Visniak was the unofficial soft drink of VFW Posts, corner gin mills, and East Side homes where the Visniak van would make weekly drop-offs of cases filled with a rainbow of pop flavors.
Hattie Pijanowski, along with her husband, Edward, started the Visniak-Saturn Beverage Corp. on Detroit Street on Buffalo’s East Side in 1931. In 1939, the plant moved to Reiman Street in Sloan.
Edward Pijanowski became active in Sloan politics and ran for mayor of the village in 1951.
The company, which employed ten in 1968, brought colorful and tasty pop to generations of Buffalonians two different ways– in 7.5-ounce glass bottles and from barroom “pop guns” all over the city.
Chances are pretty good– if you ever ordered a Coke in an East Side tavern sometime between the ’50s and the ’90s, you were likely drinking a “VEESH-nyak” (from the Polish for “cherry”) and didn’t even realize it.
Hattie Pijanowski died in July, 1985, at age 82. Her son, Ray, was 70 when he closed up the business in 2004, “because nobody returned the bottles,” and a new bottle cost more than what that bottle filled with pop would sell for.
In 1932, Buffalo was swept up in the celebration of the city’s centennial, and many groups and organizations that had existed through those 100 years took the opportunity to celebrate their own existence as well.
The Buffalo Academy of Medicine — particularly proud that Buffalo’s first mayor, Ebenezer Johnson, was a medical doctor — wrote a lengthy history of the practice of medicine from Buffalo’s frontier days right up to the most modern advances 1932 could offer.
The most interesting part, however, might not be that dryly written narrative, but the index of hospitals open in Buffalo in the centennial year.
Buffalo Stories archives
The directory offers a glimpse of medical care in a different era: the J.N. Adam Memorial Hospital devoted to the “various phases of tuberculosis.” The Moses Taylor Hospital in Lackawanna “chiefly for the care of industrial accident cases.” Buffalo State Hospital, “a special state hospital of 2,400 beds devoted entirely to mental diseases.”
Several of the hospitals also took out ads in the booklet — they give a look at some of the hospital buildings around Buffalo as they stood 85 years ago.
In 1923, there were 181,300 people of Polish extraction living “out Broadway”— the shorthand for what many in Buffalo proper also called “the Polish Colony,” metaphorically centered by St. Stanislaus Church and the Broadway/Fillmore intersection.
For the rest of the half-million plus people who lived in Buffalo, the Polish were at best a very foreign group whose language and customs seemed swathed in mystery. At worst, the Polish were a hard-working but lesser people who – aside from laboring in factories, mills and foundries – were best to stay in “Polacktown, where there are more children in the streets than in the yards.”
“Trouble in Polacktown” Buffalo Evening News front page, 1883. Buffalo Stories archives
Beth Stewart was among Buffalo’s first female newspaper reporters and later became a feature reporter for the Courier-Express. She married fellow Courier reporter Gordon Hollyer and served as the public relations director for the YMCA through most of the 1950s and ’60s.
Among her first series of feature reports was a three-part series on “the large and growing Polish colony of Buffalo.” It was a sympathetic and celebratory look at Buffalo’s Polonia, giving many outside the Polish neighborhoods their first opportunity to have a comprehensive understanding of how their Buffalo neighbors lived.
The Polish people were without their own nation for the entire 19th century. Poland was carved up between the Prussian, Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
The first big wave of Polish immigrants to Buffalo came from Prussian Germany after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck made it more difficult for the Roman Catholic ethnic Poles to freely practice their religion.
A wave of Poles from the Austrian province of Galicia started coming to Buffalo in 1882. Russian Poles started arriving en masse in 1905.
Buffalo’s first Polish councilman and later assemblyman James Rozan remembered coming to Buffalo as a boy in 1872. His family was one of a dozen or living in the mostly German Fruit Belt neighborhood.
Fourteen years later, when St. Stanislaus church was built at Peckham and Townsend Streets as Buffalo’s first Polish church in 1886, there were 19,000 Poles in the city, mostly living near St. Stan’s.
By 1923, there were 27 Polish churches for the roughly 380,000 Poles spread across the East Side, Black Rock, Elk Street, Seneca Street, Lackawanna, Dunkirk, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Cheektowaga and Depew.
Without much explanation other than just printing the Polish names without translation, Stewart wrote that the larger Polish community, first built around St. Stan’s, was further split into seven communities that would be readily understood by those who lived among them.
The first was Stanislawowo—members of St. Stanislaus Church. Then was Kantowo, from parishioners of St. John Kanty. Members of St. Adalbert’s were from Wojciechowo, Pietrowo was made up of the members of Holy Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul Church at Clinton and Smith.
St. Casimir’s in Kaisertown made up Kazimierzowo. The community surrounding St. John Gualbert in Cheektowaga was Gwalbertowo. Black Rock was directly translated into Polish as Czarna Skala.
But however far-flung, Broadway and Fillmore remained “the Polish Main Street and Delaware Avenue” for Buffalo’s Polish population. The business district there was equivalent to the main street of a mid-sized northeast city. Polonia boasted 2,930 Polish-owned businesses and 14 community banks.
Right at that intersection was the building created as a hub of Polonia-wide activity. Translated, Dom Polski means “Polish home.” The substantial edifice opened as “The Polish Literary and Assembly Rooms Association, Inc” in 1889, replacing a refashioned barn used for the same purpose for at least a decade before.
Rather than an organization itself, the Dom Polski was the home of the Polish library and fraternal groups like Kolko Polek—the Polish Women’s Circle, Polskich Krawcow—the Polish Tailors, Sokol Polski—The Polish Falcons, Szewcy Polski—The Polish Shoemakers, and the Polish National Alliance.
It was a place on a Sunday night where you might find a half-dozen small family dinner parties in the different rooms and men smoking and playing billiards in the library. It was the Polish equivalent of the clubs on Delaware Avenue which routinely denied membership to most Polish-Americans past the middle of the twentieth century.
Much like their uptown counterparts, the members of the various clubs of the Dom Polski worked together to make their community a better place. One such effort was lobbying for a high school for the 6,000 Polish-American children in the Buffalo School system in 1923. They were fighting against the notion that the educational needs of Polish-Americans could be addressed by the city’s vocational schools. In 1926, East High School opened to serve the children of East Buffalo.
One of the amplified voices of Buffalo’s Polish population was “Everybody’s Daily,” a Polish newspaper with a circulation of 26,000.
“The paper is a force in the colony,” wrote Stewart. “It has enemies and many friends. It proclaims a policy of honest advertising. It fights for community interests—civic, political, educational, and religious.”
One still familiar institution is the Adam Mickiewicz Literary and Dramatic Circle. It still survives on Fillmore Avenue, but it was once one of many such organizations. Singing societies were also a popular element of Buffalo’s Polonia population in the mid-1920s, and one through which a greater number of Buffalonians were introduced to some Polish customs.
The Aleksander Fredro Literary and Dramatic Circle was a Mickiewicz-like group in Kaisertown. The Moniuszko was Polonia’s first singing society, and in 1923, headquartered at 570 Fillmore. The Chopin singers were at Broadway and Lathrop. There were also the Kalina, Lutnia, Lirnik, Harmonia, and Jutrzenka societies among others.
The Poles of 1923 weren’t just joiners of Polish groups—most of Buffalo’s 4,000 Polish-American World War I vets belonged to the American Legion. Adam Plewacki Post 799 was among the city’s “most active and lively posts,” and 98 percent Polish in membership.
Plewacki, who lived on Best Street, was the first Buffalonian killed in World War I. The post named in his honor worked to “cultivate the love of American ideals in foreigners,” working to “Americanize” immigrants beyond just proficiency in English.
If Buffalo’s landed class could appreciate anything about the people of Polonia, it was the way that most worked quickly to buy land, and then maintain and improve property once owned.
“Polish colonists are not merely home owners,” wrote Stewart, “they are improvers of communities. A piece of land is more than a commercial investment to the Polish buyer. It is a plot to be made his own, a place where a home may be built and trees and shrubs set out for beauty.”
“Fillmore Avenue, wide and shaded, set off on both sides by neat residences, is proof of the Polish ability to build up attractive communities.”
Clearly, Beth Stewart thought she was writing to an audience that—if they thought anything at all– thought very little of the Polish people. She wrapped up her 20,000 words worth of reporting with a glowing summary of her expedition “out Broadway.”
“The Poles in Buffalo have achieved much of which they may well feel proud. They built up a great and prosperous community—a city within a city.
“They have given to the city of their adoption distinguished professional men, sober industrious workers, artists, gallant soldiers.
“They have added to the beauty of the city turreted churches, dignified homes, and fine public buildings.
“They have borne themselves in a manner which leaves the city no room for regret that one-third of its population once bore allegiance to a foreign land.”
Buffalo’s position as one of America’s largest and most sophisticated cities was strikingly on display with the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. The City of Light. Advanced transportation. The most modern manufacturing ideas put into practice. Many of the wonders of the Industrial Revolution were on display for the world to take in and enjoy in Buffalo.
But behind that picture of a flourishing city was an undeniable underbelly: Thousands of Buffalonians had no running water in their homes or access to bathing facilities.
It was universally acknowledged as a growing problem, but one without a clear solution.
“A great number of Buffalonians do not feel the need of public baths in the summer months,” wrote the Buffalo Courier in 1895, “because there are many much frequented bathing places along the lake and river fronts and along the numerous creeks in Buffalo.”
Buffalo, it was written, didn’t need bathing facilities, because people bathed in lakes, rivers, and creeks.
A day at the beach was more than just a day of sunshine and relaxation—it was a matter of hygiene. Resort beaches south of the city, places like Wanakah, Idlewood and Bennett Beach, were appropriate for women and children, but men and older boys would bathe wherever they could.
The foot of Court and Georgia streets — which once led from the West Side to the banks of Lake Erie — were popular spots, as were Squaw Island and the foot of Ferry Street.
One man was arrested trying to wash up in the Johnson Park fountain. “The Polish Boys,” wrote The Courier, frequented a bathing hole along Buffalo Creek near South Ogden and the railroad bridge of the Jammerthal area— now the northern East Side of Buffalo. One still-open quarrying area is along Amherst Street as it approaches Bailey Avenue coming from Main Street.
In 1895, Buffalo’s two public baths—one at the foot of S. Michigan Avenue, one at the foot of Porter Avenue – were “small box-like arrangements,” more or less “dilapidated, dirty, and disgraceful” sheds.
Street urchins and pickpockets would use the places, it was said, but no respectable boy or man would be seen there—where a nickel would provide use of a locker and a pair of “bathing pants.”
“Buffalo is deplorably, disgracefully deficient in public baths,” wrote the Courier. Especially during winter months, when bathing alternatives were needed, working men couldn’t afford the luxury of the widely available $1 Turkish baths.
City leaders took the health crisis and turned it into one of the nation’s first public welfare programs.
Buffalo Health Commissioner Wende called the bath houses in two of Buffalo’s most crowded tenement areas a long time in coming.
“While the luxury and benefit of public baths have reached their highest stage in Europe, it remained for Buffalo, an American city, in competing for the supremacy in the realization of the conditions desired by a cultured public, to establish a bath where the indigent, the fatigued, and the unclean could find shelter and care without money and without price.”
In 1897, a brick structure was built on the Terrace as a sanitary bathing facility for the men of Buffalo, particularly the mostly Irish immigrants of the First Ward and the Italian immigrants of The Hooks.
Soap and towels were provided to bathers free of charge. The facility was the first free, open bath house anywhere in the country, and put Buffalo on the cutting edge of health and sanitation.
In 1901, a second public bath house was built on Buffalo’s East Side at Woltz Avenue and Stanislaus Street.
This larger building had separate bathing facilities and waiting rooms for both men and women. While there were bathtubs for women and infants, men were offered showers. The idea of showering was brand new — so new, in fact, that a 1901 article in The Buffalo Express explained how a shower works.
“The bather stands erect in the shower, and the water falls down upon him. There is a depression in the floor, with perforations which carry away the water that has fallen.”
The interior of the shower area had stalls separated by wrought iron. Water was heated to approximately 100 degrees, and bathers were allowed 20 minutes in the showering and adjoining dressing rooms.
The buildings’ rules were written on the walls in English, Polish, Italian and German. They read:
No swearing or obscene language
No intoxicated person allowed in the building
Walls, furniture, and property must not be defaced or injured
Soiled clothing must be taken away by the bather
Towels must be returned to the keeper or matron
No bather may occupy an apartment longer than 20 minutes
There were also laundry facilities for underclothes to help further improve sanitation.
Dr. Wende said the free services, with more than 394,000 baths taken in the first four years, cost Buffalo taxpayers 3 cents per person per year, with most of that cost going toward the purchase of soap.
Well into the 1950s, these two bath houses, along with two more at Grant and Amherst and 249 William St., remained in demand providing as many as a million baths a year.
One slight modification was made as time went on — a new rule prevented singing in the showers.
“If we let people sing in our 52 showers,” said the keeper of Bath House No. 2 Stanley Molik, “we’d be in trouble for disturbing the peace of the neighborhood.
The throwing open of the doors of Buffalo’s new terminal “mark(ed) another milestone in the progress of the metropolitan city of Buffalo,” wrote reporter Paul Schifferle on the day this photo was taken — June 22, 1929 — opening day of the New York Central Terminal.
“This $15,000,000 edifice is more than a mass of steel, marble, brick and concrete artistically formed into a splendid example, of modern architecture, perfectly appointed and recognized as one of the finest terminals in the country,” he continued.
“It is a civic monument and a symbol and pledge of the New York Central’s faith in the future greatness of the city.
“Thousands of men and women, prominent in all walks of life, joined in the colorful ceremonies attendant upon the formal opening of the new station.
“The walks on Lindbergh drive and Curtiss and other streets in the vicinity were crowded with a large number of others who were denied the privilege of entering the spacious and ornately decorated building until 3 o’clock in the afternoon when it was thrown open to the public. Thousands inspected the building during the afternoon and evening.”
Railroad brass and city fathers bragged endlessly about the features of the new building. It had enough lunch counter space to feed 250 people at the same time — dwarfing anything, they said, even at New York City’s Central terminal.
Buffalo Stories archives
In bragging about his latest triumph, W. P. Jordan, resident engineer of the New York Central railroad, offered some thoughts which might be useful to those looking to see the former rail hub returned to that purpose.
“The new terminal is so located as to be unusually convenient to access from all parts of the city,” he said. “Indeed, the location is in many ways unique in this respect. In the first place it is near the geographical center of the city, and hence plays no favorites in this respect.”
“In the second place, the location which some critics looked upon as out-of-the-way, carries with it some peculiar advantages, particularly as regards space.
“The site of the building proper — old Polonia Park — Is itself one that offered unusual opportunities to create a terminal that has been created to meet the needs, not only of the Buffalo of today, but also the Buffalo of tomorrow.
“All about it wide avenues are laid, offering approaches from all directions, of a sort that would facilitate the handling of traffic and minimize the confusion, congestion, delay and danger with which so many city terminals have to contend.”
The $15 million building served as a passenger terminal in Buffalo from 1929- 1979.
When William Bailey bought the land on both sides of what is now Bailey Avenue between Broadway and William, it was little more than a wooded trail. “Bailey’s Road” became Bailey Avenue when the right of way was donated to the city in 1854.
Buffalo News archives
After coming to Buffalo via the Erie Canal in 1830, Bailey built his home along Batavia Street, now Broadway, near Bailey Avenue. The trees cleared from his property became the timber backbone of one of America’s fastest-growing cities in the second half of the nineteenth century. When New York Central first laid down tracks across Buffalo’s East Side, they did it through Bailey’s backyard. He also quarried the stone needed for the railbeds and bridges that New York Central went on to build in the area.
In 1856, Bailey built a palatial home at Franklin and Tupper, which was long remembered as Buffalo’s first building with plate glass windows.
Despite having been gone for almost 35 years, Buffalonians still have only one thought when they hear the address 998 Broadway.
Buffalo News archives
This photo of Sattler’s location at 998 Broadway was taken the day founder John G. Sattler died in 1941. As a teenager, Sattler opened a shoe store in the living room of his mother’s home at 992 Broadway. His business would grow and add product lines, becoming a marketing juggernaut and the backbone of the Broadway-Fillmore shopping district.
Buffalo News archives, 1978.
The store’s odd and interesting array of bargains, big events like their Christmas parade and that first-of-its-kind “Shop and Save at Sattler’s, 998 Broadway” jingle made the store a destination for people from all over Western New York. In the 1960s, Sattler’s became an anchor tenant in a handful of Western New York’s new shopping malls.
The Boulevard Mall Sattler’s, 1980. (Buffalo News archives)
Sattler’s went out of business in 1982, but the landmark Broadway-Fillmore store was stripped of the Sattler name a year earlier. For its final 13 months, it was known as the 998 Clearance Center. It carried castaways from the Main Place, Boulevard and Seneca Mall locations.
The current Erie County Medical Center building is an imposing concrete structure and an East Buffalo landmark.
Buffalo News archives
But the hospital on Grider Street wasn’t always a hulking gray monolith. Buffalo City Hospital opened in 1918, and the peaceful gardens surrounding it were described in 1934 as a fresh air garden, with benefits and recuperative powers for patients.
In 1939, Buffalo City became Meyer Memorial. Among the $150,000 in improvements to the hospital in 1962 were two new delivery rooms, being shown off here by nurses Lois Newton and Frances Thorp.
The hospital’s name changed to Erie County Medical Center with the opening of the current building in 1978.
“It doesn’t take very long for a newcomer to become acquainted with Buffalo’s banks,” wrote News Reporter Robert J. Summers in 1980. “Stand at a corner like Main and Court, and you can see most of the big buildings where they are headquartered.”
Of the five bank headquarters Summers listed as visible from that intersection, only one remains in business 36 years later.
As the names involved in Buffalo’s banking scene are changing once again, BN Chronicles looks back at the names that might have been stamped on the front of your first savings account passbook or at the top of your first paycheck.
1979 ad. Buffalo Stories archives
Manufacturers and Traders Trust Company was founded in Buffalo in 1856. M&T was and is headquartered in the 318-foot, 21-floor building at One M&T Plaza that opened in 1966. That block has seen plenty of history.
M&T branch on Abbott Road at Stevenson, South Buffalo. (Buffalo News archives)
In 1865, Abraham Lincoln’s body laid in state at the St. James Hotel on the site. The Hotel Iroquois, and then the Bond Men’s store, occupied the north part of the site until 1964. M&T’s headquarters was first built on the southern half of the block now occupied by the headquarters building in 1916.
1964, just before the demolition of the circa-1916 M&T headquarters and Bond Menswear. AM&A’s is in the background. The block with H. Seeberg and the Palace Burlesk was torn down and is now green space. (Buffalo News archives)
In 1980, Marine Midland Bank was Buffalo’s oldest bank and headquartered in Buffalo’s tallest building.
Marine Trust’s Main & Seneca office, 1951 (Buffalo News archives)
Founded in 1850, Marine Midland was the nation’s 12th largest bank with $12 billion in assets in 1980. It was acquired by HSBC Bank in 1999. HSBC sold off its Buffalo-area branches to First Niagara in 2011. By the end of the summer, it’s expected that First Niagara will be acquired by KeyBank. The former Marine Midland Center is now known as One Seneca Tower.
Marine Midland ad for a “groovy Bills bank,” 1969. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Western Savings Bank’s headquarters was right on the corner that Summers chose as his 1980 vantage point for financial institutions. It’s the building with CVS Pharmacy currently occupying the ground floor space that was once Western’s main office.
Western Savings Bank ad, 1979. (Buffalo Stories archives)
While Western joined other area banks in demolishing decades-old Roman-inspired headquarters buildings for flashy new high-rise towers in the 1960s, by the early 1980s, deposits were falling and Western was losing money. In 1981, Western merged with longtime rival Buffalo Savings Bank.
Buffalo Savings Bank opened a temporary branch serving skiers at Kissing Bridge in 1980. Buffalo News archives
Buffalo Savings Bank’s famous gold-domed headquarters, designed by E.B. Green, is the rare survivor of our city’s magnificent bank buildings. As it expanded and acquired outside of Buffalo, Buffalo Savings Bank changed its name to Goldome — as a nod to its great headquarters with a name a bit less parochial sounding.
The Buffalo Savings Bank building with its famous gold dome, photographed in 2009. (Buffalo News file photo)
Like many banking institutions around the country, Goldome grew too quickly and went under during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s. In 1991, Goldome’s assets were split between KeyBank — which entered the Buffalo market after Empire of America succumbed to the S&L crisis — and another bank in 1989.
Buffalo Stories archives, 1960
For the same reasons Buffalo Savings Bank became Goldome, “The Big E” changed its name from Erie County Savings Bank to Empire of America in 1981. After nearly a decade of borrowing to acquire other banks around the country, in 1989 Empire told regulators it was insolvent and posted a $158 million loss in the third quarter.
Big E celebrated 125 years in business in 1979. Ten years later, the federal government assumed control of the bank. (Buffalo Stories archives)
As longtime Buffalo banks Buffalo Savings and Big E were busy buying up other deposit bases, longtime Buffalo institution Liberty Bank instead was bought up.
Liberty Bank’s branch at Bailey & Kensington, 1930s. (Buffalo News Archives)
While the twin Lady Liberties atop the bank’s headquarters still stand proudly on Buffalo’s skyline, in 1985 Liberty Bank became Liberty Norstar. Boston’s Fleet Bank bought Norstar in 1987, and in 2004, all Fleet branches became Bank of America branches after those two institutions had merged.
Buffalo Trust, previously known as Buffalo German Bank, was headquartered in a Victorian Italianate structure that was torn down in 1957 to make way for the Tishman building, the longtime headquarters of National Fuel. Today the site is home to a Hilton Garden Inn. (1924 ad, Buffalo Stories archives.)