more hotel rooms, as well as a billiard room (which was later converted into a bar, the first hotel bar in Buffalo after the repeal of prohibition). The Hotel drew nationally-recognized icons, such as President Harry S. Truman and future President Richard Nixon.

Restaurant within the Hotel Lafayette

Since the latest edition to Bethune’s original design was made in 1916, there have been not been significant changes to the exterior of the building. However, the interior design of the Hotel Lafayette has under-went many renovations in its history. The most significant of which was in the 1940’s, during World War II, the lobby was renovated to incorporate an Art Moderne style, reflecting geometric patterns and large columns with octagonal bases. This replaced the Neo-classical style of the original design and main lobby.

Art Moderne-style lobby

Like many industries in Buffalo, the conclusion of World War II brought the city back into a recession, greatly affecting many local businesses. The opening of competing hotels (namely, the Statler), brought the Hotel Lafayette down from its peak. Over the coming decades, ownership changed rather frequently, as upkeep became more and more costly for the aging building. While still functional, it wasn’t until the 21st century that serious considerations for an entire face-lift, renovation, and refurbishment were made.

A once-glorious ballroom left to deteriorate

These considerations were finally brought to fruition when developer Rocco Termini put in a bid for the renovation project. Find out more about this renovation project here.


One response to “The Hotel Lafayette: Then

  1. The Lafayette had a long, slow downward spiral. I recall that in 1978 when I graduated from UB, a classmate booked his parents a room there when they traveled from downstate for graduation festivities. I told him he may have wished to reconsider, but there were no other local rooms available – the last bus stop!

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