Buffalo in the 40s: Gee, our old LaSalle ran great

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

If remembered at all, General Motors’ LaSalle line of cars might best be recalled as the closing line in the opening theme of “All in the Family.”

Between 1927 and 1940, LaSalle was a General Motors nameplate for slightly less upscale and less  expensive versions of the Cadillac. This 1940 ad is from LaSalle’s last year of production for Maxson Cadillac/LaSalle at 2421 Main at Jewett, Buffalo, as seen in the Buffalo Evening News. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The autos were produced by the Cadillac Division of General Motors and were meant to be a less expensive version of the premium Cadillac line.

Buffalo’s leading Cadillac dealer was Maxson, at the corner of Main and Jewett at the Art Deco Pierce-Arrow showroom, now (2015) the home of a First Niagara Bank branch (KeyBank branch 2018.)

As Edith and Archie sang, “Those were the days.”

 

Main Street: School 54, Cars, Pharmacies & Restaurants

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

When the Jewett and Russell farms were opened for building sites about 1890, among the first questions was of adequate schooling for the children of families coming to live in this new part of town. Many schools in the surrounding areas were old and filled to capacity.

In marking the 35th anniversary of the school, a 1927 Buffalo Sunday Times Article, stated, “The history of School 54 runs parallel with the history of the neighborhood surrounding it.” This brick building stood in the current school’s parking lot.

The year 1892 saw public education come to Parkside, when “The Parkside School,” a brick school house which was to eventually become Buffalo School 54, was opened on land donated for the purpose by Mrs. Elam Jewett. 

Originally a 16 room school, the building grew as the neighborhood did; additions came in 1905 and 1913. The later addition was really more of an encapsulation, with the original facade being enveloped completely by the new build.

Part of what made the school an institution was the continuity of the teachers and staff. The school’s first principal, Miss Clara Swartz, lived a few blocks away at 154 Woodward Avenue. Her tenure at the school ran from the school’s opening until her retirement in 1924.

Thirty years’ worth of Parkside youth all had the same principal at the Parkside School.  Toward the end of Miss Swartz’s tenure as principal, came Miss Mary Kirsch, who began teaching first graders in the early 1920s. She would teach generations of Parkside 6 year-olds before her retirement in the early 1960s.

While these two women, whose careers spanned 70 years in education, were both remembered for their warmth with the children, Miss Schwartz was also remembered for patrolling the halls with the rubber hose. She used it liberally on misbehaving children.

Part of School 54 Class of 1936, with Dick Willats’ Main Street car dealership in the background.

The school has long had one of the strongest Parent-Teacher Associations in the city, as early as 1920,  making sure that the school was always among the finest in Buffalo. The group often won the favor of city officials, winning upgrades for the school like a new cafeteria, more classrooms, and an improved heat plant. 

As the years wore on, dress codes banned slacks for girls, and dungarees for everyone in the 1950s. The school day began with a morning prayer, and, even after Miss Schwartz hung up her hose, corporal punishment was still a means of making sure students fall into line.

But School 54 changed as Buffalo and Parkside did, and those changes, and how they were carried out, is a major part of Parkside’s identity through the 60s, 70s, and 80s. More on that part of the story is yet to come.

One big change came in the mid-1960s when ground was broken on the current School 54. In 1964, the last vestige of Parkside’s agrarian past was demolished; as Hagner’s Dairy was taken down to make way for a new state of the art school building.

As students past and present gathered to watch the demolition of the old school that so many had passed through, memories flowed of not only the school, but of old Main Street.

Marjorie Hagner, whose family home and dairy gave way for the new school, remembered when, the generation before, elegant residences of the Grieb and Berger families were leveled to open up space for the Cadillac and Oldsmobile dealers directly across the street, making car lots between the Tinney/Braun and Streng showrooms.

In the early days of the Delaware Park Zoo, the directors decided any animals that died would be donated to the Buffalo Society of the Natural Sciences. In 1895, when an American Bison died at the Buffalo Zoo, experts from the Smithsonian Institution said no one in Western New York had the skill to mount the animal. Herman Grieb’s attempt was not only successful, but “Stuffy” the bison remains on display at the Buffalo Science Museum to this day. In 1915, Grieb moved his family and his taxidermy shop from Elm Street to the more rural block of Main Street between East Oakwood and Jewett. The building was next door to the Buttolph farmhouse, which was demolished in 1929 to make way for the Pierce Arrow Showroom. The Grieb Studio eventually made way for the adjoining lot.

Buying a Car in Parkside

The Parkside area of Main Street became home to many upscale motor car showrooms. They included the Hupmobile Showroom (soon to be Dick Willats Hudson Dealership, photo on previous page ) next to Smither’s Parkside Pharmacy at Leroy Avenue, as well as the popular Studebaker showroom between East Oakwood and Dewey Avenues.  One could also buy a Pierce-Arrow or even a venerable Ford in Parkside as well. The Ford Factory and showroom was at the corner of Main Street and Rodney Avenue, along the northeast side of the Beltline tracks.

While the factory on the north side of the Beltline was turning out cars for working men and women of the country, both metaphorically and literally on the other side of the tracks was the “Update Building” for the ultra-elegant Pierce-Arrow.

Built in Buffalo on Elmwood Avenue, The Pierce-Arrow motor car was the status-symbol car of choice for John D. Rockefeller, Babe Ruth, Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding, and for dozens of Hollywood stars, like Carol Lombard. The siren girlfriend (and later wife) of Clark Gable, Lombard purchased a Pierce-Arrow in 1926.

Later, the company began to offer hydraulic brakes. Never wanting a starlet to be without, the company paid to have the auto shipped back to Buffalo by train, unloaded off the Beltline into the Update Center, new brakes were installed and the car shipped back all at Pierce-Arrow expense.

It was typical for Pierce-Arrow owners to ship their cars to Parkside for yearly maintenance and updating.

Parksider Milt Carlin remembered back to his teens, when the Shah of Persia’s Pierce Arrow was featured the showroom window along Main Street. Milt recalls the thrill of being one of many neighborhood kids who tagged along with the crowd invited to view the elegant black car with its opulent jeweled ashtrays and white bear rugs.

The update building remains, but for most, Pierce-Arrow in Parkside means the showroom. In 1929, the showroom moved from Main Street between Tupper and Edward to the Main Street at Jewett Parkway location, which until that time was the site of Floss’s Coal and Ice.

The $500,000 masterpiece building, along with the Central Terminal and City Hall, is one of a handful of fine Buffalo buildings built in the style that would become known as “Art Deco.”

Crowned by a 40 foot tower, the building’s exterior boasts windows friezed with polychromed terra cotta. Inside, the coffered ceiling is adorned with tire and hub medallions. The floor could accommodate up to 15 luxury automobiles.

While in 1929 there were 1,500 Pierce-Arrows motoring around Buffalo, the timing for the move to the brand new, state of the art showroom couldn’t have been worse.

The nation would soon be in the grips of an economic depression. Sales dropped off, and by 1936, the Pierce-Arrow showroom had become a Cadillac showroom.

Cadillacs would be sold from the spot for the next 62 years under 3 different names. First Maxson Cadillac from 1936-57, then Tinney Cadillac from 1957-81. Finally, from 1981-98, the dealership was known as Braun Cadillac. When Braun moved its showroom to Depew, Buffalo Savings Bank purchased and renovated the space as their headquarters branch.

In 2007, Buffalo Savings was bought out by First Niagara Bank, which continues to run a branch at the Jewett & Main location.

Pierce Arrow Showroom, later Maxson Cadillac.

Just to the south of the Pierce-Arrow showroom, stood Eagan & Streng Chrysler starting in 1923. The building of green marble became an Oldsmobile dealer in 1930, and when Eagan died in 1938, Herbert H. Streng’s name went up on the sign alone. The Streng family spent 75 years selling cars in Parkside at 2365 Main Street.

In 1973, the Strengs bought the property between their dealership and Tinney Cadillac to the north, adding room for another 60 Oldsmobiles, making the dealership the largest in WNY.

Only weeks after Braun Cadillac closed in 1998, Herbert S. Streng, the son of the founder of Streng Olds announced General Motors bought the dealership back from him, effectively ending the ability of Parksiders to buy a new car in the neighborhood. “I just sold one customer his 30th Streng Olds. GM isn’t just buying a dealership from me,” Streng said upon news of the closure, “They’re buying a life time.“

The Streng Oldsmobile showroom, from a 1980 ad.

Canisius College bought the Streng Dealership building, and in 2001 opened Demerly Hall there. The green-facaded building now houses the school’s health and human performance graduate programs.

In the 1940s, Saul’s Auto Sales was a Studebaker Showroom across from West Oakwood, and Don Allen Chevrolet was at Main and Fillmore.
Next door to City Chevrolet was the Central Park Theatre, right at the point of Main and Fillmore. Long time resident Marjorie Hagner remembered it as a true neighborhood movie house, with the latest great moving picture shows, along with vaudeville acts. Ads from the 1946 City Directory.

But Parkside’s first foray into the world of the automobile came decades before Streng or Pierce-Arrow.

The Ford Motor Company opened their sales, service, and assembly operations plant in 1915. It was designed by Albert Kahn and Ernest Wilby, who based the building on that of an earlier Ford plant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

You can still see “FORD” inlayed in the brick on the smokestack of the building as of 2009. The showroom was on the ground floor, manufacturing on the higher floors.

Ford Factory and Showroom– now the Tri-Main Center, Main Street, Buffalo.

From 1915 to 1923, 599,232 Model-T Fords were assembled at the Main Street facility. The last Model-T rolled off the assembly line in Buffalo in 1927.

Then from March 1928 to August 1931, Model-A Fords were built in Parkside until all Ford’s local manufacturing was transferred to the Fuhrmann Boulevard/Woodlawn plant.

After Ford moved its machinery from that building to a plant of Fuhrmann Boulevard in 1931, Bell Aircraft took over the plant through 1942. During that time, Bell produced the Airacomet P-59, America’s first twin-engine jet warplane.

Initially called the XP-59A and disguised with propellers on the jet engines, the plane never saw wartime service, but did provide the ground work for the US’s venture into the jet age. In May 1942, the CNX Corporation, a subsidiary of the Hercules Motor Corporation, churned out diesel engines for the US Navy, and did so through the end of the war. More to come on the war effort in Parkside.

Once the war was over, in 1945, Trico Products Company bought the structure and manufactured windshield wiper components at the building from the early 1950s through 1987 at what was known to Trico workers at Plant 2.

Trico Rain Rubber wiper ad

The old Ford plant became the multi-use Tri-Main Center in 1988 and continues to serve both sides of Main Street with dozens of offices, studios, light industrial plants, and shops of many different sizes.

Much sprang up around the tracks laid down along, over and under Main Street. In 1905, The Highland Masonic Temple was built by architect EB Green; predating the Central Presbyterian Church and Presbytery Buildings next door to the south. The lodge got its name from the Highland Station, the Beltline stop directly across Main Street, to the south of the tracks.

Once train travel gave way to the automobile, the Highland Station was torn down in favor of a gas station. This photo dates from the 1940s, and clearly shows the Ford/Trico Plant as the backdrop. With the gas station torn down, in 1987 Broad Elm started construction on the site at the corner of Main and Jewett. In 2005, The Montante Family donated the plot of land to the north of the tire shop to the community as “The People’s Park.” It’s cared for and maintained by the communities surrounding it on both sides of Main Street.

The Backbone of Main Street

Gert and Ernie Schmitter were just two of dozens and dozens of small business owners who have made a living and a life along Main Street. And while the institutions written about thus far gave gravitas and stability to the area, it was the smaller mom and pop shops, where people did their day-to-day consuming, that are remembered so richly and warmly by the people who called Parkside home during Main Street’s heyday.

Schmitter’s Card Shop was a long-time tenant of the triangular building that stood where the Main/Amherst MetroRail Station stands today. Carl Schmitter photo.

The corner of West Oakwood Place and Main Street was the heart of the business district that served Parkside, and at the heart of that corner: One of the most warmly remembered shops to ever grace the Parkside section: Parkside Candy Shoppe.  

Parkside Candy, Main at Oakwood, 1980s.

The shop delighted young and old alike at the corner of Main and West Oakwood for generations. First opened by the Kaiser Family on St. Patrick’s Day, 1917, the Malamas Family took over the operation in 1944. Tom Malamas spent a great deal of his young life at the soda fountain then owned by his parents and his uncle.

“You walked in to two long cases of candy, we had 14 booths, and 6 stools at the soda fountain.” During that time, the noon time luncheon menu was very popular, as was ice cream in the evenings.

The exterior and the soda fountain were featured in the 1983 film “The Natural,” and Malamas says the scene was very reminiscent of what it was actually like inside Parkside Candy Shoppe in the 40s. “People would come from all over for our hot fudge sauce and chocolate syrup. I was too young then to think of it, but I wish I had those recipes now!”

But it wasn’t just the candy and ice cream. Ted and Sandy Malamas were lauded when they finally closed up the store in September 1986, after over 40 years of operation. “They had strong religious and civic pride that made them an integral part of the Parkside neighborhood. They weren’t just selling ice cream and candy, they were selling quality and devotion.”

Sandy and Ted Malamas

From the front door of Parkside Candy, one could see car dealerships, including the Studebaker shop across the street car tracks, Central Park Bowling Lanes, the druggist, the hardware store, a delicatessen, a grocer…

Historian Mike Riester has done the counting: In 1915, three bakeries, several meat, poultry, and green grocers, a tailor, toy store, a bowling alley, barbers, dentists, a hardware store, dress and hat shops, and the Kaiser Candy Company (to become Parkside Candies in 1930) were all several steps from Main Street and Oakwood Place.

Santora’s was Parkside’s first pizzeria at 2500 Main Street– and was the location from which all of today’s incarnations of Santora’s sprang. Directly across Main from the Ford/Trico/TriMain building, it has served over the years as an American Legion Hall, a dance studio, and the United Auto Workers Union Hall. Since 1994, it has been the site of Buffalo OB/GYN Women’s Services, and is often surrounded by protestors as one of the regions last remaining abortion providers. Obstetrician Dr. Barnett Slepian practiced there until he was shot and killed in his Amherst home by anti-abortion extremist James Kopp in 1999.

Riester says without a doubt, the golden era of business along the Parkside section of the main thoroughfare was in the late 1920s and 1930s…. An incomplete list of businesses includes; Hawser’s Bakery, Clock’s Bakery, Red & White, Stokes Candies, Carillon’s Jewelers, Thomas Taylor Shop, Russell’s Barbershop, Ruchte’s Hardware, Wangler, Marion’s Ice Cream,  Rychert’s Florist, Bald’s meats, and the Bills’ Sisters Delicatessen at East Oakwood, which featured Stellar’s Almond Rings.

But it was places like Parkside Candies– places where a kid could satisfy a sweet tooth that seem to be remembered better than most. Unterecker’s served ice cream and candy near at the corner of Main Street and Orchard Place in the 1920s, and two Parkside Drug stores had complete soda fountains, Dwyer’s and Smither’s.

from 1967 St. Mark’s bulletin

Dwyer’s, later Woldman’s, was on the corner of Main Street and Florence Avenue, and retained the feel of an 1800’s apothecary up until it closed in the 1970s. Aside from the soda fountain, Dwyer’s is remembered by many for the rainbow sherbet cones served there.

 Robert Knight Smither opened the “Parkside Pharmacy” in the 1880s at the corner of Main Street and Leroy Avenue. There it, too, remained until the late 1970s. Many generations of Parkside residents got their first job at Smither’s, where Karl Smither and Don Hill were the bosses.

Longtime resident Jack Anthony’s father owned a drug store at Fillmore and Rodney, but he also has fond memories of Smither’s.

“Merle Alderdise–  he grew up on Greenfield—  and I would skip out of services at Central Pres when the minister would start his sermon, and we’d go up to Smither’s at Main and Leroy, and eat a sundae, and get back before anyone noticed.”

But inside those dozens and hundreds of shops, were the shopkeepers. Real characters that helped make more interesting in an earlier time. When the following article on “Frank the Barber” was written for the Parkside News in 1981, he had seen virtually all the history talked about in this Main Street chapter unfold outside his shop window, in the section of store fronts just north of Central Presbyterian Church and the Highland Masonic Lodge, and to the south of Greenfield Street.

Almost 50 years have passed since Frank the Barber came to Parkside to cut hair. Today, (April 1981) the oldest active businessman in our neighborhood, Frank Notaro, 77 years young, doesn’t even seem ready to quit! His shop, located on Main Street just north of Jewett, has served generations of families, including some notable residents of our city…

Frank can go on and on telling of the many customers and their sons and grandsons and even great-grandsons who he was served. The shop, which opened in the 30’s, makes you think of days gone by. The 1938 Zenith Floor Model radio is still used everyday. “I had the first TV in the area for a barber shop,” Frank adds. The comic books and magazines bring back many memories of the past. The shop has a delightful glow of nostalgia.

Frank came to America in 1912, from Alimunusa, a small town in Sicily. He began a shop across Main Street in 1932, and moved to the present site in 1940…” He and his wife Genevieve were married and have enjoyed 53 years together. The Notaros are residents of Parkside and have raised two daughters. Pictures of his son-in-law and grandson in the service hang on the walls of the shop. He was quite a bowler in his day, participating in leagues at St. Marks and Central Presbyterian Churches. The Notaros attend St. Mark’s Church.

Frank and Genevieve Notaro have made Parkside their home and work. Their beautiful Christmas window display, featuring ceramic and china figurines, is enjoyed by all who pass by during the season. The Notaros have never returned to Frank’s homeland. Parkside has always been their home.

Frank Notaro retired in 1983, and took a piece of Parkside Americana with him. Al Villa was another longtime businessman. His Buffalo Lawnmower Service and Sales business was on Main Street, just north of West Oakwood Place, from 1963 to 2005. Al once shared with me his secret to good health: Chocolate milk. For years, Al says he’d get it ice cold right off the milkman’s truck, and it‘s good for anything from headaches to upset stomachs.

Just as it is today, but even more so in the past, one couldn’t walk too far along Main Street without running into a doctor’s office or an undertaker. One doctor, a dentist, in fact, had his office next door to Al Villa’s shop.

A 1970s look at the offices of Dr. Monreith Hollway, were also at various times a Barber shop and a jewelry store. Obscured by the tree in Buffalo Lawnmower, where Al Villa sold and repaired lawn mowers for over 40 years.

Dr. Monreith Hollway retired in the 1970s, leaving the storefront (above) mostly vacant for nearly 2 decades, until March 1987 when the Parkside Community Association began the process of acquiring grants to buy and renovate the property for the group’s offices, and low income housing in the one-time dentist’s office upstairs.

Of course, there were places for adults to congregate as adults as well. Once prohibition was lifted, there were two long-time popular taverns. Grabenstatter’s, near Dewey Avenue, and Diebold’s red brick tavern, at the corner of Leroy Avenue, both serving to quench the thirst of Parksiders, and the German immigrants on the east side of Main Street.

Grabenstatter’s Restaurant became Margaret Kaufmann’s Copper Kettle. One of Parkside’s first Main Street businesses, in the days of the stage coach to and from Williamsville, was a gin mill.

 John R. Schardt, Jr. ran a tavern at 2095 Main Street (near Kensington), and was doing so in 1911. By 1915, the saloon’s liquor license was in the name of John J. Brinkworth, whose descendants ran the Park Meadow Bar and Grill at Parkside and Russell, as well as numerous other taverns and businesses around the city up to this day.

The building was vacant by 1930, and gone by 1940 (replaced by the Shell Gas Station in the Main/Humboldt photo on page 66.) This site, or close to it, had, in the 1830s, been the site of a toll gate, to help pay for the paving of Main Street.

View from the sidewalk in front of Dr. Hollway’s office. George Zornick remembers Henry’s Hamburgers, seen in the background in this 1977 shot. “It was a big deal when that opened (in 1967), especially within walking distance. For less than a dollar you could fill yourself up. It was kind of a destination for us, a full day for us. (Former Buffalo Bill and Channel 2 Sportscaster) Ernie Warlick owned it, he was a big sports hero for us, and he’d work the counter every once in a while. We’d also take our spare change and hike over to the Central Park Plaza. They had all kinds of great ‘5 and dime’ type stores there like Kresges, Murphys. We’d poke around in the stores all day, maybe grab something at the soda fountain, and that was a day for us.” The Henry’s Location is Tony’s Ranch House today.

Through the 60s, 70s and 80s, the block of Main Street between Vernon Place and Orchard Place, near where Main Street and Fillmore Avenue meet, was a hot nightspot for the young set, and for jazz fans.

Clubs and restaurants like The Casa Savoy, Dirty Dick’s Bathhouse, and the original Tralfamadore Cafe were well-known places for music and partying.

In 1972, three North Buffalo brothers bought a vacant bar with a leaky roof on Main Street. It was the birth of a Parkside institution. The Stuffed Mushroom was born at the hands of Jim, Dennis, and Donald Alfieri at the corner of Main and Orchard Place, and remained for nearly three decades.

They wanted to bring back the aura of the hot spot of the 40s and 50s at the same address, the “Park Casino.” The 1941 bar remained, and the brothers built out from around it. And they didn’t stop at the walls of the Stuffed Mushroom.

 The Alfieris were among the original organizers of the Main-Amherst Business Association, which is still active and partners with the Parkside Community Association as well as the Fillmore Leroy group, FLARE, and brother Jim was a director of the PCA. The Stuffed Mushroom closed in 1996.

Like many memories, the original home of the Tralf is probably better in memory than it ever was in actual practice. Though hundreds of the world’s finest jazz and off-beat music acts played the room, it was a cramped basement, accessible only by the steep staircase upon which workers are sitting during the club’s last night. WEBR Jazz in the Nighttime Host Al Wallack, bottom center, could regularly be heard broadcasting live from the Tralf.

For almost two centuries, Main Street– and the goings-on on Main Street– were inseparable from the goings-on in the Parkside neighborhood. 

As the 21st century enters its second decade, however, many who’ve lived in Parkside for a decade or more have never had reason to visit, walk on, or even drive through the portion of Main Street that has been the traditional backbone of the area.

The slow, often painful changes that Main Street and the City of Buffalo experienced, and how the people of the Parkside area came to deal with them, are the integral part of the Parkside story that makes the community so unique among Buffalo neighborhoods.

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

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

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