Torn-Down Tuesday: Buffalo police headquarters in 1937

By Steve Cichon

The City of Buffalo has purchased the old federal courthouse on Niagara Square for $1, with plans of making it Buffalo’s combined police and fire headquarters.

This is the police headquarters building that was abandoned in 1937 when a new Buffalo Police Headquarters building was opened at Church and Franklin. Buffalo Police are expected to leave that building to move to the old federal court building on Niagara Square in 2017. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The “new” building was dedicated as Buffalo’s federal office building by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on a visit to Buffalo weeks before the 1936 presidential election, which makes it a year older than the building Buffalo Police brass will be vacating at Church and Franklin. That building was ready for occupancy in 1937.

As Police Commissioner Ralph V. Degenhart looking on, the Rev. Jacob Ledwon blesses new police cars in 1985 outside the building that has served as Buffalo Police Headquarters since 1937.  (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Church and Franklin building replaced a much earlier structure that stood a couple blocks away at Seneca Street between Erie and Franklin. The Skyway onramp runs through the property now, which is across Franklin from the back patio of The Pearl Street Brewery.

A 1933 report from the state Corrections Department called the old building “unfit, inadequate and unsafe.”

The report went on to lament the Depression and how plans for a new headquarters were scuttled by the economy crisis. “The building has been condemned for many years and destructive fires have occurred which required large expenditures for its restoration. The close proximity to the railroad, with the consequent noise and grime, makes the location objectionable.”

Buffalo Police headquarters, Seneca and Franklin, 1920s.
Buffalo Police headquarters, Seneca and Franklin, 1920s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The report was the last straw — and city lawmakers insisted on a new headquarters. After wrangling between city, state and federal funding sources, preliminary plans for a new building on city owned property at Franklin and Church were unveiled in 1935.

“When completed, the new police headquarters will be a most up to date building,” said Mayor George Zimmermann. “The plans were drawn only after the best features of other modern police headquarters were studied, and they also include suggestions from Commissioner Higgins. The City of Buffalo can well be proud of the new building that will replace the present antiquated structure.”

Jan. 31, 1937, was the day Buffalo Police moved into the new $800,000 headquarters. Commissioner James Higgins personally directed the crew of 30 telephone lineman, upon whose order, “Cut now!” communications were disconnected at the old building. Exactly 15 minutes later, the same lines ran to the new office.

“Everything worked out so smoothly and quickly the police department did not miss a single call,” Commissioner Higgins said.

Twenty members of the mounted squad spent about 10 hours moving hundreds of pieces of furniture up Franklin Street, to the “thoroughly modern” building complete with a crime laboratory, a lie detector and a ballistics microscope.