Pierce Arrow Factory Complex, Buffalo New York

Date added: May 14, 2022 Categories: New York Industrial Auto Companies Albert Kahn
Front (west) facade of Administration Building facing on Elmwood Avenue (1974)

George N. Pierce and Company had made its first automobile in 1901. In 1907 the grand new factory, consisting of an Administration building and separate one-story manufacturing, assembling, and body buildings began production of Pierce Arrow cars. Additions which more than doubled the size of the plant were made after 1916.

Unfortunately for lovers of fine machinery, the Pierce Arrow Company went into bankruptcy in 1938. Both equipment and property were sold. Subsequent owners of the plant have blocked off windows and made other alterations in adapting the building to other uses, and some of the great spaces have been cut up by partitions. Yet to the discerning eye, this is still recognizable as one of the most important industrial plants of its time, and the recurring arrow motif still found in the brickwork and stair railings of the Administration Building reminds us that this once was "the Factory behind the Great Arrow Car."

The Pierce-Arrow Factory Complex sprawls over 34 acres on a site bounded by Elmwood Avenue on the west, the New York Central railroad tracks on the north and Great Arrow Avenue on the south. The eastern boundary of the plant was originally Delaware Avenue, but the historic district terminates west of the new unrelated construction which now faces on Delaware Avenue. Located just on the northern fringes of a solid residential neighborhood, the factory was built in 1906-7 on the northwest corner of the Pan-American Exposition Grounds (1901).

Supremely rational in its organization, the complex includes approximately fourteen major buildings many of which are linked. The Administration Building, (building "O" on the plot plan) also known in its earlier days as the "Welfare Building" extends almost the entire length of the Elmwood Avenue frontage. The Administration Building seems to have been planned to establish the factory's public image behind which were tucked the more massive and innovative factory structures. The long, narrow three-story Administration Building is constructed of reinforced concrete with brick and steel sides. The brick on the north section (1906-7) has been refaced but the later southern section (1910) and the entire rear facade of the building still show the original arrow motif in the brickwork. The southern (1910) section has a concrete slab roof with a monitor and the northern (1906-7) section is roofed with semicircular reinforced concrete arches spanning the entire 67' width of the building.

The total floor area of the Administration Building is 132,970 square feet, The first floor is now commercial wholesale salesrooms but was originally offices with a director's room, a private dining room and kitchen, and four vaults. The second and third floors are now used for warehouse space. These floors were originally planned as drafting rooms, offices, a cafeteria, a kitchen, and a bakery. In the basement were locker rooms, the printing department, a first aid hospital, a laboratory, a library, storage rooms, and a water cooling room.

Stretching along the northern edge of the complex beside the railroad tracks are a series of buildings that were directly related to the receiving of raw materials or shipping out of the finished cars by rail. These buildings, now adapted to new individual uses, include the Garage {Building "L" 1906-7), facing Elmwood Avenue, the Brazing Building ( Building "F" 1906-7) and the Power House.(Building "L" 1906-7). The Garage is a one-story building measuring 55' x 139' with no interior columns. It is lit by wall windows and a central monitor running continuously across all interior bays. The Brazing Building is similar but longer, 377' long, and has a row of columns at 25' intervals. The monitor sash was built to be opened from the floor by a special device for ventilation to control the high temperatures within the building. A small two-story Laboratory Building (Building "K") stands between the Administration Building and the Garage facing Elmwood Avenue.

The four remaining buildings; The Manufacturing Assembly, Sub-Assembly and Body Buildings, form the "heart" of the plant occupying the majority of the area. The Body Building (Buildings "G", "H", "I" and "J") extends along the southern edge of the complex on Great Arrow Street. The western one-third is original. Access roads into the interior of the plant off Great Arrow Avenue are bridged at one point within the Body Building. The entire Body Building is 1150 feet long. The building is four stories with brick curtain walls and reinforced concrete roofs and floors. These buildings now mostly warehouses were originally used for specific phases of chassis construction; filing, gluing, body fitting, body painting and trimming. Additional ventilation was possible through the interior light wells which run the length of the rectangular building.

The Manufacturing Building (Building "A") and the adjacent Assembly Building (Building "B") both date from the original 1906-7 plan. The Manufacturing Building is one story, measuring 205' x 401' with 25' x 20'6" structural bays. Independent of the reinforced concrete structural system 8 8-inch "I" beams ran from girder to girder within the building to support the drive shafting and machinery.

Both the Manufacturing Building and the Assembly Building have sawtooth roofs which could provide natural and even light to the entire floor area. The Assembly Building is one floor but taller than the contiguous Manufacturing Building. It has a single row of columns supporting the saw tooth roof on an east-west axis down the center of the building creating two column-free interior spaces of 61' Wide and 401' long.

East of the original manufacturing and Assembly Building is the reinforced concrete Sub-Assembly Building (Building "C") not part of the original plan but added soon after around 1911. Covering a total area of 255 sq. feet, the building is four stories constructed around a one-story center section with a sawtooth roof.

The Receiving Building ("D") and the Motor Test Building ("E") are adjacent to the Sub-Assembly Building on the east, and beyond them are miscellaneous structures for truck crating, oil storage, shipping raw stock, and a series of test sheds.

Since the folding of the Pierce Arrow Company in 1938, the ownership of the complex has fragmented, and the buildings have been converted for various commercial enterprises, labor union meeting rooms, truck garages, and warehouses. A large percentage of the saw tooth roofs have been blocked or sided over, and bricked up. Despite these cosmetic changes, the complex is remarkably unscathed structurally, and none of the key elements of the complex have been lost by demolition.

Pierce Arrow Factory Complex, Buffalo New York