Pan-American Exposition

Demolishing the Pan-American Exposition

When the Pan-American Exposition closed on midnight of November 2, 1901, then what happened? The process of dismantling Exposition buildings, clearing the grounds, filling in the canals, and subdividing the parcel into streets and house lots took several years. Today, the former Exposition grounds are completely replaced by residences, commercial and industrial buildings, and parking lots. 

Apart from our Museum, built as the New York State Building, no other structures designed and built for the Exposition remain on the former Pan-Am grounds. The closest runner-up is the wood frame cottage at 1950 Delaware Avenue, which is now emblazoned with a large “Pan-Am House” sign. This cottage predates the Exposition and was on the grounds when the land was acquired. It was repurposed during the Exposition as part of the Indian Stockade, then returned to private residential use.

Here are selected events in the long process of demolishing the Pan-American:

November 2, 1901: Almost 125,000 people witness the closing of the Exposition. Buffalo Morning Express, Nov. 3, 1901

November 9, 1901: The Exposition closes with a $3,000,000 deficit. Literary Digest, Nov. 9, 1901, p. 561.

November 15, 1901: Representatives from the Chicago House Wrecking Co. arrive in Buffalo to negotiate a contract to demolish the Exposition. Buffalo Enquirer, Nov. 15, 1901.

December, 1901: Chicago House Wrecking Co. bids $132,000 to dismantle the Pan-American, anticipating that the project can be completed in 150 days. The Radford Review, December 15, 1901, p. 36.

December, 1901: Many smaller buildings are already salvaged for lumber to satisfy creditors; extensive vandalism of statues and grounds. The Exposition is fenced and guarded to prevent unauthorized entry. Collier’s Weekly, December 28, 1901, pp. 19, 23.

February 26, 1902: Chicago House Wrecking Co., frustrated by battles among creditors, withdraws from negotiations to purchase Pan-American buildings. Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, Feb. 26, 1902.

February 28, 1902: Chicago House Wrecking Co. finalizes the purchase of the Pan-American buildings for $80,000.  Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, Feb. 28, 1902.

March 5, 1902: Chicago House Wrecking Co. begins demolition of the Pan-American. Buffalo Enquirer, March 5, 1902.

March 7, 1902: Park Commissioners petition the Buffalo Board of Alderman for a $28,500 appropriation to restore Delaware Park grounds damaged by the Exposition. Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, March 7, 1902.

March 16, 1902: Grounds reportedly littered with the rubble of broken columns, statuary, lamp posts, and carvings. Exposition paths disfigured by mud; canals filled with ice, mud, and chunks of plaster. Buffalo Daily Courier, March 16, 1902.

May, 1902: Chicago House Wrecking Co. issues a special Pan-American catalog listing materials available for sale from the Exposition. The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site owns a copy of this catalog and has digitized itScience & Industry, May, 1902, p. 271

July 1, 1902: After a buyer fails to materialize, the Goddess of Light statue is toppled from the top of the Electric Tower, shattering on the ground. Buffalo Sunday Courier, July 13, 1902.

July 1, 1902: Pan-Am Company President John Milburn successfully lobbies Congress to pass the Pan-American Relief bill, which will compensate creditors and bondholders. Buffalo Sunday Courier, July 13, 1902.

August, 1902: Amherst Street restored as a public right-of-way. Buildings still standing include the Temple of Music, Ethnology, Liberal Arts, Service, Machinery, Electricity, Acetylene, Emergency Hospital, and Bismarck Café. The Clay Worker, August, 1902, p. 158

October, 1902: Chicago House Wrecking Co. predicts that removing all buildings from the grounds of the Exposition will be completed by January 1, 1903. Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, Oct. 6, 1902.

April, 1903: Temple of Music, Ethnology, and Acetylene buildings still standing. About 50 feet of the base of the Electric Tower still standing. The Clay Worker, April 1903, p. 461

April 9, 1903: Chicago House Wrecking Co. employee Bert Marren falls to his death from the Electric Tower. Buffalo Morning Express, April 10, 1903.

August, 1903: George W. Jennings assumes the contract from the Chicago House Wrecking Co. to clear the grounds of the Exposition, anticipating that the process will take another year.  The Temple of Music is finally demolished. Buffalo Enquirer, Aug. 1, 1903.

February, 1905: John Milburn’s portrait in the Buffalo Club is defaced with a chalk inscription, “For God’s sake, let us forget.” New York Times, Feb. 14, 1905

1909: The S. B. Nye Company begins residential development of the former Exposition grounds between Elmwood, Nottingham, Lincoln Parkway, and Amherst Streets, calling the subdivision Nye Park. The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library has digitized a Nye Park promotional brochure.

You may also like our Pan-American Exposition Buildings Guide, which gives the fate of individual buildings, as best as we could tell.

Cynthia Van Ness is the Director of Library and Archives at The Buffalo History Museum. This article originally appeared in our member newsletter The Album, Spring 2018.

Pan-Am Exposition Map – Then and Now


Some Pan-Am Planning Fun Facts

  • Eight million Americans celebrated the dawn of a new century by visiting the Pan- American Exposition in 1901
  • The Pan-American Exposition opened its doors on May 1, 1901. Turn-of-the-century Buffalo was prosperous and growing. The exposition’s energy, dazzling presentation, brashness, patriotism, refinement, and hucksterism all captured the spirit of the city.
  • After a series of controversies and delays, the Pan-Am’s Board of Directors selected the
    Rumsey Farm as the site for the exposition. The farm lay between Elmwood and
    Delaware Avenues north of the city’s developed area.
  • During the summer and fall of 1899, hundreds of men working with horse-drawn grading and earth-moving equipment attacked the 350-acre site. Planners laid out a design centered around an inverted “T” to lead visitors toward the Electric Tower, promoted as the height of human achievement.
  • Less than a year later, the site swarmed with the activity of thousands of workers and craftsmen racing to erect the exposition’s 90 major buildings and make them weather- tight before the onset of winter. As the buildings climbed skywards, other groups of workers excavated canals, laid out roads, erected fountains, and installed thousands of trees and shrubs.
  • Buffalo was a growing industrial city with a large immigrant population of Poles, Germans, Italians, recent arrivals from other European countries, and a small community of African Americans. Pan-Am contractors had no trouble hiring large gangs of laborers, carpenters, plasterers, and other skilled craftsmen. In just over 18 months, these workers transformed open farm fields into the “Rainbow City,” an enormous and visually stunning fantasy world.

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