“Indeed, it is admitted by experienced military men that no finer institution of the kind exists on the American continent at the present writing.” (The Tonawanda Herald, March 4, 1897)
The history of the Tonawanda Castle is both unique and powerful. Constructed as an armory for the 25th Separate Company of the National Guard, the massive, 38,000 square foot armory was built in the impressively short span of a year and a half between the winter of 1896 and summer of 1897. With a foundation of Warsaw blue granite and walls of deep red mason brick, this historic building has presided over Delaware Street in the City of Tonawanda for more than 100 years.
The imposing yet surprisingly artful building was designed by Isaac Perry in the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style. This armory is considered one of Perry’s most luxurious projects, costing approximately $85,000 (equivalent to about $6.8 million today). When completed, the armory’s total price tag was more than three times the price of the other armories designed by Perry.
A Grand Ball attended by more than 1,000 guests in February of 1897 marked the inauguration of the armory and the first public assembly of the 25th Separate Company of the New York State National Guard. A Tonawanda Herald article written shortly thereafter said:
“Indeed, it is admitted by experienced military men that no finer institution of the kind exists on the American continent at the present writing.”
The armory was deliberately built to incorporate pragmatism with luxury. Beautiful woodwork, thousands of square feet of hardwood floors, and luxurious fireplaces were combined with a drill hall, mess hall, shooting range and swimming pool. The Castle’s spacious Parlor room was lit by ornate, handcrafted chandeliers imported from France. In fact, these magnificent light fixtures still remain and a mural painted during the Spanish-American War, displaying the American flag among cherubic angels firing a cannon, sits atop a grand mantelpiece in the same room.
Throughout the years the armory functioned not only as a military establishment, but also as a place for the community. During the two World Wars, the 100 foot turret, rising impressively over Delaware Street, was used as an observation post to monitor the sky. In the 1930s, the drill hall was packed with excited fans watching St. Bonaventure play Niagara University in basketball.
In 2004, New York State sold the armory in a private auction. The new owner, Mostafa Tanbakuchi, had a dynamic vision for the building and embarked upon a unique project in which, essentially, a private investor single-handedly preserved history. Today, after several years of extensive renovations, the armory has regained its regal personality and is restored in a way that recalls the building’s glorious past. In honor of his epic restoration efforts, February 17th in the City of Tonawanda was officially declared Tonawanda Castle day.
The building retains listings on both the National and New York State Historic Registries.
Do you have more information on the history of the armory or a personal memory that you would like to share? Please contact us!