Torn-Down Tuesday: Elmwood at Forest, 1985

By Steve Cichon

These old houses represented several different front lines in the battles over the development of the new Buffalo over the last decade or so.

As recently as the early 1980s, the row of houses on the east side of Elmwood Avenue between Forest and what was then a tiny breakfast joint named Pano’s were still mostly residential.

While the ’80s wore on and Elmwood found itself in the midst of an urban revival, the onetime ground-floor apartments in these big old homes became store fronts, housing businesses that fit into the vibe that was spilling out of Allentown and SUNY Buffalo State and meeting somewhere in the middle.

City-sponsored efforts to bring neon sculpture to the Elmwood strip gave a new glow to the Bidwell Parkway area, as well to the Neon Art Store pictured above. Play It Again Sam Records and later Home of the Hits were sources of music that couldn’t be found elsewhere.

As plans for development of the block into a hotel were first floated in 2006, the buildings were vacated and fell into disrepair — not that several of them were in great shape to begin with. Discussions between builders, neighbors and preservationists continued for more than a decade, and the houses were further neglected. Early in 2018, the big old houses came down.

Elmwood at Forest, 2017. (Steve Cichon photo/Buffalo Stories archives)

As individual homes, they weren’t historically or architecturally significant, but as the now-shovel-ready gash of earth sits at the corner of Elmwood and Forest, we’re left to ask whether the loss of the tiny piece of our city’s soul will be worth putting up something shiny, multi-use and income-generating. (A 40-unit condominium project by Chason Affinity Cos. — which required eight zoning variances and was the subject of many complaints by neighbors — is planned for the site.)

The question that remains is, if we wipe out too many of the shabby old houses, can we still keep the essence of what attracts people to Buffalo?

The view looking south down Elmwood Avenue at Forest, where site work was underway April 9 on the Chason Affinity project. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Tearing down not just buildings, but our soul

By Steve Cichon

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.

Be careful: our city’s soul is in those ratty old buildings

By Steve Cichon

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 places like Voelker’s are what attracts people to Buffalo.

WNY is real, authentic, and lived in. A few blocks away, a battle’s been 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. 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.

Buffalo in the ’60s: Hippies, Delaware Park and a ‘dope terror outbreak’

By Steve Cichon

During the summer of 1969, 14 cases of young people being admitted to the hospital for drug-triggered attacks of terror and depression were directly linked to the ongoing “hippie gatherings” in Delaware Park.

It was usually about 200 young people at “the nightly gathering of hippies in Delaware Park near the Albright-Knox.”

“Some hippies create light shows on the gallery’s walls, by using a footlight installed to illuminate the building,” read one story. “Others play games on blankets, sing, talk, eat, and listen to rock music provided by portable radios and stereo tape players. Some dance in the gallery’s pool.”

“We know that drugs are involved in those gatherings and have the area under close watch,” said Buffalo Police Narcotics Chief (and later Erie County sheriff) Michael A. Amico at an August 1969 press conference.

Buffalo Stories archives

The trouble started six weeks earlier when “the hippies and other drug abusers” started lacing “yellow jacket” barbiturate pills with LSD.

The man who chronicled much of the action in the park that summer is familiar to longtime WNY TV viewers for another kind of reporting.

John Pauly, WKBW-TV investigative reporter (Buffalo Stories archives)

Years later, John Pauly was an investigative reporter for Channels 7 and 2. But in the late ’60s, reporter Pauly spent some time on the hippie beat. In a piece appearing on the front page of the Courier-Express, a Meyer Memorial Hospital (now ECMC) psychiatrist ran down some of the more disturbing cases that had been flooding the hospital since the new drug cocktail had hit the scene.

Police picked up two boys wandering around nude. Another youth thought his car had turned into a monster and was trying to eat him.

“Another youth was brought to the hospital by his parents after they found him performing a weird Oriental religious ritual in their backyard,” reported Pauly.

An investigation in another case turned up two women whose drinks were slipped acid without their knowledge. One of them was found running through Delaware Park naked. Many of those treated had become depressed because they “felt filthy.”

Routinely, police broke up the parties at the park’s posted closing time of 10 p.m. And routinely, said Amico, this is when they’d find people needing help. “We found one girl alone and semi-nude under a blanket in the park after taking drugs.”

These gatherings were a part of the summer that also saw the first moon landing, the Manson murders and Woodstock. As summer became fall, a task force of 50 spent a day making raids to put a dent in the drug supply that helped fuel the parties.

One raid at 309 North St. netted “209 ‘nickel bags’ of marijuana, a pillowcase of raw marijuana, a ball of hashish and a small box of LSD.” Nineteen total arrests, it was hoped, would put an end to the “dope terror outbreak.”

Chief Amico, right, with three suspects in a 1969 drug raid.

The raids centered on Allentown and “other known ‘hippie’ hangouts in the area.” Many of the men arrested “wore women’s length hair – shaggy looking, Van Dyke beards or had been unshaven for days.”

Later known for his undercover style of reporting on TV, Pauly had at least two more assignments on the peacenik scene for the Courier. In 1968, he reviewed a Peter, Paul and Mary concert at Kleinhans.

“It was folk music at its best and the nearly 3,000 persons attending applauded wildly as the group moved through songs of protest, love, war, the generation gap, race and other social problems.

“The performance was marred only by scores of camera-toting fans who punctuated each song with a barrage of blinding flash exposures.”

He also talked to a Soviet envoy who was touring the United States, sharing Russian culture. Pauly reported she was not impressed with hippies she met in Boston and Buffalo. Her words just as easily could have been then-President Richard Nixon’s.

“They strike me as being lazy and doing nothing for the society they live in,” Lyubova Muslanova said. “They were just lying around looking dirty and dressed in rags. I didn’t know what they were doing until someone told me they were doing nothing.

“Maybe they don’t agree with the system, but they must work and not just go around in rags and protest. Maybe they consider themselves revolutionaries, but in this age there is no excuse for being dirty or dressing in rags. They are not doing anything for the society they live in the way they act.”

The rise and fall of Buffalo’s college hoops golden era

By Steve Cichon

Canisius’ Tony Masiello and St. Bonaventure’s Bob Lanier fight for a loose ball in a Little Three game at Memorial Auditorium in 1969. (Buffalo Stories archives)

For as long as anyone can remember, the people of Buffalo have been fanatically devoted to sports.  Since 1960 for the Bills and 1970 for the Sabres, relatively large, rabid fan bases have supported those squads through lean years and even lean decades with open wallets and enthusiasm.

Buffalo fans warmly remember Saturday night college basketball doubleheaders, followed by Sunday night American Hockey League Bisons games at Memorial Auditorium in the late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

But with college basketball bringing March Madness to Buffalo again next week, thoughts and conversation inevitably turn to the years before the Bills and Sabres when “Little Three” games between Niagara, St. Bonaventure and Canisius were the city’s most riotous sporting events, tickets to Saturday night basketball doubleheaders at Memorial Auditorium were Western New York’s hottest ticket, and Buffalo was universally recognized as one of America’s great college basketball towns.

Up until World War II, the most ferocious rivalry among the Little Three schools was in football, but as football became too costly, each of the schools had disbanded its team by 1951. Once students and alumni had only hoops to hang their hats on, the heated rivalries burned even brighter, and all of Buffalo came along for the ride.

St. Bonaventure stuffs Niagara at the goal line in a 1940 Little Three football tilt. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In his infamous 1969 Sports Illustrated piece on Buffalo sports and Buffalo’s sports fans, Brock Yates’ account of basketball at the Aud sears an image:

“Saturday night standing room-only crowds elbow their way into the grim, lakeside fortress known as Memorial Auditorium to scream for Canisius.”

A few years later, Ray Ryan remembered it this way in a 1975 article in Buffalo Fan magazine:

“The collegians and their camp follows would converge on the downtown hall early in the evening, elbowing through the crowded lobby, passing the turnstiles, and crowding up to the beer stands … (with) an electric air of excitement as the cheering and jeering began …”

Basketball doubleheaders had been all the rage at New York City’s Madison Square Garden when Buffalo’s first two-game basketball set was played in 1936 at the Broadway Auditorium. Canisius played Georgetown and Niagara played St. Bonaventure in “a program worthy of any court in the country.”

The 1936 Canisius Golden Griffins basketball team, including future city councilman and “Over the Tavern” inspiration Big Joe Dudzick, bottom row, third from right. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The venue was an upgrade in size from Canisius’ usual home court at the Elmwood Music Hall, and the ability to fill the larger space showed basketball’s honing in on boxing as one of Buffalo’s favorite spectator sports.

But there was still room for improvement in those early years. The Broadway Auditorium was larger, but not regulation. Notre Dame’s coach George Keogan almost refused to play on the barn’s concrete floor, but with 5,000 spectators watching, he was assured by a Canisius official that it was “soft concrete” and the game went on with a laugh.

Canisius played many home games at the Elmwood Music Hall, which stood at the corner of Elmwood and Edward until 1938. (Buffalo Stories archives)

As World War II dawned, and continuing after the war, Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure each became competitive and started attracting some of the country’s best teams on the way to or from those big dates in New York City. It was a confluence of great basketball, great fans, great gates and Memorial Auditorium’s opening in 1940 to make all parties involved excited for college basketball doubleheaders in Buffalo.

Through the early ’50s, the Aud was guaranteed 10,000 spectators, usually with more filling up standing room. Then things waned. There was a point-shaving scandal with several big New York City schools. Pro-basketball started catching on in New York in the scandal’s wake, and college basketball as a whole took some lumps.

Canisius vs. Niagara at Memorial Auditorium, 1951. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The local series was not without hiccups even through the glory years. The late Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser, himself a Little Three athlete as guard on the Cansius football squad, said that pettiness between the schools was as much a part of the tradition as the games themselves.

It was a critical hit was when, in 1958, Niagara pulled out of the Aud doubleheaders. A few years later, Bona opened the Reilly Center and trips to Buffalo became less important.

In 1965, then-Ellicott District Councilman James D. Griffin wrote letters to the presidents of Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure inviting them to a Common Council discussion on the use of the Aud and the Rockpile.

Niagara phenom Calvin Murphy can’t make it past Canisius players Tom Pasternak and Tony Masiello, (Buffalo Stories archives)

Writing “as a sport fan as well as a member of the Common Council,” Griffin hoped it would be possible for the differences that broke up the Little Three’s run at The Aud to be set aside “not only for the same of the loyal fans, but also for the sake of the City of Buffalo, which enjoyed much favorable publicity due to the high caliber of ball played in previous contests.”

College basketball’s last great kick at the can came in the end of the 1960s, and it had to do as much with great players as schools setting aside differences.

Each of the Little Three had big stars to help capture the sports passions of Buffalo. After starring for Black Rock’s Cardinal Dougherty High School, Tony Masiello went on to star for Canisius College before being drafted by the Indiana Pacers in the 1969 NBA Draft.

Bennett High’s Bob Lanier led St. Bonaventure to an NCAA Final Four bid in 1970, before a Hall of Fame pro career with the Pistons and Bucks.

And before he ever shot a basket for Niagara, Calvin Murphy — who remains the shortest player ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame — was entertaining Bills fans with his champion baton-twirling during halftime breaks at the Rockpile.

The energy and excitement these three brought to the court and to the old Little Three rivalry was just enough for Buffalo to win an NBA franchise in 1970. The Braves were wildly popular until the end of the season, when top players were traded away and the franchise was sold and moved out of town.

But with the huge following of the pro Bills and Sabres, it was too late to rekindle the glory days of the Little Three. An attempt was made in 1996 with the opening of then-Marine Midland Arena, adding UB to make the Big 4. While there was some excitement among fans, it was the schools that put a damper on the idea by not cooperating in scheduling games.

“Does this sound like something out of a 35-year-old time capsule or what?” wrote Larry Felser on one of those opinionated days in 1997.

Buffalo in the ’30s: Queen City Hospitals

By Steve Cichon

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.

Buffalo Stories archives

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.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives


What It Looked Like Wednesday: Elmwood & Utica

By Steve Cichon

For decades, the northeast corner of Elmwood Avenue and West Utica Street, with its mid-century brick bank building and large parking lot, looks like it would fit in almost any post-war-built suburb in America.

But it was quite the city neighborhood centered at Elmwood and Utica for many decades. The area was one of several in the city that held mock elections for neighborhood mayor in the 1930s and 1940s. When he was “elected” “Mayor of Elmwood” in 1939, William Feger had been selling magazines and the Courier-Express from a newsstand on the corner for more than twenty years.

Up until the mid-1960s two great buildings stood at the corner where that modern bank now stands. The photo shows the Auditorium Building in 1910. In the ’50s and ’60s, that building was home to a Marine Trust bank branch and the Elmwood Billiard Academy.

And in what is now the bank’s parking lot stood the Elmwood Theatre.

Built in 1916, it was renovated and reopened by Michael Shea and company in 1930.

The seating area was completely replaced with new mohair-covered chairs — which experts said were the best for the new trend of sound pictures, reducing reverberation and echoing.

The proscenium arch, side walls the stage entirely refitted with new draperies and curtains. A Magnascope screen is being installed which will enable this theater to bring scenes from talking pictures up to the entire size of the stage opening.

A new marquise is being placed in front and new electric signs installed around the top of it, including a complete new program announcement system.

Michael Shea came to Buffalo from New York to personally oversee the project, which included balconies that movie patrons remember as among Buffalo’s steepest — even giving the Aud’s Oranges a run for the money.

The theater was torn down in 1965.

What It Looked Like Wednesday: Elmwood Avenue bridge, 1895

By Steve Cichon

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.

Buffalo Stories archives

The Buffalo You Should Know: Eight obscure tidbits from the Pan-Am

By Steve Cichon

Over the last 115 years, plenty has been written about Buffalo’s Pan American Exposition and all the exciting and interesting events that happened on the grounds — up to and including a presidential assassination.

The map below shows where the exposition took place in the larger City of Buffalo.

This map shows the specific grounds.

I’ve always been interested in what Buffalo was like to live in during the Pan-Am. Here are eight quick glimpses at what Buffalo was like during the exposition and, perhaps, some lesser-known facts about it.

1. The Pan-Am drew plenty of criminals

The transient nature of the crowds coming through Buffalo for the Pan-Am allowed those of lower intentions to blend in with the crush of new people in town.


Almost daily, laundry lists of petty crimes and break-ins were written up in the papers. While the thefts of gold-filled watches from the wrists of women on the midway of the Pan-Am were clearly Expo-related, other stories seemed to have strained ties at best to the Pan-Am.

There was a story about the burglar who sat at a piano and played music “so sweet that it would have soothed the most savage beast,” but wound up stealing some clothes and an umbrella from a home on Orange Street.

There was also a mysterious woman in a black dress who was credited with several robberies – the theft of several hundred dollars, as well as, it was assumed, a solid gold watch from the coat pocket of the Expo superintendent. The coat was hanging on a nail in the toilet room of the Canadian Building when the $75 watch was swiped.

It was at the Pan-Am where Buffalo earned the nickname “The City of Light,” but with no thanks to the criminal element. As quickly as crews put up electrical light standards on the Pan-Am grounds through the month of May, souvenir fiends were busy swiping the beautifully globed fixtures.


2. Tesla and Edison visited … twice

Those lights were firmly in place for Thomas Edison’s second visit to the Pan-Am in August.

“This is the apotheosis of the incandescent light,” “exclaimed the great Edison as he stood on the Esplanade last night, looking right and left at the overwhelming and dazzling radiance about him.”

While Edison enjoyed the light show, it was the use of another invention – his moving picture camera — that captured forever some of the sights of the Exposition and Buffalo in general.

Edison may have looked with wonder at the lightbulbs, but they were being illuminated by Nikola Tesla’s Niagara Falls Power Station.

Like Edison, Tesla visited Buffalo’s Pan American Exposition twice. Also like Edison, he was less interested in the electrical display he helped create and more interested in one of his other pet projects: electrical communication with Mars.



“Mr. Tesla is at work on some of the greatest sensations known to modern electrical science,” wrote the Courier in 1901. “He will endeavor to make good his promise to communicate with the planet Mars.”


3. The Pan-Am wasn’t necessarily cheap

According to official guides, to visit all the attractions offered and pay the 50-cent admission to the Pan-Am grounds would have cost about $12 per person. One online inflation calculation says that’s about $323 in 2016 dollars.

Some visitors said it cost them $75 to see the all the sights, which is more than $2,000 in 2016 dollars. While $75 sounds high, it is plausible that some of the less scrupulous independent operators might have tried to charge more than the posted price.



4. On Delaware Avenue, a dining car for ‘ladies and gents’

One of my obsessions with the Pan-Am is finding photos of the area immediately surrounding the Exposition site. At the time, this portion of the city was only very sparsely developed, which is what made it perfect for the mostly temporary structures of the great event.

This diner car stood about where a 7-Eleven now stands on the corner of Delaware and Amherst.



5. Elmwood and Amherst: the most popular trolley stop

The corner of Elmwood and Amherst is now a rather average city corner, with a drug store, bowling alley and gas station.

In 1901, it was the main gate of the Pan-American Exposition. Amherst Street was the Midway between Elmwood and Delaware.

Just south of Amherst Street, on the west side of Elmwood, was the main streetcar exchange for the expo. Most visitors coming from downtown would have taken the streetcar and gotten off here, around the site of McKinley High School.


Buffalo Stories archives


6. Today, Voelker’s; then, a hip hotel

The building has been occupied by Voelker’s Lanes for generations, but during the Pan-Am, the structure at the northwest corner of Elmwood and Amherst was home to one of the city’s more popular hotels: the Alcazar.


I always try to imagine this view as I’m driving home to Parkside Avenue from Wegman’s: basically, the Pan-Am, looking east from Elmwood and Amherst.



7. A tent city accommodated visitors on a budget

In anticipation of the Pan-Am in early 1901, The News wrote, “Buffalo’s population will soon share the cosmopolitan character of the great metropolitan cities of the world.”

This was true, but not all visitors were “high society.” Many folks who couldn’t afford $2 to spend the night at a nice hotel instead spent $1.50 a night to stay at the tent city built just for the exposition in what is now the Parkside neighborhood.

“Camp Jewett” ran alongside Parkside Avenue at Oakwood Avenue.



8. Bacardi gets its American start

Like Bacardi?


The judges at the Pan-Am did. The now world-renown liquor won its first gold medal in Buffalo, beating out 11 other Cuban rums and starting a run at the top that continues through today.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Elmwood Avenue’s Kittinger Factory, 1999

By Steve Cichon

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.