The German Insurance Building, once ‘the finest’ on Main

By Steve Cichon

Dedication of Soldiers & Sailors monument in Lafayette Square, 1882. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The German Insurance Building was the backdrop to the dedication of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Lafayette Square in 1882, only two years after this 1880 map of Buffalo was printed.

1880 view.

The six-story building fronted with cast iron was on the north corner of Main Street and Lafayette Square, where the Tishman Building — the longtime home of National Fuel and now the Hilton Garden Inn — now stands.

Old-time Buffalo attorney William Palmer watched the building being built as a little boy and shared his memories with News reporter Bob Watson.

Later, Palmer had offices there. He said the breath-taking views stopped inside the front door.


“Far from being plush or ornate, the law offices in the building were plain in the extreme, with linoleum-covered floors, simple office chairs, gas lights and an occasional cuspidor,” which is probably better-known to modern readers as a spittoon.

The name was lost before the building was — the German Insurance Co. became the Buffalo Insurance Co. during the anti-German scourge of World War I.

The old insurance building had stood at the northwest corner of Lafayette Square for 81 years when crews began dismantling it in 1957. To most, it had seemed like time enough.

“Now seedy and dilapidated, it once was noted for an ‘architectural elegance’ that caused passersby to pause and stare in wonderment,” Watson wrote in The News. “But the ranks of those who remember it at its best have shrunk, and there will be few to shed any tears as it comes tumbling down.”

It was especially difficult to cry as excitement surrounded a new era for downtown Buffalo.

At a proposed 22 floors, the Tishman Building was “Buffalo’s first new skyscraper office building in more than a quarter-century,” but it was only the first of dozens of projects that put the wrecking ball through some of Buffalo’s most iconic — if not, in some cases, worn and tired — landmark buildings.

Buffalo in the ’30s: Babe Ruth visits the Hotel Lafayette

By Steve Cichon

Babe Ruth’s infamous girth was 21 pounds lighter as he met with fans and reporters at the Hotel Lafayette downtown before heading to Offermann Stadium for an exhibition game against the Bisons in September 1938.


Buffalo News archives

The King of Swat joined the Brooklyn Dodgers as a coach earlier that year, and told assembled reporters that any hopes of a comeback seemed unlikely — despite his request to be placed on the active roster as a pinch batter when rosters expand to 40 for the month of September.


Babe Ruth, Brooklyn Dodgers coach, poses with Bisons great Ollie Carnegie. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Ruth wasn’t in the lineup for big league games, but when the Dodgers played in exhibition, he was the star. He played the first five innings, and wound up 0 for 3 at the plate — although he cranked seven homerun bombs during a batting practice show.

A game story in the Courier-Express mentions that “Young Salvatore Maglie, rookie hurler of Niagara Falls,” closed out the game in excellent form for the Bisons. History was just missed —Bisons Hall of Famer Maglie didn’t face Ruth. “Sal the Barber” picked up the ball for the Herd after Babe Ruth left the game.

Back to the photo of Ruth in the Hotel Lafayette: The Soldiers and Sailors monument is still familiar and fully visible in the background. The other building behind Ruth is the German Insurance Building.


The photo of Ruth was taken from the Hotel Layette, a block to the right of where this photo was taken.

The six-story cast iron building was one of Buffalo’s unique and eye-catching architectural landmarks until it was torn down in 1957, to make way for the Tishman Building. The longtime headquarters of National Fuel, the building is now the home of the Hilton Garden Inn.