This isn’t anti- or pro- or anything specific … just what I thought about as I drove down Elmwood Avenue today.
They were shooting a movie in front of Voelker’s, because that is what attracts people to Buffalo. WNY is real, authentic, and lived in.
A few blocks away, a battle’s being lost to retain some of that authenticity to make way for a building that we might see in Tampa or Phoenix or anywhere else in the world.
Progress is good and we need it– but we also need to keep in mind what draws people here.
In a word, it’s our soul. The soul that lives in us and the soul that lives as part of our streetscape and buildings.
If something new is going to take away from that soul, it had better bring something tangibly more to the community.
Protecting soul can’t be written into a zoning plan. We have to be stewards of the essence that makes us who we are, and as a community, we need to continue to talk about all the Buffalo intangibles that money can’t buy– but sure as hell can ruin.
Reconstruction of the Elmwood Avenue bridge over Route 198 is nearing completion after several years of work.
Elmwood Avenue looked a bit different in 1895 when the bridge was first built over Scajaquada Creek. The Buffalo State campus was farmland behind the “State Insane Asylum,” and none of the museums surrounding the bridge had been built yet.
This view looks north. In today’s terms, the photographer would be standing on the Buffalo State campus, and those trees on the other side of the bridge would be where the History Museum—built five years after this photo was taken for the Pan-American Exposition — now stands.
Kittinger Furniture was a Buffalo institution — and a family institution — for a century. From 1866 to 1966, the Kittinger family ran the business which created handcrafted, world-renowned pieces which wound up famously in places like the White House.
Buffalo News archives
Even after the family sold the company in 1966, the Elmwood Avenue factory continued to turn out handmade furnishings. The towering sign erected high above the immense 193,000 square foot factory was a North Buffalo landmark just north of Elmwood and Hertel for generations.
The company changed hands several times through the ’80s and ’90s, and in 1995, the factory closed as Kittinger filed for bankruptcy. Former Kittinger employee Ray Bialkowski eventually bought the name and continued the tradition of artisans creating fine tables, chairs, desks and other furnishings — but doing so on a smaller scale, he didn’t need so much space.
A Kittinger artisan at work, mid 1970s. (Buffalo News archives)
After buying the North Buffalo building in 1998 for $600,000, Benderson Development razed the factory in 2000. In the years since, a bank and a gym were built in its place.
When Don Paul retired as Buffalo’s pre-eminent weather authority last month, the folks at Channel 4 wished him luck on the message board in front of the station’s Elmwood Avenue studios. The high-definition display replaces a scrolling light sign which had been in place for at least 40 years.
Steve Cichon/Buffalo Stories photo
The station now known as WIVB-TV has called 2077 Elmwood Ave. home since 1960, and until 2000, the building also was home to WBEN Radio. The yellow buildings across Elmwood Avenue in this 1983 photo have long since been torn down, and replaced by Popeye’s and Napa Auto.
Buffalo Stories archives
In 1977, it wasn’t Don Paul, but another fabled Buffalo weatherman — Channel 2’s Kevin O’Connell — who was then Channel 4’s main weatherman, broadcasting live from underneath the sign as a blizzard descended upon the region.
Buffalo Stories archives
It was a simpler sign — almost bizarrely similar to next-door neighbor and competitor WGR’s sign in 1961. The tiny building that housed WGR’s radio studios for several years has been owned by Channel 4 for decades. It still stands directly across Elmwood from McDonald’s.
Buffalo News archives
Looking further down Elmwood, none of the buildings in view past the former WGR building are still standing. A paint store stood where the former Don Pablo’s/Advance Auto now stands. Off in the distance closer to Hertel, the water tower of the Kittinger Furniture factory is visible.
During the first decades of the 20th century, the Elmwood Music Hall was Buffalo’s top convention, speech-making, and musical concert space. It was also a popular site for sporting events like boxing and high school basketball.
1932. Buffalo Stories archives
Originally built as an armory, the building left much to be desired as an event venue. During one 1936 address meant for all of Buffalo’s WPA workers, little was heard other than a series of “blasts, snorts, rasps and gurgles” because of the hall’s “abominable acoustics.”
Regardless, for two generations, the place always had something going on, whether it was Boy Scouts, suffragettes, prohibitionists, or speeches from a long line of presidential candidates and New York governors — including both Presidents Roosevelt.
Beyond the bad acoustics, the hall also had structural issues. The building was deemed unsafe, condemned, and torn down in 1938. Two federal government-sponsored, Depression-era projects helped replace the building at Elmwood and Virginia where Family Dollar now sits — both Memorial Auditorium and Kleinhans Music Hall opened in 1940.
In July of 1981, this Elmwood Avenue Twin Fair store — located next to the Channel 4 studios where Tops now stands — was one of 16 Twin Fair locations up for sale around Western New York as West Seneca-based Twin Fair Inc. looked to pay off debts. Eight Hens & Kelly locations, owned by the Twin Fair parent company, also were put up for sale.
Buffalo News archive
Hens & Kelly locations closed the following year, while Twin Fair was bought by Federated Department Stores. Many of the Twin Fair locations then became Gold Circle stores, before they were sold off in 1988.
In 1991, this particular Twin Fair/Gold Circle building gave way for what was billed as a “Tops Super Center,” replacing a smaller Tops Market on Kenmore Avenue at Grove. That location became a Vix Pharmacy, and is now a Price Rite market.
A new shopping plaza on Elmwood Avenue brought the ease of modern supermarket shopping to the families of that part of 1960s Buffalo — and shoppers have been on a ride ever since.
Buffalo News archives
Now a Price Rite Market, the store first opened as Loblaws in 1961. It became Bells in the 1970s, then Quality Markets when the Bells chain was sold in 1993. Quality closed 10 years later, and Latina’s opened and closed within a decade. Price Rite opened there in 2008.
By Steve Cichon | email@example.com | @stevebuffalo
In 1901, there were few things more important to the economies and livelihoods of the Caribbean and parts of Central America than the export of rum. It would stand to reason, then, that when all of the Western Hemisphere’s countries got together in Buffalo for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, that rum would be a showcased product… and it was.
Exhibitors from Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Honduras all won medals for rum.
Cuba had as many as 13 different rum (ron, in Spanish) exhibitors, including one still famous gold medal winner– Bacardi & Sons of Santiago. The gold medal showing in Buffalo was one of the primary forces in launching Bacardi to international renoun.
Both Mexico and Cuba had their own large buildings at the Pan Am, and both had large displays for liquors and rums.
This map shows the Pan Am grounds between Elmwood and Delaware as they looked in 1901. If you were to try to find the site of the Mexican building today (marked M on the map), you’d look near Great Arrow Street towards the back of the old Pierce-Arrow complex. The Cuban building (marked C) was probably in the vicinity of where the Statue of David now stands near the Scajaquada Expressway.
Today, The Black Squirrel Distillery stands near the West Amherst gate on the old 1901 map, about where the hospital was during the Expo, right between Mexico and Cuba.
For more than half a century, the address was a drive-in restaurant and sandwich shop known by names like “Daddy Don’s Drive-In” and “Karen’s Restaurant.” Today, 1595 Elmwood Avenue is home to the copper still where Black Squirrel craft rum begins it’s life in small batches, bringing a bit of the Pan-Am back as the City of Light seems to be finding new light in new places these days.
And while most of Buffalo seems happy with having Black Squirrel in the neighborhood, it might not have been the case for the rum makers here in 1901… especially when the infamous Carrie Nation was in town.
“The Hatchetwoman from Kansas,” best remembered as the temperance champion who was arrested several times for smashing apart liquor bottles– and entire saloons– with her hatchet, told Buffalo reporters on one of her two trips to the Expo that “all rum sellers should be electrocuted and their shops destroyed.”
The best part is, she likely said those words as she boarded a streetcar downtown to catch her train out of Buffalo… on the tracks directly across Elmwood Avenue from what is now Black Squirrel Distillery.