I fully intended to make my next entry solely about the Statler Hotel, which is currently owned and operated on Niagara Square, by Buffalo businessman, Mark Croce, under the Statler City banner, www.statlercity.com.
Upon researching the structure, I became fascinated with its founder, E.M. Statler. The man better know for his chain of hotels, was really instrumental in bringing service and comfort into the hospitality business. Let’s go back to the turn of the 19th century.
Buffalo, NY was a major city with a promising future. Ellsworth Statler was a young man with a dream. He was born near Gettysburg, Pa. in 1863. He was one of eleven children, and grew up in poverty. His first job came at age 9. When he was 13 he hounded the manager of the McClure House Hotel in Wheeling, WV everyday for a job. Eventually his persistence paid off and he was allowed to substitute for an absent bellboy. By the time he was 17, he was the night manager, the bookkeeper and was leasing the billiard room at the hotel. He had devoted his efforts to excel and his customers appreciated the service he provided. His empire expanded to include a bowling alley, which housed a barbershop, a cigar shop and a small eatery.
The excellent service he provided resulted in an invitation to go fishing, in Canada, with several of his customers in 1896. The fishing trip took the travelers thru Buffalo, NY. A construction project caught Statler’s eye. In the middle of downtown Buffalo, the Ellicott Square Building was in the later stages of being completed. Learning that the basement space was un-leased, Statler pursued a lease knowing that this basement would be the foundation of his dream.
He, despite being from out of town, was able to forge several relationships and obtain adequate financing to start his venture, Statler’s Restaurant in Ellicott Square. Let’s just say, it didn’t go over very well. Several months into his new venture, he was facing the threat of a looming bankruptcy. Statler convinced his backers to give him some more time to right the ship. His layout and service innovations provided some efficiency’s. He examined every facet of his operation, cut costs were he could and changed his menu. All said and done, he still didn’t have enough customers. Most Buffalo businessmen went home for lunch; he needed to figure out a way to entice them to stay downtown.
Statler knew that an upcoming Veteran encampment was an opportunity he needed to capitalize on. He hired boys to hand out flyers at all the train terminals; he planned on filling his 500-seat restaurant. Statler made several thousand dollars on that three-day event and learned the power of advertising. He soon used his promotional prowess towards the Buffalo community and was able to convince them to patronize the restaurant more frequently. His efforts allowed him to build a nest egg of over $60,000 in capital by 1901. He learned thru experience, he tinkered, he worked long hours and he never veered from his principal of giving his customers service and value.
In 1901, Buffalo hosted the Pan-American Exposition. Statler built a 2000+ room, temporary hotel on the exposition grounds. It was the largest hotel in Buffalo and Statler heavily advertised it outside of Buffalo, it was called Statler’s Hotel! He put up his life savings and borrowed heavily to complete the project, a hotel with a nine-month life span! The weather was bad, the attendance was poor but Statler turned a small profit.
The enhancements he made to his operation, impressed his customers and the business community alike. The lessons he had learned were beginning to pay off. In 1904, St. Louis hosted the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Statler built another temporary hotel, called the Inside Inn, this time with almost 2300 rooms. This venture was a huge success and his profits financed his first permanent hotel, the 300-room Statler Hotel in Buffalo, NY. Built between 1905-08, by the architecture firm of Esenwein and Johnson, the hotel was located at the corner of Swan and Washington. Amenities included a private bathroom complete with hot and cold water. All rooms had wall light switches, closet lights, electric lamps and a radio; all firsts in the hotel industry.
This Hotel was renamed the Hotel Buffalo once the Statler Hotel was completed in it’s present location on Niagara Square in 1923. Statler opened hotels in Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, New York, Buffalo and Boston before his death in 1928. His family continued to operate the Statler empire, opening six additional Statlers in cities across America, and did so until it’s sale to Conrad Hilton (Hilton Hotels) in 1954 for what was at the time, the largest real estate transaction ever… $111,000,000.00. Not bad for a poor kid from Pennsylvania.
So you see, the story behind the Statler, which we feature in our Buffalo gallery, really is a story about how hard work and the belief in one’s dream, turned into an American success story. The Statler is in good hands. Much like Ellsworth Statler, Mark Croce is working on his dream of a fully renovated and revitalized Statler City complex. He is systematically restoring sections of the hotel with a goal of it becoming fully functional in the near future.
We feature several photos of the Statler, including one that was taken prior to the new court house being constructed across the street from the Statler. Enjoy and feel free to pass along Ellsworth’s inspiring story.