Holiday Showcase Restaurant: One of the places that makes Buffalo Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Rather abruptly, the doors closed on a Buffalo institution on Sunday, July 8, 2018.

From after-movie meals to being destroyed by a tornado, The Holiday Showcase Restaurant is one of the places that makes Buffalo Buffalo.

Photo appearing on the Holiday Showcase website, 2018,

The Holiday Showcase opened in the front corner of what was then the Aero Drive-In in 1964.

The Aero Drive-In held 800 cars and featured playgrounds for the kids in the spot where Sam’s Club is today.

1950.

Around 1971, showed its last movie, but by then, the Holiday 1 and 2 theaters had opened. It was eventually the Holiday 6 by the time it was torn down to make way for the strip mall behind the Holiday Showcase, which served hundreds of thousands of meals to movie goers on the same property for more than 30 years.

1967.

From the beginning, specialties have included the HY-BOY, which a 1967 ad calls “a double decker hamburger sensation” and FRESH strawberry pie and shortcake.

The Hy-Boy.

Tornado

The infamous 1987 Cheektowaga tornado. This is the funnel cloud as seen from Dick Rd.

Whether they’ve eaten at the famous Union Road restaurant or not, it seems every Buffalonian knows that the Holiday Showcase was one of two businesses heavily damaged when a tornado ripped through Cheektowaga in 1987.

The sign is a classic piece of Roadside Americana on Union Rd in Cheektowaga.

The Holiday Showcase Restaurant… another one of the places that makes Buffalo Buffalo.

Buffalo in the 70’s: Steelworkers called back to work

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Just after Labor Day 1975, the Republic Steel Plant on South Park Avenue was finally starting to hum with the sounds of steel making again, after the plant had shut down in mid-July.

It meant a call back to work for about 500 steelworkers after a six week layoff. Another hundred were expected to be called back in the coming weeks.

New steel orders from the auto industry for the new 1976 model year cars was mostly responsible for the increase in steel production.

The photo below shows the build out of both National Aniline and Republic Steel in 1949. The single drawbridge at the top of the photo went over South Park Avenue. As you can see in the Google Maps image below, most, if not all of the buildings pictured are now gone, but new buildings with new jobs are coming up in their place.

Benny Goodman plays Buffalo (twice), 1938

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Looking back at a time 80 years ago– when Buffalo was big enough to have the biggest act in pop music here twice that year.

Read more and see photos of the visit:

Buffalo in the ’30s: Benny Goodman swings into Western New York

Benny Goodman plays at the Glen Park Casino, 1938.

 

Buffalo’s Great White Way

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s impossible to remember Downtown Buffalo in its prime without remembering the sparkling incandescent lights and glowing neon which brought the night time to life.
In the 40s and 50s, Main Street near Chippewa was aglow with what was described as “Buffalo’s great white way,” and the greatest display of dazzling and flashing marquees and signs between New York and Chicago.
Marquees for the Town Casino, Shea’s Buffalo, Paramount, and Cinema theatres; the big neon signs for Swiss Chalet, Laube’s Old Spain, and the Hippodrome. Many of those signs made by Flexlume,  which is still in business a bit further up Main Street.
There were Huge billboards for Chevrolet and Coca Cola with lights and motion, just like in Times Square, but comparisons to Time Square really started rolling in when the news started rolling in– or scrolling in– on the Western Savings Bank building.

Fun at the Drive-In, 60 years ago today

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’re looking back at this date in Buffalo Drive in Movie history, June 7, 1958– 60 years ago today.
If you were heading to a movie at the drive-in today, these were your options according to the listings in the Courier-Express:

More on Buffalo Drive-Ins:

Torn-Down Tuesday: Delaware Drive-In, Knoche Road, 1963

Torn-down Tuesday: Seneca Mall and Park Drive-In, 1968

 

The assassination of Bobby Kennedy and his time in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It was 50 years ago today, only weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy died of gunshot wounds suffered moments after a victory speech celebrating a win in the California Primary…

As New York Senator, Bobby Kennedy spent plenty of time in Buffalo.

Robert Kennedy’s campaign car takes him through Buffalo’s East Side and up Broadway, 1964. The late Buffalo photographer Jack Tapson personally sent Senator Kennedy a copy of this photo. “I received a thank you note from Kennedy after fulfilling his request to send this photo and others….similar.”

Buffalo in the 60s: Robert Kennedy running for Senate; first stop: Buffalo

It wasn’t necessarily a “done deal” that U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy would be allowed to run for a U.S. Senate seat in New York. He was not a New York State resident and wasn’t registered to vote here; the state Democratic Committee had to give him permission to run.

On this day 50 years ago, September 1, 1964, state Democrats gave Bobby Kennedy the green light to enter the race for Senate, 10 months after the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

It was then quickly announced that Kennedy would begin his campaign for Senate at a rally at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo.

While Erie County Democratic Chairman Peter Crotty was one of the state power brokers who helped ensure Kennedy’s nomination, other local big-name Democrats, like Niagara Falls Mayor E. Dent Lackey, weren’t as impressed with Kennedy. Dent called the nomination an act of “extraordinary bad taste,” adding that a man from Massachusetts who doesn’t live in New York shouldn’t represent New York.

“The overwhelming defeat of Robert Kennedy in the November election would be the best thing that could happen to the Democratic machine in New York,” Lackey told The News.

“Bobby’s NY race OKd by committee”

“Mr. Kennedy in a two-day whirlwind campaign tour will also meet with the top leaders of business and labor and do a lot of handshaking with workers in industrial plants.”

 

FOUND, finally: A pic of Dad’s bar

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I found one of my holy grails today, although I didn’t immediately recognize it.

Elk & Smith, 1969

As soon as I saw it, I liked this photo immediately– lots of interesting things going on there– Old ambulances, old license plate, great old tavern sign, a church bingo sign, a grain elevator… When I flipped it over to read the caption on the back, my heart skipped a beat as it sank into my stomach. This is Elk and Smith Streets!

About ten years after this photo was snapped, my dad bought the bar that was called Ceil’s Grill when this photo was snapped. Spent a lot of time in this place as a tiny, tiny little boy… playing with the jukebox, pool table, shuffle bowling, and of course, the pop guns.

So with this, I finally have a photo of the exterior of my dad’s bar, which I’ve been looking for literally for decades.

That’s St. Stephen’s Church with the Bingo sign, and the Buffalo Malting Elevator (both currently under construction for reuse.)

Previously found on Facebook in 2016: an interior shot of Dad’s gin mill. “Not a great shot… but the place has only existed in my mind for more than 30 years. I remember the two guys shown— Rich McCarthy and Dick Lobaugh– from those days at the corner of Elk and Smith. Spent plenty of young childhood Saturday mornings spinning on those barstools, and getting bottles of Genesee out of the cooler for some of the guys who’d still be hanging around inside the bar when the sun came up.”

The bar burned to the ground in 1989, a few years after my dad sold it. It’s been a vacant lot ever since.

Necco wafers– and sweet childhood memories– safe at Vidler’s

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Either you love them or you hate them, but the thought of never eating a Necco wafer again was too much for many people around the country to bear.

When word that bankruptcy might mean the end of the line for Necco, there were some calling the reaction “The Great Necco Wafer Panic.”

“A lady came in and bought a hundred on them the day we found out that they were in trouble,” says Don Vidler, who has spent a lifetime on both sides of the candy counter at Vidler’s 5&10 in East Aurora.

from Vidler’s Facebook page

No matter how old you are, it’s tough to just walk by the candy counter just inside the front door under Vidler’s red awning.

“It’s certainly one of the main draws here,” says Vidler. “When people come in, it catches their eye right away, all the colors and the glass jars and everything.”

And for now anyway, it looks like rolls of Necco wafers will continue to be among those gleaming packages.

The future still isn’t certain– but it is brighter– after Spangler, a fourth-generation family-owned company and the maker of circus peanuts and Dum Dums lollipops had the winning bid of $18.8 million for Necco in a bankruptcy court proceeding last week.

Spangler has since said, however, that long-term plans for lines like Necco wafers haven’t been made yet. It might seem unimaginable that they’d go away, but it’s possible, says Vidler, who sees the disappointment in people’s eyes when they find out their favorites are no longer made.

“A lot of people want Clove or Black Jack gum. They don’t make those anymore,” says Vidler. Another candy with a huge following that is no longer manufactured– Sen Sen. There was a run on the red envelope of tiny licorice mints when production was stopped a few years ago.

The good news is, the shelves at Vidler’s seem to go on for miles with candy that we used to love, but just don’t see as much anymore. Things like butterscotch, peach stones, maple buns, and Choward’s Violet mints.

The Vidler family with the Vidler candy. from Vidler’s Facebook page

Just as Necco’s possible demise was a national news story, Buffalo was shaken by news of Vidler’s vintage popcorn machine running out of pop a few years back.

That’s no problem now.

“The popcorn machine is back up and running consistently, which is good,” says Vidler. “We’d have a riot in East Aurora if the popcorn machine’s not working. And Sandy the mechanical horse is still working, too. We had her retrofitted with a new saddle, all repaired and redone.”

The look of glee on the face of a kid on rocking on that horse, the smell the popcorn, the sound of the creaking wood floor… Just like all those penny candies which we once loved (and still do at Vidler’s), Vidler says there are some things you just can’t experience through a computer screen.

“I always tell people, you can’t experience Vidler’s online, you have to come here to see it.”

From 1880 to Today: St. Michael Church, a city landmark then and now

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

St. Michael Roman Catholic Church, No. 24 on the 1880 Hutchinson map of Buffalo.

Today, Chronicles begins a weekly look back at an illustrated map of Buffalo from 1880 and examines how the features on that map have — or haven’t — changed over 138 years.

In 1880, St. Michael Roman Catholic Church was an important enough landmark to be one of the 58 landmarks labeled in the city. The German parish was established in 1851 and grew so quickly that a new church building was needed within a decade.

Completed by the Jesuit community in 1868, Nelson Baker was among the first young men to study at the new St. Michael — which served as the chapel for the then-attached Canisius High School. Canisius College became part of the complex in 1870.

Canisius High School and College, now the site of the Washington Street Post Office, and St. Michael’s Church, mid-1890s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Without much change, the St. Michael shown in the 1880 drawing stood between Canisius and the Chippewa Market until 1962, when lightning struck the bell tower, devastating the 98-year-old church.

Storms touched off three huge fires in Buffalo the night St. Michael burned, including a five-alarm blaze at a West Side box factory, spreading resources thin. The church was gutted, leaving doubt as to whether any of the structure could be salvaged.

The Chippewa Market (also known as the Washington Market) was St. Michael’s neighbor to the south for nearly a century. The Chippewa Market was abandoned in 1958 and is currently a parking lot for M&T Bank. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“Firefighters, with tears in their eyes, went far beyond the call of duty,” said St. Michael’s pastor, Father James Redmond. “I will never forget the spirit of those firefighters” who saved what they could of the church.

The exterior walls — made of 42-inch Buffalo limestone, Lockport silver limestone and sandstone from Albion, were saved — but the interior was completely rebuilt. Church services were held across Washington Street at the Town Casino while the church was repaired.

St. Michael continues to be staffed by Jesuit priests. Just last week on the St. Micahel Facebook page, the pastor, the Rev. Ben Fiore, wrote, “The Jesuit work here is lasting and effective. We are here! All are welcome in this place!”

A Buffalo survivor: The Cyclorama Building

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Looking at the Cyclorama from Main Street, 1890. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Few buildings mirror the battered and unlikely history of Buffalo better than Buffalo’s Cyclorama Building at Edward and Pearl.

Buffalo Evening News ad, 1888.

Within a decade of its construction in 1888, the building was obsolete, becoming a stable, a roller rink and a junk storage warehouse until it was bought by the city and left to sit until condemned. Rebuilt by the out-of-work men of Buffalo during the Depression as part of the Works Progress Administration, the Cyclorama became home to one of the city’s most beloved spaces, the Grosvenor Library.

Again abandoned when the new library opened at Lafayette Square in 1964, Cyclorama sat mostly empty for the next quarter-century.

When Ciminelli Development bought Cyclorama to renovate the nearly century-old structure for its headquarters in 1985, it looked as though Edward and Pearl could have been home to a new parking lot at any time.

Cyclorama’s future was secured when Ciminelli opened its doors in 1989. It was an early testament to smart preservation and reuse, and it became a beacon as downtown Buffalo’s fortunes slowly stopped eroding and, eventually, became a sign of the city’s rebirth and progress.

‘America’s Greatest Attraction’

When the Queen City Cyclorama opened its doors in 1888, Buffalo was a growing city with a bright future and the cyclorama was one of the world’s trendy entertainment vehicles.

When built, the large round building was open in the middle and on the outside walls were hung massive paintings, depicting historical stories.

The first painting snaked around the inside walls of Buffalo’s Cyclorama was “Jerusalem on the Day of The Crucifixion.” The mammoth artwork was 200 feet long, 50 feet high, and weighed five tons — offering those who viewed it an emotional and historical depiction of what the holy city looked like on Christ’s last day. Lifelike figures and objects were added to the foreground to give the scene depth and take the viewer to the place in a way like no other media of the time could.

The cyclorama of Jerusalem attracted crowds of people last week. The gay laughter is hushed and the smile fades from the face of the most worldly spectator when gazing at this wonderful representation which seems to bring the days of the great tragedy terribly near. There all classes mingle — the bright-faced girl who comes from a feeling of curiosity, the artist who regards it from an artistic standpoint, and the grave-faced clergyman who seeks inspiration for his next Sunday’s sermon in the wonderful scenes portrayed. The Bible is to many as a twice-told tale that has lost its first awful significance, but such scenes as this and the remembrance of the patient, suffering, noble face of the man who, in all His majesty, was portrayed in the great picture at the fair standing before Pilate, make it all seem terribly real.

— The Buffalo Evening News, Sept. 23, 1888

“The Grand Cyclorama” was billed as “Buffalo’s Greatest Attraction,” and that might have been true. Tens of thousands paid 50 cents to gaze upon the detailed artwork, which remained in place for about two years, when it was replaced by a similar installation of the Civil War battle at Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain.

Many sources incorrectly state that “The Battle of Gettysburg” was the second exhibition, but as can be seen in the ad at left, it was indeed “Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain.”

Sixty years later, people who were children when the war-themed exhibit was on display recalled the “life-size wax figures fought a gory battle with real Army equipment.”

By the end of the two years’ run of the Civil War, the form of entertainment had begun to run its course, and by 1892, the Gurnsey Co. had purchased Cyclorama and was using it as a stable, livery barn and for-hire store house for sleighs and carriages.

In 1906, the old barn was brought to new life with a stripping down to the walls and a complete interior rebuild. The Cyclorama was renamed the Coliseum and marketed as the greatest new roller skating rink in the nation.

1907.

“The appropriate music furnished by the large Coliseum band under the direction of J. B. Lampe is one of the pleasing features of the exercise, and makes roller skating one of the most delightful amusements that can be found in the city at this time, ” wrote The Courier about “the society fad” in 1906. As many as 300 skaters filled the floor, with hundreds more watching from the balcony.

The spectators were as important as the skaters, as there was “a splendidly furnished sitting room especially for the ladies and a well-appointed smoking room for the gentleman.”

As the Coliseum, the Cyclorama Building was also home to a unique, extremely popular but short-lived sport, “Basketball on Roller Skates.”

The fortunes of the Coliseum were altogether short-lived, and the facility reverted back to a garage and headquarters for Buffalo Taxi Cab, which remained a tenant in the building even after the city bought it for the use of the Grosvenor Library.

Buffalo Taxi Cab used only Buffalo-built, high-end Pierce automobiles in its fleet, which means the cars stored at Cyclorama in the 1910s were built at Elmwood and Great Arrow at the Pierce-Arrow factory.

The City of Buffalo bought the building for the use of the Grosvenor Library in 1913, but it instead continued to rent space to a series of taxicab companies.

The Grosvenor Library, c.1900, with the Cyclorama in the background, the beginning of the word “Warehouse” just barely visible. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In 1937, the building was condemned — but a year later, it was selected by the Works Progress Administration as rehab project for the unemployed men of Buffalo. At least 84 laborers and skilled craftsmen worked on the building during the first winter of work, when the structure was stabilized.

WPA workmen have begun the task of transforming the interior of the old Cyclorama Building in Edward Street from a gloomy garage into a brightly lighted, properly ventilated addition to the Grosvenor Library, in which will be stored priceless books, records and research catalogues in neatly arranged shelves.

— Buffalo Courier-Express, Jan. 3, 1938

Work took four years, but the results were a building that became a landmark that generations of Buffalonians warmly remember.

The large, rotund building in Edward Street, which in its 53 years has housed a cyclorama, a skating rink, a stable and a garage, today was opened as the Grosvenor Library’s magnificent modern reading room.

Vaunted as one of the most unusual library rooms in the country, it is circular, with high leaded windows and the latest designed fluorescent lighting that provides daylight illumination at all times …

The reading room, which is entered through a ramp from the Grosvenor’s main building, is 125 feet in diameter and about 400 feet in circumference. Actually it is 16-sided. The bookcases, of gumwood, are fitted into 13 sides and these, with a few other shelves placed in the room, open to the public a reference collection of 6000 volumes and a seating capacity of 242.

— Buffalo Evening News, Feb. 16, 1942

For the next 20 years, the Cyclorama Building was home to much of the reading, studying and research being done by Buffalo’s leading scholars. When a new Central Library building was opened in 1964, though, the Grosvenor Library was folded into the Central Library — once again casting doubt on the future of the Cyclorama Building.

“If it cannot be sold because of legal restrictions, or if there is no buyer, the county will either board up the building or have it razed,” said County Public Works Commissioner H. Dale Bossert in 1963.

Cyclorama, 1974. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Boarded up it was, for 25 years. Ciminelli Development bought the building in 1985 and spent two years bickering with state agencies about upgrading windows and the roofline of the historic structure. A compromise was reached, and a $2.6 million restoration project added a second floor to the building, which was home to Ciminelli Development through the 1990s.

Today, the future of the Cyclorama seems secure, with its prime location amid the Theater District and Chippewa District, the renewal along Delaware Avenue and the expanding footprint of the Medical Campus.

The history-rich building that you might not notice driving by — unless you were looking for it — has been the home of accounting firm Lumsden McCormick since September 2012.