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Unknown Stories of WNY: A century of Statler stories

With Douglas Development reimagining the landmark's future, we are looking back at the people and events that make up its history.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — If you have driven around Niagara Square lately you have, no doubt, noticed the amount of work that is going into the Statler Building. While they are reimagining the landmark's future, its past is full of stories about people and happenings. 

That is what drew developer Douglas Jemal to the project started by the late Mark Croce. Jemal says it was the looks, the history and the quality construction, calling it a "gem around Niagara Square."

Conor Hawkins of Statler City says Buffalo was an important place in the history of the hotel industry, because it was an important place for Ellsworth Statler. 

"The marketing slogan here back in the day was 'a bed and a bath for a dollar and a half,'" Hawkins said. "This is one of the first hotels that was advertising that they had a radio in every single room AM, FM radio in every single room."

But this masterpiece was actually Ellsworth Statler's third in Buffalo. 

After coming here from West Virginia to open a restaurant at the just-built Ellicott Square Building, the young Statler took advantage of the biggest event in town, opening Statler's Hotel at Elmwood and Forest. It was a temporary hotel for the Pan American Exposition of 1901. 

Then six years later, using the funds raised at the expo, he built his first permanent hotel on the block now occupied by Sahlen Field. And finally, 100 years ago, he began construction on his Niagara Square landmark. 

Opening in 1923, Hawkins says the Statler Building featured what would become Statler's calling card. 

"You always know what they look like because it's got the big shape of an 'E' for Ellsworth," Hawkins said.

It became Buffalo's place to be, attracting presidents, movie stars and even The King. 

"Elvis has stayed here," Hawkins said. "We've had Dr. Martin Luther King have an event in the golden ballroom. We had a young Dean Martin perform here. In 1984 Tony Bennett recorded an entire album at the hotel. One long-term resident is someone many people remember on a trip every morning through the drive-thru. It was Tim Horton's last residence here in Buffalo."

For Jemal, he sees a future that continues that proud legacy. 

"So I believe what once was could always come back and be again so that's my philosophy," Jemal said.

From the upper floors to the ballrooms, down into the basement and the Roman bath, Jemal is working hard to bring it back. 

"If we forget where we came from then we're never going to go anywhere and this is part of Buffalo's history. So to me it's important to restore and preserve it," Jemal said.