BUFFALO, NY – At the time when these photos were taken, Buffalo needed the song “Talking Proud” to remind us to talk proudly about our city because everything seemed to be spiraling out of control.
Area industry was hemorrhaging the good paying blue collar jobs that were the back bone of “who Buffalo was;” so many plants were being left idle.
The city itself had seen better days, too. A once proud downtown was looking sad but hopeful for what the MetroRail might bring. Neighborhoods were slowly being abandoned… or worse, quickly being abandoned.
Bad things were happening all over, and even the calm, cool, and collected types were running out of fingers to plug the holes in the dyke.
That’s the scene in the Buffalo of these photos. Late 70s through the 80s. It wasn’t cool or hip or trendy or interesting to love this place for what it was. Many people focused their love on a single building, like Shea’s or the Darwin Martin House. Many people focused on their love of the people of this city.
But as a whole, the Buffalo that we loved was disappearing. The capital of glitz and glamour, the big city between Chicago and New York, the true Queen City of the Lakes was gone. It was hard to love the remnants of those days gone by, the city we have today. It took us some time to appreciate what we had and have, and we’re there now.
When someone makes a crack about snow or chicken wings, we’re ready to tell them what’s truly great about our city. We talk about our great history, and how we’re moulding that into our promising future.
But as you look at these photos, I hope you don’t simply curse the mistakes that were made. Many of these neat and interesting places no longer exist. But many were taken down in the hopes of replacing the old with something to be proud of tomorrow. No one knew how to do it. Boston made mistakes. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago. Each made choices now lamented about city planning, or lack of it.
Looking through these, quite a few times I said, “Damn.” Sometimes as in, damn, I wish that building was still here. But also, damn as in, look at how much better Chippewa looks. Damn, I’m glad there are no more porn shops on Main Street.
It’s a mixed bag for sure, but it is a mixed bag. If you through these photos, and see nothing but negative, you might be part of the problem with Buffalo today. You can’t change the past, and you can’t blame people who were trying, for the most part, to make our city a better place.
An early 80s billboard near City Hall asked the last person leaving Buffalo to turn out the light. Luckily, despite umpteen decisions that we wish we had back, it looks like that light will shine brightly for quite a while now.
About these photos:
A tremendous Buffalonian with a great eye for history rescued these amazing photos from certain peril. Yes, Derik Kane garbage picked them, scanned them, and put them up on Facebook.
The photos are popping up piecemeal all over Facebook, but I thought it was important to put them in a single, public place together on the web, so that they could be viewed as a single collection, and Derik was kind enough to oblige.
Personally, this is the earliest Buffalo I remember. Taking the Seneca bus downtown to Main Street with my mom or one of my grandmothers just before the MetroRail went in.
I’d like to gather as much info on these photos as possible. If you have any information or stories about any of the buildings, or neighborhoods, or times spent, or even the great array of vehicles, please note the number of the photo(s) and drop me an e-mail and we’ll update the page.
It’d also be great if anyone thinks to grab a “now” photo from a similar vantage point of any of these photos… Especially places that look drastically different.
Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. The operator of Buffalo Stories Tours writes about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo special at blog.buffalostories.com and daily at buffalonews.com/history. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and spent 20 years working in Buffalo radio and TV, climbing his way to news director at WBEN Radio. Since then, he's been an adjunct professor and produced PBS documentaries. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.
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