The Niagara Mohawk Building (now home to National Grid) was designed by Bley and Lyman and completed in 1932.  It is a nationally-recognized example of the Art Deco style popular in the 1920s and ‘30s, but rarely done as profusely as here. 

The Niagara Mohawk Building under construction

Featuring glass and steel, the geometrically stylized metalwork is climaxed by “The Spirit of Light” statue over the main entrance, one of the first examples of stainless steel sculpture.  The building is brightly illuminated with colored lights at night.

This map shows the area that the Niagara Mohawk Building is currently located on.  Since the 1840s, the structures located on this property have always pertained to energy 
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Looking up at the this art deco masterpiece today, with its shiny, streamlined, stainless steel details, it is hard to imagine that for most of the 19th century, this was a grimy industrial district.  By the 1840s, there was a new technology that was sweeping American cities – coal gasification.  This was a process, developed commercially in England in the early 1800s, that produced gas for lighting streets and buildings by a chemical reaction that involved heating coal. 

A 19th century image of Syracuse’s early gas works at the present site of the Niagara Mohawk Building
 A 1931 photo of the Syracuse Gas Plant at the corner of Erie Boulevard West and Franklin Street

This coal gas proved cheaper and more efficient than lighting by whale oil and its popularity soon spread to America.  By the 1850s, almost every small to medium sized town and city had a gas plant to provide street lighting. Customers could also have the gas piped to their homes and businesses.

The Syracuse Gas Plant at the present site of the Niagara Mohawk Building

The Gas Light Company of Syracuse was organized in 1849.  They needed a large area to manufacturer the gas, with special structures built nearby called gas holder houses, used to store the flammable material under pressure.  Of course, it was convenient to locate this facility near the canal, so that coal from Pennsylvania could be easily shipped in.  And this was the spot the Company chose. The path of Erie Boulevard was, at one time, of course, the path of the great Erie Canal.  When the canal was filled in the 1920s, this location lost that shipping advantage.  The utility company relocated its plant, making this site available for their brand new headquarters building.

The Syracuse Gas Plant at the present site of the Niagara Mohawk Building