Watching men land on the moon at Jenss Twin-Ton, 1969

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When I was a general assignment reporter, I always loved the angle that when something big happens, anything that anyone is doing becomes a story. “How did you ride out the storm?” “How did you celebrate the big win?” “Where were you when the tornado hit?”

No matter what your answer is…it’s part of the larger story and worth celebrating. As a researcher and historian who combs through other writers’ and journalists’ archived works to re-tell their stories in the light of present day life, I love finding those little bits of everyday life set against the backdrop of big stories.

That’s why these ladies watching TV at a City of Tonawanda department store is my favorite image from the lunar landing. A million people are telling Neil Armstrong’s story– But we here care just as much about what was going on in the Twin-Ton Department store as he was making that giant leap.

The crew at Jenss Twin-Ton in the City of Tonawanda gathered around the TV set to watch live broadcasts from the moon fifty years ago this month.

Watching TV rarely gets you on the front page of the paper, but it seems appropriate that it did for the staff at Jenss Twin-Ton Department store 50 years ago next week.

That man would step foot on the moon is an unimaginable, superlative, epoch-defining feat in human history. But that more than half a billion would watch it happen live on their television sets made it a definitive moment in a broadcast television industry that was barely 20 years old at the time.

Gathered around the TV “to catch a few glimpses of the Apollo 11 events” were Mrs. James Tait, Margaret Robinson, Marian Feldt, Jack Dautch, Grace Hughes, Dorothy Wiegand, Rose Sugden and Rose Ann Fiala.

By the time of the 1969 moon landing, Jenss Twin-Ton’s future was already in doubt as city fathers in the Tonawandas were looking to expand already present Urban Renewal efforts to include the store at Main and Niagara.

Founded in 1877 as Zuckmaier Bros., the department store was sold in 1946 and became Twin-Ton in 1946. Jenss Twin-Ton closed in 1976 when the building was bulldozed as urban renewal caught up. Plans for the department store to rebuild on the site never materialized and the Tonawandas’ only downtown department store was gone for good.

The Twin-Ton Department store is seen on the left of this 1950s postcard. That side of the block was demolished in 1976.

Buffalo’s last city-owned Polish-language sign

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I take a photo of this great bilingual sign every time I walk by it in the Broadway Market parking ramp for fear that it will disappear.

Is it the last still-used city-owned sign in Polish? It’s the only one I know of… and it’s a treasure.

Downtown’s original fresh produce market on Washington St.

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Recently there has been renewed excitement on the possibility of a Braymiller Market on Washington Street downtown, but the market won’t be the first ever to grace Washington Street.

For more than a century, the Washington Market – also known as the Chippewa Market – stood at Washington and Chippewa, several blocks north of the current proposed development, and just south of still-standing St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church.

Shopping at the Washington Street side of the Washington Market, with St. Michael’s Church in the background. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The city-owned market was not only the biggest market in Buffalo, but also one of the largest municipal public markets in the United States.

When it was opened in 1856, the area around Chippewa and Washington was on the outer edge of the city, and was a residential neighborhood with mostly German immigrants living there.

1880.

One hundred years later, changing demographics in the city and the dawning of the supermarket era made the market obsolete.

The last-surviving buildings of the 109-year-old Washington Market were torn down in 1965 when the city sold the block to Buffalo Savings Bank for $184,000 to be used as a parking lot. Today, M&T Bank owns the parking lot where the market once stood.

Torn-Down Tuesday: ‘Stains run from 101’

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

The site of the former 101 plant on Van Rensselaer Street is now a parking lot for the Larkin Complex. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The phrase was well-known around Buffalo from radio, newspapers and billboards: “Stains run from 101.”

“101” was a bottled bleach sold by the Gardiner Manufacturing Co. starting in 1920, first from a small plant in Niagara Falls, where J.A. Gardiner bottled the stuff himself. After opening a larger factory on South Park Avenue in 1922, Gardiner opened the 35,000-a-day plant on Van Rensselaer Street pictured above.

The site of the plant is now a parking lot for the Larkin Complex.

By the mid-1930s, Gardiner claimed to have sold more than 100 million bottles of 101 and that the sodium hypochlorite-based, color-safe bleach had more than 101 household uses.

Cleaning the bathroom and “whitening and disinfecting clothes without boiling” still sound like great uses for bleach. Disinfecting your coffee pot sounds questionable, but the list written in a company-produced pamphlet goes downhill from there.

All of the personal hygiene uses promoted by the company 80 years ago are now specifically warned against on today’s labels.

But then, the reader is advised that gargling a teaspoonful of 101 mixed in a glass of water will ward off colds, sore throats and influenza, plus whiten teeth.

To relieve a cold, the 1930s reader is encouraged to pour a full bottle of 101 in a warm basin, then cover their head with a towel, and breathe in the fumes from the bleach.

Perhaps the most alarming suggested use was for feminine hygiene, saying 101 “makes a good douche solution which is not only a germ killer but also a healer.”

The name and formula for 101 was sold to out-of-town companies long ago, but the name still lives on – with pretty much the same product inside the bottle.

The toxicology report from the James Austin Company, the current makers of 101, certainly makes more sense than that old pamphlet. It says in part that 101 causes skin irritation and may cause burns; that vapors and mist may irritate the throat and respiratory system; and that prolonged or repeated overexposure may cause lung damage.

Moffat’s Brewery at Elmwood and Mohawk

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Buffalo was incorporated as a city in 1832. The next year, John Moffat opened a brewery at the corner of what was then Mohawk and Morgan streets – Morgan was later renamed South Elmwood Avenue.

Moffat was known for producing ale and was the only brewery so close to the core of Buffalo’s downtown – only a block north of Niagara Square. On the small plot of land was all the infrastructure necessary to brew beer – from a grain elevator, to a malt house, to a small bottling works.

Moffat’s Brewery, located at Mohawk Street and Morgan Street, which is now South Elmwood Avenue.

Simple ingredients in their product made for a simple brew. Moffat used only malt and barley in the brewing of their ales. They used the simplicity as a necessary selling point, because by around 1900, Moffat was the only brewery in Buffalo that didn’t own taverns where its beer was sold.

Unlike many of the more financially successful taverns which controlled exclusive pouring rights at many neighborhood gin mills, Moffat relied on being the second or third option at independent bars, as well as on sales in grocery stores and home delivery.

“If you never experienced the independence feeling that comes over one who draws his own ale from his own barrel just as he wants it, our advice for you is to try it,” reads one ad for Moffat’s Cream and Old Mellow ales. A Moffat’s barrel could be delivered to your home for $2 when that ad was published in 1903.

Moffat operated as Buffalo’s longest continuously operating brewery until Prohibition, when it closed up shop. The buildings were used for storage until they were torn down to make way for the Statler Hotel’s 1,000-car parking ramp.

The brewery never reopened after Prohibition was lifted, but Buffalo’s Phoenix Brewery sold ale under the Moffat name through the 1930s.

Torn-Down Tuesday: The ‘visual pollution’ on Buffalo’s Main Street

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Last week’s Torn-Down Tuesday looked at SUNY Buffalo State art professor D.K. Winebrenner’s uppity takedown of fast food architecture.

This week, we look back at the time Winebrenner — who was also the Courier-Express art critic — talked about “visual pollution” hurting Buffalo’s image and postulated that the city’s too many billboards and signs were creating psychological illness in people.

A 1964 photo showing Eagle Street, looking toward Main Street (with AM&A’s visible) from Pearl Street. This part of Eagle Street is now covered by the Main Place Mall.

“While no practical inquest can establish the causes for a diseased spirit with the same objectivity as physicians can pinpoint the reasons for a damaged lung (or a dead fish), what happens to us aesthetically can neutralize or even destroy our visual sensitivities,” wrote Winebrenner.

The story was accompanied by the two photos on this page, both showing signs and buildings that gave way for the Main Place Mall and tower.

“Any given sign may be harmless in itself, and may even be well designed, but the clutter and confusion of crowded, screaming advertisements, each seeking to be heard above all others — results in no one being heard effectively,” wrote Winebrenner, who was excited for future development without signs.

This photo was taken standing at the corner of Niagara and Main– two streets which once intersected across Main from M&T Plaza. What was then “Niagara Street between Main and Pearl” is now covered by the Main Place Mall.

“As we greet the dawn of a new day in downtown Buffalo, let us take one last, quick look at the overhead jungle as it appeared in August 1964, being replaced by the new buildings in Main Place. May this long be remembered as the spot where a greater, more beautiful Buffalo was born.”

Winebrenner couldn’t have known that the new development was ushering in an era spanning several generations where 150 years of life and vitality were stripped from Main Street, signs and all.

St. Patrick’s Day in the Old First Ward and on ‘Meet the Millers’

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

It seems like just about every Buffalonian has a story about being nearly frostbitten at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, and Bill and Mildred Miller – the longtime hosts of Channel 4’s “Meet the Millers” – are no different.

“Meet the Millers” was seen live, weekdays at 1 on Channel 4 for more than 20 years. (Buffalo Stories archives)

As they shared a recipe for Irish Soda Bread, they talked about lining up for the parade behind Memorial Auditorium getting ready to march up Main Street.

Karen Maloney’s family has used this recipe clipped from The News for more than 50 years to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

After two hours of waiting as the wind whipped right off the lake and into their faces, it was the coldest they’d ever been for a St. Paddy’s parade.

“Our eyes were so full of tears from the wind that we saw people along the parade route as if they were under water; our smiles were literally frozen to our faces.”

The Millers standing next to the Aud getting ready to join the parade in the late ’50s marks the halfway point in the parade’s long migration from its original route along what is now South Park Avenue up to Main Street, then over to Delaware Avenue in 1981.

Buffalo’s first St. Patrick’s Day Parade happened in 1913. Two years later, more than 3,000 Irishmen lined the route.

The 1915 parade route. Parts of Elk Street and Abbott Road became South Park Avenue in 1939.

“Not in 25 years have Buffalo Irishmen exhibited the same degree of enthusiasm for a parade, but this year, the spirit of the green seems to have gotten into their blood and all have put their hands to the plough with the intention of making the celebration one to be remembered,” reported the Buffalo Times in 1915.

The Times also made several mentions about the fact that the 1915 parade was bringing together “all sorts and classes of Irishmen.” It was particularly alarming that “the boys from County Cork” and “the boys from County Clare” would be able to hold an event together peacefully.

“It is now possible for the Clare boys to go any place in ‘The Ward,’ ” reported the Buffalo Times, “including the district of the Corkonians. They’re all working together this year with St. Patrick as the toast, and no one is denying them the joy and pleasure they’ll obtain from the celebration.”

Entry in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, 1915.

As for Bill and Mildred Miller, their idea of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day had more to do with the food, and revolved around corned beef, cabbage and Irish soda bread – all of which they would make on their daily show on Channel 4 during the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day.

They started in show business as a Vaudeville dancing act. After settling down on a turkey farm in Colden, they began their daily cooking and interview show on Channel 4 in 1950.

Watching the Millers, especially in the kitchen, reminded most of a favorite aunt and uncle – loving, dedicated to one another, and forever bickering. Mildred was clearly in charge.

“That’s the way with those Millers,” wrote Sturgis Hedrick in the TV Topics in 1959. “Subtle. Blissfully naive, you might better say. Honest, sometimes we wonder if Bill and Mildred Miller actually realize there are people watching.

“They interrupt one another in their anecdotes and often work at cross purposes in their commercials.

“And yet they sail serenely along afternoon after afternoon, happy as any husband and wife, looked in on by an unseen audience. That audience is not only huge, but fiercely loyal. The curiosity lure of ‘what’s going to happen next’ makes ‘Meet the Millers’ a viewing must with the average housewife on the Niagara Frontier.”

They were seen every day at 1 o’clock through the early 1970s. After their retirement from television, Bill served as supervisor of the Town of Colden.

United Air Lines says VISIT BUFFALO in poster form, c.1960

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

For years, on and off, I’ve been looking for a Buffalo travel poster, any Buffalo travel poster.

Honestly, I kind of assumed that there never was one. I mean why waste precious wall space with (my beloved) Buffalo when there have always been far more exotic, colorful, and warm places which might be more gerenally appealing to the traveling public.

Then I came across this beauty from the late 50s or early 60s.

United made Buffalo look fun!!

Torn-Down Tuesday: Keeping ‘garish, honky-tonk’ look out of Allentown in 1967

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Courier-Express art critic and SUNY Buffalo State art professor D.K. Winebrenner had a weekly column in the Sunday paper where he opined not just on art, but on the state of aesthetic in Buffalo.

In a December 1967 piece, Winebrenner railed against the “commercial invasion” of Allentown.

Neba Roast Beef, Main Street, 1967

“The Chairman of artistic rehabilitation in the area, artist Virginia Tillou, has expressed alarm that stands, restaurants and taverns along this dignified thoroughfare may result in a ‘honky-tonk’ appearance and destroy the efforts of the Allentown Association to upgrade the surrounding area,” wrote Winebrenner.

Red flags went up when Burger Chef opened in the spot now occupied by Tim Hortons on Delaware Avenue near Allen Street. The fear was that Allentown would begin to fill with “garish establishments” like those found in suburbia – especially around Sheridan Drive and Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Mister Donut, Sheridan Drive at Longmeadow, 1967

Winebrenner wrote a scathing commentary on what is now, 50 years later, ubiquitous fast-food architecture.

“There is a new kind of pop architecture that is as audacious (and as annoying) as pop art. It is characterized by a general indifference toward standards and tastes of the past, borrows from dada and art nouveau (past and present), and flaunts architectural precepts (past and present) without batting an eye.

“Referred to casually as ‘hot dog stands,’ these culinary emporiums often specialize in less prosaic edibles such as hamburgers and other sandwiches, doughnuts and coffee, or the gastronomical delight of fried chicken. Some of these pop stands even sell pop.

McDonald’s, Niagara Falls Blvd. near Maple, 1967

“They come in many sizes, all small; and in many shapes, all boxes; but with imaginative appendages that conceal their humble concrete block structures, such as sweeping gable roofs that meet the ground, or more sophisticated modified mansards that mask nonexistent garrets. Often they are crowned with exotic spires and cupolas.

“Gone are the simple structures of local entrepreneurs, (albeit covered with a motley assortment of signs provided by distributors of ginger ale and cola) and in their place are standardized replicas of uniform designs which extol corporate images of national chains from coast to coast.

Kentucky Fried Chicken, across the Boulevard from the Boulevard Mall.

“Fortified with the advice of exterior decorators, the universally uniform trade marts come in bright colors and patterns that stand out against the Cape Cod homes in the suburbs and the pathetic patina of old city buildings, giving an aura of great importance to small structures surrounded by ‘black on black’ mats of black top. The effect is heightened when lighted colors, spotlights and neon tubes contrast with enveloping night.”

Carroll’s Drive In, Niagara Falls Blvd. just north of Sheridan, 1967.

Winebrenner, who was one of the founders of the Charles Burchfield Center at SUNY Buffalo State, died in 1975 at the age of 66. While he might have been pleased that his dissertation on garbage fast-food architecture was found and shared 52 years after it was first written, he probably wouldn’t have been pleased that the driving reason behind sharing the story was to share the wonderful photos of late ’60s eateries that accompanied the original piece.

The East Side German tradition of Buffalo’s best coffee cake

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Martin Gressmann came to Buffalo from Germany in 1893, and after two years as an apprentice, opened his own bakery at 1753 Genesee St., a couple blocks west of Bailey.

Mrs. Catherine Daly, Mrs. Anna Roetzer, Mrs. Mary Mahoney and Mrs. Teresa Bartrem – all daughters of Martin Gressmann –working to prepare the family bakery’s famous specialty caramel cake.

His business grew through his involvement in the surrounding tight-knit East Side German community. He was a member of civic and social groups like Maennerchor Bavaria and the Schuhplattler Verein and St. Gerard’s Roman Catholic Church.

He’d been a baker for more than 50 years when he died in 1946, and his daughters took over the shop.

Long after Gressmann’s death, people came from all over Western New York for what one Williamsville restaurant owner called Buffalo’s best coffee cake.

The pastry with the caramel topping originated in the shop remained in demand well into the 1970s.