Buffalo in the ’20s: The Polish colony ‘out Broadway’

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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.

The author’s great grandparents were a typical Polish immigrant family in Buffalo in the 1920s. He worked as a laborer for Schoellkopf Chemical (later National Aniline), she ran the home they were able to save enough to buy in 1922, after less than ten years in this country. Aside from their ten children, the small house on Fulton Street was also home to boarders and extended family.

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.

St. Stanislaus was established in 1874 with a simple wooden church. The landmark Onondaga limestone structure standing today was built in 1886.

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 community in and around St. John Kanty was called Kantowo.

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.

The Kaisertown Polish community which centered around St. Casimir Church was called Kazimierzowo.

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.

East High School, 1930s. Buffalo Stories archives

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.

The first home of the Plewacki Post was inside “Unia Polksa,” the Polish Union Hall, 765 Fillmore Avenue. Buffalo Stories archives

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.”

Torn-Down Tuesday: The Bailey Homestead, circa 1880

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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

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.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Sattler’s at 998 Broadway

Despite having been gone for almost 35 years, Buffalonians still have only one thought when they hear the address 998 Broadway.

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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.

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 Sattlers, 1980. (Buffalo News archives)

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 998 location was torn down in 1988.

Torn-Down Tuesday: The old City Hospital at the ECMC site

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The current Erie County Medical Center building is an imposing concrete structure and an East Buffalo landmark.

Buffalo News archives

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.

meyer-memorial-hosp066-11

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.

meyer-memorial-hosp065

 

The hospital’s name changed to Erie County Medical Center with the opening of the current building in 1978.

meyer-memorial-hosp066

The Buffalo You Should Know: Big names of Buffalo’s tumultuous banking past

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

“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.)

 

The Buffalo You Should Know: The slow death of Humboldt Parkway in building the 33 & 198

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In the coming years, the State of New York will spend $30 million to downgrade the Scajaquada Expressway and another $6 million to study the idea of covering the Kensington Expressway from Best Street to Ferry Street.

When visiting Buffalo to discuss highlights of the 2016-17 budget, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was met with cheers, oohs and aahs as he announced the work on the 33 and the 198, calling the ruining of Frederick Law Olmsted’s designs “a mistake.”

“It was originally the Humboldt Parkway,” said Cuomo of the Kensington Expressway, “it was beautiful, and it was part of the Olmsted design. In the mid-’50s, we had a better idea, and it turned out not to be a better idea, which was to move vehicles in and out of Buffalo faster by building a highway.”

While it makes for great speeches, it’s difficult to boil the agonizing, slow, 25-year Humboldt Parkway destruction process and community debate into a single sentence, let alone just the word “mistake.”

The 1962 headline that ran with this photo reads, “The Kensington expressway cuts through the heart of the city.” (Buffalo News archives)

In much the same way that the debate over what should happen next with the Scajaquada and Kensington Expressways will likely rage for years, it was nearly a quarter-century of study, redesign, promises, running out of money, redesign and finding more money before Buffalo’s Kensington and Scajaquada expressways left the Humboldt Parkway a memory.

A political hot potato

From the time the expressways were proposed in 1946 to when the Kensington was finally completed in 1971, they were more than roads. The Kensington Expressway, especially, was one of those public works projects that seemed to take on a life of its own. Through 25 years, “the 33” was a political hot potato, a metaphor for Buffalo’s forward thinking and a metaphor for Buffalo’s inability to ever get anything done, something some people wanted and something some people hated all at the same time.

The building of the highway, especially in light of what was lost to build it, is almost universally considered a mistake. But how did we get here? What was that better idea Cuomo talked about? How were these scorched-earth highways allowed to happen?

It wasn’t, as is often portrayed, just a matter of wanting to transport people from downtown to suburbia “as quickly as possible.”

Map of the arterial highway system planned for Buffalo by the State Department of Transportation in 1946.

The state created the first plan for a series of arterial highways crisscrossing Buffalo in 1946. The idea was to connect all parts of the city with the Niagara and Ontario Thruways, which were already in the pipeline.

Most of these ideas died on the drawing board, but that 1946 plan set the wheels in motion for the Scajaquada and Kensington projects. None of these ideas was taken lightly — they were introduced as marvels of modern engineering that would be needed for the 300,000 cars that were expected to be filling Erie County’s roads by 1960.

That number was passed in 1953. In the same breath that engineers were still calling the proposed highway system “futuristic,” they were also saying that if these roads weren’t finished quickly, they’d very likely be outdated before they were completed.

Planners thought that, if the number of cars in Erie County grew from 218,000 in 1946 to 368,000 in 1957, then the number could approach 625,000 in 1967. (The 2015 number, by the way, is 695,000.)

Traffic was increasing at an exponential rate. More and more cars were moving without guidance or planning through streets that were, in the words of one disgusted motorist, designed and “built for the horse and buggy.”

“The future of Buffalo’s residential areas is at stake today,” said Buffalo Planning Commission Director H. Dale Bossert, in outlining why Buffalo needed these new highways. “Heavy volumes of traffic are spilling over into formerly quiet neighborhood streets. A child on his way to school no longer travels along a quiet street but a trafficway rushing with cars and trucks.”

In the late 1940s, the Main Street and Humboldt Parkway intersection, shortly before the destruction of the parkway connecting Delaware and Humboldt (now Martin Luther King) parks began, as the Humboldt portion of the intersection was sunken below grade to speed traffic through. (Buffalo News archives)

The roots of the Kensington Expressway were included in the 1946 plan as five separate highways, all meant to alleviate the traffic flowing through nearly every city neighborhood, combining into a single super highway providing a straight shot from downtown to the airport.

In 1951, the new Main/Humboldt underpass was already being created to help ease the congestion and traffic flow on city streets. The Scajaquada Parkway Expressway was meant to start at Delaware Avenue and run to the new Ontario Thruway (I-190.) Humboldt Parkway was being extended from Agassiz Circle to Delaware Avenue through the park, connecting the new expressway with the expedited traffic coming through the Main/Humboldt interchange.

When it appeared in The News in 1951, the title of this photo was, simply, “Progress!” This marked the beginning of the piece-by-piece loss of Humboldt Parkway. Months earlier, the construction area was filled with two lines of trees and a bridal path. (Buffalo News archives)

A 1953 brochure outlining state plans for the highway were derided as “an over-enthusiastic engineer’s dream,” especially with the additional intersection in the middle with the Scajaquada Parkway expressway. The Kensington, the Scajaquada and the widening of Delaware Avenue from the park to Kenmore were thought to be enough to create better moving traffic around the north, east and west parts of the city.

It was clear that most Buffalonians and Western New Yorkers wanted to see the expressway built — though many had reservations. Some didn’t think it was physically possible; others just thought it was too big and too expense and that it seemed implausible that all the state, county and city forces that needed to come together would actually do so.

While there was protest of the building of the expressways — particularly from those who stood to lose their homes, businesses and neighborhoods — far more complaints came from those upset over perceived dragging of feet on a project that was seen by editorial staffs at both The News and the Courier-Express as important to the future of the city and the region.

“Modern highway access to Buffalo’s modernized airport will be assured,” said planner Bossert. “In addition to these advantages for normal traffic, the Kensington Expressway offers an unparalleled opportunity for Civil Defense evacuation and assistance. Planning for dispersal from the northern part of Buffalo reveals the extreme urgency of this project.”

Yes, Cold War-era Civil Defense preparedness was one of the reasons in favor of the Kensington. The need was there, said Major General Edwin Zeigler, Erie County’s Director of Civil Defense, to move people out of the city quickly in the event of an enemy attack.

At one public hearing, he testified that a June 1954 mock test showed that under then-established escape routes, about 230,000 Buffalonians would have died in an attack. With a good dispersal plan along high-speed highways, the number of dead in a potential attack could be dropped as low as 49,000.

In the 1950s, Buffalo was lagging behind other metropolitan areas in New York State and big cities across the country in terms of having a system of arterial highways with good traffic patterns to encourage the better flow of people in and out of the city.

Nearly eight years after it was proposed, the city and state weren’t even close to agreeing to how to start the Kensington project, although most seemed to agree something needed to be done. “You can only put so many fish in a bowl,” Buffalo Mayor Steven Pankow said in 1954, in urging agreement on the Kensington.

As more cars clogged the streets and Buffalo faced losing state and federal funding for road and highway building, years of inaction, more than possible destruction, were on the minds of civic leaders.

Newspaper editorial department writers opined “prompt action on Kensington Expressway plan is necessary.” The Chamber of Commerce hoped that “any objections to letting the State start right away with construction can be resolved quickly in the best interests of Buffalo as a whole.”

It was envisioned that the Kensington Expressway would carry more traffic than all of the city’s radial streets combined, and would fix the traffic problems that had been plaguing the city for decades.

“This important project would be a major step forward in alleviating the traffic blight that has diseased our neighborhood communities,” said City Plannning Director Russell Tryon in 1954.

He further went on to say that he thought the construction of the expressway might help keep people in the city, rather than literally drive them to suburbia. “If we make Buffalo a better place in which to live, the people will stay and not move out.”

Tryon added, “Unless something is done to alleviate the traffic blight in the neighborhood communities, the situation will grow so much worse that it won’t worth living in Buffalo anymore.”

‘Let’s not study anymore. Let’s move.’

The Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, Charles Fichtner, called the Kensington a “golden opportunity” and said letting the opportunity to build it with outside money slide would be “a little short of civic treason,”  adding that Buffalo is at “threshold of great and unlimited future progress. This is no time to make little plans. This is no time to think in small terms. We should want to do big things and think big things.”

Sisters Hospital, top left, Delaware Park and the Scajaquada Expressway, Thursday, July 10, 2014. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

“Let’s not study anymore,” he pleaded. “Let’s move.”

By 1954, when it became clear that neighborhoods in the Fruit Belt and along Humboldt Parkway would be the first targeted by the wrecker’s ball, many people who had lived there for generations spoke out — but their voices were marginalized by planners and the press.

A brief article about a community meeting on the project said that of about 200 people there, most of whom were slated to lose their homes, there was “an angry minority of homeowners in the Kensington section” who were looking to stand in the way of progress.

One homeowner argued that it wasn’t fair for the city and state to remove them from homes which they’ve occupied for years, contending it would impose a tremendous hardship on elderly people who didn’t follow the younger generation into the suburbs. Still others expressed the fear that the expressway, when completed, would encourage more Buffalonians to move out of the city because it would provide them with a high-speed route to their work in the city. A few contended the expressway would form another “barrier” dividing the Kensington section into two distinct parts.

State Public Works Engineer William Gallancy compared the building of the Expressway to a major surgical procedure: “Painful, but necessary for survival.”

Some questioned that notion. In a letter to the editor signed WHY, a Kensington area resident opines, “Our traffic situation is serious, but surely, with all the top engineers of the country to consult, a better plan could be devised. Why put a speedway through the middle of a heavy populated area? Will there be a ‘pedestrian under-pass at each street, or will people have to walk blocks to get across the highway? What’s wrong with a subway or an elevated, along one of our wider streets? Let’s fix the streets we already have.”

“Kensington area residents are definitely opposed to the Expressway as presently planned,” said Councilman at Large Peter Frey — one of the few city leaders to take up the plight of those who’d lose their homes to the Kensington. “They are willing and ready for any traffic relief, providing it does not blight the area and cause them to lose their homes, which represent their life savings. They do not feel that they ‘should have to suffer the consequences’ to bring suburbanites into downtown Buffalo. I agree with them in this respect.”

Years of feet-dragging end

By early 1957, the state was getting ready to displace 600 families from their homes to begin construction. Any family displaced by the expressway was given priority in in the newly built Kensington Heights public housing project on Fillmore Avenue, but it wasn’t always as orderly as moving from the path of the expressway to a nice new apartment.

Progress of the building of the first leg of the Kensington Expressway in 1959. The Museum of Science is to the right. (Buffalo News archives)

One “battling grandma” made the front page of the paper, after sending Gov. Averill Harriman a letter denouncing the state’s “dillydallying” on the Kensington project. Mrs. Edmund Jakubiak owned a building in the path of the expressway that the state promised to buy, so all her tenants left, and she herself bought a new place on the promise of a forthcoming state check. When no check appeared, the state’s “shenanigans” left her owing money and having to apply for a loan for her new home.

Jakubiak became a minor folk hero around her soon-to-be-demolished Best Street neighborhood, as she made sure every penny owed her was paid in full.

She wasn’t the only one to leave before the state was ready to begin construction, and those who left their not-long-for-this world homes and businesses left them vacant — and open to criminals. “Lawless elements,” it was claimed, “are congregating and endangering lives and property in and around houses taken over by the state” for the Kensington Expressway.

Homes are dismantled

On Dec. 16, 1957, the dismantling of homes and businesses along Cherry and Peach streets began, with demolition starting in January 1958 — 12 years after the project was announced. Many applauded this development, as the first section of land for the highway, from Michigan and Cherry to Humboldt and Landon, was cleared by August 1958.

Many of those who weren’t slated to lose their homes ended up losing the aesthetic of their communities, especially those living along Humboldt Parkway.

Buffalo School teacher Cornelia Metz lived at 936 Humboldt and wrote about her worst fears in a letter to the editor.

“It is not generally known that the beautiful trees on Humboldt Parkway will fall victim to ‘progress’ when the Kensington Expressway is constructed. Only a complete materialist could ride the mile-and-a-half of this street without being thrilled by its beauty.

“Must those who are in a hurry to go to their suburban homes be given more consideration than those who live in and pay taxes in the city? Granted that something must be done to expedite traffic, but must that be at the expense of our trees?”

Entreaties like Metz’s were met with a tone bordering on mocking by city developer Russell Tryon, who wrote about problems in building the expressway in the Courier-Express. “One opponent devoted considerable time to the harm which would be done to Humboldt Parkway by the proposed improvement, such as increased traffic and the loss of lovely trees on one of the city’s most attractive parkways. Answer — unfortunately, except for the trees in the Center Mall, the esthetic qualities of the parkway already have been largely destroyed by heavy traffic.”

Shortly thereafter, the tree-lined median in front of Metz’s home was replaced with a high-speed expressway.

That was 1958. The stretch of the Kensington between the Scajaquada Expressway and the Buffalo Airport was built over the next decade.

Above: a 1938 airborne view with UB’s South Campus in the foreground and Bailey Avenue to the left and Kensington High School to the upper left.  Below: A 1966 airborne image shows Kensington High School and Bailey Avenue as the expressway is being built.

In 1968, when the original plans were completed and downtown Buffalo was connected to the Buffalo airport, a problem remained: As engineers had predicted as early as the 1940s, the expressways could still be obsolete by the time they were finished.

This caused one last flurry of road building and the final trees of Olmsted’s Humboldt Parkway to be felled.

Expressway sinks into place

The “Hourglass” portion of the Kensington moved traffic off the subterranean blown-out expressway onto Humboldt Parkway. Traffic clogged going toward downtown in the afternoon and toward Cheektowaga in the morning. Twenty years of planning and building, and the road still didn’t alleviate traffic. Worse yet, that small stretch saw the most accidents — and the most fatal accidents — than anywhere else along the highway.

The Courier-Express noticed the dwindling number of trees. “One of the most impressive archways of trees in Buffalo is rapidly disappearing to the tune of rasping power saws along the ‘bottleneck’ section of the Kensington Expressway. The biting teeth of the saws undo in minutes what it took 90 years for nature to accomplish. Many of the 300 trees that are to be felled are stately elms that were planted by the city around 1880,” was written in July 1968, “but then motorists snagged in rush-hour traffic jams in the section, less than one mile between East Delavan Avenue and Northampton Street, might be soothed by trees in summer green.”

By the end of 1968, the trees were gone. Thousands of tons of rock and earth were moved to sink the final grade-level portion of the expressway.

The hourglass portion of the Kensington Expressway, nearing completion, in 1970. (Buffalo News archives)

So, mistake? Sure. But a bit more complicated than that.

Buffalo in the ’80s: Smiling Ted’s Used Cars (and community service)

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

He smiled when he could put you in one of his “quality used cars,” and he smiled when he could find some way to help those who needed it. From 1961 until his death in 1996, Thaddeus Sawicki lived up to the name “Smiling Ted” in just about every way imaginable.

Buffalo News archives

He was the king of the stretch of Bailey Avenue that was known for decades as a sort of shopping mall for used cars.

Cigar-chomping, gold-jewelry-wearing Sawicki embraced the happy-yet-no-nonsense persona he created, but not the shady, high-pressure, corner cutting notion of what some thought every used car dealer was.

Sawicki, the youngest of 12, grew up in Lackawanna, and he opened the dealership near Bailey and Walden when he was 28. Over the next 35 years, he became a fixture in the community. Twice he helped police collar thieves trying to sell stolen cars.

He also remembered growing up wearing hand-me-downs and putting cardboard in his shoes. It made it easy for him to help the community’s neediest.

Buffalo News archives

Smiling Ted’s story is a prequel to the Russell Salvatore story: Both were self-made businessmen from humble beginnings, and both believed in giving back to the community that built them up.

In 1987, Sawicki (pictured above with his grandson Ted Jr.) spent around $45,000 buying Christmas gifts for 1,500 of Buffalo’s poorest kids. The same year, he bought dinner for 800 at the City Mission, “including real butter and sugar on the table” for Christmas.

Part of it was wanting to help, part of it was wanting to defeat the attitude towards used car dealers which lead to some banks not working with him or his customers, especially in the earliest days of his business.

Sawicki told News Reporter Ray Hill that he’d seen used car dealers come and go — and that the fly-by-night ones always made his honest work more difficult.

“One of those who came, and happily for Smiling Ted, has gone, was the late Dan ‘Shame on you’ Creed,” wrote Hill in 1987. “(The) Canadian who affected a southern accent moved to Buffalo in the mid-1960s, and huckstered jalopies with the not-so-subtle flair of a snake oil salesman who left town in a hurry after someone beat him with a baseball bat, leaving many people feeling like they didn’t like the taste of his snake oil.”

“It was the Dan Creeds of the world that made my life difficult,” Smiling Ted told Ray Hill.

But Smiling Ted was definitely one of Buffalo’s all-time great characters.

Buffalo News archives

“I’m miserable, but I have a heart of gold,” he told The News’ Jane Kwiatkowski in 1988. “People are jealous of me, but I work hard. I’m here in the wintertime. My wife and daughter and I are outside shoveling the snow and wiping the cars off.”

But why “Smiling” Ted?

“’Cause I always smile,” Sawicki told Kwiatkowski. “I see the color of money, and I got to smile.”

What it looked like Wednesday: Buffalo’s Stockyards, 1937

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

One of the less-celebrated and remembered industries of Buffalo’s past is livestock trading. In the 1880s, the East Buffalo Stockyards made Buffalo the world’s second largest livestock market.

Buffalo News archives

About 100 acres of Buffalo’s East Side was dedicated to the livestock trade. For decades, every day thousands of animals made their way to and from Buffalo between their time on the farm and the table.

Buffalo’s place next to Chicago as a hub for the trade of livestock was sealed when the New York Central and Erie railroads created a more efficient animal delivery framework in 1864.

The pens and pockets between the New York Central tracks and William Street had capacity for 35,000 hogs, 40,000 sheep and 25,000 cattle. The each year of the 1890s saw about one million cattle, 5 million hogs, 2.5 million sheep and 75,000 horses pass though.

Much of Buffalo’s early wealth was derived somehow in the trading of animals. Virgil Bailey, after whom Bailey Avenue was named, was a horse trader. The Larkin Empire started when John D. Larkin came to Buffalo in 1875 to make use of the fat rendered from animal slaughter in the making of soap. The iconic Sahlen’s hot dog, still made on Buffalo’s East Side, can trace its lineage back to the Sahlen and Roland Meat Packing Company founded in 1869.

The Stockyards gave way to the William Street Post Office in the late 1950s, and in 1964 — 100 years after centrally organizing the stockyards on William Street — the New York Central closed its East Buffalo Stockyards station and got out of the livestock business in Buffalo.

Some spinoff industries, like leather tanning, left when the railcars mostly stopped. Other spinoff industries, like Sahlen’s Meat Packing and others, continue on Buffalo’s East Side to this day.

What It Looked Like Wednesday: Eduardo’s on Bailey Avenue

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Eduardo’s Restaurant on Bailey Avenue at LaSalle survived long enough to be remembered differently by different generations.

Buffalo News archives

The Tarquini family started what wound up being a chain of seven restaurants in 1953 on Bailey, and it quickly became one of Bailey’s most popular pizzerias.

Steve Cichon/Buffalo Stories archive

Before Eduardo and his wife, Alice, retired from the business in 1980, the original Eduardo’s had been a pizzeria, a 1960s-style nightclub with live music, and a 1970s-style club as well.

Steve Cichon/Buffalo Stories archive

The address that was Eduardo’s for a quarter century is now a mental health services clinic.

Buffalo in the ’50s: Train of the future at the Central Terminal

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It was General Motors’ new, experimental, lightweight “dream train” on display at the New York Central Terminal in January 1956.

Buffalo News archives

The 10 passenger cars on the train were modified motor coach buses.

Also known as “The Aerotrain,” it was set to go into regular service between Detroit and Chicago later that year.