Before there was Dan Creed, before there was Billy Fuccillo, there was Smiling Ted, selling quality used cars on Bailey Avenue on Buffalo’s East Side.
Main Street was the backbone of the Parkside neighborhood that was pretty well built out by about 1920; most structures built after then were built either on subdivided larger lots, or on lots where a previous structure was either burned or by some other means destroyed.
The 1920s were a wonderful time in the prosperous neighborhood. Stately elm trees had started reaching maturity and formed a shady canopy over each of the streets of the neighborhood.
A mix of horse-drawn trucks and motor vehicles carried men plying their wares from house to house. The glass bottles of the milkman clanked; groceries were left on porches; 25, 50, and 100 pound blocks of ice delivered in the summer; loads of coal dropped into basement chutes in the winter. Children looked forward to the more colorful bakery trucks, scissors grinders, and ragmen as they shouted and sang hoping the ladies of the houses might need their services.
These services were used and enjoyed with the sacrifices of war fresh in the minds of Americans. The Great War, as World War I was known until a greater war 30 years later, forced meatless Sundays, heatless Mondays, coalless Tuesdays, and wheatless dinners at Buffalo Hotels several times a week.
Late in the war, college students drafted into the Army were trained before shipping overseas right at their respective colleges. Canisius College holed up their recruits in special barracks put together at St Mary’s School for the Deaf. Those student-soldiers drilled on the lawn right at Main and Jefferson Streets, on the lawn of the College’s main building. The young men from Canisius were never needed overseas, and were all honorably discharged.
But many did leave from Parkside for the fighting in Europe. A crowd of 50,000 jammed into the meadow at Delaware Park to bid farewell to 3,000 local soldiers on their way to battle with Germany’s Kaiser. The Buffalo Evening News described the scene in June, 1917:
A full moon climbing through the heavy clouds gave the final touch of splendor to a setting which made the Meadow a fairyland. There was a touch of awed surprise in the attitude of the great crowd that filled the meadow to overflowing when the first note of music burst forth and song and light became one harmonious whole. Paths between the trees were transformed into lantern-lined vistas. The lanterns beckoned everywhere. They pointed the way for the throngs that flowed through every entrance toward the flowing center of the celebration.
The years that followed World War I, The Roaring 20s, were indeed a sort of golden time for Parkside even more than the rest of the nation; a prosperous decade that was to be followed by an especially rough decade and a half.
The Great Depression
The Parkside neighborhood of the 1920’s was an upper-middle class neighborhood; just the type of place that was hit hardest by the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the ensuing decade of economic depression. All over the country, the wealthier the individual, the harder they fell as depression struck. Jack and Wally Flett remembered the way the crippling economy changed their grocery business, which they ran on Russell Avenue, one door from the corner of Parkside Avenue, for over 50 years.
The best years of the business were the first years- before the depression– the Fletts remembered, when every home on Jewett Parkway had a chauffeur and a maid. The maid would call in an order, and the driver would come pick it up. That changed quickly, but the Fletts weren’t complaining, knowing they were lucky to not lose everything. “We had a customer on Summit who was a millionaire one day, and a pauper the next. He had a huge account with the store, and though he was broke, he eventually paid every cent.”
And it wasn’t just the Fletts. The elegant, luxurious Pierce-Arrow Motor Company opened its brand new showroom at Main Street and Jewett Parkway just weeks before the market crashed in the fall of 1929. The company and the showroom languished for a few years, the economy had taken its toll, and by mid 30’s, was selling Pontiacs and Cadillacs from the Art Deco automotive palace.
Just as Pierce-Arrow fell on hard times, so too, did many families of the Parkside neighborhood who drove those cars. At one time or another, Darwin D. Martin owned three Pierce-Arrows. By the time he died in 1935, he was comparatively penniless. Martin’s son, Darwin R., had assumed control of the family’s fortune, and heavily leveraged the fortune his father had created with a lifetime of hard work.
The younger Martin was described by a niece as “selfish,” “a wheeler dealer,” and “a hard drinking man.” He was a real estate developer, who built the very stylish 800 West Ferry Street Apartment building (as of 2009, recently acquired by Canisius High School) and at one point ran the Stuyvesant Hotel on Elmwood Avenue. Within two years of the senior Darwin Martin’s death, in 1937, the younger Martin had moved his mother into one of his apartment complexes, leaving the Frank Lloyd Wright “opus” at Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue abandoned.
As the property fell into arrears on taxes through the ‘30s and ‘40s, the younger Martin made no effort to maintain the home; worse, he expedited the home’s literal downfall. He removed all the doors and all of the lighting fixtures, as well as other original trappings and accessories from the home. These he installed in his other stylish properties like the Stuyvesant and 800 West Ferry. He also stripped the home of copper electrical wire and copper plumbing. Nine years after Mrs. Martin moved from the home, the City of Buffalo was the sole bidder at a foreclosure sale. The property was taken over for $76,468 in back taxes, and a $394.53 payment to Darwin R. Martin.
Parkside children of the late ‘30s, ‘40s, and early ‘50s remember the future landmark as a somewhat spooky and dangerous place to play hide and seek. Other kids took advantage of the smooth open floors to roller skate. The now-world-famous art glass windows and glass and tile fixtures were the stuff of target practice for stone throwing kids. The home remained neglected and vandalized until the mid-1950s.
The fate of the Darwin Martin house showed the extreme end of what happened to some of Parkside’s homes during the period between World Wars. The lean times of the Depression, followed by the rationing and requisitioning of materials during the World War II years left many homes much worse for the wear. However, the ones who were in those homes- no matter how worn- knew they were the lucky ones. Parksiders of the Depression Era will remember smoke from hobo’s winter fires wafting up over the bridges in the Park Gully.
Parkside Goes to War… Again.
“I can remember when, as we used to say, the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor. I was outside playing football,” recalls Jack Anthony, who grew up Greenfield Avenue. “Bob Bickel, who lived at 121 Greenfield, came out and yelled, ‘Hey, did you hear the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor?’ I was in sixth grade, and I said, ‘What does that matter? You want to play football or don’t you?'”
The kids played football that day, but they, too, would contribute to the war effort. Jack Anthony, destined to become one of the founders of the Parkside Community Association, was a lad on Greenfield, and later on West Oakwood Place during the war years.
“We had a gang… We played at the Dewey Playground, and the Parkside Candy Shoppe. It was a real routine, the way real men went to a bar, we went to that candy shop. During the war, the government made us Junior Rangers,” Anthony remembers. “We did tire drives and scrap drives, collecting metal scraps people left out, and newspapers. We filled up the back lot at School 54 with the stuff. The war was a part of our lives, part of my life.”
An interesting time for children, but a trying time for adults. While the Depression years were hard for the Flett Brothers, the most difficult time for the brothers and their store came during World War II. “The government didn’t think our store was an essential service, so we worked ’til 3 in the store, and then worked in a defense plant ’til midnight.”
Mrs. Martha Lang, who lived in a flat on Crescent Avenue for over 50 years, remembered vividly both her own home and her mother’s house just up the street on Humboldt Parkway in the 1940s. She shared some of her wartime memories of the neighborhood in a 1990 issue of the Parkside News.
During a particularly cold wartime winter, there were natural gas shortages, which sent Mrs. Lang to live at her mother’s coal heated home for a week. Her apartment, however, had an electric range which forced her to shuttle back and forth to prepare and serve meals.
It was after all, wartime. Jack Anthony remembers, “We had an air raid drill here, and we stood out on the porch on Greenfield. I was really amazed at how dark it was, truly dark. No lights on anywhere. That’s stayed with me. And I took a walk once with my father to School 64 on Amherst St, because he had to register for the draft. He was 42 years old.”
Anthony remembers Saturday afternoons at the Central Park show, where Main Street and Fillmore Avenue meet. “I was just a kid, but I sure knew I hated Japs. We’d watch the newsreels, and the American Soldier would stand at the edge of a cave with a flamethrower, and with a woosh we’d cheer in the movie house, Get those bastards! and then we’d go wild cheering when Japs’d run out on fire. I had a job done on me in terms of propaganda, but I never knew it.”
While those newsreels showed the war being fought in exotic locations, little did young Jack Anthony (or anyone else, at that time) know that groundbreaking, top secret Government work was being done right in Parkside, right in the old Ford Plant.
America’s First Jet Plane: Parkside Built.
With the war at full tilt, and America on the brink of entering on the side of the Allies, Larry Bell had fallen asleep listening to an Indians night game on the radio. He was awakened by his wife with a phone call from Washington. The Pentagon was on the line, and Larry and his top engineer would be on a train to the nation’s capital by midnight.
On September 5, 1941, Bell Aircraft entered into a top secret agreement to begin producing the first American versions of the world’s first jet aircraft. Up until this point, no American plane -ever- had flown without the whir of a propeller. Bell would produce the planes; GE, the engines. With no one sure what the Japanese and Germans were up to, speed was a priority. By the end of the month, a $1.6 million contract was signed to build three of the as-yet-designed jet planes.
The design work on three different aircraft began on the train trip back to Buffalo, and by the next morning, the site for the design and manufacture of the aircraft was decided. The Ford Motor factory, on Main Street in Buffalo, had been mothballed when the company’s manufacturing operations moved to Woodlawn ten years earlier. The last remaining vestige of Ford at the building, a Ford Dealer and Sales Agency on the ground floor, was moved out overnight.
Now the TriMain building, the hulking red brick structure undertook a quick makeover to make in an appropriate home for one of the war efforts’ most secretive projects up until that point. The windows were welded shut; a special pass was needed to get past the sentry which guarded the location twenty-four hours a day. The security was on-par with that surrounding the Manhattan Project, and it was all in Parkside.
As the FBI began screening production workers for the top secret job, “Drinkers, bar-room talkers, and womanizers were ruled out as risks.”
The ground floor was made into a machine shop, assembly on the second floor. Some components that had to be made at other Bell plants were given false names; an exhaust pipe might be labeled a heater duct.
The work force at Main Street and Rodney Avenue were mostly selected as the best of Bell’s other factories. Donald Norton wrote of it Larry: A Biography of Lawrence D. Bell:
(P)eople began to disappear at the Elmwood and Wheatfield plants. A lathe operator or draftsman would come to work in the morning and find that the man next to him suddenly had been replaced by somebody new.
“Hey!” one machine operator exclaimed. “What happened to Harry?”
“I got told this morning to come over here,” was the reply. “Who’s Harry?”
Men excused themselves from car pools with a standard reply that sounded almost too casual. “Just assigned to a temporary job. No Sweat. Be back in the pool in a couple of months.” One car pool group went to plant security with the suspicion that a recent dropout may have fled with secret papers.
Employees engaged on the XP-59A project could not tell their families what they were working on or where they were working. If a family emergency arose, the spouse would call an unlisted number. The operator at the Main Street facility would take the information, send it by guard to the employee, and then the employee placed a separate call home.
Work began on the “XP-59A” in early 1942. It was so designated to give the impression that this new venture was simply an improvement of the XP-59 propeller craft.
On August 4, 1942, the first engine arrived at the plant via the beltline railway. Security was ratcheted tighter. On September 10, workers began removing bricks from the wall of the building, facing the rail lines, so that crates containing the aircraft’s fuselage and wings could be lowered onto railcars bound for testing grounds in California’s Mojave Desert.
America’s first jet was successfully flown September 30, 1942. It had been about a year since the phone call during the baseball game.
In March 1943, a second, improved XP-59A was shipped from Buffalo for testing, this one wrapped in canvas, with a mock propeller attached to the front of the craft to disguise the generally unthinkable jet propulsion ability of the craft.
Eventually, 50 P-59 aircraft were built for use by the Army and Navy. They weren’t used in combat, but mostly for testing and training. It was written in the Government’s summary of the program in June, 1945, that, “Even though a combat airplane did not result… the development was very worthwhile, since it proved the principle of jet propulsion for aircraft was sound and practical.” The work in Buffalo provided the ground work for the US’s venture into the jet age.
As quickly as Bell swept into the old Ford Plant, the aerospace giant left when it no longer needed the extra space. But, in May 1942, the Navy enjoyed the fruits of Parkside’s wartime labor as the Hercules Motor Corporation began building diesel engines at the plant, and did so through the end of the war. After the war, The Trico Products Company manufactured windshield wiper components at the building for the next 3 ½ decades.
A (Vice) Presidential Visit
As the war continued to churn, Harry Truman’s last public appearance before becoming President upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt came in Parkside, specifically, at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. Truman worshipped there April 8, 1945.
According to “Forth,” the Diocesan news magazine, and as chronicled in A Century in The Fold: A History of The Church of the Good Shepherd, The Vice President was in Buffalo to make a speech at a Democratic Dinner at the Hotel Statler on April 7. Truman’s friend, tour guide, Buffalo Democrat, and Good Shepherd Warden Charles Diebold, Jr, surprised the congregation by bringing the Vice President for services.
After introducing Truman to children at the Sunday school, Diebold asked him to autograph a copy of the church bulletin. But the always wry Vice President responded with, “I usually do the autographing, but this time I want you to do it; and I’m going to present this autographed bulletin to Mrs. Truman to show her that I attended church today.”
Four days later, he was President of the United States. A month later, the war in Europe ended. 4 months later, the war in the Pacific ended when President Truman decided to use atomic weapons against Japan.
Which brings us back to Jack Anthony– he remembers the end of the war as well as the beginning of it. Four long years after it started, he wasn’t busy playing football when he heard the war ended.
“In 1945, when it ended, I walked all the way downtown from here. For the celebration, I guess, I don’t know. I didn’t kiss any nurses or drink any beer; I just walked downtown to see it.”
The war years were difficult in Parkside, as they were all over the nation. According to the 1947 accounting of Buffalo’s 1,835 war dead in the Buffalo Evening News Almanac, no less than 22 mostly young men who listed a Parkside home address died overseas.
On the home front, it was during World War II that many large single family homes were sub-divided into apartments to meet the growing demand for housing for war-effort factory workers. The Federal Government declared Buffalo a “Labor Shortage Area” in 1942.
But once the war ended, production fell quickly.
Adults were left without jobs, and children were left without the organized activities of the war. In his book Coming of Age in Buffalo: Youth and Authority in the Postwar Era, William Graebner talks about the growing problem of juvenile delinquency in the early 1950s:
In the fall of 1953, Buffalo Police and magistrates began to enforce a city ordinance against “corner lounging,” a relatively innocuous if irritating activity believed to have some relationship to more advanced forms of delinquent behavior. Police made arrests at Cazenovia and Seneca, French and Fillmore, Broadway and Madison, Louisiana and South Park, and the 2600 block of Main Street. (That’s in the vicinity of Main and Fillmore on the east; between Orchard and Amherst on the west side of Main.)
Graebner quotes the Babcock Precinct Captain McNamara as saying, “Bring these adolescent apes into the station and don’t treat them gently. These punks have more respect for a cop’s night stick than for the entire Code of Criminal Procedure.” He also writes that the church began playing an increasing role in the social needs of postwar youth, sponsoring parish dances and, later sock hops.
In North Buffalo, the Friday-night parish dances rotating among St. Margaret’s Holy Spirit, St Vincent’s, (and St. Mark’s) were the most important social events of the weekend, and not just for Catholics. “Back in those days, ” recalls one resident, the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) was the big thing.”
As you’ve already read, the powers that be also made sure that the younger set had to snap to strict guidelines. School 54, the public elementary school on Main Street across from Leroy Avenue, started its day with a prayer in the 1950s, but also found it a necessity to ban “slacks for girls, and dungarees for all pupils.”
And while corporal punishment was still meted out with some regularity, some thought children were “getting away easy” without long-time principal Clara Swartz roaming the halls with her rubber hose, for use on errant students.
What the newly christened “teenagers” were doing didn’t matter to some anyway. By the early 1950s, many men who’d fought in Europe and the Pacific had already graduated from college and other training paid for by the GI Bill. Those better educated men wanted something better than the tired city in which they were raised. The depopulation of the city for the suburbs was underway, and city leaders were literally making it easier to leave– via ribbons of asphalt highway.©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon
The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York.
When the Jewett and Russell farms were opened for building sites about 1890, among the first questions was of adequate schooling for the children of families coming to live in this new part of town. Many schools in the surrounding areas were old and filled to capacity.
The year 1892 saw public education come to Parkside, when “The Parkside School,” a brick school house which was to eventually become Buffalo School 54, was opened on land donated for the purpose by Mrs. Elam Jewett.
Originally a 16 room school, the building grew as the neighborhood did; additions came in 1905 and 1913. The later addition was really more of an encapsulation, with the original facade being enveloped completely by the new build.
Part of what made the school an institution was the continuity of the teachers and staff. The school’s first principal, Miss Clara Swartz, lived a few blocks away at 154 Woodward Avenue. Her tenure at the school ran from the school’s opening until her retirement in 1924.
Thirty years’ worth of Parkside youth all had the same principal at the Parkside School. Toward the end of Miss Swartz’s tenure as principal, came Miss Mary Kirsch, who began teaching first graders in the early 1920s. She would teach generations of Parkside 6 year-olds before her retirement in the early 1960s.
While these two women, whose careers spanned 70 years in education, were both remembered for their warmth with the children, Miss Schwartz was also remembered for patrolling the halls with the rubber hose. She used it liberally on misbehaving children.
school has long had one of the strongest Parent-Teacher Associations in the
city, as early as 1920, making sure that
the school was always among the finest in Buffalo. The group often won the
favor of city officials, winning upgrades for the school like a new cafeteria,
more classrooms, and an improved heat plant.
As the years wore on, dress codes banned slacks for girls, and dungarees for everyone in the 1950s. The school day began with a morning prayer, and, even after Miss Schwartz hung up her hose, corporal punishment was still a means of making sure students fall into line.
But School 54 changed as Buffalo and Parkside did, and those changes, and how they were carried out, is a major part of Parkside’s identity through the 60s, 70s, and 80s. More on that part of the story is yet to come.
One big change came in the mid-1960s when ground was broken on the current School 54. In 1964, the last vestige of Parkside’s agrarian past was demolished; as Hagner’s Dairy was taken down to make way for a new state of the art school building.
As students past and
present gathered to watch the demolition of the old school that so many had
passed through, memories flowed of not only the school, but of old Main Street.
Hagner, whose family home and dairy gave way for the new school, remembered
when, the generation before, elegant residences of the Grieb and Berger
families were leveled to open up space for the Cadillac and Oldsmobile dealers
directly across the street, making car lots between the Tinney/Braun and Streng
Buying a Car in Parkside
The Parkside area of Main Street became home to many upscale motor car showrooms. They included the Hupmobile Showroom (soon to be Dick Willats Hudson Dealership, photo on previous page ) next to Smither’s Parkside Pharmacy at Leroy Avenue, as well as the popular Studebaker showroom between East Oakwood and Dewey Avenues. One could also buy a Pierce-Arrow or even a venerable Ford in Parkside as well. The Ford Factory and showroom was at the corner of Main Street and Rodney Avenue, along the northeast side of the Beltline tracks.
While the factory on the north side of the Beltline was turning out cars for working men and women of the country, both metaphorically and literally on the other side of the tracks was the “Update Building” for the ultra-elegant Pierce-Arrow.
Built in Buffalo on Elmwood Avenue, The Pierce-Arrow motor car was the status-symbol car of choice for John D. Rockefeller, Babe Ruth, Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding, and for dozens of Hollywood stars, like Carol Lombard. The siren girlfriend (and later wife) of Clark Gable, Lombard purchased a Pierce-Arrow in 1926.
Later, the company began to offer hydraulic brakes. Never wanting a starlet to be without, the company paid to have the auto shipped back to Buffalo by train, unloaded off the Beltline into the Update Center, new brakes were installed and the car shipped back all at Pierce-Arrow expense.
It was typical for Pierce-Arrow owners to ship their cars to Parkside for yearly maintenance and updating.
The update building remains, but for most, Pierce-Arrow in Parkside means the showroom. In 1929, the showroom moved from Main Street between Tupper and Edward to the Main Street at Jewett Parkway location, which until that time was the site of Floss’s Coal and Ice.
The $500,000 masterpiece building, along with the Central Terminal and City Hall, is one of a handful of fine Buffalo buildings built in the style that would become known as “Art Deco.”
Crowned by a 40 foot tower, the building’s exterior boasts windows friezed with polychromed terra cotta. Inside, the coffered ceiling is adorned with tire and hub medallions. The floor could accommodate up to 15 luxury automobiles.
While in 1929 there were 1,500 Pierce-Arrows motoring around Buffalo, the timing for the move to the brand new, state of the art showroom couldn’t have been worse.
The nation would soon be in the grips of an economic depression. Sales dropped off, and by 1936, the Pierce-Arrow showroom had become a Cadillac showroom.
Cadillacs would be sold from the spot for the next 62 years under 3 different names. First Maxson Cadillac from 1936-57, then Tinney Cadillac from 1957-81. Finally, from 1981-98, the dealership was known as Braun Cadillac. When Braun moved its showroom to Depew, Buffalo Savings Bank purchased and renovated the space as their headquarters branch.
In 2007, Buffalo Savings was bought out by First Niagara Bank, which continues to run a branch at the Jewett & Main location.
Just to the south of the Pierce-Arrow showroom, stood Eagan & Streng Chrysler starting in 1923. The building of green marble became an Oldsmobile dealer in 1930, and when Eagan died in 1938, Herbert H. Streng’s name went up on the sign alone. The Streng family spent 75 years selling cars in Parkside at 2365 Main Street.
In 1973, the Strengs bought the property between their dealership and Tinney Cadillac to the north, adding room for another 60 Oldsmobiles, making the dealership the largest in WNY.
Only weeks after Braun Cadillac closed in 1998, Herbert S. Streng, the son of the founder of Streng Olds announced General Motors bought the dealership back from him, effectively ending the ability of Parksiders to buy a new car in the neighborhood. “I just sold one customer his 30th Streng Olds. GM isn’t just buying a dealership from me,” Streng said upon news of the closure, “They’re buying a life time.“
Canisius College bought the Streng Dealership building, and in 2001 opened Demerly Hall there. The green-facaded building now houses the school’s health and human performance graduate programs.
But Parkside’s first foray into the world of the automobile came decades before Streng or Pierce-Arrow.
The Ford Motor Company opened their sales, service, and assembly operations plant in 1915. It was designed by Albert Kahn and Ernest Wilby, who based the building on that of an earlier Ford plant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
You can still see “FORD” inlayed in the brick on the smokestack of the building as of 2009. The showroom was on the ground floor, manufacturing on the higher floors.
From 1915 to 1923, 599,232 Model-T Fords were assembled at the Main Street facility. The last Model-T rolled off the assembly line in Buffalo in 1927.
Then from March 1928 to August 1931, Model-A Fords were built in Parkside until all Ford’s local manufacturing was transferred to the Fuhrmann Boulevard/Woodlawn plant.
After Ford moved its machinery from that building to a plant of Fuhrmann Boulevard in 1931, Bell Aircraft took over the plant through 1942. During that time, Bell produced the Airacomet P-59, America’s first twin-engine jet warplane.
Initially called the XP-59A and disguised with propellers on the jet engines, the plane never saw wartime service, but did provide the ground work for the US’s venture into the jet age. In May 1942, the CNX Corporation, a subsidiary of the Hercules Motor Corporation, churned out diesel engines for the US Navy, and did so through the end of the war. More to come on the war effort in Parkside.
Once the war was over, in 1945, Trico Products Company bought the structure and manufactured windshield wiper components at the building from the early 1950s through 1987 at what was known to Trico workers at Plant 2.
The old Ford plant became the multi-use Tri-Main Center in 1988 and continues to serve both sides of Main Street with dozens of offices, studios, light industrial plants, and shops of many different sizes.
Much sprang up around the
tracks laid down along, over and under Main Street. In 1905, The Highland
Masonic Temple was built by architect EB Green; predating the Central Presbyterian
Church and Presbytery Buildings next door to the south. The lodge got its name
from the Highland Station, the Beltline stop directly across Main Street, to
the south of the tracks.
Once train travel gave way to the automobile, the Highland Station was torn down in favor of a gas station. This photo dates from the 1940s, and clearly shows the Ford/Trico Plant as the backdrop. With the gas station torn down, in 1987 Broad Elm started construction on the site at the corner of Main and Jewett. In 2005, The Montante Family donated the plot of land to the north of the tire shop to the community as “The People’s Park.” It’s cared for and maintained by the communities surrounding it on both sides of Main Street.
The Backbone of Main Street
Gert and Ernie Schmitter were just two of dozens and dozens of small business owners who have made a living and a life along Main Street. And while the institutions written about thus far gave gravitas and stability to the area, it was the smaller mom and pop shops, where people did their day-to-day consuming, that are remembered so richly and warmly by the people who called Parkside home during Main Street’s heyday.
The corner of West Oakwood Place and Main Street was the heart of the business district that served Parkside, and at the heart of that corner: One of the most warmly remembered shops to ever grace the Parkside section: Parkside Candy Shoppe.
shop delighted young and old alike at the corner of Main and West Oakwood for
generations. First opened by the Kaiser Family on St. Patrick’s Day,
1917, the Malamas Family took over the operation in 1944. Tom Malamas spent a
great deal of his young life at the soda fountain then owned by his parents and
“You walked in to two long cases of candy, we had 14 booths, and 6 stools at the soda fountain.” During that time, the noon time luncheon menu was very popular, as was ice cream in the evenings.
The exterior and the soda fountain were featured in the 1983 film “The Natural,” and Malamas says the scene was very reminiscent of what it was actually like inside Parkside Candy Shoppe in the 40s. “People would come from all over for our hot fudge sauce and chocolate syrup. I was too young then to think of it, but I wish I had those recipes now!”
wasn’t just the candy and ice cream. Ted and Sandy Malamas were lauded when
they finally closed up the store in September 1986, after over 40 years of
operation. “They had strong religious and civic pride that made them an
integral part of the Parkside neighborhood. They weren’t just selling ice cream
and candy, they were selling quality and devotion.”
From the front door of Parkside Candy, one could see car dealerships, including the Studebaker shop across the street car tracks, Central Park Bowling Lanes, the druggist, the hardware store, a delicatessen, a grocer…
Historian Mike Riester has done the counting: In 1915, three bakeries, several meat, poultry, and green grocers, a tailor, toy store, a bowling alley, barbers, dentists, a hardware store, dress and hat shops, and the Kaiser Candy Company (to become Parkside Candies in 1930) were all several steps from Main Street and Oakwood Place.
Riester says without a doubt, the golden era of business along the Parkside section of the main thoroughfare was in the late 1920s and 1930s…. An incomplete list of businesses includes; Hawser’s Bakery, Clock’s Bakery, Red & White, Stokes Candies, Carillon’s Jewelers, Thomas Taylor Shop, Russell’s Barbershop, Ruchte’s Hardware, Wangler, Marion’s Ice Cream, Rychert’s Florist, Bald’s meats, and the Bills’ Sisters Delicatessen at East Oakwood, which featured Stellar’s Almond Rings.
But it was places like Parkside Candies– places where a kid could satisfy a sweet tooth that seem to be remembered better than most. Unterecker’s served ice cream and candy near at the corner of Main Street and Orchard Place in the 1920s, and two Parkside Drug stores had complete soda fountains, Dwyer’s and Smither’s.
Dwyer’s, later Woldman’s, was on the corner of Main
Street and Florence Avenue, and retained the feel of an 1800’s apothecary up
until it closed in the 1970s. Aside from the soda fountain, Dwyer’s is
remembered by many for the rainbow sherbet cones served there.
Knight Smither opened the “Parkside Pharmacy” in the 1880s at the
corner of Main Street and Leroy Avenue. There it, too, remained until the late
1970s. Many generations of Parkside residents got their first job at Smither’s,
where Karl Smither and Don Hill were the bosses.
Longtime resident Jack Anthony’s father owned a drug store at Fillmore and Rodney, but he also has fond memories of Smither’s.
“Merle Alderdise– he grew up on Greenfield— and I would skip out of services at Central Pres when the minister would start his sermon, and we’d go up to Smither’s at Main and Leroy, and eat a sundae, and get back before anyone noticed.”
But inside those dozens and hundreds of shops, were the shopkeepers. Real characters that helped make more interesting in an earlier time. When the following article on “Frank the Barber” was written for the Parkside News in 1981, he had seen virtually all the history talked about in this Main Street chapter unfold outside his shop window, in the section of store fronts just north of Central Presbyterian Church and the Highland Masonic Lodge, and to the south of Greenfield Street.
Almost 50 years have passed since Frank the Barber
came to Parkside to cut hair. Today, (April 1981) the oldest active businessman
in our neighborhood, Frank Notaro, 77 years young, doesn’t even seem ready to
quit! His shop, located on Main Street just north of Jewett, has served
generations of families, including some notable residents of our city…
Frank can go on and on telling of the many
customers and their sons and grandsons and even great-grandsons who he was
served. The shop, which opened in the 30’s, makes you think of days gone by.
The 1938 Zenith Floor Model radio is still used everyday. “I had the first
TV in the area for a barber shop,” Frank adds. The comic books and
magazines bring back many memories of the past. The shop has a delightful glow
Frank came to America in 1912, from Alimunusa, a
small town in Sicily. He began a shop across Main Street in 1932, and moved to
the present site in 1940…” He and his wife Genevieve were married and
have enjoyed 53 years together. The Notaros are residents of Parkside and have
raised two daughters. Pictures of his son-in-law and grandson in the service
hang on the walls of the shop. He was quite a bowler in his day, participating
in leagues at St. Marks and Central Presbyterian Churches. The Notaros attend
St. Mark’s Church.
Frank and Genevieve Notaro have made Parkside their
home and work. Their beautiful Christmas window display, featuring ceramic and
china figurines, is enjoyed by all who pass by during the season. The Notaros
have never returned to Frank’s homeland. Parkside has always been their home.
Frank Notaro retired in 1983, and took a piece of Parkside Americana with him. Al Villa was another longtime businessman. His Buffalo Lawnmower Service and Sales business was on Main Street, just north of West Oakwood Place, from 1963 to 2005. Al once shared with me his secret to good health: Chocolate milk. For years, Al says he’d get it ice cold right off the milkman’s truck, and it‘s good for anything from headaches to upset stomachs.
Just as it is today, but even more so in the past, one couldn’t walk too far along Main Street without running into a doctor’s office or an undertaker. One doctor, a dentist, in fact, had his office next door to Al Villa’s shop.
Dr. Monreith Hollway retired in the 1970s, leaving
the storefront (above) mostly vacant for nearly 2 decades, until March 1987
when the Parkside Community Association began the process of acquiring grants
to buy and renovate the property for the group’s offices, and low income
housing in the one-time dentist’s office upstairs.
Of course, there were places for adults to congregate as adults as well. Once prohibition was lifted, there were two long-time popular taverns. Grabenstatter’s, near Dewey Avenue, and Diebold’s red brick tavern, at the corner of Leroy Avenue, both serving to quench the thirst of Parksiders, and the German immigrants on the east side of Main Street.
Grabenstatter’s Restaurant became Margaret Kaufmann’s Copper Kettle. One of Parkside’s first Main Street businesses, in the days of the stage coach to and from Williamsville, was a gin mill.
John R. Schardt, Jr. ran a tavern at 2095 Main Street (near Kensington), and was doing so in 1911. By 1915, the saloon’s liquor license was in the name of John J. Brinkworth, whose descendants ran the Park Meadow Bar and Grill at Parkside and Russell, as well as numerous other taverns and businesses around the city up to this day.
The building was vacant by 1930, and gone by 1940 (replaced by the Shell Gas Station in the Main/Humboldt photo on page 66.) This site, or close to it, had, in the 1830s, been the site of a toll gate, to help pay for the paving of Main Street.
Through the 60s, 70s and 80s, the block of Main Street between Vernon Place and Orchard Place, near where Main Street and Fillmore Avenue meet, was a hot nightspot for the young set, and for jazz fans.
Clubs and restaurants like The Casa Savoy, Dirty Dick’s Bathhouse, and the original Tralfamadore Cafe were well-known places for music and partying.
In 1972, three North Buffalo brothers bought a vacant bar with a leaky roof on Main Street. It was the birth of a Parkside institution. The Stuffed Mushroom was born at the hands of Jim, Dennis, and Donald Alfieri at the corner of Main and Orchard Place, and remained for nearly three decades.
They wanted to bring back the aura of the hot spot of the 40s and 50s at the same address, the “Park Casino.” The 1941 bar remained, and the brothers built out from around it. And they didn’t stop at the walls of the Stuffed Mushroom.
The Alfieris were among the original organizers of the Main-Amherst Business Association, which is still active and partners with the Parkside Community Association as well as the Fillmore Leroy group, FLARE, and brother Jim was a director of the PCA. The Stuffed Mushroom closed in 1996.
For almost two centuries, Main Street– and the goings-on on Main Street– were inseparable from the goings-on in the Parkside neighborhood.
As the 21st century enters its second decade, however, many who’ve lived in Parkside for a decade or more have never had reason to visit, walk on, or even drive through the portion of Main Street that has been the traditional backbone of the area.
The slow, often painful changes that Main Street and the City of Buffalo experienced, and how the people of the Parkside area came to deal with them, are the integral part of the Parkside story that makes the community so unique among Buffalo neighborhoods.©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon
The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York.
While they owned much of the property along the neighborhood’s southern border, and taught at St. Vincent de Paul, Mt St Joe’s, Medaille, St. Mark, and St Mary’s School for the Deaf, the Sisters of St. Joseph haven’t been the only Catholic nuns along the Parkside section of Main Street.
The Sisters of Charity established Buffalo’s first hospital downtown in 1848, and moved to the corner of Main Street and Delevan Avenue (the current home of the Canisius College Koessler Athletic Center) in 1876.
And while Sisters Hospital didn’t move there until the World War II era (1943), a hospital of sorts has stood on the spot where Sisters now stands since the Civil War era. The Providence Retreat, also known as through the years as the Providence Insane Asylum, and the Providence Lunatic Asylum, it was established in 1860 by Dr. Austin Flint and Dr. James Platt White, with the help of the Sisters of Charity.
As the Civil War dawned, after it was “decided that the city needed a hospital for the treatment of mental and nervous diseases.” The institution opened its first building on the Main Street grounds July 15, 1861. That building was then outside the city limits, on grounds described as “spacious and beautiful.” The grounds contained both a hennery for eggs and a dairy, and “stronger patients” were able to take advantage of the neighboring Delaware Park and Zoological gardens.
The asylum, and its most infamous guest, nearly cost Buffalo a Presidency. One of Buffalo’s most scandalous residents was a “guest” at the Providence Retreat. Maria Halpin was one of many unwed mothers residing there, and she became a star in the 1884 Presidential campaign. It just so happened that the prominent Buffalo attorney with whom she reportedly had a tryst quickly moved up the ranks as Mayor of Buffalo, then Governor of New York, and ultimately President of the United States.
Had Grover Cleveland run for President in this modern age, the intense vetting process likely would have knocked him out of the running early. The Halpin story was well-known but not talked about in Buffalo for at least a decade. However, when Grover Cleveland decided to run for the White House, The Buffalo Evening Telegraph, a paper similar in journalistic integrity to the National Enquirer, ran a story entitled “A Terrible Tale-Dark Chapter in a Public Man’s History.”
The rag put into print a damning piece of salacious bombast slanted against Cleveland by his old Western New York political enemies. The paper spelled out that Cleveland was the lover of The Loose Widow Halpin, and when she became pregnant, the powerful Cleveland had her institutionalized, the child placed in an orphanage, all at Cleveland’s expense. The story spread like wildfire around the country, to the delight of Cleveland’s political opponents.
Though painted in the worst possible light, Cleveland couldn’t and wouldn’t deny the story. Halpin actually kept the company of several prominent lawyers, many of them married, including Cleveland’s partner and best friend Oscar Folsom. Folsom was nearly positive the child was his, but to save Folsom and the other men potential martial problems, the bachelor Cleveland took responsibility for the care of the woman and her child, whom she named Oscar Folsom Cleveland.
Cleveland asked a judge to commit Halpin to the bucolic Parkside mental ward only after he was unsuccessful in trying to break her of alcoholism. At Cleveland’s expense, his young ward was place in the finest orphanage to move along his placement with and adoption by a well-to-do family.
These details, however, were only made public decades later. Despite the controversy, Cleveland was elected President, where he was the first man to be married in the White House. Not to Halpin, who continued to hound Cleveland for money, but to Frances Folsom. The daughter of his partner Oscar, Cleveland became her legal guardian when she was 11 years old. She was somewhat scandalously 27 years younger than the President, and, though it wasn’t common knowledge at the time, was likely the half sister of Cleveland’s “son.” For his part, Oscar Folsom Cleveland eventually became a very successful doctor; his education paid for by the man who took a political hit for doing what he thought was the right thing.
A More Modern Hospital
As modern medicine progressed, particularly in the newly developing field of psychiatry, a new state of the art “Asylum” was built in 1905. Bishop Charles Colton was assisted by Msgr. Nelson Baker in laying the cornerstone for what was then known as The Providence Retreat. The building was to be fireproof, and “up to the high standards required by the state… in the treatment of the insane and feeble minded.”
A 1905 Buffalo Express article notes, “The institution is managed by the sisters, under the rules approved by the state commission of lunacy.” The article goes on to talk abut the $300,000 building. “Away in the back, and distinct from the others, are the rooms for violent patients who may be noisy.”
In 1943, the 83 year old Providence Retreat, long the home “for treatment of mental patients,” was closed and converted to a maternity hospital. Upon the opening of Louise de Marillac Hospital, an official told the Buffalo Evening News, “We feel there is more need here for an additional maternity hospital and an enlarged institution for babies than for the care of the mentally afflicted that the Providence Retreat has been carrying on.”
Three years later, ground was broken on another million dollar expansion of the structure that was destined to become the new Sisters Hospital at Main Street and Humboldt Parkway. The new streamlined, modern structure was prepared to combine the efforts of the Louise de Marillac Maternity Hospital and Sisters Hospital. The hospital was on the cutting edge of modernity, with a telephone and radio in every room.
Easily ignored, standing between Sisters Hospital and St Mary’s School for the Deaf is a rather nondescript brick building with a lesser known rich history. Built in 1907-10 as the US Marine Hospital, it’s likely to have gone unnoticed by most passersby for over a century. The building served as a home “owned and operated by the United States Government, and is for general medical service to sailors, marine soldiers, ex-soldiers, marines and merchant seamen” for almost 50 years. Far and away the most common, interwoven maladies amongst the old seadogs were old age and alcoholism.
In three separate incarnations, this building has played, and continues to play, a role in the forefront of medicine. First, as the Marine Hospital, many early strides in anesthesia were made inside the walls of the Parkside institution. Very early in his career, it was here that one of the world’s pioneering anesthesiologists first learned his trade, at a time when the specialty at best was an after thought.
In an article in Anesthesia and Analgesia in 2000, Drs. Ronald Batt and Douglas Bacon write about Dr. Clarence Durshordwe, a World War I veteran who grew up on Buffalo’s East Side and attended UB Medical School.
After medical school, Durshordwe interned at the 68-bed Marine Hospital in Buffalo. On completing his training, he was hired as an assistant surgeon for the Public Health Service. Early in his five years of service, he discovered that the lowest ranking physician was assigned to give anesthetics. Concerned that he might harm a patient, Durshordwe went to Buffalo City Hospital to observe nurse anesthetists administer anesthetics. Toward the end of his tenure at the Marine Hospital, now assigned to perform surgery, Durshordwe found he spent more time worrying about the anesthetic than the surgical procedure.
The mostly self-taught doctor would be one of the men who helped bring together the theories and practice of anesthesia from locations all around the world; where even late into the mid-20th century some physicians around the world still questioned it’s medical value.
Great strides were also made in the fledgling practice of physical therapy when the federally owned hospital was transferred to the state in 1950, and it became the home of UB’s Chronic Disease Institute. It was the area’s first hospital devoted to “physical medicine, the combination of medicine and therapy.” Within 3 years of the doors opening, the institute “achieved remarkable results in restoring to partial or complete usefulness disabled limbs, muscles, and organs, and overcoming speech difficulties.” It was here that many of the tenets of 21st century medicine were first explored locally.
As of 1953, two years before the polio vaccine was announced to the world, and at a time when the diagnosis meant fear, every polio patient brought to the facility in an iron lung was able to gain release from the “cumbersome contrivance.” One arthritis patient, so seriously disabled he was brought into the center on a stretcher, walked out, self-supporting, eight months later; all by virtue on the modern medical theories we now take for granted, first explored locally by our Parkside neighbors.
The Marine Hospital Campus was purchased by Sisters Hospital in 1995 for off-street parking for visitors and employees. While the original plans called for the building to make way for even more parking space, The Parkside Community Association advocated saving the historic structure. This was accomplished when Benedict House was opened at the Main Street location in 1997. It’s mission, as taken from its website in 2008:
The mission of Benedict House is to provide non-discriminatory residential housing opportunities and supportive services for persons living with AIDS in an environment promoting the principles of dignity, respect, understanding, compassion and self-determination.
©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon
The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York.
The fate of the Main Street land immediately north of Jefferson Avenue was sealed when Jesuit Fathers purchased it, described as an “expanse of land and… groves of trees,” as a farm from the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1874. In 1911, the Fathers built Canisius College there, and have been growing it, and buying more land and buildings to expand their campus, ever since.
Though now the gentrified, commanding presence along that portion of Main Street, Canisius College moved to the area at a time when Catholic institutions weren’t necessarily welcomed with open arms in all sections of the city. This wasn’t a problem on this stretch of Main, however, given the fact that the new school was flanked by a well-established Catholic church, Catholic hospitals, several Catholic elementary and high schools, and a convent.
The land was wilderness far beyond the edge of the city when St. Vincent de Paul Parish was founded in 1863. Bishop John Timon and Rev. Joseph Sorg established the church to serve the mostly German quarry men and farmers in the Kensington-Humboldt area. It was, according to the parish’s 100th Anniversary History booklet, “a peaceful, wide open location removed from traffic and congestion of the city.”
As already discussed, three successively larger churches were built over 60 years. The first 1860’s wooden church became the school when a larger brick church was built in 1887. And as the neighborhoods surrounding the church, including Parkside, grew, by 1924, the need developed for yet another, newer, larger church building. The Byzantine-Romanesque style, final home of St Vincent de Paul was opened Thanksgiving Day 1926, with over 5,000 people in attendance. When the church closed in 1993, Canisius College bought the buildings of its old neighbor, and renamed the exquisite Byzantine building the Montante Center.
Also as mentioned, the Sisters of St. Joseph were major developers of Main Street, having first strolled north of the horse-drawn trolley tracks (which then ended at Delevan Avenue) to built their novitiate, south of the church, where Canisius College now stands, and moving the Deaf Mute Institute to the corner of Dewey and Main in 1898. The name was officially changed to St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in 1936, and continues to be the longest continuously operated institution in the Parkside neighborhood.
Aside from teaching at both St Vincent’s and St. Mark in Parkside, The Sisters also ran Mt. St. Joseph’s Elementary and High Schools, founded in 1891. The high school was closed in the mid 1980s, but “Little Mount” survives to this day. The Sisters of St Joseph decided to close the school in 2005, but parents and alumni banded together to keep the school open. The school moved from a building recently torn down on the Canisius campus to the former Central Presbyterian Church complex in 2007.
In 1937, Mount St. Joseph’s Teachers College received its charter from New York State to award degrees in Education. In 1968, the curriculum expanded, men were welcomed to the campus for the first time, and Medaille College was born.
©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon
Parkside Historian Michael Riester puts forth the thesis, “As goes Main Street, so goes Parkside.” The following pages will take a look at Main Street in three separate sections: The institutions of the area, the automobile showrooms, and, finally the small businesses; the shops and storefronts where most people did most of their spending and buying of goods and services.
Many modern Parksiders, who just think of the whole area as “Canisius College,” will be surprised to know that the block of Main between Delevan and Jefferson has been home to a brewery, an amusement park, and for over 50 years, a Sears & Roebuck store.
In 1842, Jacob Schaenzlin moved into a brewery built two years earlier at 1857 Main Street, near Scajaquada Creek. This is the present site of the Delavan/Canisius MetroRail station.
Further up the block, and a half century later, at the point where Jefferson Avenue and Main Street meet, stood an amusement park, which was known by at least 3 different names over the decades it was open. First known in the 1890s as Athletic Park, its name was changed first to Carnival Court, then to Luna Park, when it was purchased by the father of the modern amusement park, Frederick Ingersoll. He owned the park from 1904-1920. Among the more popular rides was the “Shoot the Chutes” water ride, which Ingersoll built in all his parks, and was the basis for the modern water flume ride.
The midway of the Carnival Court was heavily damaged by fire in 1909. The fire was briefly mentioned in the New York Times, calling the place a “pleasure resort,” and mentioning the skating rink and the theatre suffered damage in the blaze.
Closed and abandoned by 1920, Sears and Roebuck purchased the property and built a store on the site in 1929. From that Sears store, generations of Parksiders were clothed, and kept in appliances, hardware, paint, and gardening supplies. Sears left in 1980, and four years later, the building became the headquarters for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of WNY. The building, which once housed all that the Sears Catalog had to offer, is now Canisius’ Science Hall.
©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon
Of course, following the rail and the streetcar to Parkside soon enough was the automobile. King’s Official Route Book was the Mapquest.com of the early automobile era. It gave new drivers not only street names as far as getting from one place to another, but offered landmarks as well in an era when street signs may not have been the most reliable or varied. In the 1913 edition, the book makes notes of several landmarks you’d see driving on Main Street from downtown through Parkside on your way from Buffalo to Batavia.
Buffalo, N. Y., to Batavia, N. Y.,
38.6 miles, Road mostly all brick and state road.
Between the businesses in the Parkside neighborhood itself, and the business along Main Street, it was possible, for much of the neighborhood’s history, for someone living in the area to not have need to leave the neighborhood for months at a time.
Without Main Street, there would not have been a Flint Hill or a Parkside. While over the last two decades its become the re-invigorated Hertel and Delaware Avenues that are the local shopping and dining destinations for Parksiders, for the 200 years previous, it was Main Street that served most of the needs of the people of the area we now call Parkside.
Over a three year period, third generation Parkside Resident and Definitive Parkside Historian Michael Riester wrote a series of articles, published in the Parkside News, examining the history Parkside’s portion of Main Street and role the stretch of road played in the life of the people of the area through the two centuries since the path was first carved from the wilderness.
(I)n 1850, the city secured vast tracts of Erastus Granger’s farm on Flint Hill (as Parkside was then known.) This land, with its rolling hills, large open meadows, woods, and Scajaquada Creek was considered the most beautiful and scenic in the area. 80 Acres would become Forest Lawn Cemetery, but the land to the north and west of the then-proposed cemetery, including Granger’s meadow and quarry, would be reserved for parkland. It would be some years yet before the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted would draw on its natural beauty to create Delaware Park. “
By the 1880s, once “The Park” was developed, and the modern streets of Parkside were laid out, the character of Main Street changed dramatically. Large homes, like the brick Victorian of the Garris Family at Main and Robie were being erected. The Garris family made their fortune in the Jammerthal quarries near Grider and Kensington.
©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon
The Beltline Railway, which helped open up Parkside to development, was eventually too industrial for the sensitivities of the upwardly mobile new residents of Parkside to handle. One of life-long Parkside resident Bob Venneman’s earliest memories was of a 1918 freight train crash. He spoke of the crash with the Parkside News in 1988.
The trains met head-on on a curve opposite the Amherst Station. Dad and Mother walked me up there. All the trees were singed for a long time. Of course, all the tracks were lowered 16 feet in 1909 when Lewis Bennett, the developer of Central Park, objected to the noise of the trains. Wooden stairways led down to the tracks.
That, however, is only part of the story. In the spring 2005 edition of the Parkside News, Michael Riester tells the story of the Beltline tracks having once been embedded in Parkside Avenue—right at grade level crossing Parkside– where the viaduct between Crescent and Linden is now (Above, with street car, 1940s). The story of why that intersection was dug out, and why the viaduct is now there, is a grisly one.
On October 15, 1897, the Scatcherd Daughters, Emily and Dorothy, and their aunt, Miss Emily Wood, were returning from a visit at the William Ball residence at the corner of Depew and Starin Avenues…. The story goes; the carriage driven by Miss Wood proceeded toward Parkside Avenue, where they intended to enter the park. Because of gale force winds that day, the carriage was tightly secured; the side curtains drawn. Mr. Ball noticed a west bound train coming from Main Street, and noticed that because of the wind, the warning whistles were muted, almost negligible. Sensing disaster, Mr. Ball ran after the carriage as it sped towards the Parkside crossing; however, before he could make it, the engine of the train slammed into the carriage containing the two girls and their aunt. With tremendous force, amid the terrible screeching of brakes, the train pushed the carriage and its occupants as far as the Colvin Crossing, where it finally came to a halt. The horrified engineer enlisted the help of the groundskeeper at the nearby Glenny Mansion (now the site of the Nichols Athletic Fields) to recover the lifeless body of little 11 year-old Dorothy. The mangled bodies of her sister Emily and her aunt were rushed to Buffalo General Hospital at the order of Dr. Bainbridge Folwell, who happened to be visiting Mr. Glenny. Miss Emily, age 5, died shortly after being removed from the carriage. Miss Emily Wood was pronounced dead by Dr. Roswell Park.
The father of the little girls, John Scatcherd was to become known as “The Father of the Grade Crossing Commission,” and fought to have grade level tracks eliminated on a city- and state-wide basis. He lived to see the excavation of the road and erection of the Parkside viaduct in 1911, followed shortly thereafter by the elevated bridge at Colvin Avenue. The trains of the Beltline were powerful. One of the engines regularly used along the tracks that surrounded Buffalo was Old’ 999. On a New York Central run between Syracuse and Buffalo in 1893, with Engineer Charles Hogan at the throttle, the 999 set the world speed mark. Its 112.5 miles an hour was the fastest that man had ever traveled up to that point.
While the Beltline was removed from the road, the IRC Trolley was still sharing the roads with horses, carriages, and the occasional automobile. Trolley service started in Parkside when only a few houses dotted the landscape in 1898. The was known through the years as the Kenmore line, the Parkside line, and the Zoo line. By 1911, residents were suing the IRC to get better service to the area. Portions of the lawsuit, as published in State Public Service Commission Documents, are worth including here not only because they show the growth of Parkside, but are also very descriptive of what the area looked like in 1911.
The principal complaint is centered in the irregularity of the service, its insufficiency, and the crowded condition of the cars. The lines complained of leave the Terrace in the city of Buffalo, proceed northerly about 4 1/2 miles upon Main street, turn westerly at Florence avenue to Parkside, to Hertel, through Hertel to Virgil, to Kenmore, and (outbound) to Tonawanda. The service particularly criticized by complainants is that given to residents of that portion of the seventeenth ward through which the lines pass: that is, between the turn off at Main street and Florence avenue and the turn off from Hertel to Virgil. The territory here situated is in a growing part of the city, and it was shown that a number of residences have recently been built in that section. … The territory between the corner of Hertel and Parkside eastward to Main street is well built up in the eastern portion, and several houses have recently been added in the western portion, but it can not be called compactly built territory. On the north side of Hertel avenue there is a long stretch of vacant land practically covering the entire distance from Main street to Parkside avenue. Parkside avenue at its northern end is also very sparsely built up. The residents of this section in going to the business portions of the city must either use the Kenmore-Zoo cars or the Main Street cars. The Main Street service is frequent, and it became evident on the first hearing that if better facilities were furnished to the residents of this portion of the city to get to Main street a considerable number would avail themselves of that method of downtown travel.
Even as the automobile began to grab a foothold as a means of transportation, the trolley remained an important means of moving around the city. Ann Marie Flett, the daughter the grocer Wally, grew up on Russell in the 1940s.
My grandmother used to take my brother Bill and I on the street car downtown. Every Saturday we’d take the trolley to Laube’s Old Spain for lunch, and we’d go to the show to see a movie. Around Christmas time, Mother would take us on the street car down to AM&A’s to see the windows, and all those people downtown. It was always nice.
I loved the street cars. It wobbled back and forth, especially when you crossed onto another street. It went up Parkside, then Florence, then up Main Street downtown, and there was always alot of clickety-clack when it went onto Main Street because there were so many tracks on Main. The cars were well-swept, but a little worn-down. We mostly took the Main cars, but there were street cars on Hertel and Delaware, too.
Streetcar trips by Parkside kids weren’t always adult supervised adventures, though. Tom Malamas, whose family owned The Parkside Candy Shoppe, can recall being one of the many of the youngsters of Parkside scrapping together the few cents necessary to hop on the street car to find out what fun could be had elsewhere in the city. “You could catch the trolley at Parkside and Oakwood, or at Main and Oakwood in front of the Candy Shoppe. I loved those big street cars, but it sure was a wobbly ride.”
The Kenmore/Zoo/Parkside trolley line was abandoned, and buses began following the route in June, 1950. Trolley service stopped in the city on July 1, 1950, replaced by motor busses.
The late Al Kerr spent a lifetime photographing trains, streetcars, and anything having to do with traction, including many of the photos on these pages. Little did he know, that his photographs would serve, decades later, as one of the best glimpses into everyday life in Western New York in the 1940s and 50s. His son, Fred Kerr, said traction was always his dad’s passion.
“He was a train buff, and this all started at a very early age. He lived and grew up in the Kensington area, and he was friends with many train enthusiasts. It became his passion, too. He became involved in the National Railway Historical Society, over which he was a member for over 50 years. He loved railroading, but his passion was traction, and that meant street cars. He traveled all over the United States, collecting timetables, and photographing trains and street cars. Of course he took a great number of photos in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area.”
“When you have a passion, just like someone who runs marathons, or loves ships, or aviation, it was his hobby. He loved street cars, interurban lines. He loved steam engines, he loved riding trains; he traveled all around North America on trains. He never flew in his life. He loved doing it, he loved giving speeches about trains and street cars. The library at the NHRS Museum in Tonawanda is called the Albert D. Kerr Library.”
When trolley/street car lines were extended past Delavan Avenue towards the city line starting in the 1880’s, Main Street became a clickety-clacking spaghetti-style stretch of interweaving city lines, until the last street cars were removed from service in 1950. 30 years later, mass transit moved under Main Street, and several neighborhood landmarks made way for MetroRail Stations.
One of two houses removed to make way for the MetroRail Humboldt Station, The Frank-Culliton House was an unassuming brick home built circa 1865-1875, and at the time of its demolition in the 1980s was one of the oldest in the area. Mr. Frank’s son was an architect, and designed the neighboring apartment building, which was built to serve visitors to the Pan American Exposition in 1901. The Culliton family bought the home in 1911, moving to Buffalo from Niagara Falls. Culliton was in the stone business, and dredged the track bed for the Beltline Railway, as well as numerous homes and businesses, like the Sears Store at Main and Jefferson (later Blue Cross, now the Canisius Science building), and the Ford Factory (now the Tri-Main Building.) Mike Riester wrote of the house at the time the wrecking ball swung in 1985. “The home’s stately mid-nineteenth century exterior of neat red brick quietly reminded those who passed by of the graciousness of an earlier age, when Main Street was both rural and residential.”
Just as Parkside rattled 70 years before with the blasting out of the Beltline railbed, January, 1982 had the north end of Parkside shaking for track-laying once again for the Amherst Street MetroRail station. At the time, officials projected that it will be the second busiest stop along the MetroRail route, with 9,700 passengers arriving and departing each day. Only the Lafayette Square Station was expected to be busier. While in 2008 the NFTA had no way to quantify the numbers arriving and departing at each stop, spokesman Douglas Hartmeyer says there are approximately 23,000 passengers on the entire Metro Rail system each day.
©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon
Parkside had a different feel during this simpler time. There wasn’t a street in the neighborhood without a business of some sort. In many homes, the front parlor served as an office for doctors, dentists, and lawyers, and as a workshop for dressmakers, tailors and even a furrier. And that was just the businesses in the homes of the professionals. The Main Street ends of both West Oakwood Place and Greenfield Streets were dotted with businesses.
On the first block of West Oakwood Place, in 1940, there was a grocer, Beatrice Foley selling gifts, Frank Nashek selling furs, a dry cleaning company, and the Jean Alma Beauty Shop. In 1950, Greenfield Street had Joe Mobilia’s shoe repair shop, Abe Kramer the tailor, George Meyer’s grocery, Frances Wolkiewicz’s variety store and Klein’s Delicatessen.
In 1930, 11 Greenfield Street was home to Flickinger’s; one of the original small shops that would grow later into the Super Duper chain. Flickinger also ran a grocery store at Parkside and Russell, a corner that through much of the neighborhood’s history has also been a traditional business strip. In 1930, there were 4 stores listed as grocers near Parkside and Russell.
As Burt Flickinger and family were looking at their Parkside businesses and thinking bigger, one longtime Russell Avenue grocery was thinking on a small scale; a small scale that would serve it well as a Parkside institution for 50 years.
From 1924 to 1976, the Flett Brothers, Jack and Wally, were literally at the beck and call of Parksiders and North Buffalonians for their grocery needs. While a shopper could walk into the store to shop, it was one special service that the Flett’s kept up long past any of their competitors that kept customers coming.
Long into the era of chain grocery stores, like those pioneered by their one time neighbor Burt Flickinger, Flett’s delivered on orders their customers phoned into the store, usually on old fashioned tab credit. Jack would fill the orders as they came in, and Wally would drive the delivery truck, carrying your groceries to your front door, and even your kitchen table.
The store was in the second building in from Parkside on Russell Ave, next door to the Park Meadow. Wally’s daughter, Ann Marie, fondly remembers her dad at the store. “He could hold beans in his hand, and tell you when there was a pound. They had fresh fruit and vegetables, and canned goods, and they had the butcher shop. Once the supermarkets started coming in, it was just the delivery service that kept them going, because they could just pickup the phone and have their groceries delivered. There were a lot of wealthy customers who didn’t mind paying a little more to have their groceries delivered.”
Ironically, the site of the current grocer on Parkside, wasn’t the site of one of the dozen or so grocers in the neighborhood over the years. Before Wilson Farms stood on Parkside, the lot was the home of a Hygrade (and later Gulf) filling station and garage from the 1920s until 1976, when the current building was erected. It’s fondly remembered by generations of Parkside kids as the place to fill up bicycle tires at the always free air pump.
While many kids made their first dimes working at the area grocery stores, a very young Bob Venneman worked at a different Parkside landmark. He was a stock boy at the Fairfield Library, at Fairfield and Amherst Streets. On payday Friday, he’d go to Unterecker’s (later The Stuffed Mushroom, then Shawn B’s, at Main Street and Orchard Place) for a 15 cent ice cream sundae. He quit that job with the depression hit and his pay was cut back to 19 cents.
The Fairfield Library, opened in 1925, and shutdown by the Buffalo and Erie County Library in 2005, was designed by Parkside resident William Sydney Wicks.
Originally Parkside Unitarian Church when the doors opened in 1897, the building is considered one of the area’s finest examples of New England Colonial architecture. In 1912, the building became the home of the Parkside Evangelical Lutheran Church. A dozen years later, in 1924, the building was purchased by the city and opened as a library in 1925. The building was enlarged in 1961 to accommodate more books, but the Fairfield Library was closed but the Buffalo and Erie County Library in 2005 in the midst of an Erie County budget crisis. When built, it was one of many churches to be built in the Parkside neighborhood as the community grew.
The church was built by the man greatly responsible for developing Parkside’s neighbor to the north; north of the Beltline tracks, that is. There lies the Lewis J. Bennett-designed and developed neighborhood Central Park. The owner of Buffalo Cement began planning the neighborhood in 1889, taking four years and $300,000 to lay out streets, plant 1200 elm trees, blast out bedrock, and built the four stone markers to delineate the original boundaries of this exclusive neighborhood. Strict zoning ordinances set forth by Bennett called for homes of at least 2 stories, with barns in the rear of all residences. Specific price structures were also established, with homes on Depew to cost a minimum of $4000, on Main Street $3500, and on Starin, $2500.
A vice-president of Pierce-Arrow, Mr. Henry May, lived at 290 Depew Avenue. Many Parksiders and Central Park residents became used to Mr. May driving through the streets of the neighborhood on a drivable chassis without a body, working out the kinks in the latest Pierce-Arrow models before they went to production.
The train station at Starin and Amherst belonged to the Buffalo Cement Company and was leased out to the New York Central Railroad. Once the Beltline discontinued service in the 20’s, the station was sold to the Boy Scouts and used as the headquarters for Troop 12 until well after World War II. The structure remains the last standing station house that served the Beltline railway.
Indirectly, Bennett also played a role in the development of Parkside, but mostly by his unwillingness to accept a Roman Catholic church into the community he was developing.
In 1908, Buffalo’s Catholic Bishop, Charles Colton, wrote of his desire to start a new parish in “the Central Park area of Buffalo,” either to be called Epiphany, or St. Mark’s. Bennett had reserved triangular islands of land throughout Central Park, upon which churches were meant to be built. Parkside Lutheran, for example, is one those “churches on an island,” where Depew Avenue, Wallace Avenue, and Linden Avenue all meet.
The people of St. Mark and the Buffalo Catholic Diocese inquired about one such island, at Beard, Starin, and Morris. Developer Bennett, whose own strong Unitarian views were greatly at odds with Catholicism, refused to allow a Catholic church on his property, or anywhere in his Central Park development.
Fearing similar responses to overtures across Amherst Street in the Parkside Neighborhood, the founders of St. Mark’s went cloak and dagger, and perhaps by stretching the truth in a few places, were able to buy several lots only two blocks away from that initially desired triangular lot, this one at Woodward Avenue and Amherst Street.
A very young priest, Fr. John McMahon, was offered the chance to become pastor of the parish. His background as pastor at Mt. Carmel Church would serve him well. Mt. Carmel was down near the Commercial Slip in Buffalo’s rough and tumble waterfront /canal district, right next to where the Crystal Beach boat would dock. The area, known as “The Hooks” in those times, was filled with interesting characters from many different walks of life, while Parkside and Central Park were still greatly undeveloped. It was many of these rough and tumble sorts who made up the 30 or 40 families who started St. Mark’s. The families were mostly those of men who were dockworkers at the commercial slip at the canal terminal. There were also 70 or 80 servants, virtually all Irish, among the congregation. They were the maids and butlers in the larger Parkside and later Central Park homes.
St. Mark was a mostly Irish parish, which differentiated it from the other close by parishes like the former St Vincent De Paul (the building is now The Montante Center on the Canisius College Campus) and Blessed Trinity Church (on Leroy Street) which were mostly German parishes. The new parish began June 25, 1908.
Almost immediately, parishioners started raising money for a permanent church. In 1914, ground was broken; work was completed the next year. The statuary near the altar of the current church– likenesses of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Anthony– were the only artifacts that made their way from the original church to the current building. It was at this time that the rectory, a wooden frame Parkside Home that predates St Mark’s, had a stone facade built up, to give it the same look as the church.
St. Mark was different from other new parishes of the time, in that the parishioners built a stand alone church first without a school. Many new parishes of the time, like North Buffalo neighbors St Margaret’s and Holy Spirit, built combination church/schools, with the church on one floor, the school on another. Parishioners settled on waiting a few years for a school, which was built in 1920-21, and still stands today. That first pastor, Father McMahon, would spend 20 years at St Marks, until he was named the Bishop of Trenton, NJ in 1928.
Presbyterians also have a long history in Parkside. A long time neighbor at Main Street and Jewett Parkway, Central Presbyterian Church was founded in 1835 by a group of 29 folks looking for a more conservative theology than that which was being presented at the more liberal “new school” First Presbyterian. They organized as Pearl Street Presbyterian, and their first church was a large log cabin just north of Genesee Street. Under the 38 year leadership of their first pastor, The Rev. D. John C. Lord, the church remained the only “old school” church in the area. A new church was built in 1837, then another in 1852, at the corner of Genesee and Pearl Streets, on the site of the current Hyatt Hotel.
While by 1900 the membership had grown to over 600, the quick turnover of several ministers, and a 1906 fire at the Pearl Street home of Central Presbyterian Church left the congregation with a rapidly dwindling number, and in some financial difficulty.
Park Presbyterian Church was organized in Parkside in 1893, and worshipped at Parker’s Hall at Main and Oakwood Streets. A small church was built on Elam Place in 1897.
In 1909, the congregants at Central and Park voted to merge. The Pearl Street building owned by Central was sold to the Shea Amusement Company, and by 1911, the combined church, under the name Central Presbyterian, began worship in a new church at the corner of Main Street and Jewett Parkway(currently Mt. St. Joseph’s Academy). In 1914, the church had a membership of 688, but over the ensuing 12 years, “enjoyed a phenomenal growth which is without parallel in the history of (the) denomination.”
The explosive growth was almost immediate. By 1926, only 14 years later, the numbers had swollen to an amazing 3,378. The relatively new building had to be enlarged to fit the larger flock. The almost inconceivable plan to do so was so incredible, that the producers of MovieTone News shot the feat to be included in news reels all around the country. The stone facade of the church was moved 40 feet closer to Main Street, all in one piece.
A new pastor, The Rev. Dr. Robert MacAlpine, and his charming personality were largely responsible for the growth. MacAlpine had radio broadcast equipment installed in the church at a time when the medium was still a novelty, sending his voice and message near and far to those listening on “wireless sets” all over Western New York, inspiring them to come to Sunday Services at Central Pres. Ten stained glass windows were added in 1940, in 1957, the school building was added behind the church.
©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon
Buffalo’s population doubled in size between 1890 and 1930, and one of the city’s hottest new neighborhoods was there to help absorb the growth. Around the turn of the century, a Parkside address became very desirable, and unlike other parts of the city where a single developer or builder put up an entire neighborhood, in Parkside, each individual land owner hired their own architect and builder, creating the architecturally varied place that still makes Parkside unique.
Prominent architects like Stanford White, Esenwein & Johnson, Max Beirel and E.B. Green built many houses to impress throughout the neighborhood, many with third floor or basement quarters for servants. When built, the neighborhood attracted many prominent Buffalonians. Names familiar generations later, like Mathias Hens and Patrick Kelly. Yes, Hens and Kelly lived on Summit and Crescent respectively, where their backyards touched. While many generations of Buffalonians associate 998 Broadway with the name Sattlers, Mr. Sattler made his home in Parkside, as did William Simon of the Simon Pure Brewing Company. The Mayor of Buffalo and founder of the Holling Press, Thomas Holling, also lived in Parkside at One Agassiz Circle.
But for all the amazing architecture and wealthy citizens Parkside attracted, the neighborhood also welcomed those of a more middle class means. School teachers, plant workers, and food brokers made their homes in Parkside as well as lumber and machining magnates.
A stroll through the community is a primer in fifty years worth of popular residential, church, and commercial architecture. From late Victorian and Queen Anne, down the line to Shingle, Bungalow, Prairie, Romanesque Revival, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, right up to the venerable and well represented American Four-Square; all are on display in the living museum that is the neighborhood.
With people and their homes, came the supporting businesses and organizations to the neighborhood to service the new community. It was a transition from outlying outpost to hot-to-trot city neighborhood, and it was a change at least one Parksider watched from beginning to almost present day.
Bob Venneman was born in 1912 on Amherst Street in a house built by his father. A long time friend of Parkside, Venneman died in 1998, and his lifetime of memories provide a singular view of the change the neighborhood has seen. He spoke of his memories of the tavern and stage coach near East Oakwood on Main, with a blacksmith shop close by, and the handful of businesses in the three story red brick building that stood where the Amherst Street Metro Rail station now stands.
In a 1988 interview with the Parkside News, Venneman talked about the chestnut trees that grew between the houses and sidewalks all up and down Main, and the elms between the sidewalks and the streets. He said many of the trees didn’t make it when Main was widened in 1931. Growing up, he said, the Parkside neighborhood looked very much the same as today. North of Hertel, though, he remembers there being practically nothing.
Venneman also remembered walking past the original Park School, which was on the “Willowlawn” property on Main Street between Willowlawn and Jewett Parkway, before it was developed for the housing that is currently on the block. “It was a fresh air school, composed of five or six shelters, only one of which had heat. In the winter, children sat at their desks wearing a garment similar to a sleeping bag. They learned to print using mittens. They went a bit over-board on the fresh air.” The school moved to the corner in 1913, but had moved to Snyder by 1920. Shortly thereafter, the homes currently on the block were erected.
A few blocks away, meanwhile, another private school was moving to Parkside; this one a fixture in the neighborhood to this day. Nichols has been a Parkside neighbor for a century.
An account of the day says “Several Buffalo men joined forces to buy the Glenny property at Amherst Street and Colvin Avenue; an ideal locality for a school of the kind is the wooded land lying north of the park and Amherst Street.” The Nichols School was named for its first headmaster, William Nichols, who began the school in 1892. He had died the year before buildings on the present campus opened in 1909.
©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon