The Buffalo You Should Know: WNY amusement parks through the decades

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Just what counts as an amusement park has been determined on a sliding scale since the phrase was first recorded in the 1890s.

Buffalo News archives

Crystal Beach, 1989. (Buffalo News archives)

Tell an iPad kid of today that he’s going to an amusement park, and visions of mega-coasters and waterparks at Darien Lake or Disney World will dance in his head.

It’s a far cry from when Buffalonians of not-so-long-ago were contented with the tilt-a-whirl and a merry-go-round permanently set up in some department store parking lot.

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For a century, Buffalo’s gold standard for amusement parks — no matter how that term was defined — was Crystal Beach. When it was founded in 1888, Crystal Beach was celebrated for the healing powers of its natural sand and crystal-clear waters. Steamboat excursions from Buffalo, first on the Puritan and the Pearl and later on the Americana and Canadiana, brought visitors to Lake Erie’s Canadian shores, but also to several similar resorts along the shores of Western New York.

Elmwood Beach Grand Island

In 1897, Grand Island’s Elmwood Beach was promoted as the only temperance — that is, alcohol-free — park and beach on the American side of the international border. It was opened in 1894 by the White Line lake steamer company, to provide its passengers with a destination it called “The Island Paradise of Buffalo.” It was operated by Harvey Ferren, owner of the Court Street Theatre downtown.

elmwood-beach-steamer

It was built as “a safe place for bathing” for women and children, with hard white-sand beaches. Special park police made sure that there was no “objectionable swim attire” at this summer resort that “was on a scale previously unknown in the area.” The fact that no liquor was sold there made it a popular destination for church groups, which boarded the boat to the resort at the foot of Ferry Street.

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Elmwood Beach was one of a handful of such resorts that popped up on Grand Island. Eldorado Beach was another.

New “high-class amusements and novelties” were unveiled for the 1899 season, but by 1910, the place had been abandoned. The parcel eventually became part of Beaver Island State Park, unveiled in 1939.

West Seneca’s Lein’s Park, Cheektowaga’s Bellvue Park, Fillmore Avenue’s Teutonia Park

These rustic, outdoorsy amusement areas were a drive out to the country in their day, but the land they were once located upon has long since been developed. The areas were used most by Buffalo’s growing German immigrant population.

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Lein’s Park was built over the course of nearly a decade by Gardenville’s Henry Lein, just south of Cazenovia Creek and what is now Southgate Plaza on Union Road, starting in 1895.

Home to a bear pit, bowling alley and dance hall, the park closed up at some point after Lein — who served as West Seneca town supervisor — was found guilty of graft and sent to prison in Auburn in 1913. He was later pardoned by the governor and re-elected supervisor.

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Buffalo’s German-Americans were clearly the target clientele for Fillmore Avenue’s Teutonia Park, “the family resort of the East Side” of the 1880s and 1890s.

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While catering to Germans, the grounds one block north of Martin Luther King Jr. (then Parade) Park were owned by Baptist Kahabka, “one of Buffalo’s leading Polish citizens.” The park was one of Buffalo’s leading sports and conventions grounds, with boxing matches and picnics attracting crowds of up to 10,000 people somewhat regularly.

In 1921, the city cleared the land where the park once stood, and built East High School on the easternmost part of the plot.

Bellevue Park sprang up along Cayuga Creek at the last stop of a trolley line from Buffalo. The Bellevue Hotel on Como Park Boulevard was once a part of the sprawling 30-acre park, which was open until around the turn of the century.

Bellvue-Park

Woodlawn Beach

Touted as “The American resort for Americans,” Woodlawn Beach tried to take on Crystal Beach directly, hoping to scoop up some of the thousands who arrived at Buffalo’s Central Wharf to get on ships bound for Canada.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

The steamer Corona, and later the steamer Puritan, took passengers to Woodlawn Beach four times daily from Buffalo. The grounds opened in 1892 with a toboggan slide and “ice-cream” as main attractions. As early as 1894, ads also bragged about the park’s being “illuminated with electricity.”

In 1920, it was electricity that was bringing Buffalonians to Woodlawn in streetcars on what was billed as “only a seven-minute ride” from downtown. Two years later, Bethlehem Steel bought up some of the property for use as a slag dump, but the old roller coaster and amusements stayed in place in various states of operation through the Great Depression.

The evolution of many of these Victorian health retreats and picnic grounds into the more modern amusement park concept was pushed along by one of the great marvels of Buffalo’s 1901 Pan-American Exposition: “A Trip to the Moon.”

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Located on the Midway on near what is Amherst Street today, “A Trip to the Moon” offered 60 passengers at once the most technologically advanced amusement of its time. A ride in a “spaceship” offered a simulated tour of the moon.

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The ride caught the fancy of tens of thousands of visitors to Buffalo and at least that many Buffalonians. That was no doubt behind the idea in naming the features of Fairyland Park at Jefferson at Ferry after the Pan-Am’s big attractions. In 1910, “the Mecca of pleasure-seekers” was promoting its midway and Temple of Music — both with names taken directly from the Pan-Am. But other budget attractions inspired by the world-class event included Mysterious Asia, Cave of the Winds, White Horse Tavern, Southern Plantation, Japanese Rolling Balls, Minerva the Mystic and Reed’s Big Congress of Novelties.

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“Luna Park was built just after the Pan-American Exposition and was the nearest thing to Coney Island in the pleasure line that Buffalo had to offer,” reported the Buffalo Courier in 1909 after the city’s biggest-ever amusement park burned to the ground at the corner of Main and Jefferson.

Carnival-court-1910

Click for larger view. Buffalo Stories archives

Renamed Carnival Court, the old Luna Park cost more than $250,000 to rebuild. Five cents admission gained you access to rides like Shoot the Chutes, the L. A. Thompson Mountain Scenic Railway, Auto-whirl, Witching Water Ways, Galloping-Horse Carousel, Human Roulette Wheel and Ocean Waves.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

The site was razed to make way for a Sears Roebuck store and parking ramp in 1929. Both of those former Sears structures are now part of the Canisius College campus.

Built in Western New York

A Western New York company gave rise to many smaller amusement parks around the country in the years following World War II.

Herschell-rides

When demand for the handcrafted carousels that had made the company famous since 1880 started to wane, North Tonawanda’s Allan Herschell Co. began making smaller amusement rides it marketed as attractions to small and large venues alike.

Opened originally in the 1920s as a dance pavilion, Lalle’s at Lake Bay, Angola, steadily added amusement rides and booths through the 1940s and 1950s. New amusements for 1947 included the miniature zeppelin, auto and railroad rides, the Dodge-Em, the Ocean Wave and the Chair Plane.

lalles-ad

These smaller amusements were used to entice parents to bring their children — and maybe do some additional shopping — in several places around Western New York. Buffalo’s first suburban mega-shopping center, the Thruway Plaza, opened in 1952 with a handful of rides in its Kiddie Ranch.

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Just up Walden Avenue, on the corner of Dick Road, stood Twin Fair Kiddieland in the parking lot of the department store.

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In Niagara County, Page’s Kiddyland at Packard and Military first stood to help draw customers to the Simon-Gulf gas station and then the Whistle Pig restaurant.

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One of Western New York’s smallest-yet-long-lasting amusement attractions was Dealing’s on Niagara Falls Boulevard near Ellicott Creek Park.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

The Dealing family first built an elaborately carved carousel on their Niagara Falls Boulevard farm in 1929. After returning from World War II, Earl Dealing added about a half-dozen rides to the one put up by his father. He ran Dealing’s Amusement Park until 1980.

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Nestled off Main Street in the Village of Williamsville, Harry Altman’s Glen Park Casino is remembered for high-quality musical and Hollywood entertainment and was a regular stop for acts as varied as Sammy Davis Jr. and the Three Stooges. Those too young to remember the music just might remember the rides.

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Up to 6,000 people or more would fill the tiny park on holidays in the 1960s. The Glen Park Casino, renamed Inferno, burned down in a $300,000 blaze in 1968. The area was developed into a park in 1975.

Glen Park. Buffalo Stories archives.

Glen Park. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Western New York children of the 1970s might remember Fun-N-Games Park just off the Youngmann in Tonawanda.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Another instance of amusement rides in a Twin Fair parking lot, the park’s most memorable feature might have been the unconnected roadside attraction in front of it—the whale car wash.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

The larger parks like Crystal Beach, Fantasy Island and Darien Lake were built and promoted as regional destinations, and likely remembered by almost anyone who grew up in Western New York, but these smaller parks are just as memorable in our own experiences or the stories or our parents and grandparents of days gone by.

Fantasy Island, 1960s. Buffalo News archives.

Fantasy Island, 1960s. (Buffalo News archives)

You Love To Hate Them: The Best of the Worst in 1980s Buffalo TV Commercials

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – It’s an amazing transformation that happens somewhere in our brain. At some point, judging by the numbers of hits they receive, the terrible TV commercials once hated and vilified, become that for which we search YouTube.

There were a few local television ads that we really remember fondly, especially when they involve two WNY institutions we don't hear as much from anymore, like Danny Neaverth and Bells Markets. (Buffalo Stories archives)
There were a few local television ads that we really remember fondly, especially when they involve two WNY institutions we don’t hear as much from anymore, like Danny Neaverth and Bells Markets. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Many things annoy us about the spots by which we are regularly bombarded. The seeming ubiquity when they are on radio, TV, billboards, print. The fact that many are cheaply or poorly produced, or just based on an asinine idea that shouldn’t even have been written on the big sheet of paper in the brain storming session, let alone the idea that will not haunt hundreds of thousands of memories into perpetuity.

Perhaps worst is when, for no one particular good reason, the spot is just plain annoying.

The problem becomes, love them or hate them, they become familiar, a little warm. Annoying, but somehow comforting, in that it’s always there. And then, sometime, even decades after they go off the air, you get a yearning to love and hate them all over again. The hatred for the ad in question turns to hatred for the internet when you can’t mine that nugget you are trying so desperately to remember, so you can properly forget again.

The classic example of this is the Kaufman’s rye bread commercial. This jingle ran over and over on Buffalo TV for 20 years.

Whenever I give a talk about Buffalo, I play that, and people smile and sing along. They hate it, but love it. That jolly little baker is the perfect animated definition of frienemy. Almost scary happy smiles while people say, “I hate that!”

But they love to hate it. We all do. We love to hate terrible commercials. Don’t make me list the commercials you hate today that you will one day search for on the 2037 version of YouTube.

All of this came to mind when I was going through some video recently for a friend, and found some commercials that if you lived through the 80s in Buffalo, you will certainly remember them. And maybe even enjoy watching them once before going back to hate.

I found one of the more popularly hated and loved commercials of the 70s and 80s when i was doing research on the book I wrote about Irv Weinstein. A commercial so popular, people who were too young to have ever seen it in the first place still say FUN WOW even though they aren’t sure why–

Amusement Parks can be especially deadly when they are trying to appeal to kids. This is one from 1989 that I just uploaded. I consider this the definitive version of the Marineland jingle, with King Waldorf singing, and the kids filling in the words.

Fantasy Island and Marineland… Fondly familiar to see those spots once– maybe not again for a while now. But here’s one you might wind up looking at again::

Two Buffalo institutions in this one, but even while WKBW morning man Dan Neaverth is shilling for Bells, he has to work in a reference to the country’s newest amusement park: Darien Lake Fun Country::

Danny of course known as a DJ, and doing Channel 7’s weather outside… He wasn’t the only 1980s spokesman to come from a different line of work to sell a product. Jim Schoenfeld sold City Mattresses for years.

A few more:

Check out the “state of the art” computer they are bragging about at Fay’s Drugs in 1981:

The sound track on this 1989 Genny Light spot is pure 80s. So are the women, as Genesee mocks the 80s trend of filling beer commercials with women in bikinis instead of beer.

Finally, here’s one that put Lackawanna on the map in the late 80s… You may have forgotten about it, and you’ll probably hate me for reminding you.

You’ll find all of these commercials and plenty more great Buffalo video on the staffannouncer YouTube channel.

History’s Garbage Bin: Sharing the Garbage Picked Goodness… Again

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

To save everything because “it’s old” is just silly. To toss everything away because “it’s old” is just silly, too. Somewhere between those two extremes is where most of us try to live.I get both sides. I’m a saver, who wishes sometimes I could live more of a clutter-free life. But a healthy portion of my clutter comes from big piles of important stuff that otherwise would have no home.

Depending on how you look at it, I have been blessed or cursed with the ability to see the possibilities beyond a pile of garbage. My home is a great example. It’s taken over a decade of hard work for my wife and me to make it shine, taking it from a worn-down relic to a stop on the Parkside Home Tour.

Over the last two decades, I have garbage-picked, purchased, been asked to copy, or reluctantly accepted thousands of hours of audio and video, almost always locked away on some sort of format that made it impossible listen to or view. Or even know if there was anything there.

Basically, I’ve been collecting “potential.”

Twice I’ve garbage-picked boxes of old film reels. These boxes were in the garbage for good reason; the film was infected with “vinegar syndrome,” a decomposition of the materials in the film, which renders it unviewable. Worse, one “vinegared” film can jump start the degrading process in other nearby films as well.

The relatively small group of folks who had decided to chuck these boxes has literally thousands of reels of film to worry about. As a member of that group I agreed. But as an individual, I decided that I couldn’t see this film simply thrown away. I garbage picked the film, then spend lots of time and money picking out the few good bits from the mangled messes inside those decaying boxes and film canisters, cleaning those good bits, then properly storing them to avoid more vinegar problems and further degrading.

The same is true of a pile of old video cassettes. The TV station I was working at was taking “the best” of some of the video that was on an old, dying format of videotapes, and dubbing them to the format they were then using. It made sense, as these dubs were being made on the station’s last working machine that played the old format tapes. The old tapes were being hauled to the dumpster. I grabbed as many as I could for “safe keeping.”

In both of these cases, I was holding onto what I knew was great video, but had no means to share it or even watch it. In some cases, this stuff had been in my possession for over a decade. Waiting.

Having been lucky enough to turn a bit of a profit from my book “Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman: The Irv, Rick, and Tom Story,” I gathered up most of that film, and many of those video tapes, along with others that I’d copied or recorded myself over the years, and sent them off to be properly and professionally digitized. A painstaking and expensive process, but one that was the end result of saving them from the trash in the first place– whether I knew it at the time or not.

Being able to treat my relatively small collection with a great deal of care and respect has allowed me to begin sharing some interesting moments reported and recorded by Buffalo television journalists over the last 60 years. You’re seeing the fruits of it on YouTube.

A Stan Barron obituary piece was the first item from the hours of “new” old video I shared…


The second was a true Western New York treasure. Who among us in Buffalo hasn’t replied with a sarcastic “Fun? Wow!” when asked a question? The phrase, of course, comes from TV commercials for Fantasy Island, which ran over and over and over and… I can remember asking my parents to go to “Fun Wow,” not realizing the actual name of the place.

The iconic commercial forever ensconced the phrase “Fun… WOW!” in our collective lexicon. Type “Fantasy Island” into Google, and the term “fun wow” follows as a suggested search term. Some how the commercial has eluded the Internet, until uncovered in that pile of tapes that time had forgotten was remastered.

There are two wonderful memories supplied, and there’s plenty more to come as well. Literally hundreds more quick videos to come for all of us to pause and remember for a moment.

Video especially has a great power to transport us back to another time and place like no other medium. That’s why I can honestly say that I don;t think I’ve ever been so excited about a project as the one I’m embarking on here in putting this video online to share with the world.

What it comes down to for me is…. my stuff is useless unless it can be of some use to somebody. I’ve already seen the smiles from these small bits already released that proves the usefulness. I won’t make a million dollars on my finds… In fact, I’m in the red getting them ready to share. But it really hurts my brain to know that many of the wonderful archival videos you’ll see, in fact, much of what is posted at staffannouncer.com, could have just as easily made it’s way to the land fill.

No matter where you fall on the “saver/saves-nothing” scale, I ask you to join me in finding good use for your saved stuff, or finding a good home for the stuff you want to get rid of.

One man’s trash can become an entire community’s treasure.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com