Torn-Down Tuesday: Blind Eddie’s newsstand at Broadway & Fillmore

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

When Blind Eddie’s was photographed in 1969, the newsstand was noted as the largest outdoor newsstand in the city at that point.

It was also pointed out that like shoe shine stands and railroad stations, the once ubiquitous and flourishing newsstand was being wiped off the city landscape.

The newsstand is gone, as are all the businesses represented by partially obscured signs looking south down Fillmore Avenue.

The bowling alley, Norban’s and McDonald’s are all as much a memory of that intersection as the newsstand.

The one constant in the neighborhood, visible off in the distance, is St. Stanislaus church – the institution from which Buffalo’s “Polish colony” sprung, and around which Broadway/Fillmore grew into one of the city’s best traveled and shopped areas for many generations.

Before there was Paula’s, Tonawanda had Jet Doughnuts

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

The busy parking lot in the Sheridan Drive plaza that Paula’s Donuts has called home for the last six years is often so packed that parking spills over to Gettysburg Avenue.

People come from all over to the Town of Tonawanda for what has become Western New York’s definitive legendary doughnut.

But don’t tell that to the people who’ve been buying doughnuts in what was Weston’s Plaza for decades. They’re happy that the best doughnut around has taken over the space that had been Weston’s Hardware since the early ’50s, but the fry cake benchmark came from another proletariat pastry provider a few doors down from where Paula’s is today.

Jet Donuts

“No doughnut has ever compared to Jet” is a refrain you’ll hear among people who grew up in what is now the shadow of Paula’s. Even when Freddie’s was the Cadillac of Buffalo doughnuts, these folks swore by Jet, which operated from the 1950s to the 1990s.

May, 1964.

Get a few guys from the neighborhood together, and they’ll start rattling off the names they’d shout out to fill the dozen box on Sundays after church or on their way to a Cub Scout meeting. Chocolate Gems, Jelly Moons, cream sticks, peanut sticks, apple fritters, bullseye. They remember the piped-on chocolate swirls and real angel cream that no one seems to do anymore, and that Jet seemed to have donut holes before anyone else.

If there’s a hint of nostalgia for the tastes, there’s plenty of it for the price. A dozen from Jet cost 65 cents in 1963. Regular coupons in the paper would drop that price down to 33 cents a dozen. Plus, as any wide-eyed kid of the ’60s will remember, if you got a red star on the tape that was used to close the box lid down, you’d get a free dozen.

“The Greatest of All-Time” is a debate that often fills sports talk shows and Twitter feeds. It’s difficult to compare Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James in the world of basketball, or try to figure out what Babe Ruth would do with today’s pitching in baseball.

The good news about debating the best doughnut is, you can do it while eating doughnuts. It’s a win-win.

Explaining the mystique: WNY’s love affair with Mighty Taco

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Forty-five years later, it’s hard to imagine Mighty Taco as anything other than a Buffalo institution, but in 1973, three Army buddies opened what was Buffalo’s first taco stand inside a tiny store front on Hertel Avenue, right in the heart of North Buffalo’s Little Italy.

The original Hertel Avenue location of Mighty Taco, 1986.

“We’d have old North Buffalo Italian ladies come in and ask what they were,” co-founder Andy Gerovac told News reporter Sharon Linstedt in 1997. “We’d tell them they were Mexican sandwiches and they’d say, ‘Thank you,’ and leave.”

Just as the chicken wing and beef on weck were created as bar food, Mighty was catering to hungry folks leaving bars from the very beginning. “The Mighty Taco,” as the chain was known in the beginning, didn’t open until 3 p.m. in the earliest days, but was open through the overnight hours.

Mighty Taco’s popularity grew with the use of interesting advertising in print and on rock radio stations.

“Mighty Taco generally caters to a younger crowd who are ultimately under high states of intoxication and virtual unconsciousness,” reported The (UB) Spectrum in 1979, naming Mighty Taco the area’s best taco stand. “Munched out patrons – engulfing whole tacos at a time – are not concerned with the true versions of Mexican food. Nonetheless, Mighty’s food comes closest to my idea of a quick-serviced yet well-developed epitome of Mexican culture.”

Within a few years, “The Mighty Taco” was slinging tacos and burritos from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. on Hertel, then on Seneca Street near Cazenovia in South Buffalo, then Bailey and Minnesota, then Forest and Elmwood.

Employees outside the Forest Ave. location in 1979.

A 1986 review of Mighty Taco in the Canisius College student newspaper The Griffin called Mighty Taco “a place where daytime enemies can coexist peacefully. A place where middle-aged executives and punk rockers stand side-by-side without their usual feelings of animosity.  Under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights, and amidst the mingled smells of beer, cigarettes, gin, marijuana, and Mexican food they line up, patiently waiting for their number to be called.”

And that might be the entire appeal of Mighty Taco. Whether you’re a retiree meeting a buddy for lunch, one of those middle-aged executives grabbing something quick between meetings on the road, or an expat whose first stop after the plane lands in Buffalo is for a couple of Super Mightys, there’s something about Mighty Taco that touches that punk rocker that lives inside of most us.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Fixing Buffalo’s streetcar tracks in 1928

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

The IRC, International Railway Company, was the forerunner of the NFTA in providing mass transit options in the City of Buffalo and some surrounding areas. Caring for more than 400 miles of track and several hundred individual streetcars left the IRC chronically in debt and left the transit rail infrastructure chronically in a poor state of repair.

Fixing Buffalo’s streetcar tracks in 1928

In 1928, The Buffalo Courier looked around the city at six different areas where the IRC was updating tracks and surrounding pavement around the city. Here’s what those areas looked like then and now.

Seneca Street at Mineral Spring Road:

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Seneca and Emslie streets:

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Grant and Bradley streets:

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Seneca and Buffum streets:

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Seneca Street at the Buffalo River:

•••

Seneca and Smith streets:

When Buffalo went wild for Big Frank, the zoo’s first elephant

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Very soon, nearly 12 decades of tradition at The Buffalo Zoo will come to an end when Buffalo Zoo’s two Asian elephants, Jothi and Surapa, move to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

When they’re gone, it will mark the first time since 1900 the zoo has been without an elephant, or at least plans to find an elephant to bring here.

The elephant who’d come to be known as “Big Frank” wasn’t all that big when he came to The Buffalo Zoo as a 7-year-old in 1900.

Buffalo philanthropist Frank Goodyear paid to bring a juvenile elephant from India to Western New York just before the Pan-American Exposition, which was held only a few blocks away from the zoo.

“Frank H. Goodyear has promised to fill a big gap in the city’s collection of animals by providing an elephant, which is in great demand. When the zoo can boast of a real live Indian elephant, a lion, a Bengal tiger and a baby hippopotamus, the joy of Buffalo children will be complete,” reported The Buffalo Courier in anticipation of the elephant’s arrival.

Frank the Elephant was named after his benefactor, and was just over 5 feet tall and 2,000 pounds when he arrived in Buffalo at the age of 7. The elephant spent most of his first several years at the Buffalo Zoo with a shackle around his front leg attached to eight feet of chain.

“He seemed to enjoy the bracing breeze and looked as if he would have enjoyed a longer chain rope,” reported The Courier in 1901. “The reason of Frank’s short allowance of chain was said to be his fondness for attacking fences. By and by the post to which he is tied will be moved to a safer distance and he will then be allowed more exercise room.”

For many years, his only true exercise came when he was put to work. Parks crews attached a giant cement roller to Frank, and he was part of the crew used to repave and flatten the roads around Delaware Park.

As Frank grew larger, and his popularity grew, so, too, did calls for more humane treatment.

It would take 13 years of political wrangling and arguing over the cost of the extravagance of a house “just for an elephant” before Frank would get a new pad – the Elephant House, which remains home to elephants at the zoo to this day.

John Lord O’Brian made his opposition to the planned $35,000 expenditure to build a new home for Frank a major plank in his candidacy for mayor – calling it a needless waste and a “needless expenditure of the people’s money.”

Sculptor Ira Lake created the elephant artwork which graces the front of the Buffalo Zoo’s Elephant House. He’s shown with his work a few months before Big Frank moved in, in 1912.

Among the final straws which helped convince city fathers of the need of a proper facility was the day when Frank gave his leg a quick snap and easily broke apart the cuff and chain which held him in place all day, every day. A new, more solid shackle was made permanent.

It took zookeepers two days to saw through the chain and shackle which kept the now-12,000 pound elephant in place before the new house was built.

Big Frank was much happier in his new, more spacious home.

The Buffalo Times called Frank “the monarch of the $35,000 castle of marble, brick and steel,” and went on to say, “The giant pachyderm fretted in the strange confines for the first few days, but yesterday afternoon was treading the concrete floor of the spacious arena as proudly as if in the native wilds of an Indian jungle.”

He was given pool time, which seemed to be his favorite part of the day. Frank’s morning baths, which were filled with trunk sprays of water and gleeful trumpeting, were among the zoo’s biggest attractions in the first part of the last century.

Frank was also known for fits of rage. His tusks were the largest ever grown in captivity. He broke one off when he violently smashed it against the stone wall of his house.

The violence came with much mistreatment. Children would toss glass bottles into his enclosure. He liked playing with them, but when they’d break, he’d get glass in his paws or his gums. He needed a minor surgical procedure when he swallowed some glass in the 1920s.

He also loved tobacco. Men would throw him cigar butts and he’d gleefully eat them, and zookeepers would give him cigars to eat on special occasions.

Big Frank enjoying a bath in his new, more spacious enclosure in 1913.

The Buffalo Zoo always promoted Big Frank as one of the largest animals in captivity, even after his death. Frank’s obituary ran in newspapers around the world. The 10-feet-tall, six-ton elephant suffered a stroke and died in 1939.

The Cold Spring Hotel at Main & Michigan, rest stop for weary travelers

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Have you ever had the kind of commute where you feel like you need a break halfway between Williamsville and downtown Buffalo?

Main & Michigan, 1880.

While bumper-to-bumper traffic can make modern commuters weary, 150 years ago, before the Main-Williamsville Road was paved, the slow and dusty plodding trek from Buffalo — which then ended at North Street — to points north and east was a bit more of challenging.

Cold Spring Hotel, Main & Michigan, circa 1875.

Garret Marshall’s Cold Spring Hotel was built well outside Buffalo city limits at the corner of Main and Michigan. It was a stop on the stagecoaches heading between Buffalo and places “out the main road” such as Williamsville, Clarence and Batavia. For folks on their way into Buffalo, it was a final “freshening up” stop before getting into the city.

It was marketed as a “summer resort” for city residents, surrounded by gardens and time away from the grit and noise of daily life at the dawn of the industrial age.

From the Buffalo Commercial, 1873

In 1854, the City of Buffalo expanded its limits beyond North Street to about the current borders. Main Street was “Macadamized,” an early form of paving using small crushed stones. As a mode of mass transportation, the stage coach was giving way to street cars and trolley lines.

In 1870, the Cold Spring Hotel was “refitted and improved in the best manner” and “ready to receive guests at all times.”

“All the luxuries of the season, oysters, clams, &c are constantly on hand and served in any style desired,” said an ad in the Courier, which also went on to talk about the fine selection at the bar.

“He has also put up to of the best billiards tables in the city, in a large, pleasant room where ‘Knights of the cue’ can while away the time in a most agreeable manner.”

By the 1880s, those trolley lines were taking more guests further out of downtown and even past Main and Michigan. In 1890, the Cold Spring Hotel was torn down, and a trolley and street car barn was built in its place.

It’s the same spot where the NFTA stores and maintains buses to this day.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Cheektowaga’s Liberty Park

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Especially since Exit 52A of the New York State Thruway was built at William Street in the early 1990s, the intersection at William Street and Union Road has grown — both in the numbers of commuters and in the numbers of lanes, with both streets now six lanes across.

Scene at Liberty Park, 1955.

By 2018 standards, it’s a typical busy Western New York suburban intersection, even down to two different places to get Tim Hortons coffee within a few hundred yards of each other.

The beer tent at a company picnic at Liberty Park.

Roll the calendar back 60 years, though, and this part of Cheektowaga was a much more rural setting.

The post-war housing boom continued to fill up grids of streets where farms had stood a generation earlier, but for decades those newer developments were interspersed with vestiges of a time when a trip out to William and Union was a trip out to the country.

Serving hot dogs at Liberty Park.

That was a trip that many thousands of Buffalonians had taken through the years.

Once primarily a picnic and baseball venue in the 1920s and 1930s, in 1942, Liberty Park was purchased by Alexander Kiliszewski, who was known to East Siders as the owner of the Polish Village Restaurant on Broadway.

During World War II, Kiliszewski and his wife, Mary, opened the Park Hotel and Restaurant on the grounds, and in 1949, they added a handful of kiddie amusement rides.

The Kiliszewski family sold the property in 1961. The following year it was rezoned and a gas station was built on the front part of the lot.

The First Ward’s Niagara Elevator

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

In the lower right corner of our 1880 map, at the corner of Chicago and Ohio streets, is the Niagara Elevator and malt house.

Niagara Malt House Ohio & Chicago Sts

It was built in 1868 by the Niagara Elevating Co., and expanded over the course of the next 40 years. In 1880, ground was broken on the Niagara “B” elevator, which was called “the most perfect grain elevator in the world” by the Buffalo Commercial when it opened the following year.

Niagara Elevator, 1880

“From present appearances, there will be a revolution in the process of handling grain,” reported the Commercial.

The new elevator had the ability to elevate 200,000 bushels of grain from the hulls of ships every 24 hours, and transfer into boats more than that amount. Tracks connecting to both the Erie and New York Central lines carry cars that could be filled four at a time.

No matter the transfer speed, grain storage was a very dangerous and combustible business—and like many, if not most elevators of the era, the Niagara Elevator was the scene of several fires and explosions, including one fast-moving fire that had the recipe for disaster, but fire tug William S. Grattan was there to knock down the flames immediately.

The Grattan was rechristened the Edward M. Cotter and remains a fixture in the Buffalo River in the shadow of the General Mills plant to this day.

Even without large scale incidents, accidents were frequent and gory. The June 1, 1901, edition of The Buffalo Evening News shared front-page stories about the goings-on at the Pan American Exposition, and announced the regular nightly illumination of buildings would start at 8:15 and the lights would stay on until the grounds closed. It was feared that sudden dimming of the lights might cause panic among the more timid attendees.

Buffalo Evening News, 1901

Next to that article on the front page was the story of James Lynch, the scooper whose “life was crushed out in an instant,” “caught in the leg of the Niagara Elevator and horribly mangled.”

“Scooper James Lynch was walking though Niagara Elevator B between 11 o’clock and noon, full of health and vigor. Five minutes later, he was snatched by a conveyor belt and carried upward 135 feet through an elevator leg, then he was dropped, crushed, bleeding and lifeless, into a big grain hopper.”

The elevator was the site of a “fierce riot” that made national headlines in 1903.

A group of 200 non-union Italian immigrant workers from the Buffalo Union Furnace Co. were walking past the Niagara Elevator, when one of the unionized grain scoopers yelled out, “Scab!”

What happened next, according to The Buffalo Courier, “Bullets flying in all directions, knives, stilettos, cleavers, and weapons very much in evidence, while people in the neighborhood were hunting for cover.”

A melee broke out, and “45 Italians were arrested for fighting with whites,” according to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle report. Most were allowed to go on a suspended sentence, but one man was sent to jail for 90 days for possessing a revolver – from which he squeezed off a few rounds during the incident. Another man was held for carrying a dangerous knife. “A stiletto, almost two feet long, more appropriately called a sword,” according to another sensationalized newspaper account.

Today, the site where the Niagara once stood is a part of the new building and revitalization of the Old First Ward along the Buffalo River.

Torn-Down Tuesday: The Employed Children’s School

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

From just about the moment that construction on Buffalo’s City Hall was completed on Niagara Square, the mostly Italian immigrant, mostly poor neighborhood became the target of those wishing to “give the city a cleaner look.”

The Working Childrens Home

One front page Courier-Express headline read, “6,000 dwell in slums in the shadow of City Hall. 85 acres of misery near civic center.”

The story goes on to call the blocks behind City Hall “the most wretched in the city,” noting the area ranked second in murders committed, second in tuberculosis and social diseases. Words like ramshackle, dilapidated and reeking were used.

The 1936 article never specifically mentioned that it was a district of mostly Italian families, but the story of life inside of one building with a hole in the roof left the reader with little doubt.

This drawing accompanied the front page story about the neighborhood behind City Hall, 1936.

Before City Hall was built on Niagara Square, city fathers tried to address the poverty in the area through education. More than anywhere else in the city, children worked to help feed their families.

State law was changed in 1922 to say that all children up to age 17 must receive at least half a day’s worth of schooling. With that new law in mind, Buffalo’s board of education bought an old furniture warehouse at the corner of Georgia Street and Caldwell Place (which was later Newark Alley) right in the middle of this poor, overcrowded neighborhood.

The old brick factory was to become Buffalo’s first “part-time school” for children who worked. They needed special and intricate accommodation according to educators.

“Adolescent working children, it is declared, possess individual differences to a much greater extent than those children without the worldly experience which comes through contacts made as employees,” read the newspaper account announcing the opening of the school.

The school’s primary objectives were to prepare students for citizenship and to “stimulate the moral of these working children, to help them obtain and hold an optimistic viewpoint on life and then keep them on the road to successful, useful, and happy citizenship.”

The building came down during one of many urban renewal projects in the neighborhood over the decades. Neither the buildings nor the streetscape survives. The spot where the school once stood is the in the midst of the government subsidized senior housing which is fronted along Niagara Street behind City Hall.