Buffalo in the ’50s: South Buffalo’s beloved ‘Spoonley the Train Man’

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Model train collectors in South Buffalo, all of Western New York, and all around the country knew of “Spoonley the Train Man” from ads in The News, the Courier-Express, and dozens of national magazines that catered to the dreams of little boys and train enthusiasts of all ages.

spoonley011

Chet Spoonley’s South Buffalo home on Choate Street, off South Park Avenue, doubled as his model train store – the basement shop was a place where young boys could see their H-O gauge dreams come true.

spoonley010-44

He started the train business in 1937, while still working as a pressman for three different newspapers: the Buffalo Times, the Buffalo Courier-Express and the Buffalo Evening News.

spoonley011-11

The Train Man’s attic was really Spoonley’s personal train museum — which also happened to sell and repair Lionel trains. Among the items on display — but not for sale — at Spoonley’s was a lantern that lit the parlor car of President Lincoln’s Baltimore & Ohio funeral train as it rolled through Buffalo in 1865.

Advertisements for Spoonley, which appeared in magazines around the country from the 1940s- 1970s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Advertisements for Spoonley, which appeared in magazines around the country from the 1940s through the 1970s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In 1974, Spoonley handed the model train business — by then moved to West Seneca – over to his son, Chester Jr.

spoonley010

Spoonley Sr. died in 1980. The 74-year-old suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow.

Business lagged, and Spoonley the Train Man shop closed in October 1981, and Spoonley Jr. went missing three months later. His body was found in the Niagara River the following spring.

The story of Spoonley, his trains and the eventual dying off of a model train empire, was written in book form by radio newsman John Zach in 1988 and examined by News Reporter Anthony Violanti as the book was published.

The Buffalo You Should Know: Big names of Buffalo’s tumultuous banking past

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

“It doesn’t take very long for a newcomer to become acquainted with Buffalo’s banks,” wrote News Reporter Robert J. Summers in 1980. “Stand at a corner like Main and Court, and you can see most of the big buildings where they are headquartered.”

Of the five bank headquarters Summers listed as visible from that intersection, only one remains in business 36 years later.

As the names involved in Buffalo’s banking scene are changing once again, BN Chronicles looks back at the names that might have been stamped on the front of your first savings account passbook or at the top of your first paycheck.

1979 ad. Buffalo Stories archives

Manufacturers and Traders Trust Company was founded in Buffalo in 1856. M&T was and is headquartered in the 318-foot, 21-floor building at One M&T Plaza that opened in 1966. That block has seen plenty of history.

M&T branch on Abbott Road at Stevenson, South Buffalo. (Buffalo News archives)

In 1865, Abraham Lincoln’s body laid in state at the St. James Hotel on the site. The Hotel Iroquois, and then the Bond Men’s store, occupied the north part of the site until 1964. M&T’s headquarters was first built on the southern half of the block now occupied by the headquarters building in 1916.

1964, just before the demolition of the circa-1916 M&T headquarters and Bond Menswear. AM&A’s is in the background. The block with H. Seeberg and the Palace Burlesk was torn down and is now green space. (Buffalo News archives)

In 1980, Marine Midland Bank was Buffalo’s oldest bank and headquartered in Buffalo’s tallest building.

Marine Trust’s Main & Seneca office, 1951 (Buffalo News archives)

Founded in 1850, Marine Midland was the nation’s 12th largest bank with $12 billion in assets in 1980. It was acquired by HSBC Bank in 1999. HSBC sold off its Buffalo-area branches to First Niagara in 2011. By the end of the summer, it’s expected that First Niagara will be acquired by KeyBank. The former Marine Midland Center is now known as One Seneca Tower.

Marine Midland ad for a “groovy Bills bank,” 1969. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Western Savings Bank’s headquarters was right on the corner that Summers chose as his 1980 vantage point for financial institutions. It’s the building with CVS Pharmacy currently occupying the ground floor space that was once Western’s main office.

Western Savings Bank ad, 1979. (Buffalo Stories archives)

While Western joined other area banks in demolishing decades-old Roman-inspired headquarters buildings for flashy new high-rise towers in the 1960s, by the early 1980s, deposits were falling and Western was losing money. In 1981, Western merged with longtime rival Buffalo Savings Bank.

Buffalo Savings Bank opened a temporary branch serving skiers at Kissing Bridge in 1980. Buffalo News archives

Buffalo Savings Bank’s famous gold-domed headquarters, designed by E.B. Green, is the rare survivor of our city’s magnificent bank buildings. As it expanded and acquired outside of Buffalo, Buffalo Savings Bank changed its name to Goldome — as a nod to its great headquarters with a name a bit less parochial sounding.

The Buffalo Savings Bank building with its famous gold dome, photographed in 2009. (Buffalo News file photo)

Like many banking institutions around the country, Goldome grew too quickly and went under during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s. In 1991, Goldome’s assets were split between KeyBank — which entered the Buffalo market after Empire of America succumbed to the S&L crisis — and another bank in 1989.

Buffalo Stories archives, 1960

For the same reasons Buffalo Savings Bank became Goldome, “The Big E” changed its name from Erie County Savings Bank to Empire of America in 1981. After nearly a decade of borrowing to acquire other banks around the country, in 1989 Empire told regulators it was insolvent and posted a $158 million loss in the third quarter.

Big E celebrated 125 years in business in 1979. Ten years later, the federal government assumed control of the bank. (Buffalo Stories archives)

As longtime Buffalo banks Buffalo Savings and Big E were busy buying up other deposit bases, longtime Buffalo institution Liberty Bank instead was bought up.

Liberty Bank’s branch at Bailey & Kensington, 1930s. (Buffalo News Archives)

While the twin Lady Liberties atop the bank’s headquarters still stand proudly on Buffalo’s skyline, in 1985 Liberty Bank became Liberty Norstar. Boston’s Fleet Bank bought Norstar in 1987, and in 2004, all Fleet branches became Bank of America branches after those two institutions had merged.

Buffalo Trust, previously known as Buffalo German Bank, was headquartered in a Victorian Italianate structure that was torn down in 1957 to make way for the Tishman building, the longtime headquarters of National Fuel. Today the site is home to a Hilton Garden Inn.  (1924 ad, Buffalo Stories archives.)

 

What It Looked Like Wednesday: Three nights of drinking in South Buffalo, 1977

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In the year of the big blizzard, the iconic Buffalo News tavern and music critic Dale Anderson counted 17 bars on Seneca Street between Elk Street and the city line.

Buffalo Stories archives/Steve Cichon collection

He visited or at least talked about 10 different gin mills along Seneca Street and Abbott Road, including four within a block of where this photo was snapped at Seneca and Cazenovia streets. Here are a few of the places talked about, with a more current status:

  • Terry & Wilbur’s — 1944 Seneca St. at Mineral Springs. Across Seneca Street from Rite-Aid in the large building on the corner.
  • JP McMurphy’s — 2126 Seneca St. Formerly Maloney’s — an old railroad man bar. Recently D-Bird’s and Brandy’s Pub.
  • Early Times — 2134 Seneca St. Now the Blackthorn Pub.
  • Falcon Eddie’s — formerly Jack & Ester’s Schuper House—2143 Seneca St. Now the site of Dollar General. (I also have to mention that my great-grandparents lived upstairs.)
  • The Sky Room — on the top floor of the old Shea’s Seneca building. You’d drive into it if you drove straight through the Cazenovia Street intersection.
  • Fibber Magee’s — 2340 Seneca St. Recently Mr. Sports Bar, near Duerstein.
  • Klavoon’s — 81 Abbott Road, currently Griffin’s Irish Bar
  • Stankey’s Café — 107 Abbott Road, now Jordan’s Ale House
  • Smitty’s — 474 Abbott Road, now Doc Sullivan’s. Smitty’s was famous for the unique tangy wing recipe created by Carol O’Neill at the bar. You can still order Smitty-style wings at Doc’s and many other South Buffalo taverns.

Now armed with a better sense of where these places were, here’s Dale’s original tale of three nights of drinking in South Buffalo 39 years ago.

Buffalo in the ’50s: Celebrating 50 years of South Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Sister Mary Sacred Heart is cutting a celebratory cake for some of Mercy Hospital’s youngest patients in this photo from October 1954.

The Sisters of Mercy were among Buffalo’s earliest Catholic teachers, and from their convent on Fulton Street near St. Brigid’s church and school, Sister Martha began dispensing her “famous black salve.”

That’s credited as the start of the sisters’ medical ministry, which grew to include a hospital inside a former home on Tifft Street near Holy Family church and school, and then later the current Mercy Hospital on Abbott Road in South Buffalo.

In 1954, when this photo was taken, Mercy Hospital was described as a “modern, fully-equipped, six story brick structure.” During the first 50 years of the hospital’s existence, Msgr. Francis Growney estimated that the hospital had cared for 148,000 patients.

The 1930s South Buffalo vehicular tragedies in my family tree

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

I don’t think we always realize how much better we live these days.

Both Grandpa and Grandma Cichon had little siblings killed when they were hit by cars on the streets of South Buffalo.

The Buffalo Evening News’ morbid coverage of Grandma Cichon’s little sister’s death is incredible. Mary Lou Scurr was about a year-and-a-half old when she was run over while playing in a toy car in the street.

marylou1

marylou2This photo was on the front page, above the fold, May, 1935. Grandma’s little brother Gordon—who was only hours before a witness to the accident which caused the death of his little sister– posed next to the wreckage of the accident. Judging by the description of the scene, it’s fair to assume this mangled car had blood and possibly other remains of his baby sister in it.

Sadly, Gordon Scurr’s next appearance in the news was 11 years later, while in high school, he died of a rare glandular disorder.

gordon

Two years later, Grandpa Cichon’s little brother was killed in a similar fashion.

Roman (also called roman3Raymond) Cichon was five years old and fascinated with trucks. He liked to go to the junk yard at the corner of Fulton and Smith Streets in The Valley to see the trucks in action.

His big brother, my grandfather, used to take him there. The way he told it, while Gramps was stealing an apple off a neighbor’s tree, Raymond was “mangled” by a truck. That word “mangled” was one Gramps often used with us in the hundreds of times we crossed Seneca Street to go from his house to Cazenovia Park.

In his 88 year life, the death of Raymond may have been what caused him the most sadness; even worse in some ways than the unbearable loss of 4 of his own children. As he talked about it, I could feel his guilt in not being right there to save his little brother. His use of the word mangle is the only hint of what the scene looked like—but frankly it’s enough.

roman1 roman2

roman4

In the end, it certainly wasn’t Gramps’ fault– and the truck driver lost his license. Raymond was killed when that truck bolted onto the sidewalk ran him over.

He was buried at St. Stanislaus cemetery near where another baby Cichon, Czeslaw (aka Chester ) was buried after he died from cancer as a baby.

Great Grandma Wargo: South Buffalo’s hard working washer woman

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

Grandma Coyle and her grandma
The caption was written by Grandma Coyle’s father… my Great-Grandpa Steve Wargo.

My great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Wargo, holds my grandmother, June Coyle. Lizzie came to America from Hungary in 1906… 10 years and six kids later, she was widowed in a foreign land. Working as a wash woman, she earned enough money to feed her kids and buy the home she’s standing in front of– 527 Hopkins Street in South Buffalo.

I’ve been looking at this photo pretty much my entire life. It was in the big blue photo album that grandma had in her sewing room.

I remember the awe I felt when grandma said something along the lines of “that’s me with my grandma.”

For all the time I spent studying this photo and a few others which were probably taken the same day almost 85 years ago, I never once noticed the outfit– the uniform– my great-great grandmother is wearing.

Wargo Elizabeth 1930 census

She was a domestic servant. The 1930 census says she was a “laundress” with a “private family.”

daisy downtonIn essence, she was one of the downstairs people on Downton Abbey. Right down to the shoes, her dress looks like something you might see Daisy wear on Downton.

Looking at this photo of my grandmother and her grandmother, and thinking about her hard work and sacrifice swells me with thanks.

All that is beautiful in our lives is the result of so much sacrifice by generations of people who couldn’t even imagine us… It’s really humbling. This tough little immigrant woman fought through life for me.

When you get to know your ancestors, it’s hard to take credit for anything. Realizing the generations of sacrifice offered so that I had the opportunity to live the life I do is the ultimate exercise in modesty.

Buffalo in the ’40s: Orphans & eye strain

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Most of what was written in the paper in 1944 had to do, in some way, with World War II. Even if not directly about the fighting, the backdrop of the war was apparent in every day-to-day task in Buffalo and around the country.

Thomas Webster was an orphan of the London air raids, and he moved into his uncle’s home on Weyand Street off Seneca Street in South Buffalo.

April 28, 1944: Boy who lost parents in raid likes new home

“Deprived of parents by the Germans’ ruthless bombing of London …”

Sattler’s, meanwhile, was offering ideas for helping those with eye strain brought on by second jobs for the war effort.

April 28, 1944: A second front for your eyes!

“If your eyes are feeling the results of extra wartime use …”

Buffalo in the ’60s: Buffalo gets ready for spring

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Everyday Buffalonians, groundskeepers at War Memorial Stadium, and the mayor (helped by a future mayor) were featured getting outdoor spaces ready for summer in The Buffalo Evening News on April 25, 1969.

War Memorial was the home of the Bisons from 1960 to ’69 and from 1979 to ’87.

Mayor Frank Sedita and the man who followed him as mayor, Stanley Makowski, planted a tree in front of City Hall in celebration of Arbor Day.

Remembering WWI Vets: Uncle Gordon, Uncle George, & ‘Pops’

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

It got me to thinking as this piece of news crossed the wires:

America’s last surviving veteran of World War I has died. Frank Buckles was 110. A family spokesman says Buckles died peacefully of natural causes at his home in Charles Town, Va.

There have been three World War veterans in my life. The first two I never knew personally, one I did.

The first two were my Great-Grandpa Scurr’s older brothers– Merchant Marine men who died at sea four months apart during The Great War.

George & Gordon Scurr
George & Gordon Scurr

George Scurr was an ordinary seaman on the SS Hazelwood, which was mined by German U-boat UC-62 on October 18, 1917. William Gordon Scurr was killed by a German U-Boat in 1918.He was a British sailor in the Merchantile Marine, a Second Engineer on the SS Trocas, and was 26 years old when the steamer was torpedoed by German U-boat UC-23 on January 19, 1918 in the Agean Sea.

I heard stories about their sacrifice growing up, and remember my grandma showing me photos of her uncles who had died in the Great War. The photos were in the box underneath the couch, right next to where grandpa used to hide his coupons under the cushion of the couch. (It was always an adventure as a little kid at Grandma Cichon’s house.) My grandma was a wonderful story teller, and I’m glad that I listened closely and listened often. I just wish that I had taken better notes. I am proud of the sacrifice made by my forebarers, and will make sure its remembered as long as I’m around.

I have a personal, very strong recollection of another World War I vet. “Pops” is how we knew him. He lived with his son a few doors down from us on Allegany Street in South Buffalo.

He was very tiny and very old. He wore the same sort of big plastic VA glasses that my dad did in the early 80s, and wore very old working man’s clothes, including suspenders to hold up pants that were a bit loose on him. His skin was blotchy with age spots, and he was probably at least 80, but for all I knew, he could have been 150.

Like so many of the characters on that street growing up, there was a warmth about him that made us kids want to talk with him and listen to his stories. I don’t remember any of the stories he told, but I remember him standing in the driveway telling the stories, and us standing in the driveway listening.

pops house allegany

Pops would stand in this driveway, a few doors down from where I lived. The trees weren’t as big then, and the street was much more bright.It seems in my recollection that he was almost immobile, standing in the driveway; just out for some fresh air, hoping one of the neighborhood kids would give him a “Hi, pops.”

The only other thing I remember about him, and perhaps this also leads to why he was standing in the driveway, was that he chewed tobacco. It was usually wadded up into a lump in a paper towel. He’d pull it out of his pocket and take a bite, then stand there and spit out the juice. Come to think of it, this had to be why he was standing there all the time.

I’m not sure why we called him Pops, or what his name actually was, or anything about him, really. As I think about this more than I have in 30 years, maybe he told us something about “gas,” like the mustard gas Germans used against US troops in France. Maybe that’s just my brain playing tricks on me. I can’t even really be certain that he was a World War I vet, but I know I’ve thought that my whole life, and will continue to do so until I find out otherwise.

In thinking about Pops, and growing up on Allegany Street from 1980-1984, I visited Google Street View and took a look at what Allegany looks like now, and it brought back a few more memories. We were at 45 Allegany Street, a house so much smaller than I remember. Next door was the phone company, or at least that’s what we called it. Its apparently still an answering service. I remember very pretty disco-era women working in there.

45 Allegany, the house in the middle here, where I lived 1980-84.
45 Allegany, the house in the middle here, where I lived 1980-84.

As a matter of fact, when I think of ‘generic disco-era women,’ this one woman who worked there is who pops into my mind. Long blond hair, lots of eye makeup, lots of perfume, high heels, and she drove a blue Chevelle. The boss there drove an faux-wood panelled AMC Pacer, and used to make Donald Duck noises to us.

Next door to the phone company, two doors from our house, was Art. Art owned Toby the Dancing Dog, which was some sort of terrier, or maybe a small poodle. The dog would jump, his paws on our shoulders, and dance with us. One time my brother mouthed off to Art, who knew my great-grandfather.

“I’m telling your grandfather on you, you little bastard,” Art said. I’m sure my brother laughed, which only enraged poor ol’Art even more. He drove a big green early 70s Buick.

Then there was a nice older lady named Kay, and then I think was Pops’ house. Mr. Walsh lived next door to Pops, and the only reason I mention it, is because he was friends with Noodles the Mailman. Sometimes Mr. Walsh and Noodles would sit for a while on the porch in the cool ‘ultra-mod’ orange cloth folding chairs that looked like they’d have fit in perfectly on an episode of Laugh-In.

Anyway, sad the the last solider left standing from the ‘war to end all wars’ has died.