Shifting Ideology in Parkside and Buffalo’s oldest community association

       By Steve Cichon

Ideological Shift

Parkside’s long-standing reputation as a politically conservative area predated the carving out of the neighborhood by Frederick Law Olmsted. The Granger Family, the first long-term white settlers in the area, was originally sent here with political patronage jobs from Thomas Jefferson.

The Granger family’s stone mansion on property that it now a part of Forest Lawn Cemetery was long known as the site of dozens of Republican fundraisers from the time of Lincoln up to the 1930s.

Elam Jewett was a close friend of the Buffalo’s Whig President Millard Fillmore. Before moving to what is now the corner of Jewett Parkway and Main Street, Jewett was the publisher of the very conservative and staid Commercial Advertiser, Buffalo’s most influential newspaper.

As one might expect, the neighborhood that sprung from the farm lands owned by Granger and Jewett became a very conservative Republican stronghold for well over half a century, aiding in electing Republican North, and later Delaware District Common Councilmen, as well as Republican Mayors of Buffalo. As late as the 1950s, Parkside was a predominantly Republican district.

In the 1960’s, however, the pendulum began to swing back. The election of John Kennedy to the White House, and a very likable Democrat, Frank Sedita, as Buffalo’s mayor, was making it easier to win over hearts and minds all over the city.

The home at the center of the Hoyt Mansion, shown here in the 1920s, was built at the corner of Main and High Streets in 1828 for the man who first planned Buffalo– Joseph Ellicott. In 1890, John Glenny moved it to Amherst Street and added on to it. William B. Hoyt purchased the home in 1910, making several additions. The Hoyt Family sold the home in the 1940s, when it was torn down to make way for the United Church Home Senior complex; which stood there until 2005, when Nichols tore the building down to make way for athletic fields.

And in 1970, Parkside joined with the rest of the Delaware Councilmatic District in electing the first Democrat ever to represent the area on Buffalo’s Common Council. William B. Hoyt II was the namesake and grandson of a lawyer who worked for New York Central Railroad, was an early Pierce Arrow investor, and was integral in pulling off the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. The elder Hoyt lived in a mansion on Amherst Street; now the site of the soccer and football fields of Nichols school.

The Younger Hoyt served on Buffalo’s Common Council from 1970 until 1975, and then continued to represent the northern half of the Parkside neighborhood in the New York State Assembly from 1975 until 1992, when after decades of tireless work for the Parkside area, he died after suffering a heart attack on the floor of the Assembly.

Since 1992, William B. Hoyt III, known to everyone as “Sam,” has served in the same seat as his father in Albany. That father-son duo represents 40 years of uninterrupted elected public service for the people of Parkside.

Emblematic of the larger clash of cultures issue were the goings on at the heart of Parkside one weekend night at the height of the counter-culture movement. At the corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, where Elam Jewett built his church “Good Shepherd,” and from where the neighborhood sprung, two worlds collided.

The William Sydney Wicks mansion, Jewett and Summit.

The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Darwin Martin house had, by the late 1960s, become the official residence of the President of the University at Buffalo. Across Jewett Parkway, in the home noted Buffalo Architect William Sydney Wicks designed and built for himself, lived one of the University’s most “infamous” dissident professors, Dr. Elwin H. “Ed” Powell.

Ed Powell called the house “The People’s Pentagon.” Powell was an early opponent of the Vietnam War, holding “teach-ins” about the conflict in 1964. He led war protests through the 60s and 70s, and sheltered war resisters at the house in 1971.

His son, Jim Powell, remembers growing up in the house during that time. “The FBI and other law enforcement had the house watched for many years and the phone lines tapped. Sometimes my friends and I would go out in the middle of winter and offer the agents hot drinks while they sat there in the snow watching our house. They never accepted.”

The federal agents also did their best to make sure the neighborhood knew of the subversive activity going on in their neighborhood. “Sometimes they went door to door showing pictures of naked hippies… taken through the fence of our back yard where, at any given time during parties, there’d be dozens of naked hippies splashing around. Never a dull moment.”

The photos were likely unnecessary. The younger Powell remembers his status in the neighborhood rising, as parents told their children they weren’t even allowed near the home Jim Powell calls “a commune of Charlie Manson look-alikes with a rag-tag bunch of teenagers hanging around.”

He writes of the night the UB establishment clashed with the counter- culture in what he saw as “The bright shiny Cadillacs and Buicks versus the VW bugs and buses, Mavericks and Valiants.”

The University was having a fancy party at the Frank Lloyd Wright house and invited everyone to attend the Gala Formal Event at the magnificent UB President’s house at 125 Jewett Parkway on the corner of Jewett and Summit. As luck would have it, Dad was throwing a Hippie-Laden Moratorium Day blow-out party at 124 Jewett.

Dad’s counterculture parties at our house were legendary, yet another reason parents forbade their kids from going near the place. There were usually massive amounts of beer, often in kegs and the gallons and gallons of cheap wine flowed like the Great Niagara a few miles away. Yet that wasn’t the half of it, there was so much grass and LSD, there was absolutely something for everybody.

The music was amazing, the bands would set up in the large formal dining room that faced out across Jewett to the FLW house and the music was so loud it could be heard for blocks. Hundreds of people would show up for Dad’s parties and by 9 PM there was usually a whole pile of hippies swimming naked in the pool.

Dr. Powell lived in the Wicks House until his death in 2001, but before then– he was able to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act, portions of his over 30,000-page FBI file.

Powell’s son Stephen noted in a eulogy for his father that “they had taken the great pains to go through every page and cross off the names of the informants that had contributed to this great work. Some had even lived at the house with us. He was aghast and incensed when he read the conclusion of the summary report of the file when they decided he was ‘actually a pretty nice guy’ and was not a terrorist threat.”

Chapter 7: The Parkside Community Association

The Parkside Community Association owes its foundation in part to another group, HOME, Housing Opportunities Made Equal.  According the HOME website, in 1963, the founding members of HOME came together from a variety of racial and religious backgrounds to address the ever present problem of discrimination in the Buffalo housing market.  

The two men who founded the PCA met at a HOME meeting. “Dick Griffin and I both lived in Parkside,” remembers Jack Anthony, “and met at a HOME meeting. We said HOME is good, but what about our neighborhood?

“So June, 1963, we moved my parents furniture out of their living room, we got some folding chairs from George Roberts Funeral Home, Main at Willowlawn, and we leafleted the neighborhood to say we were having a meeting about our neighborhood.

“We filled the living room, and a good crowd showed up. It was organized around blockbusting. So we organized, I was the first President. We had different committees. Traffic, trees.  Dutch Elm Disease killing off the trees was a really big problem. A lot of people were very upset by that.  We did a lot of things other than blockbusting.”

But, as previously outlined, much of the group’s initial effort went into preventing blockbusting. Word got out rather quickly that this wouldn’t be acceptable. Early on, Parksiders decided to build an integrated community and worked for racial harmony and diversity.

 “We had one black real estate agent who was accused of blockbusting. We invited him into my living room; he denied having ever done any blockbusting; and what’s more, he promised he’d never do it again. That was the only real concrete incident, but the word got out– If you trying blockbusting in Parkside, the PCA’s going to be after you.”

PCA wasn’t just involved with keeping those that would destroy the neighborhood out; from its very beginning, the Parkside Community Association was charged with bringing new people into the neighborhood.

“We distributed plenty of literature, our first pamphlet was called, Who Needs Suburbia. It basically said we’re looking for nice neighbors no matter what color you are. So as far as most folks can see, it worked. “

David and Ruth Lampe were among the most vocal of the pioneers who helped develop the neighborhood back from its lowest point. As they were sending their children to School 54 in an effort to maintain and build upon the character of the school, the Lampes were reviving the dilapidated American Four Square they’d purchased on Crescent Avenue between Robie Street and Florence Avenue in 1970. It was one of a number of homes on the block that had seen better days.

Aside from being the PTA President at School 54, Ruth Lampe would go on to spent the next four decades as a stalwart member of the Parkside Community, acting as a block club organizer, PCA President, Housing specialist, and fighter for causes important in maintaining and growing the neighborhood.

In 1984, Lampe was interviewed by the Parkside News, 14 years after her arrival in Parkside. “(In the mid-70s), Parkside had all the trappings of a neighborhood in trouble. Its housing stock was beginning to deteriorate; it was next to a changing community; it was relatively isolated; its local school was in trouble. Few other communities have turned around so quickly and so impressively. Parksiders can take pride in their success.”

It was a major community effort, on many different levels, to make it all happen. The PCA fought against plans of The Trico Products Corporation to tear down a handful of structures along Greenfield Street near Main to build a parking lot for its plant (now the Tri-Main building).

In a 1970 formal letter to city officials opposing the plan, President Richard Griffin wrote, “One primary purpose of the PCA has been to promote and retain the residential character of our community…. One city official has aptly described Trico’s proposal as ‘blockbusting into a residential neighborhood.'”

The PCA has also, since the early days, attempted to preserve the character of the neighborhood by insisting on strict code enforcement for both businesses and home owners.

When the PCA’s Housing Committee was formed in 1967, the minutes of the Board of directors meeting said the committee should “determine what structures are (in a state of disrepair) and make efforts to persuade the owner to remedy the situation. Our purpose is not to form a vigilante committee.” 

After identifying poorly kept premises, they worked to figure out why work wasn’t being done, and helping when needed. The committee also worked to commend those who maintained their homes beautifully. 

As time wore on, and despite the thought by some that the PCA should “mind its own business,” the association began to take a firm stand on building codes, and encouraged the passage of codes and law which provided a legal basis to help keep the neighborhood from falling into the same condition as many other city neighborhoods.

This means painting and general upkeep, but also making sure, for example, the proper permits are in place before a lawn and greenery can be cemented over and a curb cut for a parking pad.

It also applies to building usage. PCA successfully fought Buffalo State College’s Sigma Tau Rho fraternity from opening 252 Crescent Avenue as a Frat House in 1970. UB’s Dental Fraternity had operated a house at the corner of Summit and Russell Avenues for many years. The frat was described in a 1970 Buffalo Evening News accounting as “terrible and disastrous” for neighbors. PCA Co-Founder Dick Griffin told one reporter of “students playing loud music and cavorting on the lawn with their girlfriends. Parkside wasn’t sorry to see them go.”

The PCA also generally tries to look at preservation and rehabilitation of a property, as opposed to demolition, to prevent the blighted “gap-tooth” look seen in some city neighborhoods.  One notable exception was the large apartment house which stood at the corner of Florence and Parkside Avenues in varying degrees of vacancy and vagrancy from the 1950s until the time it was torn down in the 1970s.

This house stood vacant at Parkside and Florence as a collection spot for dozens of political signs until it was taken down in the early 1970s. The “Welcome to Parkside” sign now stands about where the porch is in this early 70s shot. Among the names on the political signs plastering the house: Mayor Sedita, and Common Councilmen Chester Gorski and Anthony Masiello.

The Parkside Community Association was not, of course, the only community group active in Parkside.

St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic church, which operated just south of Humboldt Parkway on Main Street for 125 years,  was very much interested in the future of the city neighborhoods it served.

The church paid particular interest in, as a 1979 Courier-Express article described it, “an aging but elegant North Buffalo apartment building. Michael Riester wrote about it in the March 2000 edition of Parkside News:

With the advent of the 1960’s, St. Vincent’s bravely confronted the great social changes underway. Under the direction of Msgr. Paul Valente, parishioners turned their attention to concerns facing her neighborhood. St. Vincent’s joined the fight to oppose redlining, the illegal banking practice of refusing to loan money for inner city home purchases.

Describing the changing mission of the traditional parish, Msgr. Valente is quoted as saying, “What it’s becoming is more of a community center. We are trying to become more community conscious and less missionary in the old sense of going out to make converts. We simply want to indicate by our concern and action that we feel a part of the community, and that we have the interests of the community at heart.

Encouraged by Msgr. Valente, an enthusiastic group of parishioners became a part of the Community Action Organization. This grassroots organization involved 16 catholic parishes who decide to try to fight redlining by peaceful means… 

During the summer of 1975, a group of parishioners began an in-depth study of slumlords within the (Parkside) neighborhood. They focused their attention on the owner of the Crescent Apartments at 196 Crescent Avenue. Having gained the support of the tenants, committee members actually accompanied city housing inspectors through each apartment, making a list of needed repairs.

At one point, over seventy-five neighbors demanded a meting with Mayor Makowski and city housing inspectors to address a list of over seventy-five code violations within the building. A meeting did take place at the St. Vincent’s Parish rectory, and through repeated exposure in the Buffalo News, the building was sold to a new owner.

Ruth Lampe has been a stickler for housing and building code compliance, and has served as the PCA’s Housing Specialist. 

In a 1984 interview about housing, Lampe said, “PCA’s controversial and largely successful housing program ensured that the area’s housing stock was well maintained, even in cases where owners would not have otherwise afforded to make improvements.

“We often take this community for granted. We need to have some historical perspective. (In 1974), housing prices were depressed and we had real problems. Now (in 1984), while everything is not perfect, we have solved the number one problem– the stability and attractiveness of the community. “

94 Jewett Parkway stands as a testament to mixed use in Parkside. A state-run group home site since 1986, the home was designed by well regarded Buffalo firm Esenwein and Johnson, and built by Mr. Sinclair, who made millions in the millinery business; making the ornate sort of women’s hats that were in style in the 1890s. The last private owner of the home was very intrigued about a large walk-in vault below the back porch, so he paid a locksmith rather handsomely to open the obviously long locked safe. There was great suspense as the door creaked open, with hopes of some long-forgotten riches. Suspense turned to great hope as there was, to everyone’s surprise… a single box in the safe. The box was excitedly cracked open to find… A stash of girlie magazines.

Parkside’s efforts to “Preserve a Neighborly Neighborhood” became the title of an article published in The National Observer, in 1972, which acted as a weekend edition for the Wall Street Journal. PCA Co-founder Richard Griffin takes a reporter on a tour of the neighborhood which had just undergone a decade of momentous change. The mood of the piece is, we’re hopeful, working on it, and hoping for the best.

The hoping and the work paid off. “Parkside inspires more confidence than it did four or five years ago. One real estate broker confided that one of the reasons for the Elmwood-Delaware Area’s resurgence was the number of people fearful of investing in Parkside,” Real Estate Reporter Phillip Langdon wrote in a 1979 Buffalo Evening News larger piece on the “comeback” of the city as a whole. The article continued:

 (Richard) Mabee (of Gurney, Becker, and Bourne Realty) confirms what Parkside residents say — that “Parkside has gained a lot of appeal. It’s become a very successful integrated neighborhood.”

Some nervous whites moved out, but Mabee says “those spots were filled in not only by successful blacks but by university people, who are more broadminded.”…”They’re active and they’re smart,” Mabee says of (the Parkside Community Association).

A 1977 Parkside newsletter quotes a Community Planning Assistance Center (CPAC) study of the changes in Parkside, comparing the area in 1970 to the way it was in 1977.

The Parkside community residential housing prices have increased on average from $21,500 to $33,500 in 1977. The sales listings have decreased from a 1973 high of 92 to a 1976 total of 46, which can be interpreted as a sign of confidence in the area as viewed by its residents…. Owner occupied dwellings have increased from 895 in 1970 to 925 in 1975, an increase of 30 units.

The same 1977 newsletter came with a page labeled “Thoughts on Our Neighborhood,” a sample of opinions offered up by members:

We have young children, young married couples, old married couples, retirees, grandparents, blacks, whites, others, blue collars, white collars, laborers, professionals, liberals, conservatives, moderates, radicals, reactionaries, anarchists, entrepreneurs, communists, all living together… one from many.

Many opinions also focused on the slowly upgrading housing stock, and the varied nature of the areas homes, and a still tempered hope for the future of the neighborhood.

The PCA would take a major role in bolstering those tempered hopes, but only with the active support of the people of the neighborhood. It was still a topic of great interest when written about in the February 1981 Parkside News

Although you might not be aware of it, the ‘renaissance’ of the Parkside community has taken a lot of work by your neighbors over the past few years. Building code enforcement, tree planting, zoning enforcement, solving small community problems, and housing improvements have been among the main concerns of the Association.

As the Parkside Community Association has progressed, the resident involvement it has stimulated has been the major force in the perception and creative dealing with newly emerging neighborhood needs.

Three years ago, in 1977, in response to the perception that the neighborhood was in need of a defined preservation and restoration program, the membership voted to open a formal office with the assistance of outside funding. PCA was awarded community development funds to help with its programs. In 1979, New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal funds were added to the PCA’s budget.

Despite all the successes, challenges continued. While blockbusting was corralled very early on, redlining has lasted in various forms even up to this day, and the fact that it is so institutionalized, makes it very difficult to fight.

When the term first came into usage, it referenced the practice of denying loans and insurance (or allowing loans or insurance but at incredibly raised rates) to people in communities that banks and insurance companies found undesirable (usually that meant poor or black.) The definition expanded to include other businesses that would deny basic services or adequate access to services based on geographic location. 

The Community Association’s annual spring meeting in 1976 was entitled, “Redlining and Disinvestment.  The Erie County Citizens Organization present their findings of ‘banking disinvestment’ in Buffalo.“ Finding loans to buy or renovate a home in the area was getting increasing difficult, as was finding reasonably priced homeowners insurance for many.  

Other societal changes made some other forms of redlining more apparent as well. Up until the mid ‘70s, a family’s groceries could, for the most part, be purchased within the confines of Parkside. Grocers like Red & White would have fruits and canned goods, one of the several delicatessens had smaller items. At various times there were butchers and bakers. But with the rise of supermarkets, came the fall of the Mom and Pop stores, and residents had to rely on the behemoth stores outside of the neighborhood confines for groceries.

Main & West Oakwood, 1950s

By the early 80s, many were beginning to question the variety at the area markets.  Most Parksiders shopped at the Bells in Central Park Plaza, the Super Duper on Great Arrow near Delaware, and the Tops on Delaware at Linden. It was observed that the fresh meats and produce weren’t as fresh or plentiful as in suburban stores, and that some staple items, like milk and bread, were priced higher for city shoppers.

Taking it on as an obvious quality of life issue, The PCA publicly campaigned for changes. The manager of each store was called out in editorials in the Parkside News and in the larger press, and it was insisted that such practices wouldn’t be tolerated. It’s just a small example of raising the quality of life in many different ways to make the area more attractive to people willing and able to invest.

Throughout the 1970s, one major investment Parksiders looked forward to was the building of the LRRT, light rail rapid transit, right along Parkside’s spine on Main Street.

For more than a decade, residents actively participated in deciding where the stops should be placed in the neighborhood. By the time the MetroRail plans were set in 1982, it was thought 10,000 people a day would be arriving and departing from the Amherst Street station every day. Many Parksiders (and City Planners) of the day saw this as the future of the neighborhood. All around the country, areas newly serviced by light rail had always seen property values escalate.

While in retrospect, the projected numbers fell way short of expectation, and the project wasn’t the panacea that many thought it might be, it still helped give Parkside a boost.

The June 1981 Parkside News headline read, Housing Values in Parkside Soar. Just as average home value increased and the number of sales dropped 1970-77, 1979-81 saw more stabilization, based in part of the impending opening of the MetroRail.

The 1979 MLS average for homes sold in Parkside was $27,800. A year later, it had jumped to $35,800. There were also 50% fewer sales. Area home values increased 28.5% 1979 to 1980, as compared to an only 8.3% increase in WNY as a whole.

In 1984, UB’s Department of Environmental Design conducted an analysis of the Parkside neighborhood, looking to see how the Comprehensive Code Enforcement program affected the community. As far as housing values, they rose 29% in Buffalo between 1978 and 1982. In Parkside, housing values rose 56% during the same period.

With the future of the neighborhood on a much more firm footing by the mid 1980s, many stopped worrying about treading water, and began looking to the future. Many looked at the past as a means to ensure that future.

By 1983, an initial survey of the Parkside neighborhood was completed by the Friends of Olmsted Parks, with the hope and expectation that the Olmsted-designed neighborhood might be recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the next few years, a complete survey was completed, with the efforts spearheaded by Erie County Legislator Joan Bozer, she a Parkside resident. The full document is over 1,000 pages, and includes a two page summary of every building within Parkside, and painstakingly inventories the historic relevance of every article of the neighborhood’s landscape:

The Parkside… Historic District in Buffalo, New York is located approximately four miles north of Buffalo’s central business district at the east and northeast sides of Delaware Park. The district is characterized by an irregular street pattern, which generally follows the contours of the adjacent park’s edge, and by a large number of single family residences built for middle and upper-middle class families during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Parkside… Historic District covers a relatively flat, crescent-shaped area of approximately 226 acres. There are 1768 contributing buildings included in the district; 1109 represent principal buildings and 659 are outbuildings, usually garages. Three of the contributing buildings were listed on the National Register in 1975 as part of the Darwin Martin House Complex…

The district also includes nine contributing structures, representing historic streets and street segments significant for their association with Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1876 and c.1886 plans for the development of “Parkside.” These features comprise: Agassiz Circle, Amherst Street, Crescent Avenue, Greenfield Street, Humboldt Parkway, Jewett Parkway, Parkside Avenue, Summit Avenue, and Woodward Avenue. There are 22 non-contributing principal buildings in the historic district. Most of these are infill housing units or post-1926 apartment buildings; however, several represent severely altered buildings constructed within the district’s 1876-1936 period of significance.

In 1987, Parkside officially won the Historic Designation. PCA Board President Robert A. Kilduff wrote about it in the Parkside News:

The real benefit of the designation is more intangible, more psychological than financial. It involves recognition of the value of what we have inherited as well as a renewed commitment to preserve it….               

The Historic designation has also seen an increase in activism in the affairs of the Park. Parkside was designed around the Park, and was seen by Olmsted as an integral part of the Park System. Parkside was created as a built-in protector of the Park system, serving to buffer the Park from inappropriate uses.

Now, many Parksiders complain that Delaware Park is no longer seen as a part of the community by “the powers that be,” but as a regional entity… PCA’s watch dogging of conditions an usage of the park has seemed parochial to some, but the mission of Parkside is more than parochialism, but rather an historic mission.

That same year was watershed year for the Community Association, as in March 1987, a PCA was established with the purchase of a new headquarters building. The PCA committed to buy and renovate the former dental offices of Dr. Monreith Hollway at 2318 Main Street, which included the office as well as two units of low income housing. Initial renovation costs, to be provided by two state grants, were to total $71,000. “Owning the building is seen by PCA as a commitment to renovating a visible and deteriorating community resource.”

2318 Main Street was slated for demolition before it was purchased and renovated by the Parkside Community Association. 1987 photo.

But it wasn’t as easy as initially thought. By January, 1990, difficult and costly renovations had dragged on, and the PCA was being evicted from its previous office space at 10 W Oakwood Place, as owner was trying to sell the building. The PCA had lost state funding to refurbish the building at 2318 Main Street, and the project was becoming entangled in a web of city, state, and federal regulations.

But the many problems were overcome, and, by mid 1991, as the PCA got ready to move into its building at 2318 & 2320 Main Street, one longtime Parkside Resident was awash with memories. Milton Carlin remembered his father’s jewelry store was on the right side of the two store-front building. At that time, the left side was Russell’s Barber Shop, At that point, the building’s dentist owner, Dr. Hollway, practiced upstairs. The jewelry store existed in the space through the 1940s, when Dr. Hollway moved his practice into the storefront. It remains today the PCA headquarters.

The offices of Dr. Monreith Hollway; now the PCA Office, 2318 Main Street

As the neighborhood and the focus of the community association changed, one man greatly credited with keeping neighbors on track was Derek Bateman; the Executive Director of PCA from 1982-1992.

As he left, he was lauded as greatly responsible for helping to turn around the attitudes about the neighborhood’s housing stock.

“He saw the neighborhood through its comprehensive code enforcement, a process that upset many homeowners, but brought about dramatic changes in the physical appearance of the area.”

Bateman wrote at the end of his tenure that plenty of what was seen and what was not seen in Parkside had been influenced by the PCA during his time as Executive Director:

There are no video arcades at the corner of Main and Amherst or Parkside and Russell, and nor are there disruptive bars at Parkside and Russell. There is a stoplight at the intersection of Florence and Parkside, and many new trees along Parkside’s streets.

There is a newly renovated Parkside-Florence tot lot, initiated by interested residents working with the PCA. The new historic street lights, now being put up, would have been inappropriate suburban looking fixtures had it not been for PCA intervention.

While neighborhoods around the city continued to deteriorate, Parkside, with its strong community, and strong community association prospered. But maybe too much, as a double edged sword came for the PCA in 1996: The State of New York’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal determined that the Parkside Community Association met its original goal of creating a stable and economically diverse neighborhood.

While this milestone came as great news, it also came with the state ending its yearly grant of $63,000, nearly immediately, as of March 1996.

It came as a shock, and caused the organization to change the way it had operated for many years. Three jobs, and one proposed job, were eliminated from the PCA.

The organization had long been open for housing assistance for low income homeowners. Those requests were being forwarded to the North Buffalo Community Center. New emphasis was put on membership and fundraising. The writing of grants and annual requests of city, county and state lawmakers became yearly events.

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

The full text of the book is now online. 

The original 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. 

©2009, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC,, and Steve Cichon


Urban Renewal, Social Upheaval, Integration, and the Parkside Community Association

       By Steve Cichon

“Urban Renewal”

After the war, people wanted to leave the worn city behind, in favor of bright, clean, shiny new suburbs. And what better way to get people to the suburbs than 4 and 6 lane divided highways.

The original thought was enthusiastic, but, as later admitted, misguided. Planners said when the population along the Niagara Frontier reaches 1.5 million, 2 million, 3 million… the people spread all over Western New York will want to get Downtown quickly for the best entertainment, for the glitziest shopping, for the finest restaurants, and, of course, to work.

“Suburban traffic,” it was written in the 1946 report The New York State Thruway and Arterial Routes in the Buffalo Urban Area, “must be given high consideration in the logical treatment of any conditions in the city.”

There was very little resistance to this idea to prepare Buffalo for the bold new future. The Parkside neighborhood was at the center of the plan that would turn Buffalo into the 20 minute city it continues to be.

There was a much different aesthetic in the days before six lanes of highway made an abrupt incision in the landscape. Parkside’s southerly border was and is Humboldt Parkway, but the pre-1960 Humboldt Parkway was a far cry from what it is today.

The median of Humboldt Parkway, before it was destroyed to build the Kensington Expressway.

street was designed by Olmsted to connect The Park (Delaware Park) to the
(later Humboldt Park, now Martin Luther King Park) in such a way
that one could travel from one to the other without feeling like they left a
park at all.  Once, eight rows of stately
trees stood on the 200-foot wide median between the two sides of the divided

Tobogganing in Delaware Park, 1920s.

Cross-country skiing, Delaware Park, 1920s.

At Delaware Park, Humboldt Parkway ended at Agassiz Circle, with the grand entrance to Park. The Parkway continued with the grace-fully curved, two-lane Scajaquada Parkway. Young people would often pull off the road to “park” under the statue of David, or toboggan in the winter.

Outdoor Ice Hockey, Delaware Park, late 1920s.

Ski jump, Delaware Park, 1920s.

Mrs. Martha Lang, who lived on Crescent Avenue for over 50 years, remembered vividly her mother’s home on Humboldt Parkway in the 1940s.

Speaking with the Parkside News in 1990, she called Humboldt’s tree-shaded median “a place for lovers to stroll, kids to play, to sit on your front porch and watch the passing scene.” She lamented its loss, and said the whole character of the area changed when the Scajaquada Expressway took its place.

In 1953, with the north/south 190 already in place, planners released plans for a series of 5 east/west highways to bisect the city and increase the ability for traffic to move in and out of downtown, with no waiting in heavy city traffic.

One of the proposals seemed like a fait accompli. Unlike the others, which cut through neighborhoods, this cut through land described by planners as “vacant.” 

Four years later, in 1957,  that “vacant” land that was the middle of Delaware Park became home to a high speed thoroughfare. The Scajaquada Creek Expressway opened as a widened, jersey-barriered and guard-railed 50 mile-an-hour version of the sleepy, winding 15 mile-an-hour path which once stood in the same place.

Creating the Elmwood/198 offramp of the Scajaquada Expressway, 1958

To meet up with the planned Kensington Expressway, The Scaja-quada Ex-pressway was extend-ed past the footprint of the old Scajaquada Parkway, right through the beginning of Humboldt Parkway to about Delevan Avenue. Humboldt Parkway was at grade level with Main Street.

The blasting that took place to sink the roadway to 20 feet below grade, and expose the walls of Onondaga limestone, rattled picture frames off of walls throughout the neighborhood, just as the blasting out of the Beltline did 50 years before, and blasting out of the MetroRail would 30 years later. 

As the
Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways were built, Agassiz Circle, once the
stately, grand entrance to Delaware Park, all but disappeared.  No longer a parkway divided by grass and
trees, Humboldt Parkway became two parallel one way streets separated by six
lanes of blown out-sunken in asphalted expressway. The city encroachment that
Olmsted designed Parkside to eliminate was here.

But believe or not, it really could have been worse. In his 1983 book High Hopes, Mark Goldman outlines a 1958 proposal for another expressway, thankfully never built, called the Delaware Park Shortway. It would have “taken a large chunk of Delaware Park meadow and built there yet another divided highway, across the park and parallel to the Scajaquada.” 

Traffic didn’t move for days on Rte. 198 in late January/early February 1977, as Parkside and the Buffalo area dealt with the deadly Blizzard of ’77.

Aside from the new Scajaquada Expressway going through the middle of it, The Delaware Park Meadow went through some other changes as well. The golf course was laid out around the turn of the century, and fully constructed in 1930.

The Park Superintendent’s house, “The Farmstead,” built in 1875, was torn down in 1950 to make way for the current Zoo parking lot. And the stone garden– a quarried-out area behind the Parkside Lodge at Florence, filled with plants and flowers– was filled in to make way for a par 3 golf hole after a child was found dead in the pond at the bottom of the pit.

But it wasn’t just politicians and city planners who changed the Parkside landscape in the 1950s and 60s. Mother Nature, too, landed a body blow to the trees of the neighborhood, when Dutch Elm disease struck.

 Over 10,000 trees died of Dutch Elm disease in the City of Buffalo, many hundreds in Parkside. Up until the early 1960s, every street in the neighborhood was covered with a canopy of elm branches. By the mid 1960s, it became clear that the battle to save the trees was a losing one. 

In the earliest days of the Parkside Community Association, one of its major concerns was the dying trees.  The first item in the April, 1966 newsletter for the group dealt with the trees, and seemed to be grasping at straws.

YOUR ELMS — It is evident that we are losing the fight against Dutch Elm
disease. The chemical Bidrin which offered hope a year ago has not proved
itself and is now not being used.

only safe and effective treatment is the special DDT spray which must be used
before the leaves unfold in the spring. Davey Tree Experts and United Tree
Surgeons are among the firms under “Tree Service” in the yellow pages
which are known to offer this service. Spraying equipment, however, is limited
and there are not many days left which are clear and calm enough to apply the

Jewett Parkway in the 1930s, when elm trees were at their peak– before dying of Dutch Elm disease in the 1960s.

NOW is the time to order this service if you want to SAVE YOUR ELMS.

But not even the later-found-to-be carcinogenic DDT was enough to stop the spread of the disease. It was well into the ‘80s and ‘90s before a concerted city-initiated effort would begin to replace the hundreds of trees that had fallen to the blight, and changed the character of the neighborhood forever.

Social Upheaval

Despite the fact that suburban flight had begun, most who grew up in Parkside in the 50s and 60s describe it as a Leave It to Beaver, idyllic place to live and grow up.

“We left our doors unlocked. Break-ins were unheard of. It seemed every other house had kids our age. There were always pickup games in the street…Football, baseball… and even though we used a tennis ball we still broke a few windows. It wouldn’t be unusual to get 20 boys together to play football or tag in someone’s backyard.”

But each of those 20 boys was white. The streets of Parkside were populated almost entirely, with only rare exception, by whites. “It’s not like there were fights in the streets, but when black kids rode their bikes through the neighborhood it was noticed. It was still a pretty lily white neighborhood.”

Most kids knew that it wasn’t smart to travel outside of your own neighborhood by yourself at that time. Long glares from the kids of the strange neighborhood you were visiting was likely the best treatment you could expect. But in Parkside, it was painfully obvious that if you were black and passing through, you didn’t belong.

As a man who later fought vigorously to bring the races together in Parkside and in Buffalo as a whole, Jack Anthony graphically remembers the somewhat unusual sight of black children as he grew up in Parkside in the 1940s.

“Sometimes we’d see black kids in the park, on their ‘nigger bikes.’  That’s what we called them. Some of the black kids had these bikes with a couple of horns, a couple of headlights, all jazzed up. We never thought white kids would do that. And we hated those kids, and we hated those bikes,” remembered Anthony.

Racial differences and problems weren’t the only under bubbling current. Ethnic and religious bigotry was also more widely socially acceptable. Anthony recalls his high school experience, just north of the Parkside neighborhood.

When I was a freshman at Bennett (early 1950s), we had race riots. It was Jewish kids and non-Jewish kids… There were no blacks there then, so it was, as we used to say then, white kids being up Jewish kids, and vice versa. Isn’t that sick?

One of the ministers from Central (Presbyterian Church at Main and Jewett), a rabbi, and a priest all came to an assembly talking to us all about being better citizens. I can remember a bunch of friends leaving a “Hi-Y” High School YMCA meeting and head up to Hertel to find a bunch of “kikes” to beat up.

That was the mentality. But by the end of my four years at Bennett, relations between the Jewish kids and non-Jewish kids had greatly improved. One of my best friends, a Jewish kid, got beaten up pretty badly. I often wondered whether it was my other friend and his crew who may have done it.

But by the early 1960’s, the situation was changing.

“Urban Renewal” projects, like the building of the Kensington Expressway, were destroying the neighborhoods inhabited by middle-class upwardly mobile black families. Displaced, many were attempting to make Parkside and other predominantly white middle-class neighborhoods their home.

Some unscrupulous businessman played on the fears of whites that their neighborhood was “going black.” The result in many Buffalo neighborhoods, including Parkside, was red-lining and blockbusting.

Redlining is an effort on the part of people in the banking and insurance industries to increase the price of, or deny services based on geographic location. 

Blockbusting was a scheme involving real estate agents putting families under pressure to sell their homes “before the neighborhood goes bad.” Both were an effort to destroy neighborhoods by buying cheap, selling high, and playing on the fears of people living in a changing city and changing society while reaping profits.

In 1963, four black families lived in Parkside. At least one real estate agent began calling their neighbors, speaking vaguely of perspective buyers, and the fact that they should sell while they can. Panic reigned, and several people, affiliated with a neighboring church, pooled resources to buy a house from underneath a black family looking to move into the area.

In May 1963, a community meeting was held at St. Mark Church to discuss all manner of topics affecting the neighborhood. After a long discussion of a proposed North Buffalo Ice Rink, lifelong Parkside resident Jack Anthony asked the group’s thoughts on black families moving into the area. Discussion was immediately cut off, and the topic deemed “too controversial.” 

Flabbergasted, Anthony and Richard Griffin organized a community meeting to discuss race in Parkside. At the time, the neighborhood was very diverse in almost every way: A mix of all ages, religions, educational backgrounds, and economic conditions. Anthony and Griffin agreed that while it hadn’t yet, racial diversity should also come to Parkside in a way that it didn’t around the rest of the city.

The Parkside Community Association (PCA) was formed, and on July 1, 1963, an 8 page outline of what the group stood for was distributed around the neighborhood. An excerpt from that original PCA Newsletter follows:

feel there is a real need for this to maintain and improve our wonderful
area…. (At our first meeting), a very frank and fruitful discussion occurred.
It was agreed that no useful purpose would be served by an extended argument
over the integration of this particular part of the city. Integration present
and future is a fact. Four Negro families presently own or occupy homes. More
persons of a minority race will no doubt purchase homes in the near future.
This is their right as it should be any person’s right to reside where he
chooses. No one is opposed to anyone residing in our community because of his
race or religion.

An early Parkside Community Association meeting announcement flyer, 1963

What the group wants for this neighborhood is to make it the best possible place to live — to raise our families, to obtain an education, to grow intellectually, spiritually, and physically. We want good neighbors regardless of color. We want all to stay and continue to live where we live. We want to attract persons of all ages, religions, races, education, economic abilities, etc to move our fine community.

We want to preserve the area’s residential character. We are proud of our public and parochial schools and of our well kept houses, trees, lawns, shrubs, and yards. We like to live in the City of Buffalo among its fine families and with the urban conveniences we enjoy. We think that no area offers as much housing for a reasonable price as the property which we are fortunate to own. We desire not only to preserve these values but to improve our particular community so that it is a model of responsible urban life.                                      

While interested in more than just open housing, the PCA had to move quickly to counter-act the unscrupulous real estate agents and others looking to profit from the fears of others.

Scare tactics were used to try to get people to sell, rumors of neighbors selling their homes spread had spread like wildfire. The PCA stepped up to stop the illegal division of single family homes into multiple units, which helped stem sales. They also drummed out real estate agents and others using unethical practices for their own gain at the cost of the neighborhood.

The likable and outgoing personalities of Griffin and Anthony helped them bring neighbors aboard and their activity in St. Mark and Central Presbyterian churches respectively helped bring those institutions and the clergy at those two institutions, in line with the process.

Jack Anthony has, over the years, related this story with the original language in tact to underline the types of people he would come against.

Pastor Dr. James Carroll listened to one angry congregant at Central Presbyterian. “The first time a nigger comes into this church and sits down next to me, I’m leaving.” Rev. Carroll was quick to reply, very calmly, “Let me shake your hand now then, because I’m not coming out of the pulpit to say goodbye to you when that happens.”

It was under conditions such as these that the Mesiahs were among those first four black families to own a home in Parkside. Frank Mesiah, later to become an original PCA Board Member, and President of the Buffalo Chapter of the NAACP, was interviewed by Ruth Lampe for an article that appeared in the September 1988 issue of The Parkside News.

In 1961…(The Mesiahs) forced to leave their Humboldt-Delevan home because of the construction of the Kensington Expressway…. When Frank told a real estate agent in a telephone conversation that he was a policeman and teacher, he immediately assumed he was white and made an appointment to show him homes in North Buffalo.

But when he appeared at the office, the agent went into a panic and, after much double talk, he ended up never showing Frank any homes. Finally, a black realtor helped them find a new home on Crescent Avenue…

recalls experiencing some hostility from some residents and tells of a few
parents who wouldn’t let the Mesiah daughters play at their houses. But he also
remembers that those people’s children would sneak down to play at the
Mesiah’s. He can also laugh now, remembering people offering him shoveling jobs
while he was shoveling snow outside of his new home, or people asking is wife,
“Is the lady of the house in?”, when she answered the door.

also admits he felt somewhat suspicious when “all of the sudden this
neighborhood organization comes up to ‘preserve the neighborhood’.” But
after meeting with Dick Griffin and Jack Anthony, he was convinced of their
sincerity and developed confidence in them. He came to understand they were
reacting to talk that predominantly black areas didn’t get proper garbage
pick-up, different things were allowed to happen to the houses, and absentee
landlords increased. “PCA wanted to be sure that things like that didn’t
happen here.”

Mesiah himself would spearhead efforts to eradicate blockbusting from the neighborhood. The November, 1967 Parkside Newsletter read, “Mr. Mesiah reported on a contact with Genesee Realty Co. with respect to a certain notice sent. The representative of the Genesee Realty said that they would desist from sending these in our community. The 1965 PCA Report to members included this piece of information:

Real Estate: Three of the officers of the Association recently met with a real estate agent whose company was alleged to have called two residents of a street in our area where a house has been purchased by a Negro.

The agent was most cooperative in questioning his staff, and although he was convinced that no salesman in his office made the calls, he assured us that none will ever be made from his office under such conditions.

If any resident is ever contacted by a real estate salesman who urges sale because of non-white neighbors, get the agent’s name and address. Contact Jack Anthony or Dick Griffin with this information so that appropriate legal action may be initiated by the Association against such a salesman, in this way we will continue to let it be known that our area is not available for blockbusting.

But of course, not everyone felt this way. One resident remembers, “Parkside was a white neighborhood, and there were plenty of people who wanted to keep it that way. While it may have not been a plank in the PCA, one of the reasons for the growth of the group was the hope that it would help keep Parkside white. Now that may have been a misunderstanding, but that’s how many people thought.”

“It was a common thing to hear in the neighborhood; when someone was selling, ‘You’re selling to the whites, right?’ and when white people moved in, ‘Glad you moved in.’ It wasn’t screaming racism, but it was understood that we should want to keep the area white.

Right in the front of many people’s minds is what happened in the Central Park Plaza area (just across Main Street.) It was once a nice, working class neighborhood, then, seemingly over night, ‘it went, you know…'”

But, all and all, an even-handed approach made Parkside a continued desirable area for people of all races; not an accomplishment that most city neighborhoods could boast of, even as time wore on. 

Many leaders of the WNY African-American community, either by deed or office, have made Parkside home over the ensuing years. Frank Mesiah and his family have lived on Crescent since 1961.  Longtime Deputy Speaker of the New York State Assembly Arthur O. Eve, Jr. raised his five children on Jewett Parkway. 

Two racial trailblazers in the world of athletics have also called Parkside home. Willie Evans, the UB Football star halfback, who was denied the right to play in the 1958 Tangerine Bowl because of his race, lived in Parkside for over 30 years.  Jim Thorpe, the first black man to ever lead a PGA Major when he took the lead of the 1981 US Open, lived on Parkside Avenue for most of the 1980s, and could often be seen hitting golf balls in Delaware Park.

School Integration: Parkside School #54

School 54, shortly before it was torn down to make way for a parking lot for the new School 54 building next door.

It was
the desire and goal of many in the neighborhood that families with the means to
buy a home in Parkside, regardless of their race, should be allowed to live
freely and be a welcome part of the community. But home life was only one part
of the clash between the races in Buffalo in the 1960s and 70s.

“White flight” was caused in many areas of the city when the racial balance at public schools in the neighborhood changed in a matter of a year or two. Once again, this situation presented itself in Parkside at School 54, which has stood on Main Street since 1895.

Just as the Parkside Community Association fought blockbusting, it also worked to make schools racially balanced. When the association was formed, 2 of its original 5 goals dealt directly with maintaining and building upon the success of the school. 54 was already enjoying a rebirth of sorts. As the PCA was founded in 1963, plans were already in the works for a new school to be built.  A PCA newsletter from January, 1964, includes a building update, and an update on the group’s early lobbying efforts. 

Demolition work has been completed at the new site
of School 54… The Board of Education (has abandoned) the voluntary student
transfer plan because it was not in the best interests of maintaining racial
balance at the school.

The new (current) school would open in 1965, built on the property that was once Hagner’s Dairy. The former building stood to the left of the current one; the site where School 54 stood from 1895-1964 now serves as the school’s parking lot.

In 1958, Matthew Duggan became principal at School 54, still housed in the old building. Mr. Duggan’s leadership through some rough times, and the strong participation of parents and the community, helped keep School 54 a “showcase school” while many of the city’s other schools deteriorated through the 1960s and beyond.

But making sure that new building remained one of the city’s finest schools was no small task. Many Parksiders, both parents, and PCA members, lobbied City Hall and Albany to gain better funding for the school, and to help maintain racial balance at the school.

A 1962 survey of Buffalo schools by the NAACP sets the scene. 17 Buffalo Public schools are listed as “Negro schools,” with at least 60% of its pupils black. 14 of those 17 had at least 90% black students.  There were 47 “White schools,” with 19 having 100% white enrollment, and 28 more having 95%-99% white pupils.

Only 16 schools were listed as “integrated,” and 11 of those schools had an African-American enrollment of less than 20%. Parkside’s School 54 was one of only 5 schools in the city where blacks and whites approached even numbers.  In 1958, 11% of students were black. 39% of students were black in 1960. By 1964, the number had grown to 54%.

A racially diverse 1961 School 54 class photo.

came about through a number of different factors. The school was a part of an
early desegregation trial, where parents in one east side neighborhood were
given the option of having their children bussed to the more academically solid
School 54, rather than walking to their own neighborhood elementary school.
Many parents chose this option, and the number of African-American children
attending school in Parkside grew.

In a vacuum, the experiment might have been a success. But just as some families succumbed to the blockbusting attempts by scrupulous real estate salesmen, some saw the increased black enrollment at 54 as a threat to their children’s education and placed their kids in the neighborhood Catholic parochial school at St. Mark’s at Woodward and Amherst. In 1953, there were 40 1st graders at St Mark’s. A decade later, in 1964, the number had more than doubled to 88.

There was hope, however, in the construction of the new school. The dilapidated, outdated classic 1890s school house had been a worn-out collection of hodge-podge additions and classrooms literally created from closets for years. The bright new plant promised a pleasant atmosphere for learning, and plus a wonderful school yard and playground.

In May, 1965, letter to parents of school aged kids; the Parkside Community Association outlined the hope for a new school with a sense of hope and optimism. Schools Committee Chairman Saul Touster wrote, “It is our expectation… That there will be a migration of students from… St. Marks into School 54, especially in the lower grades.”

The tone was decidedly different in a letter Touster wrote to State Education Commissioner James Allen from the Community Association a month earlier:

(T)his school, instead of being considered a
positively integrated school, must now be considered a school whose racial imbalance
threatens to make it a de facto segregated school. The inclusion of an optional
area for the school’s district has had the effect of concentrating upon School
54 the pressure for integrated education for the negro community. It is in no
one’s interest that a school be pressured until it “topples over.” If
balance cannot be maintained here at a school where community reception of
integration has been so positive and community interest continues to be so
willing, then the larger problems will become hopeless of solution.

While there were parallels to be drawn between housing integration in the Parkside Neighborhood, and the school integration in School 54, there were, however, some key differences as well.

Michael Riester, who’d grow up to be a historian, social worker, and President of the Parkside Community Association, was in the mid 1960s, a kid on West Oakwood Place and a pupil at School 54. “It was a neighborhood school. The majority of the kids were from the neighborhood, from both sides of Main Street, and both white and black.”

But when Riester was in 5th grade, in 1966, things changed. There was a fire at School 17, on Delevan Avenue near Main Street. 130 mostly poor, and all black students were “temporarily transferred” to 54. The addition of these children pushed the ratio of black students to almost 80%, a statistic that the PCA knew only added fuel to the fire that blockbusters were trying to create.

“It seemingly happened overnight,” Riester recalls.”(School 54) went from a neighborhood school, to a school that integrated kids from very different economic situations and cultural situations. You had poor black kids coming from the Fruit Belt, coming to 54 with kids from the neighborhood who were privileged. It was violent, a very difficult time. The tension in the school and in the classroom was racially charged. These kids were very angry. Now, I understand why they were angry; why they were frustrated. I’m not sure I did then.”

It was in this atmosphere that some long established Parkside families moved to the suburbs, and many who didn’t move, considered options other than Buffalo Public Schools for the education of their children. Among that second group: The Riesters.

“There was a boy who was a few years ahead of me, who lived on Crescent, who was stabbed at the corner of West Oakwood and Main, so badly he was hospitalized. My mother seriously thought about pulling me out and putting me in a parochial school. I remember her saying we could get you into St Joes or Holy Spirit. But I wound up staying at 54 until 7th grade.”

“It was a foreign environment for me, certainly, and for many kids who lived in the neighborhood. It increased our fear of the unknown; the violence that we experienced, that I experienced, did not help me understand what the black experience was, and it was very frightening.”

Mike Riester, on the steps of his family’s West Oakwood Place home, late 1950s.

back, Riester knows. “These kids had nothing, and they were being thrown
in with these wealthy white kids, who didn’t know what it was like to show up
at school hungry. The teachers must have understood, but were overwhelmed.

“When school was let
out you would have fights. It was primarily, from what I remember, was black
against white. I was beat up at least twice. What was ironic, it happened two
blocks away from my home. I lived two blocks from school and couldn’t make it
home some days. It increased the fear of Main Street.

“It was a strange time. For the hour after school let out, you knew you were going to get beaten up if you didn’t run home.  But then, within two hours, your neighborhood returned. I don’t even know if our parents really realized the extent of what was going on in school and right afterwards.

“I don’t think anyone would challenge the statement that integration at School 54 wasn’t a well thought-out process for any of the kids, for white kids and black kids.”

One of the early concrete victories of the Association came after years of work by folks like PCA Board members Saul Touster, Richard Griffin, Jim Barry, and Jack Anthony. In 1967, the State Education department awarded a $100,000 grant for 54 to develop a “superior program at the school to encourage families not to move out of the district.”  Those funds were used to cut class size, hire additional staff, provide enrichment and remediation programs, and pay for a preschool program for 4 year olds.

 These programs were enough to make many Parkside families consider School 54 for their children. After a decade-high of 85 kindergarteners at St Mark’s School in 1965, only 65 kindergarteners signed up for the 1968-69 school year.

But with the late 1960s questions of race and integration were no longer just the fodder of letters and public meetings. The frustrations of the African-American community were boiling over onto the streets, shocking and worrying some of the most ardent supporters of racial harmony and equality in Parkside.

Again, Mike Riester shares his memories. “I can remember sitting with other neighbors on my porch listening to gunfire, because the (infamous June/July, 1967) riots had come up as far as Jefferson and Delevan, only a few blocks to the south and east. Across from the Health Sciences Building at Canisius, there was a gun store, and the rioters had taken over the gun store. I can remember hearing the shotguns. The blasts. That was really frightening.

“My grandmother was at Sisters Hospital during the time. My father walked up to the hospital to visit her (from our home on West Oakwood Place near Crescent Avenue), and I can remember my mother being worried that he’d be attacked. That’s the fear. That’s how charged those times were.

“When Martin Luther King was assassinated (in 1968), we were let out of school early because they feared violence. I remember being told, ‘Run home. Now Michael, run home.’  That’s the environment we were in.”

The world was changing, too. Riester recalls that Main Street was becoming a place you didn’t want to go, and it was also about the time a child was abducted from his Jewett Parkway yard, and later found dead in Delaware Park. “I can remember my parents telling me, ‘You’re not to go to the park anymore.’  We couldn’t go to the park unless we were in a large group. We couldn’t go to the zoo anymore, even though it was free. It was the overall loss of innocence. It was like Camelot came crashing down. And it was happening all over the country, and it hit Parkside, too.

“That’s not to say we weren’t kids. We played outside all day and all night, until the street lights came on. But we were instilled with a little fear of some things. But it was a very normal childhood. There were black kids, and Asian kids, and white kids, but we all were neighborhood kids, and that was the important thing.

“All things told, I think Parkside handled integration very well. I remember when the first black family moved on my street, West Oakwood. Dr. Champion and his family. I became friends with the kids right off the bat.

“We obviously knew there was a difference in the color of our skin, but there I was in their home as often as they played on my porch. I don’t remember any racial thoughts among us kids; I’m sure we worked it out in our own children’s way. I remember adults saying things, but because integration was a gradual process in Parkside, it was easier. Many of the families who moved to Parkside in the 60s, both black and white, are still here.”

“What was key was many of the families who moved into Parkside, the black families, were really no different from the white families socially and economically, culturally. I never remember any fights or violence happening in the neighborhood. It happened at school, but not in the neighborhood.”

In 1976, Federal Judge John T. Curtin accused city leaders of “creating, maintaining, permitting, condoning, and perpetuating racially segregated schools in the City of Buffalo,” and therefore ordered desegregation.  School 54 was, as far as federal guidelines were concerned at this point, a segregated school with nearly 70% black enrollment.

A headline in the Buffalo Evening News at the time said Struggle for Stability At School 54 Watched As a Cameo of Hope.  Many Parkside residents, lead by PTA (and later PCA) President Ruth Lampe, fought vehemently to keep the school integrated. Ruth and her husband David sent their two boys to the school.

Lampe spent many hours fighting rumors and misconceptions about 54 and Buffalo Public Schools in general. Many of her Parkside neighbors recall Lampe’s “won’t take no for an answer” tactics in insuring that they send their children to the neighborhood public school, and not one of the area parochial schools.

Meetings and open discussions on the issues facing 54 were lead by Board of Education Member Florence Baugh, Delaware Common Councilman Harlan Swift, and the co-Chairmen of the Citizens’ Council on Human Relations, Frank Mesiah and Norman Goldfarb.

Mirroring the strong PTA of the 1920s, a similar group in the 70s and 80s pushed forward an agenda that helped keep School 54 at the top of the class. Parkside residents Shirley Blickensderfer, Elva Radice, Marquerita Bell, Eileen Wagner, Chet Brodnicki, Jo Faber, Nancy Keech, Pat Schuder, Lori Lynch and numerous others were among those making sure the school received the parental, financial, political support it needed.

The story of School 54 could have easily been different without the legion of people interested in a strong school, and the strong in-school leadership of Principal Matthew Duggan and Sal Criscione (and their reciprocating concern for the neighborhood of which the school was a part). It is the school, in so many ways, that helped keep Parkside from slipping into the problems facing so man other fine city neighborhoods.

In 1980, School 54 became an Early Childhood Learning Center Magnet School, teaching grades Pre-K through 2. The school currently bears the name “Dr. George E. Blackman School of Excellence Early Childhood Center #54,” named in honor of the one-time Buffalo School Board President who spoke up fiercely for the type of teaching done at the school, whose current mission statement reads:  

To create a
school environment in which all children can learn. Our mission is to deliver
instruction which is developmental, challenging, and success oriented.

As of 2009, the school is slated for massive renovation in Phase 4 of the Buffalo Schools on-going $1 billion reconstruction project.

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

The full text of the book is now online. 

The original 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. 

©2009, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC,, and Steve Cichon