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Steve Cichon

From the earliest days of the internet, Steve Cichon has been writing, digitizing, and sharing the stories and images of all the things that make Buffalo special and unique. When you browse the blog here at Buffalo Stories LLC, you’re bound to not only relive a memory– but also find some context for our pop culture past– and see exciting ways how it might fit into our region’s boundless future.

Categories:

Buffalo’s Pop Culture Heritage
The essence of Buffalo Stories is defining and
celebrating the people, places, and things that make Buffalo… Buffalo. That’s Buffalo’s pop culture heritage-– and that’s what you’ll find here.

Buffalo’s Radio & TV 
Irv. Danny. Van. Carol. The men and women who’ve watched and listened to have become family enough that we only need their first names. Buffalo has a deep and rich broadcasting history.  Here are some of the names, faces, sounds and stories which have been filling Buffalo’s airwaves since 1922.

 Buffalo’s Neighborhoods
North and South Buffalo. The East and West Sides.  But how many neighborhoods can you name that don’t fit any of those descriptions? From the biggest geographical sections, to the dozens of micro-neighborhoods and hundreds of great intersections.

Parkside
There is a category for Buffalo Neighborhoods, but as the historian of Buffalo’s Parkside Neighborhood, and having written two books on the neighborhood’s history, giving the Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Parkside Neighborhood it’s own category makes sense.

Family & Genealogy
My family history is Buffalo history. All eight of my great-grandparents lived in Buffalo, including my Great-Grandma Scurr, who is among the children in this Doyle family photo taken in Glasgow, Scotland. Aside from Scotland, my great-grandparents came from Pennsylvania, Poland, and England. One branch of my family tree stretches back to Buffalo in the 1820s, and a seventh-great aunt was among the first babies baptized at St. Louis Roman Catholic church back in 1829, when the church was still a log cabin.

&c, &c, &C: reflections from Steve’s desk
While my primary focus for this site is sharing about things that make Buffalo wonderful and unique, sometimes I have other thoughts, too. I share those here, along with some of the titles from other categories which I’ve written about in a more personal manner.

Buffalo Stories Bookstore
Buy Steve’s five books and other special offers from Buffalo Stories LLC.

BN Chronicles
Steve’s daily looks back at Buffalo’s past from the archives of The Buffalo News and Buffalo Stories LLC. Weekly features include “Torn Down Tuesday” and “What it looked like Wednesday,” along with decade by decade looks at what Buffalo used to be– and how we got here from there.


By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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My ol’man, pizza, and the Dukes of Hazzard

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s my favorite Dukes of Hazzard moment.

I was in First Grade, and “The Dukes” were just about the most popular thing in the world. Maybe tied with Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. The early ’80s were a tough time in South Buffalo– and my dad had a tough time finding work.

Billboard outside of City Hall in the late ’70s, placed there by Bethlehem Steel’s union workforce.

Plants closed and he sold the bar at Elk & Smith. He tried teaching middle school history but couldn’t get in full-time, so he lived and worked in Massachusetts for almost a year while we lived on Allegany Street off Tifft near South Park.

Of course we missed dad– and money was tight. There were more 20-cent letters flying than $5 long-distance phone calls being made. I can’t imagine what it was like for my ol’man to be away, and for my mom to be home with us three, a full-time job, and no car.

It was a Friday night and we took our baths early to be ready to watch those Duke boys. We were sitting at our little plastic table in the living room—all ready for “Tic-Tac-Dough” and “Jokers Wild” to end and Waylon Jennings to sing about “two good ol’boys, never meaning no harm…” when the front door burst open.

Dad with us kids just inside the front door of our house on Allegany Street…. probably taken just as he was leaving for Massachusetts one time or another.

Not only had my ol’man pushed our AMC Spirit to the limit speeding home from Massachusetts, but he had the sense to stop at Mineo’s South (when it was on the corner of Tifft & South Park) on his way home to pick up a large pie. Pizza, like long distance calls, wasn’t often in the budget and extra special.

I’m not sure a six-year-old heart could be any more full.

This glorious Friday night was probably about the best night of my life up until then… Dad was home, we were eating pizza, and we were watching the Dukes. All was right with the world.

That’s me (left) with my Dukes of Hazzard big wheel, c.1982

Buffalo Stories Tours Specialty Tours

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Our 14-passenger Mobile Museum allows every passenger to enjoy an unforgettably intimate touring experience– but space sure fills up fast on our specialty tours currently being scheduled for the coming months.

Find out more about Buffalo Stories Tours

The best way to insure your place on the tour you want is by letting us know, so we can let you know the moment tickets go on sale!

Please let me know when these tours become available:
Please consider a tour about the following:
Name:
E-mail:

Then, starting April 1st, there’s always our signature 90-minute daily tour of Buffalo, which leaves from the the corner of Washington & Clinton on Lafayette Square every Mon- Sat at 10:30am.

Reserve your seat on one of our daily tours NOW!

How I celebrate paczki day 

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo


At this moment, I am supposed to be writing two magazine articles which are due tomorrow.

Instead, I am daydreaming about a possible road trip that I might have to take to Youngstown, Ohio.

It’s not that I’m looking forward to eight hours in the car– it’s just that the last and only time I was in Youngstown– 22 years ago to drop a friend off at school– I had a culinary experience I’m bound to never forget.

Not long after bidding my friend adieu, as darkness began to fall on the way home, I was called by otherworldly force to a roadside donut shop.

I am obsessed with road trips, roadside attractions, and donuts. Sometimes I drag my wife into it. At Randy’s Donuts in LA, 2016.

It was just my kind of place. When the joint was new, it had to have been a palace. But 30 or 40 years later, the huge illuminated sign out front probably wasn’t as bright as it once was.

The counters were showing all the signs of the tens of thousands of dozens which had slid across to families and office workers bringing not only a cardboard box with a piece of scotch tape on the front lip— but also anticipatory smiles with each lifting of that soon-to-be untaped lid.

Places like this were why I stay off the interstates when I can. A Thruway McDonald’s only barely serves its purpose. The little spots like these can lead you to sublime distraction for the rest of your life.

I’m sure I was there primarily for the coffee– bracing for a four-hour drive in the dark. The coffee was all that could expected for evening coffee– obnoxious torrents of steam escaping with the pouring of the dense liquid which looked, smelled, and tasted a bit like used motor oil.

But on that classic wall rack behind the counter, glistening in thick sugar glaze there they were– two cherry-chip fry cakes, the taste and texture of which echo in the canyons of my mind.

Moist, dense, sweet, chemically cherry. Another few hours and these would have been “day old,” but at the moment they met my lips, they were aged to perfection.

These donuts come to mind more often than I’d like to admit, and with the possibility of visiting that part of the world almost a reality, almost with the same intensity I felt the need to pull into that shop more than two decades ago, alas, some piece of me wants to ditch all other work to dig through my travel files to find any sign of where this place was. Or spend some quality time with a search engine and terms like donut and Youngstown.

The more pragmatic side of my brain, however, knows there is work to be done. And this all happened 22 years ago. And this place could really be anywhere in Mahoning County, Ohio.

There may yet be a chance to relive that artery-clogging perfection, but it will have to wait. Unless I can convince my editor to run an ode to Ohio donuts instead of a couple business profiles.

Joseph Prentiss Greiner: wiring the City of Light

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Hey genealogy lovers… ancestry.com has a free trial for UK records this weekend. I don’t pay for “world access,” so whenever there’s a freebie I go and download all the stuff I’ve been stockpiling— like my Great-Great-Great Grandfather’s signature on an English ship crew manifest.

Joseph Prentiss Greiner was born in Wheatfield, but spent many years at sea with Liverpool as his home port. He returned to Buffalo to live in the area now known as the Medical Campus. Apparently adapting the skills he learned as a sailor– as far as I can tell, he was among the first people whose occupation was listed as “electrician” in the Buffalo City Directory, helping bring “The City of Light” to life.

1898 Buffalo City Directory

My Greiners came to Buffalo in the 1820s… and there are several generations of many children who’ve moved all over the country since then. Most of the DNA matches that I can figure out trace back to Casper Greiner— whose daughter was among the first baptized at St Louis Church in Buffalo… and who himself is buried at the small Tonawanda church founded by St John Neumann behind St John the Baptist on Englewood.

Joseph Prentiss Greiner and his wife, Mary Atkinson Greiner.

Titles in our Bookstore

The Complete History of Parkside

By Steve Cichon

A history of the Frederick Law Olmsted designed neighborhood, from its place in the history of the Seneca Nation, to its role in the War of 1812, to Olmsted’s design and the turn of the century building out of the area, and the neighborhood’s 20th century evolutions.

Read excerpts now

Included are discussions of the area’s earliest colorful settlers, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, Delaware Park, The Buffalo Zoo, and the stories and anecdotes of many more struggles, individuals, and institutions that have made Parkside one of Buffalo’s premier historic neighborhoods today.

Softcover, 135 historic photos, 172 pages. $14.95

ISBN: 978-0-615-32784-6

BUY IT NOW in the Buffalo Stories Bookstore

Read more about Parkside from Buffalo Stories LLC

St. Mark Parish: The Loving Legacy of Msgr. Francis Braun and Sr. Jeanne Eberle

by Steve Cichon

A BUFFALO SCRAPBOOK history of the North Buffalo, NY parish with a special emphasis on Sr. Jeanne and Fr. Braun’s combined 64 years of service to the community.

Parishioner Steve Cichon traces the history of the storied parish back to the beginning in 1908, when one early parishioner remembers being able to see the street cars through the trees on Hertel while standing on Russell Avenue.

With 224 paperback pages and nearly 300 images and period news articles, the book takes the reader up to the present day with Fr. Joe Rogliano’s pastorate and the parish’s linking with St. Rose of Lima.

Softcover, 300 images, 224 pages. $24.95

ISBN: 978-0-982-32392-2

BUY IT NOW in the Buffalo Stories Bookstore

Read more about the book and service of Msgr. Braun and Sr. Jeanne

 

Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman: The Irv, Rick, and Tom Story

By Steve Cichon

The story of a TV anchorman so universally loved in Western New York that only one name is necessary… Irv. From the 1950s through the 1990s, Irv Weinstein informed and entertained generations of Buffalonians with his unmistakable style of writing and delivering the news. Together with Rick Azar and Tom Jolls, Irv was a part of the longest running anchor team in history, and their story is the story of Buffalo over the last half century.

From the time long ago… When our TV picture looked like it came from the bottom of a Coke bottle in fuzzy black and white, to today’s electronically augmented color; one man in Buffalo television has been the leading presence. As Clint Beuhlman once dominated Buffalo radio, as Walter Cronkite dominated network news, so Irv, through his intuition, aggressive style, his personality, has dominated the local news scene. -Phil Beuth

Softcover, 74 historic photos, 148 pages.

ISBN: 978-0-9828739-0-8

BUY IT NOW in the Buffalo Stories Bookstore

Read more about Eyewitness News and Irv Weinstein from Buffalo Stories 

 

A Buffalo Scrapbook: Gimme Jimmy!
Mayor James D. Griffin in His Own Words and Pictures

By Steve Cichon, with a Forward by the Griffin Children.

Through his unequaled 16 years in office, Jimmy Griffin was the bigger-than-life, most talked about mayor in the history of Buffalo. Author Steve Cichon and Mayor Griffin’s children have selected nearly 200 photos from the personal and mayoral archives of the Griffin family. The images are interspersed with the stories, quotes, and wisdom of James D. Griffin himself, recorded in print, audio, and video over a nearly half-century in public service.

Paperback, 140 pages, $16.95

ISBN 978-0-9828739-1-5

BUY IT NOW in the Buffalo Stories Bookstore

Read more about Mayor Griffin from Buffalo Stories LLC

 

The Real Steve Cichon: A Tribute to My Relationship with My Ol’Man

by Steve Cichon

My ol’man, Steven P. Cichon, died Palm Sunday, 2010 at the age of 58. Losing a parent is unimaginable, even when you spend the decade up until the death imagining it over and over again.

My dad was a very sick man the last 8 years or so of his life. He lost a leg to diabetes, and had a very serious heart condition. He made regular trips to the hospital by ambulance, and spent weeks at a time in the hospital.

During those times when he was very sick, I tried to prepare myself for his death. Tried to think it through; imagine what it might be like, so it would all be easier to deal with.

No dice. You’ll read that it’s all unimaginable. An extension of yourself is gone. There’s a hole in your heart. All sorts of vital information is gone. It’s like somebody lit the reference book you’ve used your whole life on fire. You’ll read, too, about quite a few things I’d do just for dad, that I sadly have stopped doing.

He’s been gone about two months as I write this, and it’s still hard. I have no doubt that it always will be. But putting all the swirling emotions I’ve felt into writing this has been wonderful.

It’s the story of my dad’s last week on this planet, and the story of his life on this planet, and, mostly, the 32 years he spent on this planet as my Dad, and Dad to Greg and Lynne.

46 photos, 56 pages. Paperback. $10.00

READ THE FULL BOOK ONLINE

BUY IT NOW in the Buffalo Stories Bookstore

Read more about my ol’man from Buffalo Stories LLC

 

A brief history of how I came to be an American

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

After the fall of Napoleon, the people of the Rhineland area along what’s become the traditional French and German border suffered severe economic depression, lack of religious freedom, and governments trying to stop young people in lower classes from marrying and having families.

Four families left that oppression for the tiny outpost of Buffalo in the 1820’s—these are my Grandma Coyle’s mother’s ancestors.

The landed classes didn’t want the Germans in Buffalo.

The most miserable, humiliating, unbearable poverty and famine was felt by the uneducated peasant Catholic population of Ireland during the middle of the 19th Century. To escape poverty and persecution, John Coyle sailed from Ireland to Pennsylvania. His children moved to Buffalo. Thomas Slattery sailed to Prescott, Ontario, and his children moved to Buffalo.  Miles Norton came to Buffalo from Ireland, where he worked in grain mills for 15 years until his death at the age of 48. These are my Grandpa Coyle’s ancestors.

The landed classes didn’t want the Irish in Buffalo.

Mary Ann Vallely was born as a Catholic in Protestant Northern Ireland. Looking for opportunity and freedom from repression, she and her husband moved near Glasgow, Scotland in the 1880s. When her husband died in 1920, she moved to South Buffalo to live among her four children who’d already moved there. Mary Ann Vallely was Grandma Cichon’s grandma.

Grandma Cichon’s father was English—he crossed the Ambassador Bridge from British Canada one day and never went back. He overstayed his visa by more than 50 years, and died a British subject at South Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital.

Jan Cichon was born a subject of the Russian Empire. Ethnically Polish, he was facing compulsory service in the Russian army when he left what is now southern Poland in 1913. It was difficult for a Russian to emigrate to the US—but Jan got around it by setting sail from Hamburg, Germany for Canada. After living in Welland, Ontario for a few weeks, he came to America through the Port of Buffalo under false pretenses.

With $20 in his pocket, my great-grandfather said he was visiting a made-up brother-in-law at a made-up address on Exchange Street. He could read and write, but spelled and signed his name Czychon.

The landed classes didn’t want the Polish—particularly the illegal Polish– in Buffalo.

All of these people went on to contribute to America. To trace the fruits of their loins, you’d be looking at thousands of Americans who’ve done spectacular things to make this country great. Hardworking blue collar men, beautiful women who cared for their families and communities, men and women religious, medical doctors, lawyers, university professors, sea captains, and even a congressman.

But that’s not the whole story—there are quite a few who’ve screwed up as well. Some of whom screwed up terribly.

In my family tree, I have a deported Communist. I have a guy who terrorized his community as serial hatchet-wielding thief, stealing purses off the arms of old ladies. There’s the cousin who spent time in federal prison on racketeering and drug trafficking convictions. There are petty thieves, wife beaters, and drunks. Lots and lots of drunks.

Take a realistic look at any group you belong to, and you’ll find the same. Good and bad.

This is America. This is how America has always been. I can’t imagine America any other way.

 

January 28, 1977: 40 years ago today, a new identity for Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Maybe it was right up until January 27, 1977 that Buffalo was known as a blue collar town. A hardscrabble steel making town. A simple, shot-and-a-beer, look-a- guy-in-the-eye town. It was known as a place with long winters and a string of rotten luck— getting hit hard by the changes in the world through the 1970s.

You knew that OJ Simpson played football in Buffalo and Howdy Doody’s pal Buffalo Bob Smith was from there– but you probably didn’t know about chicken wings yet, because it was a 1980 article in the New Yorker that really put the Buffalo wing in the national spotlight.

Then, starting on January 28, 1977, Buffalo began appearing on the national TV news every night for weeks as the city dug out from The Blizzard of ’77.

Trains being loaded with snow to be taken south to melt, a week after the storm first hit.

The first question of Buffalonians at conventions or in airports was no longer about OJ or Niagara Falls or steel.

“Did the snow melt yet?”

It was always one of the things Buffalo was known for, but 40 years ago today, it became the thing.  Even losing four straight Super Bowls and having the longest playoff drought in major league sports hasn’t been able to shake the Blizzard of ’77’s  stranglehold on our national identity.

Here it is, 40 years later, and we’re just starting to wholly embrace this wintry identity which Mother Nature foisted on us, and hopefully making more and more people aware that making the best of the cold, snow, and ice is something we’re great at.

Buffalonians welcoming the world to our annual celebration of winter. (canalsidebuffalo.com photo)

Even though a few winters have really kicked us in the teeth, we sure know how to do winter in Buffalo.. and we even do the winters that have done us.

When the snow really wallops us, take care of each other and have fun. During the “Snowmegeddon” storm of 2014, firefighters carried a patient a mile up Abbott Road to Mercy Hospital. We also make beer fridges out of the snow drifts blown against our doors.

In the days following the Blizzard of ’77, both Tops and Bells ran ads telling Buffalo they had food left.

Having the Blizzard of ’77 notched in our belts makes us bad ass. We’ve seen the worst of it and know that we mostly survived. But our hearts often turn to those whose death in 1977 made us more careful as a people.

We’ll never forget the ten people who froze to death in their cars– their awful fate is our permanent warning.

We learned lessons of neighborliness and what it truly means to be a Buffalonian. One tragic example of a the kind of Buffalo guy we all strive to be was Officer Carl O. Reese.

Officer Reese worked for 25 straight hours at the beginning of the blizzard, pushing cars to get people on their way and bringing people stranded just south of downtown medicine and food, putting their health and comfort before his own. After more than a full day on his feet, he went back out to help free cars stuck on the Skyway.

Officer Reese collapsed of exhaustion and suffered a heart attack upon arriving home after that marathon shift– he was only 38 years old, and survived by a wife and small child.


From the pages of the Courier-Express: a day-by-day recap of the Blizzard of ’77:


Coming this week with BN Chronicles’ look back at The Blizzard of ’77:

Johnny Carson and how Buffalo became a permanent punchline:

More on Monday at BN Chronicles


Tuesday at BN Chronicles:

Separating the fact from the fiction:

A look at how the Buffalo Zoo made it through The Blizzard, which animals escaped and were caught, and which one animal escaped and was never heard from again.

 


A classic page updated with new information and photos:

Newspaper, radio & TV broadcasts bring the storm back to life…

See the front pages of the Buffalo Evening News and Courier-Express, watch a full-half-hour broadcast of the WBEN-TV Channel 4 news, and listen to radio around the dial in Buffalo at the height of the Blizzard.

 


More Blizzard Memories:

[termposts]

 

 

We all win when we treat each other with dignity

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Either side saying, “But you did it to US for eight years!” =
“BUT MOM, he did it FIRST!” =
Your mom sending you both to your room until you can both stop acting like five-year-olds throwing temper tantrums.

“I’m mad because you did a shitty thing to me… so, because I’m mad, I am going to do the same admittedly shitty thing back to you” is divisive thinking and does nothing to make our country that better place. Being smart and decent means finding some way other than a shitty way. It’s exactly what your mom taught you as a child.

If you want to be angry and shitty it’s your right– but from my vantage point, you  have to wallow to get there. You lose the moral high ground and you lose an opportunity to use your intelligence, decency, tact, and resilience to make your part of the world a better place.

My wish is that more people from both sides would turn the passion they waste in hatred into passion for something that benefits us all– like together finding someway out of the morass we are embroiled in– because together is the only way. 

I’m not saying “stop disagreeing,” I’m saying just do something to help effect the change you want to see in the world.

Fighting with people on Facebook really doesn’t count.

Understand– I’m not talking about dismissing anyone’s worries and fears.

What I’m talking about is using words and ideas which allow us all to be better able to embrace everyone’s worries and fears.

It’s about how a large number of people are allowing those fears and worries to manifest themselves.

My point is hearing about Donald Trump’s penis size and skin color is no better than talking about Barack Obama’s birth certificate and skin color, or vice versa.

Telling me you hate Donald Trump or you hate Barack Obama (or hate what they stand for) is a call to derision and a conversation ender.

Telling me you’re afraid that you might not have insurance or that your right to marry who you want might be taken away… or telling me you’re concerned with our porous borders or reductions in defense capabilities– those are places where conversations can begin and as Americans we might be able to find common ground among ourselves, whether our leaders suck or not.

Fighting crass and rude with crass and rude is still crass and rude. Protesting doesn’t have to be crass and rude. Disagreeing with people doesn’t have to be crass and rude.

The world needs love, not hate. Find it and spread it.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.

“The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

“The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Sneaking a radio into school for Inauguration Day 1989

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Twenty-eight years ago today, January 20, 1989– when I was in sixth grade– I snuck this radio and an earpiece into school with me.

I also used to keep this radio under my pillow to listen to John Otto on WGR, Bruce Williams’ syndicated show on KB, and David Brudnoy and Norm Nathan on 50,000-watt WBZ Boston.

As I sat in Social Studies, I carefully pulled the little Realistic transistor receiver out just before noon, and cranked the volume to a barely audible peep.

With a mix of fear of getting caught and indignation for history class ignoring history that was happening at that very moment, I listened to George HW Bush being sworn in as President.

I was in awe of the Presidency and the transfer of power. I was in awe of the lofty speeches and the fine men making them. I was excited to have the first new President I could really remember.

I read Time Magazine every week and The Buffalo News every day. I watched the local and national news on TV every night with my dad. I felt no hatred or antipathy for anyone in government or politics.  I didn’t feel better than or more American than anyone else because I did or didn’t support a particular politician. I felt no fear or insecurity for the future of our country.

In fact, twenty-eight years later, I still consider George HW Bush and Michael Dukakis to be great and honorable men who I am proud to admire.

I watched them and our other leaders show not just strength, but grace, depth, class, thoughtfulness, integrity, compassion, and empathy– all traits of the best sort of leader.

They were adults facing the adult world with adult attitudes. They also conducted themselves without utter contempt for any of our fellow Americans and without childish pettiness or adolescent insults.

Having this example and finding favor in these folks helped shape me into the person I am today. I am thankful for the wholesome and decent role models I found in the national political leaders I admired.

Now, of course, the game has changed. The world has changed. The people have changed.

I don’t think it’s possible for a dorky sixth grader to be well-informed and engaged and also be able to have the same pure experience I had with my little Radio Shack radio at Orchard Park Middle School.

Whether you love or hate what is happening today, it’s nearly impossible to expect that anyone of our youngest generation could have have the same opportunity for the uncomplicated and unadulterated across-the-board love of this country and its leaders that I had.

That’s too bad and in its essence leaves me aching and sad.

Buffalo in the ’20s: YMCA branch was heart of black community

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Between the world wars, there was no greater unifier of Buffalo’s growing black population than the Michigan Avenue YMCA.

As late as 1920, unique circumstances made gathering as a community in a single space difficult. Overt racism made many civic gathering places, and most private ones, off limits. In other marginalized and immigrant communities within Buffalo, a place of worship also acted as a place of assembly for non-religious activities – but unlike the Irish, Polish, Italian and Jewish populations, there wasn’t necessarily a unifying current among the many different churches of the larger African-American community.

The organization of a YMCA branch specifically for Buffalo’s black men and boys started in 1924. By 1927, $225,000 had been raised and plans were drawn up for the building by John Edmonston Brent. He was one of the founding members of the branch, as well as Buffalo’s first black architect. Brent would go on to work for the City of Buffalo, where his design work remains on display, most notably along the gates and fences of the Buffalo Zoo.

On April 15, 1928, the new building was dedicated in “devotion to the uplift and advancement” of the 10,000 members of the black community it served.

Aside from the 20-by-60-foot swimming pool and gymnasium, the building boasted a barber shop in the basement, a lounge for men fronting Michigan Avenue, and a lounge for boys on the side of the building. The second floor was filled with classrooms, club rooms, a cafeteria and a women’s area. The third and fourth floors were dormitories with room for 70 men.

More than just a club, the Michigan Avenue YMCA became the heart of the community. Famous speakers, performers and human rights activists such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Count Basie and a young Jim Brown all visited the building.

William “Pops” Jackson (left) began running a YMCA program for Buffalo’s black population in 1923. He oversaw the building of the Michigan Avenue building. When he retired in 1947, he was widely acclaimed as the driving force behind the YMCA and much of the good happening in Buffalo’s black community. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Perhaps more importantly, the building was home to fostering ideas and a sense of purpose from within the black community out to the rest of Western New York.

Following the appointment of the Rev. D Ormond Walker, pastor of Bethel AME Church, to Buffalo’s War Council in 1944, Michigan Avenue YMCA chapter president A.J. Smitherman felt that the YMCA had helping bring people together. He spoke about it at a Y gathering that included the fire commissioner, the Democratic Party chairman and the president of Western Savings Bank.

“It is gratifying that our people and other groups may mingle at ease on terms of human brotherhood and friendship. That’s the kind of unity and brotherhood the world is seeking and it is Buffalo’s answer to those bigots who would raise the red flag of race hatred.”

The Michigan Avenue YMCA building was torn down in 1977; the site remains a vacant lot just south of Sycamore.