The building was designed in 1896 by architect Daniel H. Burnham (1846–1912) in collaboration with Charles Atwood (1849–1896) of the firm D. H. Burnham & Company. From the time of its completion until 1908, it was the largest office building in the world. The ten-story complex originally contained sixty offices and forty stores. In 1896 and 1897, the building was the site of the Edisonia Hall and the Vitascope Theater, the earliest known dedicated motion picture theater in the world.
Named after Joseph Ellicott (1760-1826), the planner and surveyor who laid out the City of Buffalo, the building was commissioned by the Ellicott Company on the site of Joseph Ellicott’s residence and private estate, which was on the east side of Main Street, extending from Swan Street to Eagle Street.
The exterior is composed of granite, iron, and terracotta and the building was designed in the Italian Renaissance style. The marble floor mosaic in the interior courtyard was designed by William Winthrop Kent and James A. Johnson in 1930, and depicts sun symbols from civilizations from around the world.