Buffalo in the ’50s: Jackie Gleason eats at Ted’s dogs

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When “The Great One” rolled up to Ted’s Jumbo Red Hots on Sheridan Drive on March 10, 1955 – 62 years ago today – he was one of America’s biggest TV stars.

Buffalo Courier-Express headline, 1952. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“The Honeymooners” didn’t debut as its own show until later that year, but Ralph, Alice, Norton and Trixie were stars of the most popular sketch on “The Jackie Gleason Show” – which was America’s second most watched TV show right behind “I Love Lucy.”

Apparently on the way to Niagara Falls, Gleason’s bright-red custom car, with license plate “10-JG,” pulled into Ted’s around 2 p.m. A man got out of the car and ordered “a tray filled with pizza and hot dogs,” which he took back to the car while Gleason and two women waited back in the car.

At least 20 people saw the TV star sitting in his car, but he never got out or talked to anyone there in the 20 minutes they were eating while parked there.

Ted’s has been in the same location on Sheridan Drive since 1948.

An ad for Ted’s from 1957. (Buffalo Stories archives)

A 1969 obituary described Theodore S. Liaros as “an early 20th century Greek immigrant who built a pushcart business into a citywide chain of park concessions.”

Until a stroke at the age of 78, Liaros had spent most of 57 years working 16-hour days, slinging popcorn and peanuts first from a wagon, then starting in 1927, hot dogs, loganberry and even pizza from a small shack that had been abandoned by construction workers after the completion of the Peace Bridge.

Even with the Peace Bridge stand operating, Ted’s lunch wagon was still a familiar presence at the Clinton-Bailey Market until the Sheridan Drive location opened.

Liaros’ death on Oct. 24, 1969, came only weeks after that original stand at the foot of Massachusetts Street near Niagara Street was bulldozed on Sept. 15 to make way for an improved I-190/Niagara Street interchange.

In 1957, the Liaros family built another stand near the Peace Bridge in Front Park near Porter Avenue, and occupied it through the early 1970s, when they built another restaurant on Porter Avenue.

Ted Liaros worked 16-hour days for 57 years.

But even though the TV stars visited Tonawanda and the Front Park shop was successful, the namesake of Buffalo’s favorite dog stand always loved that first wayward shack where he spent hundreds of thousands of hours during six decades.

“It was the place my father really had his heart in all these years,” Ted’s son Spiro Liaros said upon his father’s passing and the tearing down of the original Ted’s.

The original Ted’s was torn down to make way for easier highway access to the Peace Bridge in 1969.

The Liaros family still operates Ted’s.

Buffalo in the ’50s: Neon signs along the Peace Bridge

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Lines at the Peace Bridge are nothing new, but the scenery has changed through the years.

Buffalo Stories archives

Even when the toll was a quarter and the most evasive question you’d be asked was “Where do you live?,” the backups still felt like forever after a weekend of fun at the cottage or on the Comet.

While the cars were queued up in the 1950s, they were bathed in the glow of neon.

Monstrous iconic signs from Texaco Gasoline and O’Keefe Ale and Old Vienna Beer greeted international travelers to and fro during an age when crossing the bridge was a friendlier and less intrusive experience.

As Texaco shouted “Welcome to Buffalo” in light, O’Keefe and OV advertised what were then two of the Dominion of Canada’s most popular beers. Old Vienna remained a blue-collar Buffalo favorite through the 1980s, with many taverns offering specials on OV splits — Old Vienna beer in 7-ounce bottles. An O’Keefe sign also graced the top of the Hancock Building in Niagara Falls.

Buffalo News archives

 

What It Looked Like Wednesday: ‘That thing in the water next to the Peace Bridge’

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s not the most eloquent title, but you knew exactly what I was talking about, didn’t you?

The Peace Bridge, shortly after it opened in the late ’20s. Buffalo’s old municipal water intake is visible between the piers of the bridge. This structure fed water to the Massachusetts Avenue Pumping Station to supply water to the City of Buffalo. (Buffalo Stories archives)

People have been asking “what is that thing?” since before the Peace Bridge was built.

From Fort Erie: Water intake pier for the City of Buffalo before the building of the Peace Bridge. That’s Fort Porter, which was torn down to make way for the Peace Bridge plaza. Buffalo Stories archives

Since the current water intake building opened in 1913, the old one now next to the Peace Bridge has slowly deteriorated, to the point where it’s little more than a concrete stump in the middle of the Niagara River today.

The current Buffalo water intake, which feeds water to the Col. Ward Pumping Station to supply Buffalo with water. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

The Peace Bridge was dedicated by the Prince of Wales in 1927. Nine years later, he became King Edward VIII, but abdicated 11 months later to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. He was the uncle to Queen Elizabeth.

Peace Bridge dedication, 1927. Buffalo Stories archives

 

Buffalo in the ’80s: Questions we aren’t asked anymore

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Our day-to-day lives are filled with common almost reflexive interactions we barely think about. Quite often, we barely notice when one changes or goes by the wayside.

Here is a collection of several questions that were commonly asked around Buffalo in the 1980s, but not so much today.

Paper or Plastic?

grocers097

When this photo of the Vogt Brothers and their Bells and Super Duper grocery bags appeared in The News in 1986, the accompanying story showed a city divided over the question.

What will we cover our school books in, or use to cover our turkeys to keep them moist should the paper bag go away, were among the questions asked.

Thirty years later, the paper bag is an anachronism. It’s still available, but for most it looks more like a vestige of another time rather than a way to carry your groceries home.

Many are working to give the plastic bag the same treatment. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz spearheaded efforts earlier this year to examine the feasibility of banning plastic bags at grocery stores.

According to grocery supply company Topco, the sale of reusable shopping bags is a $75 million market in the U.S.

Smoking or non?

For decades, this was the ubiquitous ice-breaking question posed from restaurant hostess stations — but not since 2003 in New York State.

While this question might still be asked in other places across the country, New York’s Clean Indoor Air Act banned smoking in all public places in the state 13 years ago.

Where d’ya live?

Buffalo News archives

The question is still asked in a number of different ways in the volley of questions and exchanges of passports now needed to cross the border at the Peace Bridge.

But there was a simpler time, before 9/11, when just the answer to that question alone was often enough to get you over the bridge for some Chinese food at Happy Jack’s, rides at Crystal Beach, or to fill up with some cheaper Canadian gas.

Regular or Unleaded?

Buffalo News archives

That’s a gas station question that’s triple extinct.

Regular now means a grade of unleaded. Old-fashioned regular gasoline — the lead-additive-filled kind — is no longer generally available. And besides that, it’s difficult to find full-service stations where you might be asked anything by a gas pump attendant anymore.

This photo of the Mobil station at the corner of Elmwood and Forest in 1986 says the station is self-serve, but still shows the two grades of gas they offer as regular and unleaded.

Starting in 1973, the EPA ordered the phase-out of tetraethyl lead additives to gasoline. In 1975, car manufacturers began introducing catalytic converters in vehicles to make them run smoother and cleaner, thereby negating the need for the lead.

Regular was cheaper than unleaded, but leaded gas would ruin a catalytic converter, and make for a costly repair. By the end of the ’80s, “regular” gas was mostly phased out.

Can you think of other questions we aren’t asked anymore?

Buffalo’s love affair with the hot dog

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

There are few things we consider more American — and relish with more Buffalove — than the hot dog, especially on a nice summer afternoon. But that wasn’t always the case.

Ted's, with Peace Bridge railing overhead. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Ted’s, with Peace Bridge railing overhead. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Around the same time Ted Liaros was opening his first red hot shack under the Peace Bridge, Mayor Frank X. Schwab was working to rid Buffalo’s streets of what he saw as the great wiener menace.

Schwab, Buffalo’s brewer mayor — who was convicted of violating Prohibition laws while in office — thought beer was OK, but the frankfurter should be banished. In 1922, he fought for and won the right to license and regulate the city’s growing number of hot dog stands with the notion to close them down, threatening to “arrest any hot dog merchant who held forth in the streets.”

It wasn’t the hot dog itself as much as the apparent willingness of hucksters to set up almost anywhere without regard to surroundings or sanitation.

A few years later, state leaders declared Buffalo’s roadside hot dogs stands “a menace to public health,” especially with regards to the keeping and selling of milk products without any proper way to stop spoilage. Dr. Edward Clark of the state health department called the red hot emporium “an institution which must be brought under special state control.”

One vendor on South Division Street was proud of his stand, and bragging of cleanliness with each patron’s “loaf of bread, hunk of meat, and smear of mustard.” The crackdown was welcomed by the owners of clean stands. “Every effort is made,” said another frankfurter hut owner, “to keep the quality of the rolls and the wieners.”

Buffalo and hot dogs were a natural marriage. For decades, Buffalo had been one of America’s leading meat packing cities, and many of the great names in meat processing have been great names in the fight to fill Buffalo’s hot dog buns.

 

At one point, the Dold name was tops with “wiener sausage.” The Jacob Dold Packing Company was Buffalo’s largest at the turn of the century, even having a display at the Pan-Am Exposition showcasing “the art of curing meats.” Dold sold out to Hygrade in 1938.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

Frank Wardynski came to Buffalo from Poland in 1915, and soon after started running a butcher shop on Peckham Street in the shadow of St. Stanislaus Church in the heart of Polonia. In 1979, Wardy’s turning out three million pounds of sausage a year. Today, the company is run by third generation ownership, which also bought the rights to use the name Shelly Meats. The cold cuts and sausages of A. Szelagowski & Sons were Buffalo’s favorite for decades.

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Shelly Meats, 1983 (Buffalo News atchives)

Coming to Buffalo in the same wave of Polish immigration that brought rival Wardynski here, Joseph Malecki was a butcher in Opatowek, Poland, when he came to Buffalo in 1914. His children, Ronald and Virginia, were selling $2 million of Malecki’s Polka Brand Sausages by 1963. After 73 years of East Side sausage making, Malecki Meats closed its doors in 1988, leaving many lovers of their links heartbroken.

Maleckis---Grandmas-Choice-

Buffalo Stories archives

As the word of Malecki’s demise spread, countless Western New Yorkers made a trek to Ted’s for one last dog.

Malecki baloney. (Buffalo News archives)

Malecki baloney. (Buffalo News archives)

“This is a big shock to me and to all of us who work here,” Ted’s manager Marc Candino told The News days before the Malecki dogs dried up. “We’re still using Malecki. We expect our last shipment Monday, which means you can only get a Malecki dog here until Tuesday… with maybe a couple left over for Wednesday.”

Ted's served Malecki's hot dogs until the day the Malecki plant closed down in 1988. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Ted’s served Malecki’s hot dogs until the day the Malecki plant closed down in 1988. (Buffalo Stories archives)

 

Ted’s now serves what is the undisputed king of hot dogs in Western New York, direct from the Sahlen’s smokehouse. The Sahlen family has been processing meat and meat products for Buffalonians since 1869, and has been selling hot dogs since they started to be popular around the turn of the century.

Inspecting a Sahlen smokehouse hot dog, 1977. (Buffalo News archives)

Inspecting a Sahlen’s smokehouse hot dog, 1977. (Buffalo News archives)

In 1994, Sahlen’s was bringing in $17 million in sales — about 60 percent of which was in wieners. They were cranking out about 40 million hot dogs a year, good for 70 percent of the Buffalo hot dog market.

“Sahlen’s has always been Buffalo’s hot dog, and will always be, in my opinion,” Mark Battistoni, sales manager of Sahlen Packing Co. told The News in 2012. “We have a (143)-year history and commitment to the community.”

 

Buffalo in the ’30s: New in the BPD arsenal — tear gas

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

From April 21, 1938:

Buffalo News archives

Huge projectiles from stubby shotguns created formidable tear gas barrages in Centennial Park today as new equipment was demonstrated to police. Commissioner Glenn H. McClellan, Patrolman Walter Jabcuga and Lt. Alfred Sendker of the mounted squad examined equipment.

The Peace Bridge is visible in the background.

Buffalo in the ’30s: The old booze-hidden-in-the-apron trick

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Buffalo News archives

From Jan. 16, 1920, to Dec. 5, 1933, Prohibition was the law of the land … and Buffalo was a center for the import of illegal booze.

In Buffalo and around the country, organized crime grew from Americans’ insatiable thirst for liquor. Spirits were smuggled by the boatload into Western New York from Canada.

While some folks turned to making moonshine or bathtub gin at home, others did their best to figure out a way to bring a nip home from Fort Erie undetected.

Often that worked – but it didn’t work for the man who was arrested wearing this apron of booze under his clothing when he crossed into the U.S. over the Peace Bridge in 1930.

Buffalo in the ’90s: Coast Guard approves building twin span to Peace Bridge

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Douglas Turner reported from Washington that after some delay, the Coast Guard approved the building of a twin span to the current Peace Bridge.

Coast Guard approves building twin span

“The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday approved the Peace Bridge Authority’s plan to “twin” the existing 1927 bridge and will issue a construction permit to the authority in the next few days.”

Sens. Charles Schumer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan voiced disappointment, as they joined many other elected officials in seeking a signature span. The next day, Patrick Lakamp reported that Common Council President James Pitts was ready to sue to stop the building of a twin span. Years later, the planning continues:

City officials begin moving to block twin span

“Pitts also said he plans to invite authority officials to his next Super Span Signature Bridge Task Force meeting to talk about the easements the authority needs from the city.

“The easements are needed because the Peace Bridge twin would cross a parcel of city land.

” ‘If they want to talk about the easements, they have to come to the meeting,’ said Pitts, who views the session as a chance to discuss an alternative design with the authority.”

Moving pictures that will move Buffalo: Pathe posts entire newsreel collection on-line

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – It’s an amazing treasure trove.

Pathe (pronounced {path-AY’}) News, one of the leading producers of the newsreels shown in movie theatres around the world from the 1920s through the 1960s, has posted it’s entire 85,000 video clip collection on YouTube.

blizzard37-1
Dateline: Buffalo! The old Pathe newsreel service posted 85,000 news and lifestyles films to YouTube, including ten showcasing some part of life in Buffalo. These newsreels, featured in movie theatres before the feature shows, were the “evening newscasts” of the time. (Buffalo Stories screenshot from “British Pathe” YouTube Channel video)

Think of the ways the world changed in that time, and know that you can easily watch clean, first generation videos of those changes as they happened, online. It’s an incredible digitization effort, and it’s even more incredible that it’s available to the world for free.

While the scope of the project is impressive, my parochial interests took me not in search of the Hindenberg, the liberating of Paris, or the first manned space flight. I, of course, searched “Buffalo.”

Many videos came up in the search, but there were ten relevant items which prove to be flabbergasting glimpses into Western New York’s past.

What follows here are links to those videos, with brief descriptions and screen shots taking a look back.

The Dodgers! A Prohibition Sidelight From Buffalo (1931)

Border police inspecting cars, looking for “the good stuff” at what appears to be the Peace Bridge, but I’m not sold on that– Booze smuggling was a growth industry in our border town while the US was forcibly on the wagon during Prohibition.

Buffalo, US (1939)

Curtiss Aeroplane test pilot Lloyd Child hits 525 miles an hour, faster than man has ever gone before, while testing the French Hawk pursuit plane.

Blizzard In Buffalo (1937)

Three people were killed in what was, at the time, the worst December snow storm in history. Great snow footage and scenes from around Buffalo.

 

Skiing Behind Plane Buffalo (1938)

The Red Jacket Ski Club does what looks like water skiing… But on snow instead of water, and a plane instead of a boat. Wacky!!

President Johnson’s Quick Tour Of New York & New England (1966)

President Lyndon Johnson visits Buffalo. The first scene is great– people at the Buffalo Airport, then a Niagara Square rally for the President. From there, it’s on to Lake Erie, where LBJ, surrounded by local dignitaries (like Mayor Frank Sedita and Deomcratic Chairman Joe Crangle) is shown a pail of filthy, contaminated water from Lake Erie. It would become the beginning of movement in the efforts to clean up the lakeshore in Buffalo.

Us Women’s Golf Championship (1931)

With The Country Club of Buffalo in Williamsville as the backdrop, beautiful flapper women vie to become the US womens golf champion.

Snow Scenes In States (1962)

A perefct example of the over-the-top writing and delivery that has become associated with newsreels. Snow swept across two-thirds of the country, including many places that usually see little snow. The whole two minute piece is fun to watch, but there are a few quick shots of Buffalo starting at :46.

 

Striking Schoolteachers U.S.A. (1947)

Buffalo Public School teachers shown on strike at schools across the city… Also featured: The smiling faces of dozens of children, happy to be out of class.

Bell Helicopter (1944)

The brand new Bell helicopter on display inside the Buffalo (Connecticut Street) Armory.

Oh – This Spring Weather (1926)

Cold and snow hits Buffalo during the brutal spring of 1926, when we had a freakish St. Patricks Day storm. This is video from all of the ships paralyzed in Buffalo Harbor.