At the heart of 500 Pearl is the Buffalo Christian Center, built in 1914 by Esenwein & Johnson, famed architects of the Statler, the Buffalo Museum of Science and the Temple of Music for the 1901 Pan American Exposition. It was originally constructed for the Buffalo Fraternal Order of Eagles, and the group’s defining values can still be read on the north side of the building: “Liberty, Truth.”
As the organization grew, the recreational hub became a beloved gathering place for members (including one man who would go on to become president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt). Outside, the terracotta-trimmed building was inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture; inside, it housed activities to entertain the modern Renaissance man. The first floor featured a lounge, billiard room and library, and the second floor’s lodge room is still intact today.
The club’s success lead to the building’s expansion in 1924. The addition included an ornate ballroom and auditorium for cultural and social gatherings. It also expanded the FOE’s recreational program by including a pool, bowling alley, new billiards room and gymnasium. Years later, mini golf would also find its way into the building.
The FOE remained in the building until 1952, when they relocated to the Statler Hotel. It then housed U.S. Army Reserves until 1958, when it was bought by Alan Forbes, leader of the Buffalo Christian Center. He drew on the building’s communal roots to create a safe space for at-risk youth to gather and relax. Once again, the clubhouse became a creative, recreational center for close to fifty years.
Today, the building enters its third act. Restored to its original brilliance and outfitted with modern amenities, the reimagined Buffalo Christian Center carries on its legacy as communal gathering space. The original venue will once again be home to stage productions, social events, and a new bowling alley. And the site’s latest addition—an adjacent modern tower that makes a mark on the city’s skyline—will be home to a new hotel, local businesses, restaurants and more. Now, the building will continue to serve the local community, as well as welcome guests from all over the world to enjoy Buffalo’s remarkable and individual spirit.