Buffalo in the ’50s: Lackawanna without ‘the ugliest building on planet Earth’

By Steve Cichon

This 1958 view from the bell tower at Our Lady of Victory Basilica is still recognizable today, with one notable addition to the streetscape and one notable subtraction.

Cord’s Drugs was a popular Lackawanna spot.

Cord’s Drug Store has been a parking lot for decades now, but many still remember waiting for the bus inside the split-level store, hoping not to get yelled at for ignoring the sign that directed, in bold letters, not to read the magazines.

It was a great old full-service drugstore, with a place to test radio and TV tubes and a big selection of model cars, comic books and candy.

Next door on Ridge Road was Ruda’s Records, later May’s Music when Ruda’s moved to the East Side.

South Ridge Restaurant was on Ridge Road in the 1950s.

Across Ridge Road was the longtime home of the South Ridge Restaurant, which according to the sign on the South Park side of the building, served Fairmont Dairy products. A few doors down, the only part of Parson’s Pharmacy that’s visible is the Rich’s Ice Cream sign, at a time when dozens of local dairies and larger conglomerates vied for Buffalo’s milk and ice cream dollars.

The Colonial Kitchen restaurant was around the corner on Ridge Road and was the first of what became a chain of several restaurants, including one further down South Park Avenue in Blasdell, and another on Seneca Street in South Buffalo.

Notably missing in 1958 is the building that Lackawanna’s mayor calls “the ugliest building on planet Earth.”

Lackawanna City Hall, 2013

The modernist, orange-paneled box on stilts which was added to the front of Lackawanna’s City Hall during the late ’60s and early ’70s has been a source of derision since plans for expanding the Steel City’s government offices in the early 1960s.

The Lackawanna City Council approved $400,000 for the building of an addition to City Hall in 1965. By the time the project was finished, it had cost $1.5 million.

There was controversy over where it would be built. It was front page news when after the building was nearly complete, a leak in the faulty ventilation system caused thousands in damage to ceiling tiles, rugs and draperies that weren’t even used yet. Truckloads of furniture showed up before bids were reviewed and contracts signed.

Despite all this, in 1970, Lackawanna Mayor Mark L. Balen called the structure the “most beautiful facility that will more than adequately serve this community for the next 50 years.”

In 1973, the building made front page news again – this time, the front page of The New York Times – as Lackawanna’s entire five-man Council and the city clerk were all indicted by a federal grand jury on interstate racketeering charges in connection with the building and furnishing of the giant orange addition. Two years later, the six were cleared of extortion and conspiracy charges.

In talking about building a new City Hall and demolishing the orange-paneled addition at the current building, Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski told The News in June 2018, “We’ll be bringing that down and I’ll be handing out orange panels to my enemies, for Christmas.”