Torn-down Tuesday:  Skyway dooms railroad right-of-way

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Just as Buffalo has a renewed sense of optimism, with many of the imaginative construction projects underway in 2015 and planned for beyond, the people of Western New York were excited about futuristic, forward-looking projects in the 1950s, too.

Buffalo News archives

There had been talk of a “high-level bridge” along the inner and outer harbors of Buffalo for decades by the 1950s. The idea was to provide automobile access to downtown Buffalo from the south, while also maintaining seafaring ships’ access to the harbors and Buffalo River.

In 1950, it was written, “The first spadeful of earth turned for the span will culminate a 25-year dream of city planners for a route to provide the smooth flow of traffic to and from Buffalo from the southeasterly approach.”

By 1954, the way was being cleared at what was to become the downtown end of the high-level bridge.

This photo shows the area where  West Swan, Franklin, Upper Terrace and Erie streets come together, with one of Buffalo’s oldest landmarks — the St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral rectory, built around 1860 — off to the right and city hall overhead.

The old tracks of the New York Central Railroad are just out of view, and can be seen in this photo taken a bit further back. The tracks were given up in part for the roadbeds of the Skyway and the I-190.

Buffalo Stories archives

Even Old Buffalo Looking New: Ch.4’s 1960’s Buffalove

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

BUFFALO, NY – My friend Libby wrote something the other day which made me think. She was talking about the cold and the gray and the snow, and how we don’t even realize how the darkness of it all creeps into our personality.

“Honestly do not even realize I am depressed, until the sun comes out and everything is sunshiny and I feel the depression lift!”

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I read this amidst my going through my collection of old radio and TV trade magazines. In the late 50s and early 60s, these magazines were filled with ads from local radio and TV stations looking to appeal to national advertisers. They talk about how great the station is, but also how wonderful the city and it’s people are– a great place to sell your stuff.

There are plenty of great ads from Buffalo stations. It’s like a Buffalo version of the wacky creative efforts you might see from the guys on Mad Men.

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I’ve used these old magazines as a resource for years. Decades even. This time, however, the feeling was different, and Libby’s exaltation helped me put my finger on what made some of these ads better than they were the last time I looked.

These ads look better and more interesting, because there is hope and brightness in Buffalo like we haven’t seen here since the late 50s.

These ads, from 1958 and 1964, show WBEN-TV’s excitement for Buffalo and what is to come, and are meant to showcase the “just-over-the-horizon New Buffalo” that was on it’s way.

These ads feel fresh and great, because while there was a 60 year lag, that New Buffalo really is just around the corner this time.

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When we were filled with gloom and darkness about our city, we would look and read these, and point to the empty, rotting grain elevators as a vestige of a vanished industry.

We’d look closely on the Skyway image, and see the beams marked with the logo of Bethlehem Steel. It was a bridge built to get 15,000 men from the city to their jobs in a plant that’s been cold for 30 years.

We imagine what Buffalo would have looked like if we didn’t build highways and downtown office buildings for 2 million expected Western New Yorkers, and we lament the buildings that were lost because too much of downtown was torn down too quickly for the wrong reasons.

But now, with the sun out here for the first time in generations, we look at these images and see progress and what’s to come. We now recreate under the Skyway, with promise of more to come. Grain elevators and malt houses are becoming the avant-garde, up-and-coming spaces that the next generation of Buffalonians realize are incredibly unique to us alone, as moves are made to re-imagine and re-purpose what makes us unique.

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And with cranes and scaffolds up in dozens of places around the city, the thought of “new building” isn’t necessarily followed by “oh no.”

As the sun shines, and us Buffalonians feel the depression about our city lift, we’re beginning to figure out how to make our dynamic past, part of our dynamic future.

And we’re getting excited about seeing how the same ol’stuff starts to look different with some sunshine on it, warming the face and the soul.