Out of the Past: Erie County Fair Wrap up, 100 years ago

       By Steve Cichon

From the pages of the Hamburg Sun, following the fair in 1918, the county Board of Supervisors evaluated the Erie County Agricultural Society and its annual fair.

Erie County Fair ad, as appeared in The Hamburg Sun, 1876.

One hundred years ago, no other county in New York State had greater farm property value than Erie County, but there was a lament that the attitudes of those in the city didn’t match the agricultural output outside of Buffalo.

“Recent world events,” the report states, in reference to World War I, “have given everyone a new conception of his duty to his country, and not the least of these is the development along agricultural lines. That cannot be done… unless there be unity of purpose and co-operation between the rural and city populations.

“In the past the average city man has not sensed his full responsibility toward agriculture, and a great campaign of education and of instruction is necessary to progress agricultural affairs,” wrote Frank A. Dorn, the Hamburg real estate and insurance man who was also the Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors as well as a director of the Erie County Agricultural Society.

In 1918, the fairgrounds were valued at $60,000. About $8,000 in prizes were awarded for the top animals, agricultural products, and farming implements. More than 30,000 people paid to enter the fair in 1918, and there were as many as 3,000 cars parked on the grounds at any given time.

It was hoped that the report spelling out the numbers, showing Erie County’s leadership in farm value and the importance of “making Erie County preeminent in agricultural matters in the state” would help the fair grow in participation and in stature in the community at large.

“Friends on all sides,” was written in The Sun, “will be particularly pleased to note that the (county government is) paying the county fair its special attention. Given the right encouragement it can be made to rival the state fair.”

Last year, the Erie County Fair beat out the New York State Fair by about 30,000 attendees— 1.19 million to 1.16 million. The difference was the exact number of people who the Erie County Fair in 1918.

Out of the Past: Hamburg Recreation Parlor

       By Steve Cichon

Built as a combination ice cream parlor, pool hall, and bowling alley, it was the six bowling lanes that ended up as the most popular and lasting part of life in Hamburg, serving generations worth of leagues and late night open lanes to accommodate the demand for the sport.

Hamburg Recreation Parlor, about 1942

The Hamburg Recreation Parlor was built by Leo Schumer, who owned much of the property in the vicinity of Buffalo and Pine Streets in the 1920s.

In 1938, he sold the business to Gilbert Emerling—who also owed the Texaco station two doors down.

Emerling the place to Chuck Saunders in 1948. He eventually renamed the place Saunders’ Bowling Alley, which it remained until it was destroyed in a fire in 1964.

Ad from The Hamburg Sun, offering Beef on Wick, 1948.

The spot is now mostly in the parking lot between Sans Furniture and YoTality.

Emerling’s gas station was bought by the Village of Hamburg in 1966, and the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department garage number 3 was built on the site. That spot is on the other side of Sans Furniture.

Out of the Past—Jack Kemp’s Hamburg address

       By Steve Cichon

Through the 70s and 80s, no one put the phrase “Hamburg, NY” on more lips, in more places, than Jack French Kemp.

As a congressman, Kemp spent more time flying out of Hamburg than flying in.

As the Bills quarterback from 1962-1969 and as a member of Congress from 1971-1989, Kemp always listed Hamburg as his residence. As a football player, Hamburg was a football season residence. And like many congressmen through the years, the time Kemp actually spent in the district as a congressman was dwarfed by the time he spent in Washington.

As a Buffalo Bills quarterback, Jack Kemp spent football seasons living in Hamburg, as seen here nursing a broken leg with his daughter Judith in their Hamburg living room in 1968.

The fact that he and his family actually lived in the Washington suburbs seemed to be a bigger issue for his political opponents than his constituents, who re-elected Kemp nine times.

When legendary South Buffalo Democrat James P. Keane ran against Kemp in 1986, Kemp’s residency was one of Keane’s talking points.

“He was born and raised in Southern California, and for more than a decade he’s lived in suburban Maryland. You won’t see him raking leaves in Hamburg,” Keane said in a debate.

When a Washington Post reporter asked the congressman where in Hamburg he lived, Kemp said South Lake Street. When the reporter asked which house number, Kemp had to dig into his wallet and look at his driver’s license as the reporter looked on. Kemp had purchased the house seven years earlier, and would sell it the following year.

Kemp won his final re-election bid that year with a 20% swing. He ran for the Republican nomination for President two years later in 1988.

The GOP nod, and ultimately the White House, was won by George H.W. Bush– who went on to make Kemp his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Kemp was also the Republican candidate for Vice President on the ticket with Bob Dole in 1996.

Out of the Past: Dry cleaner, public servant, inventor- Arthur Vara, Sr.

       By Steve Cichon

Along with his son Arthur, Jr., Arthur Vara, Sr. opened Vara’s Dry Cleaning in 1946. By the 1960s, it was the largest dry cleaning operation in the Southtowns, and Vara Sr. was already dabbling in two other loves– inventing and public service.

Many of his 30 patented inventions had to do with the garment cleaning industry. In 1949, The Sun described his “Adjusto-matic dress hanger,” which was being marketed nationally by Vara from offices in Hamburg. He also invented a dry-cleaning specific heat exchanger and an automatic garment bagger.

Another invention Vara sold around the country from Hamburg: a wind-resistant, lightweight “Men Working” safety sign, created to replace traffic cones– which in an of themselves, Vara thought, could create traffic problems.

Vara was active in politics. He served as Hamburg’s Deputy Supervisor, and also ran unsucessfully for town council and Assembly seats. After a brief retirement to Florida, he also ran for a Punta Gorda city council seat in 1976.

Among his final inventions was the Variframe kitchen garbage bag holder, which allowed the consumer to use plastic grocery store bags inside traditional garbage cans. The device was distributed nationwide at McCrory’s when Vara was 85-years-old in 1988.

Arthur Vara, Sr, was 86 when he died in 1990.

Out of the Past: Hoeber’s Foodland, Armor

       By Steve Cichon

At least two generations of Hoebers served Armor as grocers.

Donald Hoeber can’t believe how many groceries Mrs. Courier was able to get into her basket during a shopping spree she won as a part of the Hoeber’s Foodland grand opening in 1969.

Joseph Hoeber opened a food store next to the Armor Inn in 1944. His son Donald took over the business in 1962, moving Hoeber’s Foodland to a new larger space on Armor Duells Rd. in 1969.

A staff of 35 operated the 7,400 sq. ft. store which was described as “brilliantly lighted with wide aisles and easy to reach grocery and produce shelves” in The Sun when it opened.

WKBW-TV personality Tom Jolls, in his full Commander Tom regalia, was at Hoeber’s signing autographs as a part of grand opening festivities.

Later known as “The Armor Supermarket,” the building was destroyed in an arson blaze in 1987.

Out of the Past: Alhambra on the Lake

       By Steve Cichon

Alhambra on the Lake, a nightclub with a Moroccan theme, was a popular lakefront destination for young folks looking for dinner, live music and dancing.

Ad announcing Alhambra’s grand opening, 1930. From the pages of The Buffalo Evening News.

The musical performances from the castle-like Alhambra were often heard on Buffalo radio stations like WGR and WEBR.

Before the building was Alhambra’s, it was Pirotta’s Lakeshore Manor, where Angie Maggio’s Crystal Beach Orchestra was the musical attraction and Pasquale Pirotta’s “Real Italian” cooking brought in diners from around the region. Pirotta had quite a following as his restaurant on E. Eagle St. in Buffalo, which was said by the family to be the city’s first Italian restaurant.

They opened the Lakeshore restaurant in 1929 with $80,000 in renovations.

“Mr. Pirotta’s stylish new restaurant which is perched on a cliff, almost at the water’s edge… his business constitutes a decided asset to the township,” reported the Erie County Independent. Within a year, it was sold and reopened as Alhambra.

In 1945, the interior was “completely remodeled, decorated and refurnished,” and patterned after the famous Hyross Club on the Danube in Austria.

A promotional announcement in the Courier-Express boasted “Two floor shows will be presented nightly, featuring the best talent available through New York and Chicago booking offices.”

“Roaring flames lit up the night sky” as, in 1954, the roller skating rink that was once the Alhambra was destroyed by fire. Five volunteer companies responded to the massive blaze, which not only left the building a total loss, but also consumed 400 pairs of rental roller skates.

Part of the site is now the parking lot for the former Bedrock Eatery.

Out of the Past: the McKinley Mall referendum, 1985

       By Steve Cichon

With both Macy’s stores and Ulta gone, Bon Ton on the way out, and the mall’s owner unable to keep up with the mortgage payments, these are troubling times for the McKinley Mall.

McKinley Mall and AM&A’s.

For decades, having a mall at the corner of Milestrip Rd. and McKinley Pkwy. has just been a way of life around here, but whether or not the mall should be built in the first place was, according to The Sun, “the most controversial political question ever presented to Hamburg Town voters.” The question was answered in a 1981 referendum on a land swap, which essentially asked voters whether or not the mall should be built.

Hamburg and all of Wester New York were buzzing with the question. The property where the mall now was park land, but called mall proponents called it “a piece of scrub and brush property” that could transformed into “a regional mall with top flight shopping facilities” standing poised to pay $10 million in property taxes over the first decade.

Taxpayers for a Great Hamburg, led by Vincent M. Gaughan, Sr, lauded what was being presented as a $100 million investment in Hamburg—the largest in the town’s history. It was anticipated that up to 95% of the 2000 jobs created by the mall would go to Hamburg residents, and that payroll for those jobs would exceed $20 million annually.

Consolidated Residents Against McKinley Mall– or CRAMM– was opposed to the development which would “change (Hamburg) forever,” and cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per year to provide services to the mall. “Our park gone today,” read one ad, “maybe your park gone tomorrow.”

The final vote was 10,122 yes and 8,134 no. With only 55% of Hamburg residents on board, shovels broke ground in July, 1984. Supervisor Jack Quinn called the $50 million project “the cornerstone of Hamburg’s future.”

The Sample opens at McKinley Mall, 1985

The mall opened amid fanfare on October 7, 1985 with AM&A’s and a “new high-tech Sears” as anchors for the 75 tenants, including The Sample. LL Berger’s was added as a third anchor in 1988 and Sibley’s became a fourth anchor tenant in 1989.

In the last month, the mall’s owners have been declared delinquent in a $35.4 million loan on the mall property as an increasing number of storefronts go empty with the future of the 33-year-old shopping center up in the air.

Out of the Past: Ss. Peter & Paul Parish, 1944

       By Steve Cichon

Ss. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic parish was approaching its 100th anniversary when this photo was taken in 1944.

The church and school of Saints Peter & Paul’s German Catholic Church, 1944.

It’s been in Hamburg so long, it predates Hamburg. So they wouldn’t have to travel all the way to Buffalo’s St. Louis Church for Mass, a group of 22 German immigrants organized the parish in what was then White’s Corners.

The parish’s first worship space was in the former Thilerites meeting house, which was relocated to East Main Street when a new church was built. The building still stands today opposite where Newton Road meets East Main. The first building built as Ss. Peter and Paul was built for $1000 and dedicated in 1863.

After 50 years of growth in what’s now the Village of Hamburg, Buffalo Bishop Charles Colton traveled to Hamburg to dedicate the current Romanesque church building in 1911. Msgr. Nelson Baker was on hand for the dedication of the school building (foreground) in 1921.

In 1988, $1.2 million renovation was completed on the church, which was also freshly painted for its hundredth birthday in 2011.

Then, in 1844, 22 families split off from an East Eden parish following the death of the pastor there to form their own church. Today, 174 years later, 2500 families call Ss. Peter and Paul their spiritual home.

Out of the Past: Hamburg Masonic Lodge

       By Steve Cichon

It still stands at Union and Buffalo Streets, but the old Masonic Lodge is a bit more claustrophobic amid the buildings of Elderwood’s Assisted Living at Hamburg facility.

The Masonic Lodge still stands, but surrounded by the substantial brick wings which were added in the 1990s.

The cornerstone for the building was laid in 1926, part of realizing “a dream cherished for decades” by the Masons of Fraternal Lodge No. 625, first established in 1867.

There were 650 Masons in the lodge in the 1970s, but as membership dwindled, the lodge was sold to Elderwood Affiliates in 1996.

As Elderwood expanded the grounds from 14,000-square-feet to 62,000-square-feet in 1998 to help make room for 76 residential assisted living apartments, a time capsule was discovered dating back to the original cornerstone laying.

The paper items inside the rough-hewn copper box were brittle, but among the details that could be read from the 1926 newspaper: Coal was $14 a ton, an overnight cruise from Buffalo to Cleveland was $5.50 and a new car was $995.

Fourth-graders at Union Pleasant Avenue School planned and collected items for the replacement time capsule, which included late ’90s treasures like a Beanie Baby, Gameboy video game, a TV Guide discussing the last episode of Seinfeld, and a bag of microwave popcorn.

Out of the Past: Dairy Island

       By Steve Cichon

These days, Ilio DiPaolo’s a South Park Ave. landmark which fills two blocks with its Ringside Lounge and adjacent parking. A generation or two ago– it was the restaurant which stood in that parking lot which was the landmark.

A 1940s postcard shows Dairy Island, The back reads, in part, “See a modern dairy in action.” (Buffalo Stories archives)

Dairy Island was both the name of a restaurant and the milk brand produced by the Arcade Farms Co-op. The $150,000 facility was billed as a “modern milk plant and dairy bar” when it opened in 1947.

“We hope that Dairy Island will serve as a wholesome recreation spot for Blasdell and vicinity among young people,” said William Sadler, plant manager at the grand opening. Sadler was a Hamburg Town Councilman and later an Assemblyman.

In Albany, Sadler worked on the legislation which made the production of fortified skim milk legal, which Dairy Island marketed as “a boon to dieters.”

In 1951, management of the Dairy Island restaurant was taken over by the owners of the Colonial Kitchen chain, which had restaurants on Buffalo St. in Hamburg, Seneca St. at Buffum in South Buffalo, and the original location on Ridge Rd. in Lackawanna.

Newspaper ad, 1956. (Buffalo Stories archives)

When the Dairy Island restaurant was closed and converted to dairy production use in 1954, a Colonial Kitchen restaurant opened across South Park Ave. in its place.

In the mid-1960s, the Arcade Farms Co-op merged with the Upstate Milk Co-op which took over the building, which was eventually purchased by Sorrento Cheese. The Dairy Island building was torn down in 1989 when Ilio DiPaolo bought the building to make space for a parking lot for his newly expanded banquet room.