Historic Structures

Cyclorama Building, Buffalo New York

Date added: January 3, 2022 Categories: New York Special and Unique Library

The building was specifically constructed to house cycloramas, large panoramic paintings which represented a popular entertainment form in the latter half of the 1880's.

Two paintings were displayed in Buffalo's Cyclorama, the "View of Jerusalem on the Day of the Crucifixion" and the "Battle of Gettysburg." Both were exhibited for two year periods.

According to newspaper accounts of the time, several thousand people paid admission when the Cyclorama building was opened to the public in September 1888 with the painting of Jerusalem. These accounts indicate the painting was completed in sections by a German artist, Karl Frosch, who spent several years in the Holy Land conducting research on his theme.

The painting of Jerusalem may well be the cyclorama that has been exhibited for nearly a century in the shrine of Ste. Anne De Beaupre in Quebec. The cyclorama of the "Battle of Gettysburg" is now on display at the Gettysburg Battlefield National Historic Site.

Another cyclorama painting, "The Battle of Atlanta," was recently restored by the City of Atlanta and is now a tourist attraction there. That exhibit was originally housed in a round, temporary building in the 1890's and later moved to a museum building erected in 1921.

The cyclorama paintings were usually completed in sections by crews of painters.

Early photographs of the building show the structure originally included a cupola atop a sloped, conical roof. Skylights were cut into the roof. These photos indicate a noticeable absence of windows on the south side of the building (as seen from Main Street). However, there was one large window and several smaller in a single row above it on the north side of the building (as seen from Franklin Street). The absence of large numbers of windows would reflect the building's original usage as the facility for the display of a 50 foot high and 400 foot long painting arranged in a circular fashion inside the interior perimeter of the structure. The size of the paintings displayed suggest the building's walls were originally well in excess of 50 feet high.

These photos also show what is believed to have been the building's main entrance facing Edward Street. This entrance featured a square portico protruding from the main structure with a false, decorative balcony atop it. Under the portico was a roofed doorway.

The only other significant features in evidence from these photos are the pilasters around the building. (Photos contained in "Buffalo Illustrated," 1890, Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.)

Between 1937 and 1942, Cyclorama was given a major renovation by the U.S. Works Progress Administration. This project gutting the building's interior and the introduction of a small auditorium and art deco details to the interior. The project resulted in the transformation of the building into a library reading room.

Alterations to the building may also have occurred earlier to the WPA project. Newspaper photos taken while the WPA was razing the interior show the existence of numerous windows along the outside walls. This would suggest a renovation earlier to that conducted by the WPA. Also, it is not known when the building's original cupola was removed or the height of its exterior walls lowered. It is not certain when a single-story annex adjoining the main structure was built.

Cyclorama is constructed of solid, red brick exterior walls that are 17 inches thick and rest atop a mortar and rubble foundation. A brick parapet surrounds the upper wall. This type of construction is now dissimilar to other structures built in the latter part of the 19th Century. The most prominent feature of the interior is a central column and capitol. These suggest the art deco detailing incorporated into the building's interior by the WPA. A lower, single-story annex adjoins the main structure and was apparently constructed as a mechanical room, perhaps by the WPA.