Ellsworth Statler had carried his dream of building a fine hotel over 25 years. His profits from
his Pan-American Hotel
did not total enough for this project to move forward, but he continued to make a great deal of money from his
Statler's Restaurant. Savings from that allowed him to construct the Inside Inn on the grounds of the
St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. He returned to Buffalo in after the fair closed with a profit of $361,000,
almost $8 million dollars in 2006 dollars. He also returned in a wheelchair, having been seriously injured during
the St. Louis Fair when a coffee urn exploded at his Inn, resulting in third-degree burns from Statler's waist to his toes.
With extraordinary effort and months of therapy, he regained his ability to walk again.
Now, aged 42, Ellsworth Statler was ready to construct his hotel. Having looked for a site in New York City and
suffered the patronizing dismissal by Wall Street financiers as "the carnival man," Statler decided to delay his
hope of building his hotel in that city and returned to Buffalo. Now regarded as a fine Buffalo success story, he
had whatever credit he wanted. People tried to deter him from buying property off Main Street, then the premier
location for any business or hotel, but Statler determined to buy the former church property in what was becoming
a slum part of the city because it was so close to the Ellicott Square and the Central train station. And he paid
$90,000 for the property, a savings of around $750,000 over what a comparable Main Street lot would have cost.
He invested his savings and borrowed $500,000 from Buffalo bankers. The building was to be thirteen stories and cost $750,000 to construct.
Statler hired the Buffalo firm of Esenwein & Johnson as architects, but directed them at every step. The top floor was designed for
offices and bedrooms for staff; the floor below, with large display rooms for traveling salesmen. The rest was devoted to 300 rooms,
each with its own bath. Statler calculated that, if he eliminated the large communal baths on each floor and efficiently designed a
plumbing structure to provide for a bath in each room (shower or bathtub, depending on the room rate), he would spend only 30%
more. And, if he filled the rooms at a higher rate than his competitors without private baths, he would make money. He was correct.
Statler revolutionized hotel construction forever with his Hotel Statler. To save money and provide for maintenance,
he devised what has become known as the "Statler plumbing shaft," which situated bedrooms back to back with a
vertical mechanical shaft that carried hot, cold, and ice water lines as well as electrical conduits and heating pipes.
Additionally, Statler's many years of listening to salesmen and his service in the McClure House Hotel yielded other
guest innovations: a closet with its own light, a towel hook beside the sink, the keyhole installed above the door knob
instead of below, a free newspaper each morning, a pin-cushion with needle and thread. As he said to staff he trained,
"A hotel has one thing to sell. That one thing is service...The object of the Hotel Statler is to sell its guests the
very best service
in the world."
The Buffalo firm of Mosier & Summers was contracted to build the hotel; it took two years and received continuous publicity in
the local and national newspapers, partly from Statler's efforts. It came to be regarded as a civic project, something for the city
to take pride in.
Statler biographers have a less than kind opinion of the exterior design. Both Floyd Miller and Rufus Jarman agree
that it was a graceless building, its square proportions making the building look squat. Floyd Miller says, "The
exterior walls were covered with glazed terra cotta tile that carried swirls of color, mostly reds and browns. The
thirteenth floor was circled with a crust of lancet arches and the whole thing gave the impression of being
a giant cake in which the ingredients had been imperfectly mixed by an apprentice baker."
The Buffalo Evening News reported another impression when the hotel opened:
Its artistic exterior of terra cotta...(gives) but a faint idea of its magnificent interior of sumptuous furnishings and pleasing decorative work...The main lobby is built of Italian marble, its stately columns and walls being strikingly handsome while the new kind of chandeliers, of dull iron wrought in fantastic shapes, give the effect of a grand salon... Embedded in the wall facing the front entrance is a huge electrically controlled clock supported, as it were, by two cherubs in kneeling posture...The public dining room is of a regal magnificence. The walls contain immense panel paintings made especially for the Statler Hotel...The paintings are of landscape effect, with the oddness and unusual in them which gives a fair idea of the paintings of old, where patriarchs dreamily sat in gilded chairs placed in flower-scented gardens, entrancedly listening to the strains of the harp and lute in the hands of beautiful maidens with flowing tresses and plump shoulders.
Grotesque and fantastic decorative work on the walls and pillars of the dining hall serve to make it attractive. It is lighted by the subdued electric lights hidden beneath colored glazed glass, shedded from the interior of the columns and walls. The solid wall is covered with a deep border of grapevine terra cotta while the rest of the wainscoting is nine feet high, in pure mahogany...In one corner is the orchestra balcony, where sweet strains of music will issue from a bank of tall palms hiding exper musicians.
While the cafe is elaborately finished in elegant style, the elegance of the substantial and unostentatious palm room is the real gem. When the lights are turned on the effect is stunning. The room has a huge dome done in work of the outdoor grapevine effect. In the center of the dome is suspended a beautiful electrolier of dazzling brilliancy. Clusters of electric lights, bursting from flower-effect terra cotta, the lights being draped in artificial grapes and leaves, enhance the beauty of the room.
The walls reaching to a mezzanine floor are of stucco finish, with paintings here and there to give it the luxuriance of the private home of a regal monarch. There is a fountain in the palm room which will be a catchy feature. Standing out from the walls are three miniature dragon heads, each spurting a stream of water, which falls into a basin, beautifully worked, and into three large electric lights, which will be submerged in water. An arrangement which Mr. Statler is thinking of is to have sweet scented waters sprayed from this fountain, which will cause a perfume to permeate the atmosphere.
Biographer Floyd Miller summarized the decor thus: "What reporters found on the main floor was a lobby,
a bar, and two dining rooms so ornate as to defy description. There was no single decorative period,
but bits of all periods. Wood, glass, marble and plaster were used in lavish and unlikely ways. It
gave the impression of a Cecil B. DeMille movie set."
Ellsworth Statler learned from his Hotel Statler experience that he was no interior decorator and,
when civic leaders from Cleveland approached him in 1910 to create a Statler hotel in their city, they
were emphatic that "his Buffalo decor" would not be acceptable in their luxury hotel.
The best that could be said about the Statler Hotel in Buffalo was that its engineering was ground-breaking,
establishing Statler as the "father of the American Hotel Industry." Statler's planning process that established
kitchens and service corridors to permit smaller staffs to deliver services conveniently and efficiently set the standard for
the 20th century hospitality business.
In his future hotel designs, he
would employ the excellent decorator, designer, and teacher Louis Rorimer of the Cleveland
firm of Rorimer-Brooks to furnish his hotels elegantly.
The Hotel Statler made $30,000 in its first year of operation and inspired Statler to have a 150-room addition constructed soon after.
By 1919, after opening five Statler Hotels in other cities, Ellsworth Statler once again turned his attention to Buffalo. Niagara Square
was becoming the civic center of Buffalo and he determined to build a new Statler there. After it opened in 1923, his company
continued to operate the first Statler Hotel under the name, "Hotel Buffalo." It closed in 1967 and was demolished in 1968. The site
remained "shovel ready" until the Bisons' baseball park was constructed in 1988.
Part 1: Statler's Restaurant
Part 2: Statler's Pan-American Hotel
Part 3: The Hotel Statler
Part 4: Statler Estate
Part 5: The (new) Statler Hotel
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