Torn-down Tuesday: Before it was Buffalo’s most confusing intersection …

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

If you’ve ever tried to get to the 33 from Main Street, you’ve probably wondered who designed it. The Main Street/Humboldt Parkway/Kensington Avenue intersection, meant to act as an access point for both the Kensington and Scajaquada expressways, is a nightmare.

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It’s a tightly nestled compound intersection with one traffic light and several stop signs with at least 14 head-spinning different ways to legally move through it.

City and state traffic engineers have acknowledged that this area of Main Street between Sisters’ Hospital and Canisius College is poorly designed and doesn’t work well, but citing cost, the same folks failed to make fixing it part of the 2003-09 reconstruction of Main Street from Humboldt to Bailey, as well as the coming redesign and downgrade of the Scajaquada Expressway.

 It wasn’t always that way, though. In the days when Kensington Avenue was known as Steele Street, there was a toll booth near that intersection, collecting money to help defray the cost of paving Main Street from downtown Buffalo to the Village of Williamsville.

The intersection became somewhat more complicated with the addition of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Humboldt Parkway, but not too much for most folks to handle.

This 1930s photo shows the intersection from Kensington Avenue. The spaces occupied by the gas station and the home owned by generations of the Culliton family are now occupied by MetroRail stations.  The large building was the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph for more than a century. It’s now filled with Canisius College offices and classrooms.

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By 1951, the gas station had come down to make way for a Robert Hall clothing store.

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While the Robert Hall building and small house next to it are gone, the larger brick building still stands with the same billboard structure in place—although Laube’s Old Spain is no longer being advertised there.

It was the 1960s construction of the Scajaquada and Kensington expressways, with Route 198 running under Main Street and leaving a series of bridges and overpasses in its wake, that left the intersection unwieldy to motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and anyone with common sense.

Before it was the old AM&A’s building…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

There is buzz and tempered excitement over the purchase the old AM&A’s department store building on Main Street.

The building was last occupied in 1998 by Taylor’s, a short-lived high-end department store better remembered for its dress code (no sneakers!) than its offerings.

In 1995, Bon-Ton closed what was the flagship store of the Adam, Meldrum, and Anderson Department Store chain. Bon-Ton bought AM&A’s in 1994.

The building is now best known as the AM&A’s building, as it was from 1960-94.

For the 90 years previous, AM&A’s was directly across Main Street from that location, in a series of storefronts which were torn down to make way for the Main Place Mall.

For most of the 20th century, the building we call AM&A’s was the JN Adam Department store. Adam was a mayor of Buffalo and the brother of AM&A’s co-founder Robert Adam. In 1960, JN’s closed, and AM&A’s took over the building.

RETAIL-May-1960-2

This photo, probably from the very late 1950s, shows Woolworth’s (which remained in that location until the chain dissolved in 1997), JN Adam, Bonds Men’s store (famous for two trouser suits), Tom McAn Shoes, the Palace Burlesk at its original Shelton Square location, then the Ellicott Square Building.

All of the storefronts between JN Adam and the Ellicott Square building were torn down for the M&T headquarters building and some green space.

“The Main Street” near Parkside

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Of course, following the rail and the streetcar to Parkside soon enough was the automobile. King’s Official Route Book was the Mapquest.com of the early automobile era. It gave new drivers not only street names as far as getting from one place to another, but offered landmarks as well in an era when street signs may not have been the most reliable or varied. In the 1913 edition, the book makes notes of several landmarks you’d see driving on Main Street from downtown through Parkside on your way from Buffalo to Batavia.

Buffalo, N. Y., to Batavia, N. Y.,
38.6 miles, Road mostly all brick and state road.

  • 0 Leave Soldiers’ Monument and Park on right, go north on Main St., following trolley .
  • 0.7 Pass Teck Theater Bldg. on left
  • 2.3 Intersection of trolleys with car barns on right (Cold Springs Street Car Barn)
  • 2.6 Passing hospital on right (Sisters Hospital at original Main/Delevan location)
  • 2.7 and Forest Lawn Cemetery on left
  • 2.8 Pass Carnival Court Park on right (amusement park where Main and Jefferson meet)
  • 3.0 St Vincent of Paul’s Church on right (now Canisius College Montante Cultural Center)
  • 3.1 Mount St. Joseph Academy on left (now Canisius’ Lyons Hall)
  • 3.3 Providence Retreat on right       (current site of Sisters Hospital)                                                                                             
  • 3.4 U. S. Marine Hospital on right      (currently Benedict House)   
  • 3.5 Deaf Mute Institution on right, straight ahead through                        
  • 3.6 Parkside brick schoolhouse on left   ( in current School 54 parking lot)                                                                               
  •  3.8 Central Presbyterian Church on left   (now Mt St Joseph’s Academy)
  •  3.9 Cross cement bridge over R. R.

Between the businesses in the Parkside neighborhood itself, and the business along Main Street, it was possible, for much of the neighborhood’s history,  for someone living in the area to not have need to leave the neighborhood for months at a time.

Without Main Street, there would not have been a Flint Hill or a Parkside. While over the last two decades its become the re-invigorated Hertel and Delaware Avenues that are the local shopping and dining destinations for Parksiders, for the 200 years previous, it was Main Street that served most of the needs of the people of the area we now call Parkside.

Over a three year period, third generation Parkside Resident and Definitive Parkside Historian Michael Riester wrote a series of articles, published in the Parkside News, examining the history Parkside’s portion of Main Street and role the stretch of road played in the life of the people of the area through the two centuries since the path was first carved from the wilderness.

(I)n 1850, the city secured vast tracts of Erastus Granger’s farm on Flint Hill (as Parkside was then known.) This land, with its rolling hills, large open meadows, woods, and Scajaquada Creek was considered the most beautiful and scenic in the area. 80 Acres would become Forest Lawn Cemetery, but the land to the north and west of the then-proposed cemetery, including Granger’s meadow and quarry, would be reserved for parkland. It would be some years yet before the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted would draw on its natural beauty to create Delaware Park. “

By the 1880s, once “The Park” was developed, and the modern streets of Parkside were laid out, the character of Main Street changed dramatically. Large homes, like the brick Victorian of the Garris Family at Main and Robie were being erected. The Garris family made their fortune in the Jammerthal quarries near Grider and Kensington.

©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon

The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York.