Niagra mohawk building

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Historic Significance
Excerpted from the National Register of Historic Places  Nomination

Built as corporate headquarters for the newly consolidated Niagara Hudson utility company, the nation's largest electrical utility system. Thanks to its Niagara Falls generating plants, it was also - by far - the largest producer of hydro-electric power in the country, and from 1929 to 1938 the largest seller of electrical energy in the world.

Niagara Hudson served the richest industrial market in the United States, the 350-mile "Great Corridor" - established by the Erie Canal - stretching from Buffalo toe Rochester to Albany.

The new electric power company was the culmination of a half century of industry consolidation, merging - in multiple stages - nearly two hundred smaller companies.

It is not clear that Malvin King was the principal architect of the building.  In one of the articles regarding attendees to the Niagara Hudson's opening, King is described as an official of the Chamber of Commerce but not as the architect. In the same article, Duane Lyman, of the firm of Bley & Lyman, is described as  consulting architect.

In February of of 1931, the Syracuse Herald reported that final plans were nearing completion, under the supervision of Syracuse architect Melvin King.  Bley and Lyman, a firm out of Buffalo, were listed as consulting architects but they had designed other structures for the company around this time and it is thought that the design came out their office.  In fact, the list of projects on an inventory of Bley & Lyman's work includes "Syracuse Lighting Company" from 1930 but there is no comparable entry in Melvin King's inventory.

Niagara Mohawk Building

The Niagara Hudson (Mohawk) Building, an Art Deco masterpiece, was constructed in 1932 as the headquarters of the Niagara Hudson Electric Company, the largest electricity provider in the United States at that time. Today it is owned by the energy company National Grid. The building arose at a significant time in the history of electricity as it became far cheaper and easier to access.

Buffalo-based architects Bley & Lyman constructed the Niagara Mohawk Building (now home to National Grid), completed in 1932. The metal Spirit of Light statue situated above the main entrance in the center of the structure greets visitors to a building abound in angular, geometric metalwork and plenty of glass, and steel -- a marvelous example of the Art Deco style that grew exceedingly popular during the 1920s and 1930s. The Niagara building emerged as one of the first examples of stainless steel sculpture. 

The Niagara Mohawk Building arose at roughly the same time as another more well known Art Deco gem, Manhattan's Chrysler Building. While the Chrysler building soars into the sky,  the three-level Niagara building sprawls out horizontally,  allowing for easy viewing of its exquisite architectural details. 

The Niagara Hudson (Mohawk) Building in Syracuse served as the headquarters to the Niagara Hudson Electric Company, the nation’s largest utility company at that time. Colored lights at night brightly illuminate the building, which was intended to stand as a “Cathedral of Light," a fitting feature for a building the demonstrated the immense rise of electricity usage during the 1920s and '30s. 

Niagara Hudson served "The Great Corridor," a series of towns situated along the Erie Canal -- from Buffalo to Syracuse to Albany, one of the most prolific industrial markets at the time. In fact, the company also sold 8.5 billion cubic feet of gas per year to cities in the Great Corridor. However, the utility company's true success arrived in the early 1930s when it supplied power to New York City followed by linking all the major power grids in the Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada. The resulting 116,000 square-mile power grid served more than 30 million people.

Though the Great Depression forced the company to reorganize and reduce its labor costs, Niagara Hudson survived and flourished again by the 1950s. In 2000, the British National Grid PLC purchased Niagara Mohawk for $3 billion. 

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The "Spirit of Light," 80 feet above the main entrance of the National Grid headquarters, in the old Niagara Mohawk Building, Erie Boulevard, Syracuse: Who gave the sculpture its name?

(David Lassman | [email protected])

David Lassman, a photographer with The Post-Standard/, recently captured a spectacular series of photos of the National Grid headquarters on Erie Boulevard, the art deco masterpiece still known to many in Central New York as the Niagara Mohawk building.

It's hard to think of a more beloved Syracuse landmark. The late Ada Louise Huxtable, longtime architectural critic for The New York Times, called it one of her favorite deco buildings. Howard Brandston, the international lighting master (he's the guy who threw new light on the Statue of Liberty) and designer of the multi-colored lighting scheme for the NiMo Building, has described it as one of the most beautiful deco buildings in the world.

Yet Lassman's photos reminded me of a question that's quietly nagged at me for many years. While the building was designed by Melvin L. King of Syracuse, with Bley and Lyman of Buffalo as consulting architects, there's one historical mystery about that landmark I'd still love to solve, going back to its construction in the early 1930s.

I've gone to both our morgue at the newspaper and to the Onondaga Historical Association to try and find an answer, without luck, and National Grid doesn't have this information in its files:

The main sculpture on the building is a 28-foot-high shining figure known as "The Spirit of Light," according to documents filed for the National Register of Historic Places - although I've also heard it called "The Spirit of Energy."

The story goes - and I've found references to this - that the old Niagara Hudson power company, the first occupants of the building, held a contest among area schoolchildren to choose a name for the sculpture, and the "Spirit of Light" was the winning entry.

If so: What Central New York child gave a lasting name to one of downtown's most prominent and striking works of art?

If by good luck you know the answer, please contact me at [email protected] .... and I'm hoping there's documentation out there that goes back to the contest, itself.

- Sean

360° Video - Truly one of a kind - Niagara Mohawk Building in Syracuse NY

Niagara Mohawk Building

The Niagara Mohawk Building is an art deco classic building in Syracuse, New York. The building was built in 1932 and was headquarters for the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, what was "then the nation's largest electric utility company".

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Syracuse is a city in Central New York. With a population of 145,000 in city proper and 662,000 in its metro area, Syracuse is the fifth largest city in the state of New York, and the third largest in Upstate New York. Photo: takomabibelot, CC BY 2.0.

Niagara Mohawk Building


43.0512° or 43° 3' 4.2" north


-76.1561° or 76° 9' 21.9" west

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Niagara Hudson Building (Niagara Mohawk)

Circa 1940

Although its hard to see, the lettering above the doors now reads "Niagara Mohawk."

This postcard image shows what the building's exterior illumination was like before the blackout imposed by World War II. The exterior lights didn't return for more than fifty years.


Sketch for 1999 re-illumination project.


View of the restored Niagara Mohawk building today



"Spirit of Energy"

Stainless steel sculpture above the front entrance.


(Photo by David Bridges)


(Photo by David Bridges)


(Photo by David Bridges)


(Photo by David Bridges)


(Photo by David Bridges)


(Photo by David Bridges)


(Photo by David Bridges)

Onondaga Creekwalk, #10 The Niagara Mohawk Building


<p>The <b>Niagara Mohawk Building</b> is an <a href="" class="wikipedia">art deco</a> classic building in <a href="/pages/w/109748972377870">Syracuse, New York</a>. It is a building of the Niagara Mohawk power utility company, now owned by <a href="/pages/w/112050585477831">National Grid plc</a>. It was listed on the <a href="/pages/w/105603872806467">National Register of Historic Places</a> as the <b>Niagara Hudson Building</b> in 2010.</p><p>According to the National Park Service:</p><p>The Niagara Hudson Building in Syracuse is an outstanding example of Art Deco architecture and a symbol of the Age of Electricity. Completed in 1932, the building became the headquarters for the nation’s largest electric utility company and expressed the technology of electricity through its modernistic design, material, and extraordinary program of exterior lighting. The design elements applied by architects Melvin L. King and Bley & Lyman transformed a corporate office tower into a widely admired beacon of light and belief in the future. With its central tower and figurative winged sculpture personifying electric lighting, the powerfully sculpted and decorated building offered a symbol of optimism and progress in the context of the Great Depression.</p><p>The building was listed on the United States <a href="/pages/w/105603872806467">National Register of Historic Places</a> in June, 2010. The listing was announced as the featured listing in the <a href="/pages/w/109413929077146">National Park Service</a>'s weekly list of June 25, 2010.</p><p>The building was built in 1932. It was headquarters for what was "then the nation's largest electric utility company".</p><p>It was nominated by New York State's Board of Historic Preservation for listing on the <a href="/pages/w/105603872806467">National Register of Historic Places</a> in December, 2009. The Board described the building as "'an outstanding example of Art Deco architecture and a symbol of the Age of Electricity.'"</p>


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Groaned, opening my mouth, my stomach twisted with a weight, as if there was no recent release. How sweet it is when it looks like that. The blond ran his hand over the glass.

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