All-time Buffalonian Mark D. Croce, Jan. 24, 1961 – Jan. 9, 2020

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Rest In Peace Mark Croce, who died in a helicopter crash last night.

Aside from being one of Buffalo’s leading restaurateurs and club owners, without him, the Statler Hotel property would be a parking lot right now. He literally saved it from the wrecking ball. I was also privy to many of the really great things he quietly did for people just because he could.

The world has lost a good man who cared about this city and it’s people.

I ran across this Joe Cascio photo today of Mark Croce holding court with me and the rest of the media on the steps of the Statler Ballroom in 2011.

He didn’t have to buy the Statler. After years of crazy schemes and a handful of less-than-ideal out-of-town owners, the city was pricing out demolition.

His commitment to Buffalo by saving one of our storied landmarks was one of the small handful of events which helped Buffalonians see light coming from around the corner. I don’t know if we’d be wearing “Keep Buffalo A Secret” t-shirts without Howard Goldman’s having worked on Mark to buy the old hotel.

Ironically, it was on this same day that Mark and Mayor Brown were making a big announcement about the future of the Statler, that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg answered a question about a lack of classrooms, road maintenance, and housing in New York City by throwing a shot at Buffalo.

“There’s an awful lot of free space in Buffalo, New York, if you want to go there. I don’t think you do,” Bloomberg said.

Mayor Brown, who can be seen all the way to the right over Mark’s shoulder answered Bloomberg’s comments– right there in the Statler lobby– with the most tenacity I’ve ever seen from him in 15 years as mayor. “I’m pissed,” he said, several times, before demanding an apology.

Standing there, in this saved building, with our usually even-keeled mayor boldly standing up for our city’s honor– it was tough to not stand a bit taller as a Buffalonian.

And all that, because Mark Croce believed in Buffalo and put his business and his reputation on the line to make the Statler into an admittedly wobbly investment in Buffalo which acted as the basis and foundation for so many others…

Instead of a parking lot for City Hall workers.

 

Torn-Down Tuesday: Statler’s Hotel Buffalo made way for Pilot Field

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Jimmy Griffin’s dream-turned-reality for a downtown ballpark helped spur the rebirth of a Buffalo neighborhood and nearly brought a major league baseball team to Buffalo.

Mayor Griffin throws out the opening pitch at Pilot Field.

It was doing what might have seemed impossible for Buffalo on the face of it. A new, $56 million baseball stadium right in the middle of city that, over the previous decade, had become the butt of national jokes about blizzards, toxic waste and shuttered industry.

“We get screwed by the national media all the time,” said Irv Weinstein at the time. “Johnny Carson and those jerks.”

Mid 1970s, before Pilot Field was built.

But the new ballpark was different. People from all over the country came to look at how Pilot Field was built and how it worked. It helped bring about a renaissance in inner-city pro baseball not only in Buffalo, but around the country – most notably in Baltimore, where the Orioles and the city followed the lead of Buffalo and the Bisons when they built Camden Yards.

Major League Baseball was expanding by two teams, and Rich and the Bisons were players in the conversation up until the teams were eventually awarded to Denver and Tampa.

Big league dreams were never realized, but the opening of Pilot Field in 1988 was one of the early large-scale success stories that became a part of the new Buffalo story that’s still being written.

A 1985 aerial view of the parking lot where the Bisons’ home ballpark would be built in the coming years.

By the time the mid-1980s rolled around and the plans for what would become Pilot Field were well into the pipeline, the spot where Coca-Cola Field now stands was mostly a parking lot.

The most notable building that once stood there was the Hotel Buffalo – which was built by Ellsworth Statler in 1907 and was called the Hotel Statler until the much-larger building we still know as the Statler was opened in 1923.

A 1967 photo of The Hotel Buffalo, which originally opened as the Hotel Statler.

The Hotel Buffalo, on the southeast corner of Washington and Swan streets, was torn down in 1967, and soon thereafter, demolition also began on the other side of Washington Street for the Marine Midland Tower.

Ground was broken on the downtown ballpark in 1986. Since opening in 1988, the field will have its sixth official name when Coca-Cola’s naming rights sponsorship runs out at the end of this baseball season.

After 1967’s demolition of the Hotel Buffalo, before the 1970 construction of the Marine Midland Tower.

What it Looked Like Wednesday: Lost vista at Washington and Swan

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The “wows” evoked by photos of lost vistas are often maudlin or tinged with nostalgia. This lost vista might instead inspire satisfaction in the progress in Buffalo over the last three decades.

Thirty years ago, standing behind the Ellicott Square Building, at Washington and South Division looking south toward Swan Street, the view of the I-190, Buffalo News building, and General Mills elevator was virtually unabated.

Buffalo Stories archives

The caption on the photo taken from a report on downtown’s retail core reads “View south down Washington toward the grain elevators.”

Significant development in this part of the city has placed useful civic buildings, including Coca-Cola Field and KeyBank Center, between South Division Street and General Mills.

Coca-Cola Field opened in 1988. For the previous 20 years, the southeast corner of Washington and Swan was a surface parking lot after the demolition of the Hotel Buffalo on the site.

The Hotel Buffalo was the first permanent hotel built by Ellsworth Statler and originally known as the Hotel Statler — until the more recent, larger hotel was built in Niagara Square. It was torn down in 1968.

Hotel Statler, later the Hotel Buffalo, at Washington and Swan. Now the site of Coca-Cola Field.

Celebrating the glory of EM Statler in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Thirty-five years ago this month, The News began celebrating the 100th anniversary of the paper’s starting a daily edition.

In the special section called One Hundred Years of Finance and Commerce, The News recounted the history of a handful of Buffalo’s financial and commercial industries and provided ad space for many companies involved in those industries to tout their own contributions.

Ellsworth Statler came to Buffalo in 1896 to open a restaurant in the world’s largest office building, the Ellicott Square Building. His first hotel was temporary — it was built one block from the Pan-American Exposition.

His second hotel was built in 1908, and a photo of it is shown with the article. The building was still standing in 1980 at the corner of Washington and Swan streets, but it was torn down to make way for Coca-Cola Field.

Of course, the most famous of his hotels in Buffalo, the grand Statler on Niagara Square, was built in 1923. This article deals with the ups and downs of this last address.