By Steve Cichon
Courier-Express art critic and SUNY Buffalo State art professor D.K. Winebrenner had a weekly column in the Sunday paper where he opined not just on art, but on the state of aesthetic in Buffalo.
In a December 1967 piece, Winebrenner railed against the “commercial invasion” of Allentown.
“The Chairman of artistic rehabilitation in the area, artist Virginia Tillou, has expressed alarm that stands, restaurants and taverns along this dignified thoroughfare may result in a ‘honky-tonk’ appearance and destroy the efforts of the Allentown Association to upgrade the surrounding area,” wrote Winebrenner.
Red flags went up when Burger Chef opened in the spot now occupied by Tim Hortons on Delaware Avenue near Allen Street. The fear was that Allentown would begin to fill with “garish establishments” like those found in suburbia – especially around Sheridan Drive and Niagara Falls Boulevard.
Winebrenner wrote a scathing commentary on what is now, 50 years later, ubiquitous fast-food architecture.
“There is a new kind of pop architecture that is as audacious (and as annoying) as pop art. It is characterized by a general indifference toward standards and tastes of the past, borrows from dada and art nouveau (past and present), and flaunts architectural precepts (past and present) without batting an eye.
“Referred to casually as ‘hot dog stands,’ these culinary emporiums often specialize in less prosaic edibles such as hamburgers and other sandwiches, doughnuts and coffee, or the gastronomical delight of fried chicken. Some of these pop stands even sell pop.
“They come in many sizes, all small; and in many shapes, all boxes; but with imaginative appendages that conceal their humble concrete block structures, such as sweeping gable roofs that meet the ground, or more sophisticated modified mansards that mask nonexistent garrets. Often they are crowned with exotic spires and cupolas.
“Gone are the simple structures of local entrepreneurs, (albeit covered with a motley assortment of signs provided by distributors of ginger ale and cola) and in their place are standardized replicas of uniform designs which extol corporate images of national chains from coast to coast.
“Fortified with the advice of exterior decorators, the universally uniform trade marts come in bright colors and patterns that stand out against the Cape Cod homes in the suburbs and the pathetic patina of old city buildings, giving an aura of great importance to small structures surrounded by ‘black on black’ mats of black top. The effect is heightened when lighted colors, spotlights and neon tubes contrast with enveloping night.”
Winebrenner, who was one of the founders of the Charles Burchfield Center at SUNY Buffalo State, died in 1975 at the age of 66. While he might have been pleased that his dissertation on garbage fast-food architecture was found and shared 52 years after it was first written, he probably wouldn’t have been pleased that the driving reason behind sharing the story was to share the wonderful photos of late ’60s eateries that accompanied the original piece.