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The Jaeckle Center was established in 1980 through the generous gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin F • .1aeckle of Buffalo. The Center is dedicated to improving the quality of legal services rendered by public and private attorneys in dealing with state and local government problems. Its programs support student and professional training, research, education and community service.



Hailing Address:

State University of New York at Buffalo Faculty of Law and Jurisprudence

408 John Lord O'Brian Hall Buffalo, New York 14260


In 1981, I was selected as a Fellow of the Edwin F. Jaeckle Center for State and Local Government Law at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The appointment enabled me to pursue my interests in local government and land development law. In return for my keep, I was asked to contribute some work of suitable scholarship. The only requirements were that the work be related in some way to the law, and that it attain the level of quality expected of a Jaeckle Fellow. I think the product is sufficiently legal to satisfy the first requirement. As to the second, I must leave judgements to the reader. Whatever the decision, I would like to thank Dean Thomas E. Headrick and Professor Wade Newhouse for giving me the opportunity to pursue my interests. I would also like to thank Edwin F. Jaeckle, Esq., whose commitment to the improvement of profressional education made this once-in-a-lifetime effort possible.

I reserve special thanks for Professor Milton Kaplan for his encouragement and considerable patience during preparation of the draft. Invaluable assistance was also provided by Gail E. Johnstone, Director, and Paul Barrick, Deputy Director, of the City of Buffalo Division of Planning. Professional assistance in word processing and manuscript preparation was provided by Ms. Candyce Hunt.

Extensive use was made of the documentary resources of several local libraries: the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society; Lockwood Memorial Library; and the Library of the 4th Judicial Department. Special thanks are extended to the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library and the Charles B. Sears Law Library of the State University of New York at Buffalo for permitting me unusually free access to their collections. Additional materials relating to regional planning were found ~n the collections of the Erie County Department of Environment and P and the Erie of Public Works.

he author.

" .• The present generation sees everything clearly now; it wonders at the delusions and laughs at the lack of comprehension of its ancestors, not perceiving that the chronicle is written over with heavenly fire, that every letter therein is calling out to it, that from every direction a piercing forefinger is pointed at it--at it and none other than it, the present generation. But the present generation laughs and, self-reliantly, proudly launches a new succession of delusions. over which its descendents will laugh in their turn, even as the present generation is laughing now."

Nicholai V. Gogol, Dead Souls (1






A. Grand City Plans: Joseph Ellicott · . . . 7
B. Grand City Plans: Frederick Law Olmsted · 10
C. LegisLative Power and Urban Development · 13 II. URBAN GROWTH AND THE CITY PLANNING IDEAL. 1880-1914

Regulation of Urban Growth

18 27 35 51

A. B. C. D.

The Search for Effective Land Use Controls City Planning and Upper Class Values

Public Works and Professional Ci



c. D. E.

Civic Center Referendum.

61 67 74

The Plan of Buffalo •

Good Roads and Regional Planning


A. B.

Politics and Police Powers Indigenous Land Use Controls

83 87


Interim Zoning in the Courts


Practical Politics


The Zoning Crusade



Public Debt and Political Reform


A New Political Order ..


Home Rule and Public Housing


The Campaign for "Modern" City Planning •


"Unintended Consequences"


CITY PLANNING, 1942-1959


City Planning Restored


Middle Class Neighborhoods





The Buffalo General Plan



Ordinances •



Federal Money and City Politics •


The Myth of the "Strong Mayor"


Administrative Reform ~


The Buffalo Master Plan




















A. B. C.

Federal Money and City Bureaucracy The Department of Community

Zoning Reform Debacle • • •


Community Development Block Grants

A. B. C. D. E.

"Decentralized" City Planning

The "War on Blight" •••••• Administrative Reorganization • Neighborhood Politics and Police Powers ••


Municipal Elections, 1977

A. B.

Constitutional Confrontation




Tree, 950-1983

B. C.

Land Use Controls ~n Buffalo, 1983

Special District Regulations



204 212 222

233 237 243 246 247

260 262

289 290 292



















Original Subdivision of the Western Counties of New York, 1792-1800 •••••••••

Joseph Ellicott's Plan for the Village of New Amsterdam (Inner Lots), 1805 ••••••••••

Frederick Law Olmsted's Plan for the Park System of the City of Buffalo, 1876 •

Political and Physical Development of the City of Buffalo. 1804-1950

Principal Land Subdivisions of the City of Buffalo, 1804-1941 ••••••

Plan of the Pan-American Exposition, 1901

The Elec tric Ci ,H 1895 ••

Plan for Elimination of Grade Crossings, 1893

George M.

C te 1905

s Union S ta t i o n Plan wi t h Civic


Chamber of Commerce 1914

Organization Chart, Commission Government in

Buffalo, 1916 •••••••••

Study for Civic Center at Niagara Square by the "Committee of Ex p e r t s ," 1919 ••••••

Civic Main at High Street, 1920
Bennett s Parson's Plan of Buffalo: Major
Streets, 1921 . . . . . . .
The Plan of Buffalo: The Ci Hall Group, 1921 vi


































The Plan of Buffalo: Bird's Eye View of Downtown and the Concourse. 1921 •••••••••••

George C. Diehl's Greater Motorways, 1925

Regional Plan of the Niagara Frontier, 1925

Comprehensive Zoning Plan, Land Use Map, 1925

Councilmanic Districts and Wards, Ci Charter

of 1928 "tI • .,. • • ,. .. " "

Plan for Expansion of the Civic Center. "The

Plaza," 1933 " . " " Ij! III e • I) ••

Kenfield Public Housing Project, 1936

Walter C. Behrendt's Plan for the Buffalo

Waterfront, 1939 • • ••••••••

Housing Vacancy in the City of Buffalo, 1930-

1 938 . " . . . . " . " . " .. e e • iii <a • 0

Map of Converted Residential Structures, 1939

Amended Zoning Land Use Map, R-1 District, 1943

Proposed Waterfront Thruway Route N

Frontier Plann Board,1942 ••••


The General Plan of Buffalo, 1951

Comprehensive Zoning Plan, District Map, 1953

Commercial Zoning in Buffalo's Masten District:

Comparison of the 1925 and 1953 Zoning

Ordinances • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Evolution of an Urban Renewal Project: The Ellicott District, 1942~1952 •.

A Typical Urban Renewal Plan: The Buffalo Waterfront, 1961






































"Th e Future of Buffalo"; Planning Districts, 1958

Proposed Community

liThe Future of Buffalo":

Residential Conditions, 1958



"The Future of Buffalo": Recommended Renewal Area Schedule, 1958 ••••••••••••••

City Planning Associates--East's Buffalo Master

Plan, 1964 III lit e .

City Planning Associates--East's Buffalo Community Renewal Program, 1965

Proposed Model Neighborhood Area, 1968

Location and Status of Urban Renewal Projects, 1967 • • • • • • •

Buffalo Master Plan Objectives in Regional

Context, 1971 ..... e lit lit .. <Ii ...... III .... 111

Wallace, McHarg, Center Plan, 1971

Roberts & Todd's Regional

The Niagara Frontier Mass Transit Study, Comprehensive Alignments of Commuter Rail

stems, 1971 • • • • • •• • •••••••

The Decentralized Plann

Districts, 1974 •

The Downtown Theater District, 1978

The Waterfront Village, 1979 •

The Main-Genesee Project, 1982

The Main Street Transit Mall, 1983

Boundaries of the Waterfront Planning Study

Special Land Use Controls: Central Buffalo ••























This discussion paper began with an inquiry referred to the School of Law by the City of Buffalo Division of Planning. In recent years, the common council of the City of Buffalo has become increasingly interested in the administration of land use controls. The tendency of the legislators to become embroiled in the details of public administration was bothersome. What, city planners asked, where the "legal issues" raised by the common council's interest in zoning? Was it possible to define appropriate limits for legislative action? If there were no formal limits on the legislators' power, were there some unconsidered issues of public policy that might help to define the boundaries between proper "legislative" and "administrative" roles?

I first approached the issue from the perspective of a city attorney. How are things done? What rules of law applied to current administrative practice? My review included a search for legal "precedent." What were origins of current practices? How long had things been done that way? The precedents I found convinced me that current practice could not be understood without reference to a larger context and a longer tradition. I digressed from the issue of powers to pursue the problem of origins more deeply.

In recent years there has been a revival of interest in popular urban history. The revival is attributable in part to changing attitudes toward inner-city residential life. Most people are now sensitive to the callous destruction of the physical fabric of American cities the 1960s and 1970s. In other Cases urban pioneers have turned to

history to help create a sense of communi within the charm

neighborhoods colonized. Numerous books. articles and newspaper stories have focussed on three aspects of the Buffalo's ical

impact on the overall physical d e v e t of the Ci of Buffalo; to put them in some historical sequence; and to suggest some themes that arise from the history of Buffalo city planning.

1 See$ ege~ Buffalo Archi tectural Guidebook Corporation, Buffalo Architecture: P;.

C .. uide (C.ambridge: MIT Press" 1981). Cited herafter as Buffalo (},lide.


The approach is "legal" in the sense that it concentrates primarily on formal. political structures (like common councils and planning boards) and on the bodies of legal rules enforced by them (like building codes and zoning ordinances). I t is "historical" in the sense t h a tit tries to place these institutions in chronological context. I had hoped to sort out all the actors in the city planning drama, but the task proved more difficult than I originally envisioned. I have not tried to "explain" the evolution of insti tutions and rules by reference to any general theories of urban development. Perhaps it will be possible to do so in the future. I hope I can contribute to this more important task by dispelling some of the factual error and intellectual murk that cloud the history of city planning in Buffalo.

To the extent that there is an analytic approach, it is one that comes easily for a person trained as a lawyer. It is widely accepted that local governments should playa positive role in improving the physical, social and economic well-being of their citizens. At the same time, it is obvious that the realities of urban life fall far short of this ideal. Much political effort is devoted to closing this gap between the reality of political institutions and the ideals of American life. The metaphor of the "gap" between the ideal and the real has been employed by sociologists of law to reveal the successes and failures of liberal law reform.2 It is also applicable to an evaluation of the performance of local planning laws and institutions.

There are several reasons for examining the history of city planning institutions more closely:

First, it is an important record of achievement from which much can be learned and which deserves better treatment than it has had;

Second, the ideology of city s i on of International City Manager ti

planners begs for careful examination. to special status in the community. Associa tion's "green book," a standard 3

used of play in. w n a t is now s p e c a a r t o t h e planner is an i nc t i on toward those public values that are fragile and hard to maintain in competition with values that are sturdier because they command more predictable acceptance.

2 See, e.g., Richard Abel, 'taw Books and Books About Law," 26 Stanford L Rev 175 (1973); David M. Trubek, ''Complexity and Contradition in the Legal Order," 11 Law & Society Rev 529 (I977); Roberto Unger, Law in Modern Society (New York: Free Press, 1976).

'3 Frank S. So, et al (eds) l'The Values of the City Planner," in The Practice of Local Gaverrnnent Planning (Sth Ed) (Washington: lCMA, 1979) 9.


Such statements establish their own evaluation criteria. Like lawyers, planners are expected to help people to create an ideal environment. One can measure their performance just as one can measure the performance of lawyers. As the "Green Book" suggests, we can examine the way planners address the challenges raised by the "fragile" goals entrusted to them: health, conservation of resources, efficiency, beauty, equity, democratic participation and rational management.4

The third, and perhaps most important. reason for examining the history of city planning is that it may reveal something about current public policy. Political institutions and bodies of legal rules are burdened by traditions which affect the way they function. A practice or rule that may appear whimsical to a casual observor may actually serve an important organizational function. On the other hand, despite an interesting past, the practice may be obsolete and dysfunctional. By revealing the origins of current practice, an historical approach may help separate the necessary from the unnecessary. An appreciation of the past may assist efforts to improve the performance of institutions in the future.

The problem with an historical approach in Buffalo is that much of the city's history is forgotten. Unlike many major cities, there is no tradition of scholarly analysis of local political institutions. Buffalo's history is largely popular history. While it has a basis in fact, popular history presents a highly selective view of community life: a sentimental, nostalgic, romantic mythology. The popular viewpoint is usually harmless, and may even have a distinct social and instructional value if it is kept in proper perspective But it is inherently different from, and in some ways antithetical to, the idea that an historical perspective can be useful in understanding governmental institutions.

4 Id 10-14.


Popular history treats political issues in the same stylized manner it treats domestic manners or pioneer lore. Political, economic and social conflict are recast in a warm nostalgic glow which transform them into homilies to civic virtue. Events that are too complicated or which cannot be reduced to the quaint, the eccentric or the instructive are ignored. It is a fundamentally conservative vision, appropriate for the Sunday rotogravure or a museum tableau. It is not very useful in helping us understand how institutions function.

The problem of writing about political institutions in Buffalo is compounded by the fact that the principal source of information, local government itself, is at best indifferent to posterity. At worst, the treatment of municipal records is so bad that one is tempted to conclude that there is a deliberate policy of effacing the past.S Most municipal records deserve to be discarded, but the destruction of records in recent years has been excessive.

Most records of city and county planning before 1960 have already been irretrievably destroyed. The records of entire departments have been discarded. The papers of mayors, commissioners, directors, boards, commissions, and consultants -- decades of effort -- have gone to the trash heap_ The record of influential private organizations like the Buffalo City Planning Association were never even considered worthy of preservation. The effacement of a city's past is not only important because it reflects sloppy public managment. Without records, it will be nearly impossible in the future to reconstruct why things happened as they did. Buffalo's past will become a matter for folklorists, rather than policy analysts.

It seems instructive that the most nearly perfect examples of urban p I in Buffalo -- Ellicott's street grid and Olmsted's parks -were created in a time before ci ty politics was transformed by democratic pluralism. After 1880, the local political system was

five 1 interes the

enfranchised the


5 The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library could best perform this function if sufficient resources were provided to establish and maintain a repository for public documents. It was a function once performed by the Grosvenor Library, which was not maintained after that independent municipal institution was merged with the Public Library. The need for such a service is unquestioned, and it would relieve local governments of a troublesome administrative burden. Es tab l i.shment; of a regional, Intergovernmental repository should be seriously considered by affected governments.


Old buildings can be "modernized" to meet the changing tastes and needs of their owners without destroying their basic structure. Old political institutions can also be modified to meet changed political circumstances. The structure and functions of city planning institutions and local legal systems reflect such a t~adition of incremental change within a pluralist political environment. One can look at agencies and bodies of rules as functional components of a rational governmental apparatus. But they are also the product of political struggles, and their structures reflect the often contradictory hopes and aspirations of the political interests which promoted them.

Perhaps the most intriguing question raised by the history of city planning is why institutions with such a long record of apparent failure have survived. City planning boards and zoning ordinances were the political creations of a distinct interest group which is increasingly less influential in city affairs, the economic and social elites. But they were maintained and embellished by interests which at one time or another opposed their creation -- the politicians, the bureaucrats, the builders, and the electorate. That the structures outlived their sponsors is illustrative of the power of symbols in the political process.

City planning institutions are shrouded in a mythology which has a distinct function in the political system. It is the usefulness of the mythology that helps to explain why the institutions are maintained. Among the more important myths are:

The Myth of Neutrality. City planning has been invoked to manage conflict during periods of disturbing social change. In the 1940s, for example, a city planning commission was created to manage ne

conflict over the conversion of frame houses to mul dwell

was an issue which the political process was unable to resolve. Once utili of planning in mediating among conflicting interests was exhausted. the planning commission reverted to ceremonial functions.

e trade. In reality, of course, no elected official r n Buffalo has ever permitted P Their resistance was based in part on constitutional principles. The political legitimacy of elected officials is greater than that of appointive officials. But it was also based on practical political considerations. The claim of independence is used to mask and butresses the position of selected interests groups in the political process.

6 See below at 151.

7 See below at 83, 119, lSI, 176, 193. 204.


The Myth of Progress. It is assumed that that the social and economic outcomes of planning will be progressive. Outcomes, of course, depend on the motives of the actors. A planning system dominated by. the social elites and the builders was hardly progressive during the public housing dispute of 1935.8 A planning system dominated by the bureaucrats and the builders wrought little social progress with urban renewal.9

The Myth of Efficiency assumes that planning can increase ,,'ealth in the community by encouraging economic activity. The idea had its worst expression in the 40-year obsession of city planning advocates with widening streets to eliminate congestion.10 In more recent decades, the myth of efficiency has been used to rationalize vast investments in urban "infra-structure."

The Myth of Self-Determination is a more general value which planners also share. It equates poli tical autonomy with liberty. A free people, it is said, can determine its own future. Planning is useful a n this endeavor because it helps rationalize political independence. City planning roles were first created in Buffalo in ~9l1 in order to demonstrate the ability of the municipality to run its own affairs free from state interference.11 Until the 1930s, it was assumed that the city's future would be determined through local action.12 Even after the New Deal transformed the fiscal foundations of city government, it was believed that local planning would help direct the investment of outside resources to meet needs defined locally. No one was prepared to share power with planners, but having them around was necessary to demonstrate that local autonomy was justified.

If there is a conclusion to be drawn from the historical record, it a s that there is really no such thing as "good city planning." There are. indeed. standards to identify well-designed buildings, attractive urban spaces, harmonious neighborhoods, pleasant parks and well-built roads. But "good city planning" is a political statement used by interest groups to reinforce their claims to a bigger piece of the

mun~c What has a s mattered in the political process is not

"good city p " but effective representation.


9 See below at ch 7

10 See below at 74, 160.

11 See below at 51. 12 Cf. ch 3 with ch 5.



A. Grand City Plans: Josepb Ellicott.

The land on which the City of Buffalo is built was part of a vast tract of wilderness purchased from the State of Massachusetts in 1781 by Robert Morris of Philadelphia.I3 He in turn sold 3.3-million acres west of the Genesee River to a group of Dutch investors, who intended to survey, subdivide and sell parcels to war veterans (Figure 1). Being foreigners, they could not own land outright. They created an agency to manage the development process, the Holland Land Company. Searching for a field engineer, the company was referred by the Dutch ambassador to the Surveyor General of the United States, Andrew Ellicott. He was unavailable because he was engaged with Pierre L'Enf an t in laying out the new national capital. Andrew Ellicott apparently suggested that his brother, Joseph, might be available. He was, and the company retained him as its chief engineer.l4

Between 1800 and 1805, Joseph Ellicott supervised the surveying of the tract. He also indicated the location of a chain of villages at s t ra t e g i c p I aces in the wes t.e r nm o s t county of the S t a te of New York. One of these he placed on high ground overlooking a swamp at the mouth of the Niagara River. Undoubtedly influenced by his brother's work with L'Enfant in the District of Columbia, Ellicott chose for his Village of New Amsterdam a similar pattern of radial streets overlaid on a grid (Figure 2).15 Broad avenues radiated to the east from the central grid like spokes of a wheel.l6 The elegant geometry of the plan was limited to a rather small area, but the radial streets would became a powerful design element in the development of the future City of Buffalo.

13 D. M. Ellis et


of New York

Buffalo Guide at lj4. Ellicott's

survived intact until the

when it

was largely destroyed to make way for highway and office building construction in the central business district. A city plan which had served well for 150 years was no longer considered consistent with "modem" concepts of traffic engineering and economic site development. Traffic engineers particularly loathed radial streets because they created eddies and swirls, allegedly contributing to that great urban evil - congestion - to the elimination of which they were sing1emi.nded1y dedicated.

16 John Reps. 'Iown Planning in Frontier America (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1900) 2l{J-2lj4.


Figure 1

Original Subdivision of the Western Counties of New York, 1792-1800

Map 9. Land pattern of western New York State. (From New York: The Empire State, by Ellis, Frost, and Fink, © 1964 by Prentice-Hall, Ine., Englewood Cllifs, N.J.)


Figure 2

Joseph Ellicott's Plan, Village of New Amsterdam (Inner Lots) , 1805


Source: John T. Horton, History of Western New York (New York:

Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947) Vol 1 P 31.


B. Grand City Plans: Frederick Law Olmsted.

The second notable achievement in Buffalo city planning began in 1868. A small group of civic leaders became convinced that Ellicott's framework was not sufficient to manage expected urban growth:17

[Buffalo] had not ••• been fortunate in its environs. The surface of the land immediately to the southward was either actually subject to overflow or too near permanent ground water to be fit as a site for dwellings; while elsewhere a cold, tenacious soil and bleak exposure had led to a prevalence of cheerless landscape conditions • • • • The na tural wa tercourses of the vicini ty had begun to be polluted, and those localities which originally possessed the greatest sylvan attractions had

become unhealthy and offensive.

* * * * * * *

A few years later, direct railroad communications with the coal and oil regions of Pennsylvania promised a further development of the manufactures and commerce of the city, and a prolonged continuance of its growth in population. There was every prospect that the demand for habitations would be met in two ways, both equally undesirable: first, by the introduction of tenement-houses, and a more compact

method of building on the streets of the existing plan; by a series of small lots on narrow streets, laid of one another, and of the city proper, as supposed immediate interests of various land

s culators and manufacturers might dictate, and with 1 ttle or no regard to the health and convenience of the

The Is es rom dense settlemen

or narrow and awkwardly located streets were thus

The civic leaders commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to design a large public park on the periphery of the city's settled area. Over the next 3 decades, Olmsted and his firm would

17 Buffalo Park System" in Buffalo Park Commission, 12th Armua1 Report (1882)

at 75-77. This description of urban conditions was ''taken chiefly from an explanatory statement iD...scribed on the borders" of Frederick Law Olmsted's map of the Buffalo park system exhibi.ted at the l'..:merican Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia ill 1876.


design not only individual parks, but also residential neighborhoods and an innovative transportation network of linking them (Figure 3). The plan was especially remarkable because the preeminent landscape a r c h i t e c t of the 19th century had few opportuni t i e s to execute landscape design on an urban scale. Only in Buffalo and (to 8 lesser extent) in Boston was he able to design and construct something approaching a true city plan. It is also significant because, unlike later attempts to "modernize" Buffalo's development patterns, it did not snub its predecessor, the Ellicott Plan.

Olmsted grafted to Ellicott's radials a radically different, but entirely complementary, transportation network stretching in an arc from the Niagara River around the core of the growing metropolis. It consisted of broad boulevards, most with a strip of public green space down the middle. The boulevards, for which Olmsted coined the term "parkways," met at round-abouts where traffic could be efficiently distributed between Ellicott's radial streets and Olmsted's monumental, axial spaces. The combined pattern characterizes Buffalo's present urban design, in which res{dential parkways provide a relief from primarily commercial radial streets.

At strategic places along the parkways, Olmsted located parks of different sizes with specialized functions.I8 With the exception of rne Park (now Delaware Park), the individual parks were nei ther large nor parti c u I a r ly innova ti ve in des i g n , They were meant to be seen as specialized elements of an overall concept, rather than as individual works of landscape architecture. Equally important were the adjacent residential subdivisions, the outlines of which were an integral part of Olmsted's plan. The generously proportioned lots and lush, naturalized environment were meant to be models for urban residential development. (His benefactors were so convinced of the success of the plan that they had the foresight to purchase the sur land for resale.) This combination of residential environment. public amenities. park and trans

his landscape des

18 To assist in acquiring and managing the parkway system, local leaders turned not to city government, but to a Buffalo Park Commission, chartered by the state legislature in 1&'>ge See L 1869 ch 165; abolished and fuact.icns transferred to Department of Parks and Public Bui.Idings by L 1914 ch 217.

19 See, e.g., Charles Beveridge. "Buffalo's Park and Parkway System," in Buffalo Guide at 14.


Figure 3

Plan for the Park System of the

of Buffalo, 1876

,\, \



'" \

OUI SlE I),S \

!il<"~~ lhl> \ -y.


'""-""1'0> .. ",,,,,,<01,... \

Park System \


_ ... « ..... u .. ·a' .

• _A.a" .. '·· • , , ••. ~ • '.


c. Legislative Power and Development Regulations.

Ellicott and Olmsted created a magnificent framework for urban development, but they had limited effect on the environments in which most people lived. Outside of affluent areas, developers ignored urban design. The subdivision of lots and the construction of buildings was inspired more by the pursuit of profit than of civic virtue. Typically. frame dwellings were erected on small lots in dense concentrations with little concern for the Ellicott-Olmsted grid. The materials used were ill-suited for the area's frigid climate, but the energy and labor to maintain them were cheap and plentiful. Even though Buffalo was never afflicted with dense tenements, the concentration of frame dwellings was so great that it still became by 1900 one of the most densely settled American cities. Crowding produced sanitation and public health problems, and increased the threat of fire.

Development in commercial and industrial areas was even more disorderly. Geography was the' cause of numerous problems, particularly in the central core where the meandering Buffalo River met Lake Erie. By the 1880s, downtown Buffalo was a confused muddle of transport systems. Barge canals, highways, lake steamers and a half-dozen independent railroads converged at The Terrace, the street marking the high ground found by Ellicott in 1804. There they competed for space with horsedrawn street railways, pushcarts, carriages, and pedestrians.

Ellicott's elegant village plan was not easily adaptable to the industrial revolution. Commercial activities and manufacturing located where ever land was available and cheap. With the exception of private deed restrictions, there were no limitations on where enterprises could locate. It is not surprising that Olmsted's Parks ide would have impressed people as an oasis in a chaotic typically-American settlement.

evelopment evaded and later

should interfere with private land use was not well established. Where public action was believed legitimate, local governments were dependent on specific grants of authority. grudgingly extracted from the state legislature.

Buffalo's first city charter emphasized the duty of local government primarily to maintain public order and to raise revenue to


construct public works.20 Only two powers were granted that gave the city some influence over private development. Least significant in practice was the power to establish rights-of-way for streets.21 The general pattern of major thoroughfares was laid out over the years by official survey. Little control was exercised over the subdivision of land into lots and private streets within the official grid. Typically, the common council accepted title to streets previously platted by private developers with few questions asked. The legislators' lack of concern for an overall street plan is evident today along Main Street, where the east and west sides are frequently misaligned.22

The more significant legislative delegation was the power to prevent fires. The charter authorized the common council:23

for the purpose of guarding against the calamities of fire, ••• to prescribe limits in said city, within which wooden buildings shall not be erected or placed, without the permission of said council.

The boundaries of the "fire li~its" were subsequently determined by ordinance.24 No controls were imposed on construction outside the fire limits. Within them, no wooden structures could be erected without the express permission of the common council.

The intent of the charter was to encourage the use of fire resistant stone or brick construction, but it contained an important loophole. The common council was not prohibited from waiving construction standards. It apparently exercised the right quite liberally between 1832 and 1854. In that year, the charter was substantially rewritten in changes that also expanded the city boundaries approximately to their present limits (see Figure 4). The


21 Id t 3 §2.

22 For a detailed directory of street practices in 19th century Buffalo, see Buffalo Bureau of Engineering, Index to Records of Streets, Public Grounds, Waterways, Railroads, Gas Companies, Water Works, Etc., of the City of Buffalo from 1814 to 1896 (Buffalo, 1896).

23 Id t 8 §l.

24 See, e.g , , Ordinances, ch 8 (1843).


common council's power to waive construction requirements was expressly restricted by the legislature. Thereafter, the aldermen could not approve wood construction in the safety zone except by "the affirmative vote of all the members present at a regular meeting 1125 This requirement of unanimity proved a great irritation over the years, but it was not relaxed until 1928.26 New fire limits were established by ordinance in 1855)7

In 1870) the legislature again amended the city charter to permit the common council to enact ordinances not only to establish fire limits, but also to regulate the "manner in, and the materials of. which all buildings shall be constructed."28 But the amendment retained the requirement of a unanimous vote for ordinance waivers.29 The common council did not at the time adopt special construction regulations; it merely continued the existing general requirement that buildings constructed within the fire limits be made of iron. stone or brick.30

Official records suggest that the common council had taken a direct interest in what would today be called the "urban development process" as early as the 1840s. The legal basis for its involvement was the authority granted by the legislature to regulate the construction of buildings. It exercised its power through the instrument of a permit, sometimes attaching special conditions. The records also suggest that legislative involvement in the development process was not always viewed as benign. Political action was taken expressly to restrict it. The significance of the dispute over the limits of legislative power would increase dramatically in the l880s, the beginning of Buffalo's greatest period of growth.

25 L 1853 ch 230 t 10 §1. The new charter expanded the common council to 26 members, 2 aldermen being elected from 13 wards.


ordinance to have the vri.tten

recommendation of the commissioner before it could authorize a


ch 12 (Bui.Iding Code) §223. 'Ihi.s Linger-ing remnant of the 1853 er'larter was not relaxed unt.i.I 1978. See Proceedings of the Buffalo Commoo Council, Hay 16, 1978, Resolution Number 241, discussed below at 279. Hereafter, Buffalo Common Council Proceedings will be referred to by the widely used, shorthand abbreviat.ion, "CCP."

27 Ordinances, ch 17, added by CCP April 27. 1855 at 131.

28 L 1870 ch 519 §8 '4.

29 Id.

30 Ordinances. ch 5 §43 (1870).


Figure 4

Political and Physical Development of the City of Buffalo, 1804-1950

''1- 't-r

'1! ':


\'0 ,'!..

'''., \,..

Iii I ~ I:;



.. ; (villages)


/' r.

. \_._._ . ..-il






LINE DRA WING-indicates political boundaries

and year established .

SHADING-indicates urbanized sections: industrial areas, 'parks, local street patterns; at time of map date.

t: ....... U
._ 0 ttl
.... ~c ~~
- t:
::l r:n ttl ::l ttl bO
0.."'0 r:n 0 m
o t: r:n ._
o..m roU ctlZ
r:n o .~
0 ::l ,200
-' 0 .- H es Q)
1-1 m..c:: ~!:l.1
cO :;:: .... ....... :;:: .....
Q) ::l C ::l ....... ::::s 1-1
>- co ._ coo co!:l.1
13 'rll 42.

·1· ..

1950 580. I

1975* 460. I 40


Other figures, U. S. Census.

N. Y. State Census.

Source: City of Buffalo Planning Board, Buffalo Master Plan (Revised) (Draft April 1971) ch 1 P 2.

Figure 5

Original Subdivisions of the City of Buffalo




c_--/_"- ~',J'.:::-

':;-1 ~V)-'::--'f';~



, i - [I .


QF rHe


cornplle-Q,' ::-Vff7 Re-ccor.:'5 ';7 erie!" Co. (_~/<"'-'.:' O,'-;:/ce ,;'7<7

l; Crfy ~l7alne.'!'!"rs "_;l.t;ft'ce.

~ , 7



A. Regulation of Urban Growth.

The three decades before the First World War were among the most dynamic and turbulent in Buffalo's history. Although the rate of growth slowed after 1900, the city population grew 237% between 1880 and 1910, increasing from 155,134 to 423,725.31 The characteristics of the population also changed. Early 19th century urbanization had been primarily a movement of the children of the original settlers from farms to cities. It was a pattern from which the city's Anglo-Saxon elite arose. Rural migration was eventually overshadowed by European immigration, first Germans, later Italians and Slavs. Most passed through on their way west, but many stayed to work in the port and the rail center. By 1900, others were attracted by new heavy industries, particularly steel, chemicals, and metal fabrication.

It was a time 1n which great fortunes were being made, in real estate as much as in commerce and manufacturing. Greed distorted city politics, most notably in the form of widespread corruption in contracts to construct streets, waterlines and sewers. It was reflected more subtly in a struggle between the branches of city government for control of the few municipal powers which affected physical development. The city's legislators the 26 aldermen -- were the most tenacious defenders of the rights of developers.

Because of the limited powers of municipal governments of the time. the common council had to fight for power on two fronts. The first, and most easily disposed of. was the Buffalo Park Commission. Created special state law to be partially outside the structure of local government, the commission was dominated by the city's business elite. They had their own notions of proper urban real estate investment. They

also were of the kind the common

council. commissioners were La tur e

The authority to sel bonds to e

the City of Buffalo, not to the park

authorization in 1876j and was not reneWed~

ability to incur debt, the park commission could not complete plan, particularly the proposed Fillmore Avenue parkway.32

Olmsted's It could

32 For a detailed discussion, see Robert Lusiak, From the Grand Plaza to the Electric City: A Review of the Planning Heritage of Buffalo, New York: 1804~1920. Unpublished MA Thesis, Department of History, SUNY at Buffalo (1972) ch 2. Cited hereafter as Lus iak, Planning Heri tage.

31 United States Census.

1 8

only engage in futile reprimands and exhortations on the evils of unguided development:33

When these boulevards [the parkways] were laid out, it was hoped that by example they would lead indirectly to the mapping out of new streets in the unoccupied territory on a more liberal, comprehensive and consistent plan than was customary at that time. But unfortunately the tendency for several years back seems to be in the opposite direction •. Our new streets are narrower and nearer to each other than the old. Many detached settlements are growing up where the streets are all short and narrow lanes, located without the slightest regard to convenient connections with adjacent streets, the future wants of the inhabitants, or the general interests of the City at large.

Our City is growing rapidly, and speculation in real estate is now rife in many sections. Numerous land and building associations are springing into existence for the purpose of buying large tracts of land, and cutting up into building lots in any way that may best subserve the projectors of each separate scheme. As their only object is the speedy sale of lands on whatever plan will bring the highest present price, they pay no regard to the ultimate necessities of the future occupants, or the paramount interests of the general public.

* * * * * * * *

Many other evils follow in the wake of this incongruous, hap-hazard way of allowing a great city to grow up. Not are travel and business cramped and fettered for all future time, but all municipal interests suffer. Questions

... f f fi t

to your

i the of the a more

direct and effective control Over the future street plan of the unoccupied territory. A complete and comprehensive plan sufficient for the distant future ought to be carefully matured, and when approved, no new street or lane inconsistent with it should be accepted by the City.

33 Buffalo Park Commission, 14th Annual Report (884) 15-17.


The second battle, not so easily won, tested the inherently uneasy relationship between the legislative and executive branches of city government.34 At issue was the common council's power to waive construction standards in the fire protection ordinances. The waiver would be in the form of a permit authorizing the erection of wood frame buildings within the fire limits.35 The building boom of the 1880s began under a local regulatory system little changed from that of 1832. There was constant public clamor about the dangers of fire in the large numbers of wooden buildings being constructed throughout the city, particularly in the commercial core and in the industrial port. Each new conflagration kindled protests of inadequate fire protection and weak enforcement of construction standards.36

In 1885, Mayor Jonathan scoville became concerned about the inadequate performance of the fire department at several disastrous fires.37 He received permission to study its reorganization.38 As was typical of the time, the fire department was managed by a appointive Board of Fire Commissioners. The mayor's special committee recommended legislation to improve the management of fire fighting.39 A new ordinance was enacted which clarified the roles of the common council and the Board of Fire Commissioners in granting waivers and enforcing construction standards within the fire limits.40

34 The dispute over the common council's permit power was part of a movement for general political reform. The reformers succeeded in irifluencing the state legislature to authorize a charter revision commission in 1884 (1 1884 ch 489). A new draft charter was

submitted to the legislature, but no taken at that time. See Report to the

of the Commissioners Revision of the of the

of Buffalo


that a

pressure came from local insurance companies, which were suffering substantial losses. See, e.g., CCP January 5, 1885 at 13. After 1885, elaborate reports on casualty losses from fires were made to to the common council on a regular basis.

37 cx;P April 27, 1885 at 413.

38 CCP :t-'ay 11,1885 at 517

39 ccP August 24~ 1885 at 885 ..

40 Ordinances, ch 5, revised by CCP September 14, 1885 at 1017.


The new ordinance did not, however, change the common council's reluctance to expand the fire limits to protect a larger area. Each year between 1886 and 1890, the Board of Fire Commissioners pleaded fruitlessly with legislators to control the construction of wooden buildings:41

The large and constantly increasing number of wooden buildings -- some of them covered wi th a thin coa ting of sheet iron -- permitted by the Common Council to be erec ted in various parts of the Ci ty makes the danger of fires exceptionally great. Some wholesome limit should be established, beyond which no one may pass. It would be best to pause now before we have the experience of Chicago and other stricken ci ties.

Nor did the revised ordinance require the common council to refer permit requests to the Board of Fire Commissioners for an advisory op~n~on. Mayor Scoville was displeased at this omission, which he felt violated the spirit of the fire limits. He began a campaign of symbolic protest, vetoing special permits authorized by the common council without the advice of the fire commissioners. He was, he said, "simply calling [the common council's} attention to the fact that the Fire Commissioners failed to approve of the resolutions and that the proposed buildings are in the prohibited district."42

Scoville's successor, Philip Becker, who took office in 1886, turned the protes t into a crusade. There were two typical problems: some builders simply ignored the prohibition on wood construction within the fire limits;43 others appealed to the common council for an exemption from the rules. The mayor joined with the Board of Fire Commissioners to establish a more aggressive inspection program to identify scofflaws. Complaints were investigated, many of which apparently came from residential neighborhoods where commercial

and industries to loea

41 Board of Commissioners of the Buffalo Fire Department, kunial Report (1886) 9.

42 CCP September 28, 1885 at 1105.

43 The mayor complained particularly that the common council kept no record of the r-"~'''''O it was granting, CCP November 15, 1886 at 1283.

44 See, e.g., complaints about erection of a planing mill and window blind factory at 17th and Massachusetts Streets. CCP February 15, 1886 at 204; February 22, 1886 at 223; May 24, 1886 at 624.


The mayor followed his predecessor's example, using his veto power liberally to emphasize the "spirit and intention of the ordinances passed for the protection of the lives and property of our people."45 He recommended the extension of the fire limits in the residential districts and the industrial port.46 He emphasized his resolve to have his way by repeatedly vetoing special permits granted by the common council. 47

Despite Mayor Becker's warnings about the dangers of mass conflagrations, the surviving public record suggests a shift in the un d e r I y i ng dis put e. It is d iff i c u I t to s epa rat e fa c t sin cas e s so 0 I d and ill-documented. Nevertheless, the permits vetoed by the mayor seem to have been the subject of citizen complaints. The complainants appear to have been motivated in part by anger over intrusions of unwanted commercial and industrial enterprises into their neighborhoods. Fear of fire was real, but it was increasingly subsumed into more widespread concern about inappropriate development. The legal system of the day did not yet have a vocabulary to deal with the underlying problem, the demands of neighborhood residents for protection from unwanted redevelopment.

The common council agreed at last to appoint a special committee to study the wood construction issue. But rather than withdraw from the construction process, to the consternation of the mayor, it actually expanded its role. The fire control ordinance was amended to require every builder to obtain a special permit from the common council before "erecting, placing or moving" any building "constructed in whole or in part of wood within the limits _Qf the City of Buffalo."48 Beginning in 1887, the civic agenda became jammed with hundreds of requests for building permits.49 Most were granted summarily in batches.. But if "remonstrances" or complaints were received from citizens or city officers6 the common council would examine the application in greater detail 5

45 ccp

at , 1887 and July 11. 1887 at 803.

47 See, e.g., CCP May 23. 1887 at 591; and September 12, 1887 at 1038.

48 Ordinances, ch 5 §20, amended by CCP December 27, 1886 at 1467. Fmphasis added,


1887 at

49 See, generally, the annual index to the Proceedings of the Common Council under the heading "Permits to Build."

50 The authority of the common council to require special permits for f'very structure was challenged almost immediately. A builder ignored a restriction in his permit requiring him not to construct a frame structure for use as a stable. The common council's right to obtain an Injuncrion was upheld in an inferior court. No appeal was taken. Campion v City of Buffalo, 8 NYS Reptr 329 (Buffalo Supr Ct, 1887). As in other cases of the the under lying dispute appears to have been neighborhood objections to construction of a livery stable in a residence district.


Lacking standards to qualify, deny or revoke permits, the common council's actions became increasingly erratic and unpredictable. Its behavior gave rise to one of the leading cases of the day defining the permissible limits of administrative actions by legislative bodies. In March of 1887, George H. Chadeayne, a prominent residential developer, received the common council's permission to erect ten, 2-story frame dwellings on a parcel north of Dodge Street, extending between Main and Ellicott Streets.51 A portion of the lot fronting on Main Street was within the fire limits, requiring legislative approval of the construction materials. Chadeayne also proposed to construct a private street running east from Main Street. The permit was vetoed by Mayor Becker on the grounds that the proposed street did not align with existing streets on the west side of Main Street.52

On June 20, 1887, Chadeayne received a second permit to construct seven, 1-3/4 story frame dwellings at the rear of a deep lot at 1215- 1217 Main Street.53 Although the facts are unclear, it appears that part of the lot fronting on Main Str~et was within the 100-feet fire limit, requiring approval by the common council. It was granted, apparently after Chadeayne promised to keep the wood houses to the rear of the lot; outside the fire limits. After a citizen complaint, the mayor vetoed the permit on the grounds that it did not clearly prevent Chadeayne from encroaching into the safety zone.54 The common council amended its permit restrictions and overrode the mayor's veto,55 but for some reason it almost immediately rescinded the permit without notice .1.Q. Chadeayne.56

51 CCP March 28, 1887 at 338.

11 1887 at 377.


should be exercised over the laying out of a new streets in any part of the city to preserve as much conformi.ty as possible in our already irregular streets.

53 CCP June 20, 1887 at 747.

54 CCP June 30, 1887 at 789.

56 CCP August 1, 1887 at 933.


In the three week interval, Chadeayne had already excavated foundations and constructed cellar walls for his homes.57 When he found out about the revocation, he simply ignored it. He was prosecuted at the insistence of the common council, and fined $100 in a civil action in municipal court. The decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals. The court rejected the city's argument that its police power was superior to any proprietary rights Chadeayne might have in the houses:58

[T]he defendant had entered upon the construction of his buildings, had made contracts and incurred liabilities thereon before the common council attempted to reconsider its action. A private property right had, therefore, vested in him prior to the rescission of the resolution.

Chadeayne's private rights might be subject to state police power, the Count explained. But the state had not sought to regulate existing property, and it certainly had not delegated such power to the City of Buffalo.

The dispute over the common council's permit powers grew more intense under a third mayor, Charles Bishop, who served from 1888- 1890.59 A Special Committee on the Building Ordinances, created by the common council, recommended establishing a Bureau of Inspection of Buildings to administer the growing administrative burden. The special committee also suggested increasing construction requirements. Both ideas were ignored by common council majority.60

The aldermen waffled on the question of extending the fire boundaries north to Porter Avenue and east to Jefferson Avenue.61

first the extension,62 then it revoked it in favor of

limit They

58 Id 134 NY 165

59 Mayor Bishop also directed his crusade at the streets problem, establishing a policy of refusing to accept title to private streets less than 66 feet wide. CCP May 13, 1889 at 581.

60 CCP April 9, 1888 at 375. 61 Id 376.

62 CCP July 29, 1889 at 1057; amended by CCP September 3, 1889 at 1111-12; repealed by CCP February 24, 1890 at 277.


special permits for all construction in specific wards of the city.63 The difference in approaches would permit a majority of the common council to authorize permits, rather than the unanimous vote required by the charter within the fire limits. The aldermen undoubtedly recognized that they would lose influence over development in their wards if the fire limits were extended. The alternative resolution gave the appearance of increased regulation without seriously threatening traditional political perogatives.

The new ordinance was vetoed by Mayor Bishop.64 He argued in part that it was improper for a legislative body to exercise administrative functions:65

I further object to this resolution on its merits. My predecessor and the Fire Commissioners have in recent years repeatedly and urgently recommended that the fire limits be extended •••• I recognize the force of objections to this extension, but they are objections of the same nature and of no greater force than the objections which will always be raised to such legislation. There are not a large number of small property holders to whom this ordinance will be oppressive. Others than small property holders complain most of this ordinance •••• I would recommend that we go forward rather than backward. Conflagrations are the supreme and most frequent afflictions of great cities. They cannot be anticipated, nor can their disastrous and appalling resul ts be compensa ted •••• [But] it is the duty of the City authorities to adopt such precautions to prevent the beginning and spread of fire as ordinary foresight suggests. The supervision which the City has exercised ••• over the construction of build s is not an onerous precaution ••• Individuals must not stand in


63 CCP March 3, 1890 at 266; repealing CCP February 24, 1890 at 277.

64 CCP March 10, 1890 at 281. The veto had the effect of restoring the expanded fire limits enacted b-y CCP July 29. 1889 at 1057.

65 Id at 282.


The common council did not override the veto. It instead enacted an amendment to the ordinance requiring a special permit for "alteration" or "repair" of existing structures within the wards included in the expanded fire 1imits.66 At first, the change was limited to structures in the 10th Ward,67 which would today roughly comprise Allentown and the Lower West Side. But the idea was so popular that aldermen from the 4th and 11tb Wards wanted to be included.68 The legislators then decided to include all new construction in the 4th 10th, and 11 th wards, but only for new dwellings "one or more stories of which shall be brick or stone."69

The immediate motives for the amendments are unclear. Certainly, the common council was trying to maintain its traditional role in the development process. The proposed reform were also an attack on the power and authority of elected officials within their districts. One suspects also that, consistent with the political practice of the day, material benefits flowed from aldermanic approval of special permits. The legislators' buffoonery played into the hands of reformers who were seeking a more permanent solution to the problem of legislative abuses. That solution came in 1891 when the aldermanic system was significantly restructured.

66 CCP March 10,1890 at 307. 67 CCP April 14, 1890 at 472.

68 CCP April 18. 1890 at 512.

69 CCP May 5, 1890 at 632.


B. The Search for Effective Land Use Controls.

The new city charter of 1891 created a complicated mayor-council form of government. intended primarily to restrain legislative power,70 The common council became bi-cameral. The "lower house" consisted of a Board of Aldermen, one each elected from 25 wards. The "upper house" was a 9-person Board of Councilmen, elected at large. The charter also restructured the municipal bureaucracy. Public construction and building code enforcement functions were delegated to a Department of Public Works, supervised by a 3-person Board of Public Works. One of the 3 was elected at large; two were appointed by the common council from different political parties.71 The charter accepted the recommendations of 1888 to create a Bureau of Buildings to centralize and professionalize the enforcement of state and local construction codes,72 The common council's power to issue special permits for frame construction within the fire limits was preserved.73 But for the first time the legislators had the option to delegate administrative functions to an executive agency.

The trend toward bureaucratization of municipal functions was reinforced in the next decade through attempts by progressive reformers to improve housing and sanitary conditions among the poor. Fear of a cholera epidemic in 1892 led an influential private group, the Charity Organization Society, to examine conditions in Buffalo's slums. It recommended that tenement house regulations be added to the health code.74 Enacted in 1893, they established minimum sanitary and construction standards for new structures occupied by three or more families.75 Enforcement of the regulations was assigned to the city Department of Health.

70 L 1891 ch 105. For a detailed discussion of the political and social life of the

73 Id §17 '5.

74 Charity Organization Society, Report by the Committee on the Sanitary Conditions of the Houses of the Poor (l7th Annual Report, 1894) 48. The condition of tenements in Buffalo's Polish and Italian neighborhoods was discussed in one of the classic exposes of the day. R. DeForest and 1. Veiller, The Tenement House Problem (New York: Macmillan, 1 ~3). For a general discussion of the efforts of the Charity Organization Society to improve housing for the poor, see Charity Organization Society. Fifty Years of Family Social Work.. 1877-1927 (Buffalo, 1927), especially pages 37. 40, 61-f)5. 112-114. Cited hereafter as Charity Organization Society, Fifty Years of Social Work.

75 Ordinances, ch 25 §§l21-150 added by CCP April 3, 1893 at 503 (Board of Alderman); CCP April 20, 1893 at 608 (Board of Councilmen).


The tenement house and the fire prevention regulations were consolidated in 1896 into a single ordinance that is the forerunner of the present-day building code.76 The consolidation preserved the common council's authority to issue special permits for construction within the fire limits. In a significant change, however, it imposed a requirement that the common council first obtain the prior written approval of the Superintendent of Buildings before approving a special permit.77 For certain sensitive classes of structures, such as tenements78 and mUltiple dwellings79, the Superintendent of Buildings was himself required to consult the Commissioners of Health and Fire before authorizing permits, After more than a decade, reformers had succeeded in restraining the power of the legislative branch to interfere in the development process.

While progressives promoted a professionalized bureaucracy, the relationship between the two was uneasy. The tension between reforming zeal and administrative regularity soon came to be expressed in a pattern of periodic attacks by reformers unsatisfied with enforcement of regulations. When they became displeased with enforcement, the reformers would look for examples of official inaction or malfeasance which they would bring to the attention of the press. The resulting publicity would pr e c i.p i ta te a law enforcement crackdown which for a time would pacify the reformers. This pattern of episodic expose and crackdown evolved into a staple of local enforcement of municipal police powers.80

77 Id §5. 78 Id §8. 79 Id §10.

80 See, e.g., the description of a tenement house law crackdown in G. W. Gilette, "Buffalo Tenement Houses: How the Municipal Broom Has Been Brought into Effective Action," 13(1) Charities 31 <October I, 1 cx)4). See also Reports of the Tenement House Committee in Buffalo Charity Organization Society, 25th Annual Report (l9(2) 80; 26th Annual Report (1903) 91.


Hope that structural reform would uplift the political process was short lived. The Board of Aldermen moved quickly to restore the status quo ante. The Board of Councilmen appears never to have functioned as intended to restrain the "parochial" interests of the district representatives. Reformers attributed backsliding to the evils of partisanship and corruption, of which there was ample supply.8l

The aldermen were encouraged by the statewide movement for municipal home rule. which gained substantial ground in the 1890s.82 The state constitution was revised in 1894 to include a broad restriction on the power of the legislature to interfere in the "property, affairs or government" of c i ties.83 The limitation was enforced by limiting the instances when the state could enact special laws applicable only to particular cities.84 After 1894, a special law would have to be submitted to the affected municipality for approval before submission to the governor. If the municipality refused to endorse it, the law, would have to be reenacted by the legislature. The con~titutional change was intended to encourage greater reliance on general laws applicable to classes of municipalities. The legislature enacted a General City Law in 1901,85 and Buffalo's status was upgraded to that of a First Class City. The trend seemed clearly toward increased local autonomy, and the aldermen had every reason to believe that their power would soon be enhanced.

The immediate incentive for revival of the city's legislative branch was a burst of urban growth following the Pan American Exposition of 1901. In the first two decades of the 20th century, Buffalo's population grew 144%, from 352,387 to 506,775.86 Growth had the same effect on politics as it had in the 1880s. Change worried people, and

81 For a detailed discussion of the abases of city government under the Charter of Commission Government

State Commission on State and Local

State Cited hereafter as Temporary Commission on

(1975). See also J. Hyman, Home Rule in New York, 1941-1965: Retrospect and Prospect, 15 Buffalo L Rev 335, 338-345 (1965). Hereafter cited as Hyman, Home Rule.

83 NY Const Art 12 (1894). The changes did not grant general powers to cities.

Hyman, Home Rule 339.

84 Id §2.

85 L 19.)1 ch 327.

86 United States Census.


they demanded that politicians prevent its unwanted consequences. Change also created political opportunity, and it was not clear which branch of government under the charter of 1891 should seize it -- the common council, the mayor or the state legislature. Urban growth pushed and pulled the city's elected officials into confrontations, one result of which was the development by 1914 of a unique local land use regulatory system.

Just as they had fifteen years before, the building regulations became a primary battleground for powerful interests attempting to shape the city's development. In 1902, the Board of Aldermen proposed an amendment giving itself the power to waive any construction standard. It was disapproved by the Board of Councilmen,87 but the following year a compromise was unanimously adopted by both boards. It provided that: 88

Any provision, condition or restriction contained in the foregoing ordinance rela ting to the cons true tion of buildings in the City of Buffalo, may be modified, altered, changed or suspended upon written recommendation of the Commissioner 2i Public Works, by resolution of the Common Council, adopted by a unanimous vote of the members Q_feach Board. with the approval of the Mavor of the City.

As they had in the past, the legislators eschewed amendment of ordinances in favor of taking a direct role in the construction process.89 Section 223 of the building code did not require the division of buildings to refer permits to the common council. It gave a dissatisfied developer the option to appeal to the legislative branch for a waiver. The Board of Aldermen passed another resolution at the time which gives an idea of the type of control it really wanted; it would have prohibited the director of buildings from issuing an~ permits without first obtaining the approval of the alderman whose ward was affected.90 This idea was killed by the Board of

initial draft would have ~~~ of the members of each boa..-r-d.


88 CCP DecPmbP..r 17> 1 g}2 at 2568.

89 Ordinances, ch 12 §223 added by CCP February 16, 19}3 at 344 (Board of Aldermen); CCP February 18, 1 sm at 354 (Board of Councilmen). Emphasis added. Section 223 was liberalized in 1910 to permit ordinance suspensions upon a unanimous vote of "members present" in each board. CCP 102, July 11, 1910 (Board of Aldermen); CCP July 14, 1910 at 2002 {Board of Counci.Imen),

90 a;p February 16, 1903 at 3Lf2.

91 CCP February 18, 1 sos at 354.


The common council then began to experiment with its power to regulate the types of development which most disturbed constituents, the siting of commercial and industrial enterprises.92 Lacking a clear idea of how to do it effectively, it first tinkered with the building code. A clause was added which prohibited tradesmen from erecting, placing, rebuilding or "using" any structure on or within 15 feet of any park approach I~or a butcher shop, bakery, milk depot, or as a place for the sale of any goods, wares or merchandise, or as a livery stable."93 This initiative was held to be unconstitutional by the Buffalo Municipal Court in 1908.94

The common council then tried direct regulation of controversial land uses. The immediate cause was increasing complaints about the effects of the automobile on neighborhood life. Buffalo's narrow streets and crowded lots were livable in an age where the principle modes of transit were streetcars and the horse and carriage. They did not easily accommodate off-street parking and traffic congestion. Nor were people prepared for the service industries required to support an automobile culture. Particularly disturbing were the service stations and above-ground, hand-crank gasoline tanks that proliferated throughout the city.95

92 It was typical at the time to rely on private action to regulate land use.

Neighbors beset by objectionable land uses might bring a common law nuisance action. Others might rely on contract actions for breach of restrictive covenants in deeds. But

and contract did not protect the from unwanted land uses. Even for

those injured, protection was uncertain. In Buffalo, restrictive covenants were most

CCP 201, June

94 City of Buffalo v Po1assi (unreported opinion, . Buffalo Municipal Court, 1 S(8). The case is cited in a note appended to Ordinances, ch 12 §224. The written opinion has apparently been lost. See also Buffalo City Planning Board, Review of Land Use Controls in Buffalo (July 1969) 1.

95 'The authority of the City of Buffalo to prohibit curbside gasoline tanks was not settled for more than a decade. Kahabka v Schwab, 205 AD 368, 199 NYS 551 (4th Dept); affd wo opin, 236 NY 595, 142 NE 298 (1923).


Controls on the construction of frame livery stables had been recommended as early as 1887,96 but no action had been taken to limit their location. After 1900. livery stables were being converted to service automobiles. Two ordinance amendments were proposed in 1909 to regulate these "public garages". Although not enacted, they are interesting because they incorporate regulatory concepts which were to be central to the public discussion of land use controls for the next two decades.

The more radical proposal of the two was apparently sponsored by the city health department, which objected to the storage of naptha and other flammable liquids in wood structures. It would have made it a criminal and a civil offense to "use or permit the use of any building" as a public garage unless the builder or owner first received the "written consent of a majority of the owners of the lands fronting or abutting" on the adjacent block. The builder would also need a special permit from the common council, subject to certification of the Commissioner of Health that there was no "menace to public health.,,97

The second proposal, apparently promoted by the division of buildings, was contained in a report of the Board of Aldermen's Committee on Ordinances. It agreed that storage of flammable liquids in frame buildings near dwellings was a hazard to public health and safety, and therefore subject to city police powers. The committee report recommended that the existing livery stable ordinance be amended to require a special permi t from the common council for the "Lo c a t i o n , building, construction, or keeping" of commercial stables, barns and public garages in any "residence district" of the city.98 An operator would also be required to obtain an annual permit to ~ the building as a public stable or garage. A '~esidence dis was defined as a zone within a 500 feet radius of the proposed structure within which "more than half the existing buildings are used wholly or partly for residence

purposes," Nei t h e r proposal was a c c d be s the

pa Rea 1 th and the Ls i o n of c o u not a g ee on

which should have enforcement responsibil

The council

year. after additional

Committee on Ordinance S

pressure, the common


% CCP January 3,1887 at 10.

97 CCP 60, Septcu£€r 20, 1909~

98 CCP 77> October 11, 1 ~9.

99 CCP 59, October 18, 1~9.


controls on public garages.lOO The new ordinance included some ideas suggested by the heal th department, but it essentially reflected the viewpoint of the building inspectors. As the council committee explained:lOl

In view ••• of the fact that it has become a common practice to erect these public garages in residence districts and in the immediate neighborhood of homes, regardless of the protests of the owners of property in the vicinity and to the great detriment of such neighborhoods, the members of your Committee are of the opinion that ••• this business should become the subject of regula tion a t once. The ordinance here by propo sed is

fair to the people who are interested ••• in these public garages, and at the same time may afford some protection to the people who have built up the fine residence districts of our city and who take pride and comfort in their homes.

The Board of Aldermen rejected an additional amendment requiring the written consent of adjoining property owners, tenants and the ward alderman for a garage permit.l02 The suggestion, however, indicates a strong minority position which recurs repeatedly in the history of local land use regulation.

The common council obviously thought that it had found the elusive formula to protect neighborhoods from offensive land uses. In 1912, the garage control ordinance was amended to include "public launclries."l03 A similar ordinance was enacted in 1913 to regulate the location of a new

101 CCP 93, April 25, 1910.

102 CCP 105, May 10, 1910. In a similar vein, see also CCP 59, April 25, 1910 proposing requiring approval of the ward alderman before permits would be issued for the erection of billboards. The common council also rejected an amendment to the building code (ch 12 §3) requiring garage owners to obtain the consent of owners of adjacent frame structures before applying for a special permit. CCP 75, May 16, 1910.

103 CCP 81, December 16, 1912 (Board of Aldermen); CCP December 18, 1912 at 2743 (Board of Counci.lmen).


social evil, "moving picture shows."104 By 1916, ordinance sus pens i ons were cited as a necessary bulwark of individual justice and the rule of law.l05 Perhaps heartened by public acceptance of the new ordinances, the common council even attempted to resurrect the building code as a land use regulatory device.

In August 1914, John Kellner received a permit to erect a small frame office at the rear of a lot at 130 Kingsley Street near Jefferson Avenue. Kellner erected instead a somewhat larger structure at the front of the lot, only two and a half feet from the street. When the common council found out about the change (presumably through a citizen complaint), it ordered Kellner to be prosecuted and the building to be removed. Its authority was said to be the vague, old provisions of the charterl06 (incorporated verbatim into the building codel07) allowing the common council to determine the limits where wooden buildings will be "placed." The city's petition for an order to compel demolition of the structure was rejected by state supreme court.lOS The court discussed the failure of the legislature expressll to delegate the power to define a "nuisance" to t.he City of Buffalo. 09 But the principal reason given for rejecting the petition was the unfairness of the loss to Kellner for violation of a law that bore only a $100 fine.

105 CCP 25, December 20, 1916.

106 City Charter, L 1891 ch 105 §§17. 292. 107

Or<1inances, ch 12 §3.

108 City of Buffalo v Kel.lner, 90 Mise l{)7 (1915). Cf Note 57, above,

of Buffalo v a'~deayne,

109 Id 414.


C. City Planning and Upper Class Values.

The public record suggests that an indigenous land use control system evolved in Buffalo as a political and administrative response to accelerated social change. But the aspirations of the city's economic and social elites went beyond the protection of specific residential neighborhoods from industrial and commercial activity. As had their fathers, the patricians hoped to reconstruct the physical form of the city. Now it would be done according to "modern" economic and aesthetic principles. Their political power was waning as the city grew, but they were still a formidable force in the city's public life. Their efforts to wrest control of the instruments of municipal government from those they considered less high-minded dominated the political life of Buffalo ln the first two decades of the 20th century.

, Several intellectual movements of the day inspired the upper-class reformers, but they had a common political expression: an at times ruthless willingness to evade local political processes in order to achieve their "higher" goals. The patricians and their middle class allies sought to play by different rules than their neighbors, and for several decades they were quite successful. Typically, the patricians avoided local roadblocks by turning to the state legislature, which was always fond of interfering in local affairs. Their influence was reflected also evident in reform of the city's ordinances. Different bodies of rules were added to enforce the goals of separate, reformminded interest groups.

One important reform movement, already discussed, championed local regulation of housing conditions for the poor. Its interest was based primarily on concern for sanitation and public health. The Buffalo Charity Organization Society strongly endorsed the revision in 1901 of New York State's landmark Tenement House Law,IIO but Buffalo was specifically excluded from its protection.lll The Society undertook a decade- to have state construction standards extended to Buffalo. Its tactics conditions and

110 L 1 SOl eh 344. The first Tenement House Law in the nation was enacted for New York City in 1867. L 1867 ch 9)8. The change in construction standards in 19)1 gave rise to a distinction between Hold law" (i.e, 1867) and "new law" (Le. 19:11) tenements in that city. For a discussion of tenement house law and policy, see L. }t Friedman. Covernment and Slum Housing: A Century of Frustration (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co, 1968) ch 2. A. Jackson, A Place Called Home: A History of Low-Cost Housing in YJanhattan (Carnbridge:MIT Press, 1976).

III Id, as amended by L 1 ~2 ch 548.

112 Charity Organization Society, Fifty Years of Social Work at 6l-{)S.


The Tenement House Law was finally amended in 1909 to include Buffalo.113 By its terms, all inconsistent and less restrictive local controls on multiple dwellings were preempted.114 The permit power was delegated to the city Commissioner of Health, creating in effect a dual system for construction of multiple dwellings. The common council was not prohibited from exercising its power to establish (and waive) construction standards in the ci ty building code. But regulation of an important, often controversial, class of buildings was removed from direct local control. It was to become an irritating example of state interference in local affairs, fueling demands for increased horne rule.

Public health advocates were joined by social reformers to promote a second, significant reform -- the municipal playground movement. The concept of playgrounds represented a distinct shift in the philosophy of urban recreation, which had been primarily concerned with creating large, rustic "pleasure grounds" within cities. Liberal reformers believed that a different type of intensely developed recreation area was needed to provide disciplined outlets for the energy of the growing urban working class.l1S The first playground in Buffalo was constructed by the park commission at The Terrace in 1901. Pressure for additional playspace culminated in 1910 with creation by the common council of an independent playground commission to plan and manage city facili ties .116

A third group among city's affluent was inspired by beaux arts aesthetics. The Pan-American Exposition of 1901 exposed Buffalo to national scrutiny, It brought to the city the leading figures in architecture, monumental sculpture and civic beautification. The exposition grounds, located on a large site in north Buffalo adjacent to Olmsted's Delaware Park (see Figure 6), were seen by many as a model for reconstruction of the ci itself.

Advocates of civic beautification were encouraged in August 1901, when the Pan-American Exposition was host of the first convention of the

113 Consolidated Laws ch 61, as amended by L 1 ~9 ch 99. It applied retroactively to

structures erected after 1. 1902.

114 Id §§8; 171.

115 See the discussion of the "Reform Park, 1 ~O-l930," in Galen Cranz , The Politics of Park Design: A History of Urban Parks in Amezica (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982) ch 2.

116 Orcl-inancesj ch 48; added by CCP 64, February 14, 1910 (Board of Aldermen); CCP February 16. 1910 at 5% (Board of Counci.Imen); vetoed, CCP 4, February 28, 19lO; veto overridden, CCP 51, February 28, 1910. The playground commission was abolished by the charter revision of 1916. See Note 162, below.


National League of Civic Improvement Associations.117 Exposure to efforts elsewhere led to the formation in December 1901 of the Society for Beautifying Buffalo.lI8 Under leadership of Dr. Matthew D. Mann,I19 the society immediately set about developing an agenda of projects and works. To assist, it turned to a luminary of the municipal art movement, Charles Mulford Robinson.

A publicist and self-taught advocate of civic aesthetics, Robinson, a resident of Rochester, was an influential, somewhat eccentric, popularizer of the practical benefits of urban beautification.120 His recommendations to the Society for Beautifying Buffalo appear to have followed closely the outline of one of his popular books.121 Robinson was, of course, interested in the adornment and placement of monuments, public buildings and other improvements. (His influence is most evident in this regard in the Society's most successful achievement, the campaign to construct a memorial to William McKinley at Niagara Square.) But Robinson's recommendations went beyond monumental statuary. He strongly supported the use of municipal police powers to enforce

117 "Improvements of All Sorts Are Sought For By National League, In Session Tonight in Buffalo," Buffalo Evening News, August 12, 1901 at 1; 'tivic Reformers Talk of Buffalo

and SI:. " Buffalo 13 1 <:01 at 1.

December 7 1901 "Ci

was 81"1 advocate of the genn He had the

misfortune also to be the only doctor available to perform surgery on William McKinley's gunshot wounds, a branch of medicine wi th which he was not familiar. On his interest in municipal art, see Volume 3 of Dr. Mann's scrapbooks in the Buffalo Historical Society.

120 For a discussion of Robinson's influence on city after 19)0, see Jon A Peterson, 'trhe City Beautiful Movement: Forgotten Origins and Lost Meanings," 2 J Urban History 415 (1976); see also Scott, American City Planning 43-46.

121 C, M. Robinson, The Improvement or uowns and Civic Aesthetics (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1901). copy of Robinson's report on Buffalo.

Cities or the Practical Basis of I have been unable to locate a


aesthetic principles, particularly sign controls122 and restrictions on factory smoke and pollution. Other recommendations, heartily endorsed by the society, included urban forestry,123 public gardening, and redesign of street lighting fixtures,

The Society for Beautifying Buffalo promoted the idea that commitment to aesthetic principles would uplift the city both materially and morally. It was, however, difficult for members to conceal their distaste for compromise and vulgarity. Their effectiveness was undoubtedly limited by their portentiousness and tendency toward pompousness. This undoubtedly contributed to the demise of the organization before 1910. Dr. Mann's annual reports capture the tone of discourse within the Society:l24

If measured by things of beauty scattered throughout the town, not much has been done [since founding of the Society in 1901 J; if, on the other hand, we seek for the effects of its influence in the conduct of city affairs, in things not done, as well as in facts accomplished, we can see that the existence of our Society is fully warranted. It is only by constant protest, as well as by holding up on every suitable occasion high aesthetic ideals, that we can produce effect •••• People must be taught and made to realize the advantages of a beautiful city. They must understand that beauty in a city pays; that it pays, not only in the added pleasure in existence given to its citizens ••• , but in a purely financial way, that it is, in truth. a civic asset of very great value. It is too bad to have to appeal to any low or sordid motives to arouse interest in beauty; nevertheless, it is certainly true as I have just said,

that for a city or a community of any kind ~.

and other obstructions in the street as 1846, Controls on billboards

from the common council.

of amennen u,l:'

September 8, 1896 at 1598; CCP September 9, 1896 at 1612. Despite earnest attempts by the civic ion no action was taken to strengthen controls for more than a decade. See, e.g., messages from the mayor at CCP July 28, 1 ~2 at 1655; CCP January 5, 1 S03 at 14; CCP May 21, 1 S06 at 1795. A new ordinance was introduced in 1 S06, Cut not adopted untill~8. CCP May 21, 19)6 at 1831; CCP June 18, 1~ at 2046; CCP 101, October 12, 1 S08 at 2276; CCP 143, October 19, 1 ~8 at 2345; CCP October 21, 1 SO 8.

123 A proposal by the Merchants' Exchange to create a Bureau of Forestry 10 the Department of Streets '''IBS rejected by L"'1e common council in 1896" CCP September 9, 1895 at 1567; October 7, 1895 at 1798; Apr-i I 27, 1896 at 689. Perhaps reflecting another "end run" of local oppositian,the Buffalo Park Commission was granted juri.sdi.ct.ion over all city trees by state law in lS08. City Charter, L 1891 ch 105 §§323a-323d, as amended by L 1~8 ch 52.

124 Society for Beautifying Buffalo, President's Report (1906) in Papers of the Society. Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. Emphasis in original.


-~--- ~ --~---





Plan of the Pan-American Exposition,

...... i;, . "



MAY 1 ~NOV'I'1901'

I PIAn. Hi!lll'!!iCU to April IS. Jl1QU

By far the most powerful and effective support for the concept of city planning came from the business community, particularly the Chamber of Commerce. It is common to attribute a certain parochialism and crass self-interest to business-supported city planning. But the business community had a direct stake in change. They were the first to recognize the technological revolutions that were transforming the economic and social life of the community. Two of these, in particular, encouraged the spread of city planning ideals in Buffalo: deterioration of the railroad network; and hydroelectric power. After 1900, these would be joined by a third -- the internal combustion engine.

Solving problems caused by technological innovations was a basic challenge of modernization. Planning was seen as an instrument to achieve desirable social and economic goals, but its use required political power. The three decades between 1890 and 1920 were dominated by the efforts of the business community to obtain political power. One may criticize the efforts of a small group to dominate the community, but it may also be seen as a movement to push an archaic and parochial political system into the 20th century.

Development of hydroelectric power at Niagara Falls began in the late 1880s. By 1896, sufficient power was available for industrial use, and expectations for economic growth from electricity were boundless. The spreading electrification grid gave rise to one of the enduring (and most elusive) metaphors of Western New York's political imagination regional political integration. Buffalo civic leaders were confident in 1895 that annexation of surrounding municipalities would follow extension of the electric street railways:125

It is but a question of a few months before the Tonawanda [street railroad] lines, one or all of them, will be

tinued Fal Ln

of progress to fall Tonawanda

125 Mark S. Hubbell, "The Buffalo of To-Day," in Manual of the Buffalo Common Council (1895) 11.


The common council manual included a map comparing Greater Buffalo to Chicago:126

Figure 7

"Buffalo - The Electric City" 1895








f FI

126 Id 35.


Political unification did not follow the economic integration of Erie and Niagara Counties. This undoubtedly irritated the business community, but they were more concerned by failure of political leaders to support modernization of the obsolete and increasingly inefficient railroad network. Buffalo's economy depended on its role as an inland entrepot, a transshipment center between east and west. Three modes of transport -- barge canal, lake ship and railroad -- met and interchanged goods and passengers in the port of Buffalo. Each had been built independently over nearly a century, largely without concern for the efficient and economical use of limited land. The problem was particularly acute in downtown Buffalo, where the three transport systems comingled in abject confusion with local traffic and commercial activity. By 1900, the railroad terminus was near collapse.

Railroads shaped the physical development of the City of Buffalo as p e r m a n e n tly (a 1 though not ne c e s sari ly as benignly) as Olms ted's parks.127 Their power was immense and largely beyond the control of local governments. In their efforts to obtain relief, the business community attempted at first to go over the heads of local officials.128 In 1888, Buffalo joined Syracuse and New York as the only municipalities authorized by the legislature to deal with rail traffic problems through the elimination of grade crossings.129 A Buffalo Grade Crossing Commission was created to negotiate with the separate railroads and to sell bonds to finance grade separations. A systematic plan for grade crossing elimination was adopted by the commission almost immediately,130 although no improvements were made until 1895 because of legal challenges to its power. What most angered local officials was a state mandate that the city contribute operating funds and local bonding power to support the commission.

a century the rail system in ruins and the vast,

property holdings of bankrupt railroad companies continue to constrain economic


128 For a detailed discussion of the early grade crossing disputes, see the memoirs of commission chairman Robert B. Adam, 'History of the Abolition of Grade Crossings in the Ci ty of Buffalo," 8 Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society 153 (1 ~5).

129 L 1888 ch 345.

130 Buffalo Grade Crossing Commission, Grade Crossing Improvement: Buffalo, New York 1888-1911 (pamphlet).


Despite the commission's efforts, congestion increased by 1900. The alarmed business community was constantly frustrated by the unwillingness of local officials to finance improvements:131

The railway situation in the City of Buffalo is a most complex and difficult one. No City in the United States presents a problem more intricate from the railroad viewpoint. Seventeen trunk lines enter and are operated in the City. There are over 700 miles of railroad track within the limits of the City. There are between 400 and 500 passenger trains coming into and leaving the City daily, and these trains all come to a terminus in the vicinity of Exchange Street and lower Main Street in said City.

The freight traffic of the City aggregates the receiving and sending out of many thousands of freight cars every day; and the freight termina 1 s of the various rai 1 roads which serve the wholesale and downtown section of the City are also located within the immediate territory embracing the passenger stations.

These various railroads have entered the City of Buffalo at various and different times and have come into the City in a haphazard manner so that the situation is congested both as to the stations and terminals and the various tracks at grade across the public streets of the City are dangerous to the lives and limbs of the people using the streets, and the general convenience and welfare of the City and the safety of its citizens and the general welfare of the people of the whole State of New York, demand that the present conditions in many respects be e limina ted and changed and saf e. sani t a ry , improved and modern terminals and s ta t i o n s be provided. Buffalo has been seeking for these improved conditions for of

y a filed 0

is a large one


been made d i.f

negotiate settlement of some of these questions with the Government of the City itself, but no progress in that direction has ever been made.

131 Hanrahan v 'Ierm inal. Station ion, Record on Appsal , Statement of Facts, Brief for Appellant at 5, in Volume 1110, Case 7, Cases and Points (App Div 4t..'1 Dept 1912). Emphasis added. Cited hereafter as Hanrahan Record.


The economic logic of centralizing the rail terminals would, in retrospect, seem to have been incontrovertible.132 But the technical issues were buried in symbolic disputes over whom would determine Buffalo's supposed destiny. The business elites were not satisfied with engineering solutions. They saw rail reorganization in a symbolic sense as an opportunity to recreate the urban environment according to modern princ i p l e s of c i vi c economy and ef f i ciency • Their as p i.r a tions for the metropolis they envisioned included a new civic center dominated by a union passenger station equal in size and expense to New York's Grand Central.133 Suggested as early as the late 1880s, neither electrification nor the Pan-American Exposition were sufficient incentive to the railroads or the politicians to agree on a site. An official union station commission was appointed by the mayor and the common council in 1901, but no agreement was reached.134

Agreement appeared possible in 1904 after a prominent local architect, George Cary, submitted an elaborate proposal for a vast terminal complex and civic center stretching from Niagara Square to the Erie Basin (Figure 9).135 tentative agreement was reached with the railroads to finance the scheme, but it was only feasible if the legislature created a commission empowered to negotiate contracts with the railroads and to acquire the land.136 The arrangement collapsed, apparently after the common council refused to relinquish control over the finances of the proposed union station commission. Owners of land at competing sites for the rail terminal saw an opportunity to spread dissention. The battle continued without resolution for nearly another decade.137

discussion of the union station



at 91

134 The commission resigned an frust'rat ion VvlO years Iater, CCP February 29, lSC4 at 471.

135 George M. Cary, The Grouping of Public Buildings and Gardens with Adjoining Water Front Excursion Docks and Union Station for the City of Buffalo (Buffalo, privately printed, 19)5). See also Report of the Union Station Commiss.ion, CCP December 27, 1 <Xl4 at 2775.


Lus iak, Planning Heritage 61.

137 See, e.g., subsequent; official reports on a union station m en> January 2, 1 ~5 at 11; March 13, 1~5 at 529; June 12, 1~7 at 1413.


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The Chamber of Commerce's attributed failure to the politicians:138

During 1901 and on various occasions since that time various commissions have been appointed by the different mayors of the City of Buffalo for the purpose of negotiating a settlement of these terminal problems. These Commissioners were men representative of the large and successful business interests of the City, but in no instance did they have power to act and on occasions they reported that they were unable ~ accomplish results because .Q_f_ the lack of such power.

In 1908, the Chamber of Commerce and the various allied organizations of the City organized the Joint Terminal Committee which presented the matters of terminals to the [state] Public Service Commission in an attempt to get a solution thereof. An engineer of the highest standing and a practical railroad man was employed to study the problem, an attorney was, employed, and many hearings were had before the Public Service Commission, at which a large amount of expert evidence was given. The problem was not and could not be solved by the Public Service Commission because .Qi. the lack of co-operation on the part .Qi. the City Government.

Exasperated, the businessmen turned to independent political action. In July 1911, the legislature enacted a special law creating a 12-member Buffalo Terminal Station Commission.l39 The commission, whose members were identified by name, was '~uthorized and directed to adopt from time to time, plans for the purpose of relieving the congested condi t i o n of the railroad s t a tions and terminals in the Ci ty of Buffalo."140 Once adopted by the commission, the plans "shall require" the railroads and the city to make all necessary to "secure to the public freedom from the obstruction of the streets."l41 The Act

tha of 1

The commission

could ente


139 L 1911 ch 842. As their counsel explained, "Buffalo has entered a class of large cities like New York whose probl.ens are of necessity large and difficult of solution in the ordinary way, and which necessitate the creation of commissions power for their solution." Hanrahan Record, Defendants' Brief, Statement of Facts at 7.

140 Id §l.

141 Id.

142 Id §§2. 14.

143 Id §5. Emphasis added.


state supreme court to supervise condemnation.144 If disputes arose over the apportionment of costs for construction, supreme court would decide how much each should contribute.145 If a railroad refused to make mandated improvements, the commission lion behalf of the c i ty " could do the work itself.146 If the city refused to act, the commission could authorize the railroad to do the work and bill the city.147

Within six months, the terminal station commission prepared and adopted a plan for reorganization of the downtown terminal.148 A taxpayer's suit was brought against the commission challenging its legitimacy under the state and federal constitutions. It was argued that the Act violated the state constitutional ban on public action for private benefit,149 as well as several home rule provisions.l50 The case, heard by the Appellate Division on stipulated facts, was unanimously decided in favor of the commission,15l The decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals on the procedural ground that the taxpayer action had been prematurely brought.152 The plaintiff and the city apparently felt that there was no hope of winning a retrial, and the suit was not reintroduced.ls3

144 Id §7. 145 Id §8.

146 Id §9.

147 Id §11.

148 Report of the Buffalo Terminal Station Commission, December 16, 1911 in Hanrahan Record, Complaint, Exhibit B. It is not clear why the existing Grade Crossing Commission was not used to prepare the terminal Its charter could have been amended to add this new function. Perhaps to demonstrate its effectiveness, it did issue an elaborately

3 §6



151 Hanrahan v Terminal Station Commission, 152 AD 349, 136 NYS 1001 (4th Dept 1912). 152 Id, 206 Irf 494 (1912).

153 In later years, membership on the two commissions became what the newspapers would characterize as a classic ''patronage plum." The city succeeded in having them consolidated in 1923 (1 1923 ch 231), rut the combined Buffalo Grade Crossing and Terminal Station Commission was not eliminated until 1946. 11946 ch 902 §8. Even then, the commissioners pleaded to be allowed to continue the vital work of eliminating the last few grade crossings in the city. CCP 10, January 2, 1946; CCP 1m, January 8, 1946; and CCP 37, April 8, 1946 at 1142. Elimination of grade crossings outside the three cities was the responsibility of the state Public Service Commission. Mismanagement of the state program was regarded as a perennial scandal. Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (New York: Random House, 1974) 140; 274. Cited hereafter as Cam, The Power Broker.


D. Public Works and Professional City Planning.

Crea tion of the Term inal S ta tion Commi s sion challenged the political authority and legitimacy of city government. Having once successfully exercised power, the business community and its progressive allies were prepared to extend it. The popular candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt on the "Bull Moose" ticket in 1912 mobilized additional reform sentiment. Prominent independent Republicans like John Lord O'Brian and Chauncey Hamlin lent political credibility. The reform spirit was spread by a municipal research bureau (chartered by real estate interests), charter reform associations, and assorted good government groups. City hall, beset by critics, was desperate to demonstrate its responsiveness.

The first official recogni tion of "city planning" occurs in 1911, the same year as creation of the terminal station commission. Although the department of public works argued that "City officials are fully capable of handling a matter of this magnitude,"l54 it recognized that expertise was lacking. To demonstrate its commitment, an assistant engineer in the Bureau of Engineering, Harry J. March, was authorized to attend the 3d National Conference on City Planning in Philadelphia.I55 Thereafter, March became a spokesman for the principles of "a City Useful and a Ci ty Beautiful.1t156

Nevertheless, the Chamber of Commerce continued its demand for reform of the city planning system. In 1912, it unsuccessfully promoted a bill in the state legislature to create an II-person city planning commission, consisting of five officials and six citizens. The bill, drafted by Dr. Matthew D. Mann, gave ample support to municipal art, but the commission was to be predominantly an instrument of city planning. Mann's (and, undoubtedly the Chamber's) opinions about existing political leadership were clearly stated:157

The bill •• has for its object the creation of a set of plans, made by the most competent experts to be secured

154 Buffalo Department of Public Works, 19th Amual, Report (1911) 34.

155 CCP 22, May 8, 1911.

156 CCP 15, June 12, 1911.

157 Matthe~" 1). Mann, "Ihe New City Planning Bill," 4 Buffalo [Chamber of Commerce] Live Wire 27 (1912).


training, it will substitute a carefully considered program, which program can be changed only by the vote of some of the most competent and best-trained of our officials and citizens, after careful study and deliberation.

Between 1912 and 1914, the Department of Public Works continued to promote professional city planning. Each year, Harry J. March was sent to the National Conference on City Planning, and he dutifully reported what he learned.158 The department's actions, however, seem to have been a response to the threat of the terminal station commission. Its first action had been to endorse a narrowly defined plan to reorganize the terminal of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western (DL&W) Railroad on Main Street at the Buffalo River. The plan represented abandonment of the concept of a union station. It was vigorously opposed by the department of public works, which testified in opposition to it.l59 Litigation to stop the plan was unsuccessful.160

The department prepared an alternative civic center plan and presented it to the commission in 1913 (Figure 10). It would have located a union station and numerous new public buildings at Niagara Square. The proposal was ignored, but the department took the opportunity to endorse the concept of comprehensive city planning:16l

Over a year ago a comparatively comprehensive city plan

was prepared by the Bureau of Engineering •

embracing a civic center development with a railroad passenger terminal, a trolley terminal, and a municipal dock terminal as integrated units. Our utilitarian advocates will cry hold! hold! There are certain physical city improvements which from their very necessity preclude any consideration at this time of such a question that will involve an expenditure of millions of dollars. Those same advocates lose si t of the utility principles underlying this proposit on; for those same millions of

may be th

result that if no general plan be adopted to guide and


CCP 9, June 3, 1912; CCP 11, May 26, 1913.

159 Buffalo Department of PUblic Works, 20th Annual Report (1912) 72; 21st Annual Report (1913) 59.

160 Hanrahan v Terminal Station Commission, Note 151, above.

161 Buffalo Department of Public Works) 22d Annual Report (1914) 63-64. The department's plan, styled the I~OW on the Square," is described at length.


utilities. Only a few thousand dollars coupled with energy will consummate the plan. It is believed that if a general plan were adopted that the civic spirit and pride of Buffalo would effect its materialization.

Underlying the suggestion was the idea that planning could best be done within the context of traditional city government. The argument proved moot when in 1914 city government was overwhelmed by a tide of progressive reform.


Figure 10

Proposed Civic Center with Union Station - "The Arrow on the Square" 1914


Figure 11

Proposed Civic Center, Buffalo Chamber of Commerce 1914

,/' r..:» ,;'

... .


c BVFFALO·.CIVIC . CENTER.·_ .5Y . :11E. . REAL' ~TATE. .. ~.socIA TION . OF' . THE.· K"E'&JL.!lQI'1'"

". CMAMB-ER. ... 0F .. COMf;:E.R.CE ..

'JAME~ .

. ~Ctll T:E.CT .

Source: Buffalo Division of Planning



A. The Commission Charter.

The experiment with bi-cameralism ended in 1914 when the business community and their allies succeeded in having the state legislature authorize a referendum on charter revision.162 Approved overwhelmingly, Buffalo became the mos t populous ci ty in America to accept the commission form of local government.163 People were tired of partisanship and corruption, but the immediate cause of unrest was a tremendous increase in municipal debt, primarily attributable to construction of streets, sewers and waterworks during a decade of growth.164

The commission form replaced the mayor and bi-cameral council with a 5-person body, called simply "The Council.fl165 The mayor was a voting member of the council, all of whom were elected at large without reference to party affiliation. Each councilman also served as commissioner of at least two. city departments (see Figure 12). Public safety functions (police, fire and health) were assigned by the charter to the mayor, other functions were allocated by ordinance. After a lengthy dispute among the councilmen, building code enforcement was transferred from the Department of Public Works to a new Department of Parks and Public Buildings.166

The shift to the commission coincided with an important change in local-state relations which was to transform local politics. Pressure from local governments to limit state interference in their affairs increased after enactment of the General City Law in 1900.167 Buffalo's

162 L 914 217.

165 People seem never to have quite gotten used to the commission form. Throughout its life, the ambiguity was empbasized by being continually placed in quotation marks - "The Council."

166 CCP 67, February 23, 1916. 167 L 1500 ch 327.


bi-cameral common council particularly wanted local control of public works and land use regulatory functions. Its successor, the commission council had the same hopes,168 but its viewpoint was colored by concerns peculiar to its odd nature.

Because it combined legislative and executive functions, the council was even more vigilant against the creation of competing political authority.169 Most descriptions of the commission form cite it as a vehicle for business domination of local government. In Buffalo's case, the commission seems instead to have been captured by the opponents of the business elites. In the estimation of its members, the commission form was the culmination of a long search for an ideal reform government. They certainly wanted to end state interference in local affairs. They also refused to share political authority at the local level. Their efforts were rewarded with the approval in 1923 of an amendment to the state constitution which significantly increased the home rule powers of cities.170 The changes it brought to home rule issues greatly influenced the council's approach to city planning and land use regulation.


168 The council hired outside constitutional experts to frame its policy on home rule. CCP 19, December 21, 1921 and CCP 228, Jarruary 11, 1922.

169 The council was especially eager to eliminate the state-chartered grade crossing and terminal station commissions. CCP 23, January 12, 1921 and CCP I, March 22, 1922.

170 NY Canst Art XII §3 (1894), as amended 1923. See also Temporary State Commission on Finances, and Hyman, Home Rule, Note 82, above.


Figure 12

Commission Government in Buffalo, Organization Chart, 1916



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B. The City Planning Committee.

The council's jealous protection of its authority is evident in its suspicious approach to city planning. It endorsed the concept, but was in no hurry to create a planning commission. During 1916 and 1917, individual councilmen (now acting in their roles as administrators) continued the custom begun in 1911 of attending national conferences on ci ty planning)7l George H. Norton and Harry J. March of the Bureau of Engineering remained strong a dv o c a tes for planning wi thin city government: 172

Buffalo needs a general comprehensive plan. [L]et us get it soon (ere it be too late) and work to it step by step. These recommendations are not speculative or wholly sentimental, they are practical, wholesome, tangible, and materially founded on the experience of other cities which are developing in usefulness, health and wealth.

* * *. * * * * *

They are presented again to a body now, that is close to the heart of the people, a small and powerful body that acts as the responsible head of the people. An important duty (far reaching in its beneficial effects) to the people and posterity awaits your action. If the founders of this city had neglected similar duty, we would not have today a Buffalo as useful and beautiful as it is.

But the council ignored their recommendations.

Later in 1917, a delegation of civic and good government groups, led by George C. Rice of the Greater Buffalo Advertising Club, urged the council to create an c i ty comm a s s 73 The idea was rejected at first, but a compromise was eventually reached. In

8 s t ab I

171 CGP 30, April 19, 1917.

172 Buffalo Department of Public Works, 25th Annual Report (1917) 56.

173 George S. Buck, "Progress and Problems in Buffalo City Planning," in Proceedings of the 21st National Conference on City Planning (Buffalo, May 20-29. 1929) 73.


group of public officials, which it gave the awkward title of the "City Planning Committee of the Council".174 The planning committee was authorized "to devise a comprehensive planning and zoning system for the City of Buffalo.H175

The city planning committee was neither an independent planning board nor planning commission, the powers and duties of which were fixed by state law.176 It was a working group of city officials having responsibilities for municipal public works. The distinction between a planning committee and planning commission was clear to the council, which went "on record in opposi tion to any such plan of providing for another commission, having among its members non-elected unpaid officials, with divided responsibility between such citizens and the appointed or elected officials of the city.'~77 Unflattering comparison was made to the despised grade crossing commission. The planning model preferred by the council was to convene special committees to study and report on specific questions.178 The council did eventually bow to public opinion, and add three citizens to the city planning committee.179

174 a::p 51. October 9, 1918.


Gen Mun Art 12-A

177 ccr 24, January 12. 1921 at 75.

178 See, e.g., Buffalo Harbor Improvement Committee, Survey of the Port of Buffalo (Pamphlet. December 1, 1927).

179 One of the "citizens" added was a member of the Cotmtv Board of SunervisorH_ SPP Proceedings of the Erie County Board of Supervisors (hereafter' cited as PBS>, February 23, 1921 at 99.


c. The Civic Center Referendum.

Despite the council's obstinacy, the 1920s were to be a remarkably hopeful and creative time for advocates of urban planning in Buffalo. It was the last decade in which the city's social and economic elite exercised autonomous political power. To a great extent, it was to city and regional planning issues that they devoted their attention. The ad hoc alliance of business and civic groups organized in 1917 became the core of a permanent organization, the Buffalo City Planning Association. By 1921, the a s s o c i a tion had expanded to include more than 1400 paid memberships. It had formed relationships with 200 clubs and organizations having a combined membership of 30,000.180 Their members and supporters were, in the words of the association's president, of the "best element.1i181 Not just city beautiful visionaries, garden club members and newspaper editors, but practical people with the "dollar sense uppermost."182 They had clout and a material stake in municipal and regional growth -- the Chamber of Commerce, the Advertising Club, Rotary and real estate developers. They also were used to taking independent political action to achieve their goals.

Prominent among them was Chauncey Jerome Hamlin. While his accomplishments were unusual in many respects, Hamlin reflects the social stratum which was attached to the city planning ideal.183 Scion of one of Buffalo's oldest families, he was born in 1881 and educated at Yale and Buffalo Law School. Opening his own law firm in 1907, he later formed a partnership with John Lord O'Brian. Hamlin was active in reform politics, serving as chairman of the Progressive Party in Erie County. After managing O'Brian's unsuccessful try for mayor on an independent ticket in 1913, He was selected as Progressive Party candidate for lieutenant governor in 1914. Following service in the world war, he resigned from his law practice and devoted the rest of his life to civic affairs. In addition to his contributions to city and regional planning, he was active in creating state parks and forests,

Conference 00 City Hamlin, Buffalo City Plan.

182 Id 193.

183 "Masters of Achievement: Chauncey J. Hamlin," Buffalo Truth, 20th Anniversary Number (1923). For an interesting, but unnecessarily harsh view of Hamlin and his fellow patricians, see B. Hollins, Planning in Buffalo, 1918-1945: The Failure of the Citizen Planner, (Unpublished student paper, Dept of History, SUNYAB, 1968).


and in numerous charitable and social welfare programs. He is perhaps best remembered now for his role in establishing the Buffalo Museum of Science, for which he gained an international reputation. While his interests shifted increasingly to museum management, Hamlin remained involved in city planning until his death nearly 30 years later.

The strategy which the Buffalo City Planning Association would pursue was apparent by 1919, when Buffalo and Niagara Falls hosted the 11th National Conference on City Planning.184 The leading national figures in city and regional planning carne to discuss compreh~nsive planning, zoning, regionalism and municipal efficiency. Buffalo's planning enthusiasts established close relationships with several luminaries, particularly Frederick Law Olmsted (the younger), Harlan Bartholomew, Alfred Bettman, and John Nolen.18S They would return often in the next decade to advise the City Planning Committee of the Council and the Buffalo City Planning Association.

Inspired by the conference, the Buffalo City Planning Association urged the council to appropriate funds to prepare a comprehensive plan. The elected officials apparently resisted, because in 1920 planning advocates moved forcefully to coopt them. For more than two decade, there had been a heated, but inconclusive, dispute over construction of a ceremonial civic center, where several proposed public buildings would be located: a city hall, a music hall, a convention center and a public library.186 The city planning committee recommended in June 1919 that a formal site selection process be begun.187 The council hired a "Committee of Experts" to review the accumulated history of past plans and to recommend a design (Figure 13).188 It also accepted the principle that planning should at least begin for a new city hall, but no one could agree where the civic center should be located. Two sites were

184 Proceedings of the 11th National Conference on City Planning, Falls and

Buffalo, May 26-28, 1919 (Boston: 'The University Press, 1920). Niagara Falls was selected power

186 ''C. . " . 1 1 f he Ci .

lVlC centers were essentla e ernents 0 t e Clty Beautlful plans prepared for

a number of cities between 1895 and 1918, for example Cleveland, Washington, Philadelphia, Denver and San Diego. Scott, American City Planning ch 2. Those which most appealed to Buffalo were in San Francisco, Cleveland and Springfield, Mass.

187 CCP 64-1/2, June 18, 1919. See generally City Planning Committee of the Council, 1 st Annual Report (1919) 12-22. The experts included Frederick Law Olmsted, the Younger).

1 RR

L~~ CCP 93, July 2, 1919.


favored -- Niagara Square and Main Street at the intersection of High Street (Figure 14). The Association saw an opportunity to break the deadiock as well as to achieve its larger goals. It convinced a reluctant council to submit the issue of the civic center site to a referendum.189

By a margin of 12,000 votes, the electorate answered ~n the affirmative a simply worded question:190

Shall the Council of the City of Buffalo, prior to the first day of September, 1922, adopt a plan for the location and grouping of the future public buildings of the city and thereupon proceed to carry out this plan?

In language that suggests something of the political attitudes of the patricians, Chauncey Hamlin later emphasized just how seriously the referendum was viewed by the city planning association:19l

We went into the pre-election campaign and very vigorously presented glittering generalities to the citizens of Buffalo and the referendum was carried. The answer to that question was mandatory upon the Mayor and the Council and if, by September 1,1922, they haven't adopted this referendum, legal proceedings can be brought against them.

But the associa tion had a hidden agenda. It intended to use the referendum to whipsaw the council into serving an even higher cause. Hamlin credited the strategy to the advice of a prominent national advocate of city planning (although the tactics employed seem more typical of an experienced local politician):192

189 CCP 60, January 14, 1920; CCP 20, May

1920; CCP 50, May 26, 1920.

l~ ra,


had been chairman of the

bus.insssmen's group that Dani.e'l Plan of Chicago Ln I S08. T "'ter, moving to the East Coast, he joined the board of directors of the Russell Sage Foundat.ion, which he convinced to support development of a regional plan for New York City. Norton's model of planning was for the ''best people" to employ the best talent available. It was a philosophy that appealed to Buffalo's patrician planning enthusiasts. Many of the professionals who worl<.ed in Ney] York between 1921 and 1924 were to advise wi! participate in the development of plans for the Buffalo area. Norton died prematurely in 1923. Scott, American City Planning 101-2, 176-7, 199-203.


I want to pay a little tribute to a man in this country who has exerted a tremendous influence over our plans and that man is Charles D. Norton of New York C'i t y , It was also largely through him that the splendid Russell Sage Foundation Survey of New York was instigated. He has had a finger in the Buffalo plan. He very kindly came to Buffalo and sugges ted to us, a t a mee t i.n g of a number of leading citizens and the City Planning Committee, that in endeavoring to make plans we should not cast up one site for public buildings against another, weigh them and then pick the best, but that, for the time being, we should forget the location of the city buildings and look outside, say twenty-five or thirty miles, and try to vision the Buffalo of fifty years from now, then make our plans to correlate that area with Buffalo territory and gradually work in toward the center. He told us that, if we did this, our public buildings would locate themselves naturally.

On Norton's advice, the council agreed, that expanded: 1 93

the .c i ty planning committee recommended, and the scope of the civic center study should be

We feel that the development of a comprehensive plan comprising possible suburban developments, as well as those of Buffalo proper, will best reveal the proper procedure to adopt for the metropolitan Buffalo of the future as well as the plan for the location and grouping of our public buildings. By the adoption of a comprehensive plan, public improvements wherever made from time to time in urban or suburban localities will then coordinate one with the other, resulting in ultimate municipal economy.

The expanded scope required employ 1

skilled assistance capable of

193 CCP 56, May 5, 1921. I am primarily interested in the campaign for a comprehensive plan, rut the the city planning committee was involved in many other projects. These are described in its two surv~V1ng annual reports. City Planning Committee of the Council, l st Annual Report, 1918-1919 (Buffalo, 1920); 2d Annual Report, 1919-19'20 (Buffalo, 1921).

194 ld.


[Your committee] ••• deem it wise that in a matter of this nature involving as it will the welfare of the generations of the future, as well as those of the present, that some expert advice from those familiar with the developments of other large cities should be obtained that the people may feel fully confident that Buffalo's potential resources may be utilized to the most beneficial extent.

With a $6,500 appropriation, the city planning committee retained Edward H. Bennett and William E. Parsons of Chicago to devise a "general preliminary plan for Buffalo and its environs."195 It w ou Ld include general plans for streets, proposed land use, parks and waterfront development in Erie and Niagara Counties.

195 Id. Bennett had been assistant to and principal draftsman for Daniel Burnham in preparation of plans of San Francisco (1905) and Chicago (l ~8). Scott. American City Planning 64, 103-108, 203. Bennett and Parsons were undoubtedly suggested to Chauncey Hamlin by Charles D. Norton, who had brought them to New York in 1922 to work on the regional plan. For a detailed discussion of Bennett's life and works. see Joan E. Draper, Edward H. Bennett: Architect and City Planner, 1874-1954 (Art Institute of Chicago, 1982).


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D. The Plan of Buffalo.

Bennett and Parsons submitted their work to the council in 1922.196 Unlike its contemporary, the New York Regional Plan, it was not the produce of extensive research on the area's physical development and social problems. Nor was time spent in elaborate justifications for proposed projects. Buffalo's patrician planning advocates already knew what projects were needed and where they wanted them put. They were the same projects which had been on the municipal agenda for decades. The most interesting aspect of the plan, encouraged by Charles D. Norton, was its emphasis on regionalism. But even this echoed the old dream of the international "Electric City."197 The Plan of Buffalo was primarily a "City Beautiful" Plan -- an evocation of a grand image for a great metropolis.

The plan assumed that, at a current rate of 22% growth, the region would have a population of 1.S-million by 1960.198 Growth would spread north, eventually linking the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.199 A new better planned industrial core, would arise along Niagara River in the Tonawandas, where Dunlop Rubber, Wickwire Steel, Buffalo General Electric and duPont Fibre had recently located. New bridges would span the Niagara River. fully integrating Grand Island and the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario into Greater Buffalo.

196 I find no evidence that Bennett and Parsons prepared a written report to accompany their renderings. A summary of the recommendations was reprinted by the Buffalo City Planning Association, Inc., The Plan of Buffalo Showing General Development (Buffalo, [Bulletin


for the Greater

ill Buffalo Truth:

199 Reflecting the social parochialism 01: the planning enthusiasts, Chauncey Hamlin expressed regret over the area's expected growth:

I wish we wouldn't grow. vIe are just about big enough to know everybody and to call them by their first names, but we can't help growing. We have got to grow.

Hamlin. Buffalo City Plan 193.


To accommodate such growth, the plan envisioned great regional public works, primarily to accommodate the automobile.200 New circumferential highways would divert through-traffic away from the city core. High level bridges across the Niagara River at Buffalo, Grand Island and Niagara Falls would reduce congestion and open more land to development. Parks and parkways in Erie and Niagara Counties would preserve the best open space and provide needed recreation outlets {at least for those with automobiles).201 Within the City of Buffalo, traffic congestion would be relieved by a major street plan calling for selected widenings and extensions (Figure 15). Reflecting the "city beautiful" orientation of its sponsors, the centerpiece of the plan was a monumental civic center at Niagara Square (Figure 16). A grand, 200- feet wide "circuit boulevard" would be constructed around the central business district.202 New public buildings would be located at the civic center203 and at major intersections along the circuit boulevard (Figure 17).204

To combat public indifference and the antipathy of the council. the city planning association orchestrated a publicity campaign of unprecedented scope.205 Osiensibly a public education program, the association craftily turned it into a movement. With the council's

200 ''City Pl.anning .A..ssn Reviews Achievements," Buffalo Evening News, October 11, 1922 at 4.

201 Parks were always among the highest priority for planning enthusiasts. The city planning association sponsored a monumental survey of the city's recreation needs. 1.. II. Weir, Recreation Survey of Buffalo (Buffalo: City Planning Association, Inc, 1925). The study was begun by the Social Welfare Conference, which ran out of funds in 1922. Weir was Field Secretary of the Playground and Recreation Association of America, a predecessor of the National Recreation and Park Association. The Buffalo study was well regarded elsewhere because of its use of systematic social research. See also C. J.

"Buff a Io Recreation Survey," 16 The Playground 222 (1922). There is little evidence that it was used

202 The Buffalo


204 A music hall was Tupper and South Elmwood. TUpper and Michigan Avenue.

to be located on the Concourse at the intersection of West A convention center was proposed for the Concourse at East

205 The publicity campaign is described in Hamlin, Buffalo City Plan. It is an interesting example of the increasing importance of the advertising industry in the communi ty, It was later cited as a nat.i.onal, model for local citizen initiative. See Ie K. Hubbard and H. V. Hubbard, Our Cities To-day and To-Harrow: A Survey of Planning and Zoning Progress in the United States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1929) 78-79, 87-88, 93, 96.


approval,206 the association first privately approached influential citizens and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce. Thirty individuals each pledged $1,000 to finance the campaign. With universal editorial support from the press,207 the organizers carefully identified the community's movers and shakers. Ten people in each civic organization -- only those "w h o run it ••• the people who do the talking" -- were added to a mailing list.208

Fourteen thousand people received colorful newsletters, designed to release information about the plan in four, suspenseful installments.209 The newsletters included a draft, II-point resolution for council action.210 Cautiously worded, it endorsed only the proposed civic center rather than the regional plan.211 The campaign was successful in generating unprecedented public support. "Several thousand" people packed a public hearing on the plan in June 1922, giving the the council little choice but to accept the planning association's resolution.

206 CCP 7. December 16, 1921.

207 Buffalo's six newspapers coordinated news and editorials to boost the campaign.

Hamlin, Buffalo City Plan 196. For editorial positions, See e.g., Evening News, "Buffalo of Tomorrow." February 8, 1922; Times, "TIle Forward Look," February 26, 1922; Express, liRe-Planning the City," March 7. 1922; Times, "From Now On - A Comprehensive Developnent Base," March 19, 1922; Enquirer, 'tity Planning Report," March 18, 1922; Courier, I~or a

Greater Buffalo," March 20, 1922; Commercial; "Planning for the Ii March 23,

the " 1922; 'trhe City Plan," April 17,

The benefits of Buffalo

of Greater Buffalo


Buffalo City Plan 195.

209 Buffalo City Planning Association, 'tet Behind Buffalo Today" (Bulletin 1); '~uffalo: 'The City of Opportuni.ty'" (Bulletin 2); "Walk Down the 'Court of Honor' to the City Hall GrouV' (Bulletin 3); ,~lan of Buffalo Showing General Developnen~' (Bulletin 4) (1922) •

210 CCP 61, April 5, 1922.

211 c.,rp, .June 15, 1922 (Special K..neti.'1g).


Figure 14

Proposed Civic Center, Main at High




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Figure 15

Bennett & Parson's Plan of Buffalo: Major Streets 1921

p~ e: PARf: 0 ay




Source: Buffalo Division of Planning


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E. Good Roads and Regional Planning.

The city planning crusade had another important consequence: establishment of the first, and for many years the only, regional planning board in New York State. Residents of Buffalo in 1922 had every reason to believe that a municipal "goliath" was about to be released.212 The natural direction of development was to the northwest in an arc along the Niagara River through the To n a w a n d a s , eventually joining the two core cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Real estate interests were already preparing for growth)13 The prerequisite for the expected boom was adequate access by paved roads for automobile and truck.

The solution to the transportation problems was provided by Erie County Highway Superintendent George C. Diehl. A civil engineer, Diehl was son of Buffalo mayor Conrad Diehl, who helped him obtain the parttime position of Erie County engineer in 1898.214 For more than three decades, he dominated the planning, design and construction of public works in Erie County, particularly paved roads. A nominal Democrat, Diehl formed a local political empire based on the "good roads" gospel which transcended partisanship. He was in many ways a local precursor of Robert Moses, whom he undoubtedly knew and admired. Diehl was less scrupulous than Moses in separating his personal and official interests. His private civil engineering firm, George C. Diehl, Inc., represented the county, several municipalities, public authorities and developers. Its office was in the Ellicott Square Building, the same location as the county highway department.

Diehl was a tireless and enthusiastic booster of suburbanization:215

In 1890, Buffalo was a of a

of a half million and it is

Buffalo will conti to g

mil in 1920,

perfectly apparent that

w 1 i. of


1927 at 1.

213 See, e.g., R. W. Elmes. "Why Buffalo Must Expand: An of

Trend. \\There Greater Buffalo Is Being Built" (Buffalo: Rauch and Stoeckl, 1927). Elmes' pamphlet, written for Robert 1... Tennis, 'Realtor-Subdivider," extolled the loeational advantages of the Town of Tonawanda.

214 'TIiehl Will Quit Post On July I," Buffalo Evening News, May 31, 1934. For a more detailed discussion of the Good Roads Hovement; in Erie Cotmty in the early decades of this century. see Erie County Highway Department, Bulletin No 8 (June 1928).

215 George C. Diehl, "Highway Transportation in Erie County,'; in "Our City: A Questionnaire on Buffalo" (Hanufacturers and Traders Trust Company, pamphlet, n.d. [ca. 1926]).


million and later a city of two million. Just how long a time will elapse before the population arrives at the one million mark, is dependent upon the enthusiasm, interest, the initiative and the energy of Buffalo's citizen's, particularly the younger citizens, that is, its boys and girls. Certain facilities are required for a city of a million people. There must be a sufficient urban area and an improved and adequate mileage of highways, comprehensive systems of sewerage and adequate recreational facilities. There must be a city plan ••... The modern American city depends to the greatest extent upon adequate transportation and especially adequate motor vehicle and highway transportation. The more quickly adequate highways are constructed, the sooner Buffalo will arrive at the one million and two million marks.

Diehl's solution was visionary plan for regional highways which he called Greater Motorways (Figure 18). It envisioned the successive outer boundaries of the future Greater Buffalo marked by new and expanded circumferential highways. Joseph Ellicott's radial streets would be extended out from the city line, providing easy access to these loop roads. The scale of Diehl's vision is evident today on Sheridan Drive, which was constructed to his specifications as part of the Inner Loop Motorway. Improvements to support development, such as sewer and water lines, would be made systematically in advance of growth. An astute politician and spellbinding speaker,216 Diehl convinced the business community and the conservative Erie County Board of Supervisors to adopt the $30-million plan.217 It was the culmination of his long career, and he pursued his dream zestfully.

Support of the real estate industry was crucial to Diehl's plans, and he earnestly courted them:2l8

The demand for good roads, for broad traffic lanes, 1S growing and must be met or we will slip back and our




e d if



LA" Diehl's is often cited in contemporary news articles. For a more

critical account., see '\llngel Pavement: How County Highway Superintendent George Diehl Built Success on Concrete Foundat ions,' Buffalo Trend, March 18, 1933 at 3. For a critical view of Diehl's concept of regionalism, see Geddes Smith, ''Buffalo vs. Buffalo," 57(2) The Survey 92 <October 15, 1926).

217 PBS, December 22, 1925 at 876; December 29, 1925 at 910.

218 '~OO Realtors Tour Motorways System; Caravan Covers 85 Miles on Inspection of Erie County Highways," Buffalo Evening News, October 24, 1928.


county north and south of Buffalo in their rate of development supplies the answer to the good road problem. It is too difficult to get into the city from the south and west. South of Clinton Street and east of Main Street there is an assessed value of over $400,000,000. Unless adequate provision is made for traffic through this section, these values will not be maintained -- they will depreciate. The maximum cost of the solution of this problem ••• is $12,000,000. If only 10 per cent is added to the value of the property benefited, the use of money [for roads] will be justified, and the increased taxable value will pay the interest and retire the bonds.

Construction on the scale of the Greater Motorways required enormous resources. These were fortuitously provided by Governor Alfred E. Smith, who was elected in 1922 largely on the promise of increased state financing for local public works.219 A series of bond resolutions were approved by statewide referendum between 1922 and 1928. They assured matching funds for a wide range of improvements. particularly roads, elimination of grade crossing and parks.220 Governor Smith also believed strongly in planning, a commitment he reinforced in 1923 with creation by the legislature of the New York State Commission of Housing and Regional Planning.22l A precedent was established that adequate planning would be required before state public works funds would be provided to localities.

The message was reinforced in June 1924 when the state commission held a public conference in Buffalo, attended by Governor Smith.222 Inspired by the conference, a new private planning group was formed in November 1924, the Niagara Frontier Regional Plan Committee. Its membership included business firms, elected officials and the representatives of communities throughout the two counties. Chauncey Hamlim resigned the directorship of the Buffalo City Planning Association in order to devote himself to the higher calling of regionalism.

the discussion of Governor Smith and

works m


chs 9-14.

220 See Covernor Smith's comments on Erie County plans in PBS, January 19, 1926 at


221 No 40.

New York State Commission on Housing and Regional, Pl.anriing, Report, Leg Doc 1926

222 Howard E. long, "The Planning Organization of the Niagara Frontier Region," in Proceedings of the 19th Natrional Conference on City Planning, Washington, D.c., May 9-11, 1927 at 141. See also ''State Commisaion Ends Hearings Here on Buffalo Needs," Courier, April 15. 1926.


A second conference on regional planning was held in the City of Tonawanda in September 1924, attended by the governor's representatives. Soon after, the regional plan committee issued a statement in principle on the need for regional planning in Erie and Niagara Counties:223

Anyone, able so to take a bird's-eye look at the whole area, would see at a glance that each part is more or less dependent upon the prosperity and well-ordered growth of the whole. •• Just as an individual in planning the arrangements of a new house, gives thought to future possibilities, and, just as a factory manager, in planning an addition to his plant, gives serious thought to possible expansion of his business, so villages and cities ••• have been giving a great deal of attention and careful study to their future growth.

Any plans that may in the future be prepared by the Niagara Frontier Planning Committee ••• should develop suggested new commuting highways to care for, in the most convenient way, the ever increasing burden of traffic. They should develop rapid transit facilites for use by commuters and others; general zoning, including the proper loca tion of smoke-producing indus tries, to the end tha t they not become a nuisance to homeowners; the location of bridges to and from Canada and Grand Island; the furtherance of parkways, boulevard extensions, and outlying park systems; the study of the separation of heavy from light traffic upon the highways and parkways; water supply; sewage disposal; stream pollution; harbor and canal development; etc., etc.

In the formulating of such plans, the probable development of the metropolitan area should be studied, the tentative extent of its growth determined, and the plans developed using this future metropolitan area as the focal point

than any ar municipa unit now camp ise

within such area. The task is an intricate and difficult

The regional plan committee's efforts were rewarded when the legislature enacted a special law creating the first regional planning

223 Niagara Frontier Planning Board, 1st Annual Report (1926) 15-16.


board in New York State, the Niagara Frontier Planning Board.224 Of 13 members, 12 were elected officals -- the mayors of the 6 cities, and 3 supervisors each from the two counties. The thirteenth member, the chairman, was to be chosen by the elected officials. They promptly elected Chauncey Hamlin, a position he would hold for more than 20 years. Funding for the board was left to local appropriations.

The boa r d was author iz ed to "s tudy the needs and c o n d i t i o n s of regional and community planning in Erie and Niagara Counties and prepare plans adapted to meet such needs and conditions."225 To a great extent the plans adopted were a restatement of concepts promoted by others, particularly by George C. Diehl.226 Undoubtedly inspired by Robert Moses' Long Island parkways, The Greater Motorways concept was expanded to include automobile access to regional parks (Figure 19).227 Support was also given to Diehl's proposal to upgrade construction standards to handle industrial traffic.228

Bright as the fortunes of the Niagara Frontier Planning Board appeared in 1925, its relationship with local government soured rapidly. The Erie County Board of ' Supervisors apparently resented the

224 L 1925 ch 267. Later in the same session, the legislature amended the General Municipal Law to permit municipalities to create regional planning boards on their own initiatives. Gen Moo L Art 12-B, added by L 1925 ch 539. The Niagara Frontier Planning Board was not created pursuant to general law.

225 Id §4(l).

226 Regional Plan of the Niagara Frontier. in Niagara Frontier Planning Board, 2d Annual Report (1926) [map insert].

227 Caro, The Power Broker cbs 11-17. The legislature also created Park Commission in 1924. 1 1924 ch 638., A

Robert Moses. 1 ch 198. There were state

commissions in Western New York (Allegany, Erie County, and the State Reservation at Niagara). Prominent and wealthy Buffalonians were well represented as commissioners. New York State Counci.I of Parks, 1st Annual Report (1925). In addition to park acquisition, one of the chief functions of the commissions was regional highway improvements, particularly on Grand Island and along the Niagara Gorge. A separate Erie County reforestation program was begun in 1927. PBS, November 15, 1927 at 796; PBS, November 22, 1927 at 838. 'The Erie County Park Commission was abolished by 1 1947 ch 606, and its funct.i.ons transferred to the Erie County Highway Department,

228 Niagara Frontier Planning Board, 2d Annual Report (I926) liJ.


interference with its home rule, and refused to appropriate operating funds in 1929. The board remained dormant until 1934, when it was revived to manage public works grant applications to the Works Progress Administration.229 It remained in existence through the war years until it was abolished in 1947 when Erie County decided to establish its own planning board.230

The accomplishments of the Niagara Frontier Planning Board during its first five years are difficult to judge. It played a strong supporting role in promoting George Diehl's regional highway program. Of 26 projects adopted by the board as part of its official plan, 20 were either roads, grade separations, or parkways.23l Greater Motorways were integrated into the board's regional thoroughfare plan.232 By 1930, a large portion of the Inner Loop was completed, radial roads were extended into the rural sections of Erie County, and parks had been purchased along them. The growing network established the framework for s ubu r b a n i.z a t i o n of Western New York. It marked the end of rural isolation in the outer communities, drawing satellite villages into the regional economy and the regional social and cultural life. Greater Motorways placed the Niagara Frontier in the vanguard of the automobile age.233

George Diehl remained commissioner of highways at Erie County until he retired in 1934. His extensive business interests and big plans made him vulnerable to attacks as the Depression deepened and road construction seemed an unnecessary extravagance. Newspaper attacks singled him out in 1930 as a symbol of frivolous municipal waste. A grand jury chided him on his business activities, but accused him only of having built his roads too wel1.234

229 Niagara Frontier Planning Board, 11th Annual Report (1935) Foreword.

230 PBS 26, December 16, 1947 at 613; PBS 29, December 22, 1947 at 625.


4th Annual


233 rv-». nf' +-hA

VJ..M;;; VJ- t...J.J.~

it {and perhaps George C.

footnotes to the

the system. When it was

reactivated in 1935, its assistant engineer was Bertram D. Ial Iamy, Later Tallamy would be director of planning for the New York State Thruway. He was then selected by President Eisenhower to manage the development of the interstate system.

234 C. v. Curry, 't;rand Jurors Condemn Road Work Methods. Neglect, Incompetency, Inter-Locking Interests Are Charges Filed With Court,", September 24, 1931. Diehl defended his performance in Erie County Highway Department; Annual Report (1931) 7~


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A.. Politics and Police Powers.

The commission charter created an eccentric and extravagant political system. The distinction between legislative and executive functions was lost as "five little mayors" vied for power among themselves and with outsiders.235 The peculiar domestic politics of the commission form were complicated by statewide politics of the day. As the home rule movement advanced, the five councilmen waited expectantly for the benefits that would flow from independence from state domination. Even before the state's power was curbed, they began to test the limits of their authority. Municipal police powers were riddled with examples of outside intrusions into municipal home rule. In the 1920s. the council set about purging these outside influences and establishing regulatory autonomy.

The issue of state intetference arose particularly in the context of regula ting cons truc tion of mul tiple dwellings. There were in 1916 two major limits on local regulation of construction: state preemption in the Tenement House Law;236 and the city charter requirement that the council's vote on building code suspensions be unanimous.237 When it was applied to Buffalo in 1909, the Tenement House Law vested exclusive jurisdiction to issue permits in the city commissioner of health. At the time, state standards were more rigorous than the local ones. The health department was also outside the direct control of the board of aldermen. The commission charter solved this last problem. The unif i c a tion of executive and legis la tive f un c tions placed the heal th department under the control of the mayor in his role as commissioner of public safety. But the change in governmental structure did not weaken the tougher state regulations.

For many

there was no apparent conflict between state

e e

another war two decades later. Buffalo experienced a severe housing

235 Mary Finn, ''Origins of Buffalo's Charter," 29(1) Niagara Frontier 2 (1982).

Cited hereafter as Finn, Buffalo Charter.

236 L 15()l ch 344, as amended by L 1909 ch 99. 237 L 1914 ch 217 t 2 §13.


shortage as people flocked to the city to work in defense plants.238 Rationing caused shortages of materials, which made new construction d i f f i c u l t. The tenement house law regulations were accused of contributing to the problem by artificially driving up the costs of new construction and conversion. It was also said that they indirectly encouraged rent profiteering, slumlordism and government intervention in the form of rent controls.239 There were two obvious solutions to the housing crisis: to expedite new construction of tenements, and make it easier to convert existing structures to multiple residences. The council appealed to the legislature for special powers to deal with the crisis, and its wish was granted.240

An exception to the Tenement House Law was worded as a general amendment affecting only cities of more than 400,000 and less than 1 million, a class of which Buffalo was the only member. It provided that the commissioner of health might, under appropriate circumstances, waive the strict application of the law. First, the mayor must proclaim "that an emergency exists requiring the occupation of existing buildings for residence purposes under conditions inconsistent with this act."24l Under emergency conditions, the, commissioner of health (in effect, the mayor under the commission charter) could waive the law if he received the written certificate of the commissioners of buildings and fire that occupancy would be consistent with safety, sanitation and morality. If the mayor proclaimed that "the emergency had passed,"242 the original terms of the Tenement House Law would reapply.

The waiver permitted the council to issue a permit under the ordinance suspension provisions in the city building code.243 Construction of new apartments for higher income people were not affected by state standards which were primarly concerned with minimum fire safety and sanitation. Nor did the waiver affect construction of new tenements, but there were relatively few of these. The amendment appears to have been a compromise between developers who thought that


on the

239 Rent


examination by the courts of the fairness of rents. L 1920 chs 130-139; 209-210; reenacted, L 1920 chs 942-953.

2lR) L 1 ~9 ch 99 §20, as amended by L 1920 ch 766.

241 Id 1843. Imphaei,s added. 242 Ordinances, ch 12 §223.

243 L 1920 ch 766.