In 1880, the spot where Johnnie B. Wiley Stadium – once known as War Memorial Stadium – stands, was on the far outskirts of the city.
The big landmark along Jefferson Street between Best and Dodge wasn’t “The Rockpile,” but was across the street from the stadium where the Stanley Makowski Early Childhood Center now stands.
The school was built on what was once the campus of the Gerhard Lang Brewery. Built in 1875, the brewery was marked as No. 57 on the 1880 map.
It would be another 10 years before there was any activity on the land on the other side of Jefferson Avenue.
In 1880, the Prospect Hill Reservoir was still Buffalo’s primary source for drinking water. Located at Niagara and Connecticut streets, the original reservoir spot has been the home of the Connecticut Street Armory for more than 100 years.In 1893, the new Prospect Reservoir started serving as Buffalo’s stand-by water source on Jefferson Avenue.
A generation later, that second reservoir would be replaced by War Memorial Stadium as a Depression-era WPA project.
With much fanfare, the Apollo — featuring cornice carved ceilings, an art nouveau lobby, a rich red rug, and soft, velvet-covered seats opened to the public in April, 1941.
Buffalo News archives
The Basil family operated it like all its theaters, as a neighborhood moviehouse, with special attention to what kids might want to spend their Saturday afternoons watching.
Through most of the theater’s heyday, its Jefferson Avenue address put it at the center of the commercial hub of Buffalo’s black community. Since the mid-’90s, the theater has served as a central location upon which to bring hope to the surrounding community.
The Apollo closed as a theater in the early ’70s and then operated as a church before being seized by the city in the ’80s. By 1995, it had been boarded up and mostly abandoned.
Masten District Councilmember Byron Brown helped lead discussions inside City Hall to make the theater’s renovation part of a plan to bring new life to Jefferson Avenue.
In 1998, plans were unveiled for $3 million worth of city funded renovations to turn the landmark into a telecommunications hub for the city. Aside from city television facilities, the building also became home to a small business resource center.
Buffalo’s only black police captain — one of only 25 black officers in the city — said having more men of color policing the neighborhoods predominantly inhabited by people of color would help solve many issues.
In 1970, Buffalo had 1,400 police officers and 25 (1.7 percent) were black. Department of Justice figures say in 2013, Buffalo had 714 officers, and 29 percent (about 207) were minorities.