Savarino Companies

500 Seneca Street- Some History

Buffalo Rising


Many of Buffalo's remnants from its industrial past are finding new life and new uses. Buildings along the waterfront, in Midtown, University District, Larkin District, Medical Campus and of course downtown are finding new life in the form of offices, lofts, incubator space or arts centers. The latest is the F.N. Burt plant at 500 Seneca Street. Savarino Companies and FFZ Holdings are proposing to convert the building into over 250,000 sq.ft. of office space at a cost of $35 million.

Preservation Studios is writing the National Register Nomination and completing the Part II and Part III applications to qualify the redevelopment for historic preservation tax credits. Below is a summary of the history of the complex prepared by Preservation Studios.

F.N. Burt, the company responsible for constructing 500 Seneca, began as a small printing establishment employing 18, and operating out of a one-floor office on Washington Street in 1886. Over the following decade they switched to manufacturing small ornate packages, perfect for jewelry, cosmetics, fishing tackle, and most importantly, cigarettes.

By 1901, their boxes had become so popular, accounting for 98 percent of all cigarette-box manufacturing in the country, that it prompted Fred Burt to build the first five-story, timber-framed portion of the building that stands today at the corner of Seneca and Hamburg Streets. It was designed by the architectural firm of Niederpruem, Gibbs & Schaaf.

The company continued to grow over the following decade, prompting the addition of two wings in 1903, as well as opening two additional factories in Buffalo. By 1909, they were even considering incorporating with other national box firms, and perhaps even opening a factory in Canada. That did happen, in a sense: that same year, they were purchased by the Toronto-based office supplies company Moore Corporation, and after incorporating their two box divisions, retained the F.N. Burt brand name.
Growth was ongoing, and the expansions to 500 Seneca Street are the proof. Additions in 1910 and 1916 (each designed by Niederpruem, Gibbs & Schaaf ) were followed by the biggest factory expansion in 1926, when much of the reinforced concrete building was constructed that was designed by architectural and engineering Plumer and Mann. Plumer and Mann also designed Trico Plant #1 on Goodell Street.

When Fred Burt left the company in 1910, Mary R. Cass, formerly Vice President of the Board of Directors, became acting General Manager of the company, and under her leadership the company flourished. It became the largest manufacturer of small paper boxes in the world, cranking out up to 4 million boxes per day.

The company was always known for making sound business decisions, becoming Zippo's exclusive box manufacturer from the lighter's first years of operation, as well as manufacturing boxes for prophylactics from early on in the development of latex. When metal shortages during World War II nearly put cosmetic companies out of business, F.N. Burt designed paperboard "powder towers," and lipstick containers, as well as created a threaded cardboard jar lid that was invaluable during the war.

In 1959, with the opening of the freeways and multi-story buildings growing out of favor with manufacturers, F.N. Burt moved its main factory to Cheektowaga, where one subsidiary of the company (Burt Rigid Box) continues to this day.
The building was occupied by New Era Cap Co. until 2004 when it consolidated its local manufacturing facilities at a plant in Derby. Savarino and FFZ Holdings purchased the facility in March 2010.



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