Milestone: no more colorful glass in the window across from Ken West

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Bottles had been displayed for decades in the window of this Delaware Rd. home.

For as long as I can remember, stopping at the light next to Kenmore West High School has made me smile.

When you were stopped on Highland, you were looking straight into a picture window which, forever, had a lovely glass collection displayed in it.

Driving by the other day, I was a little sad to see the house was up for sale and the colored glass bottles were gone.

Watching men land on the moon at Jenss Twin-Ton, 1969

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When I was a general assignment reporter, I always loved the angle that when something big happens, anything that anyone is doing becomes a story. “How did you ride out the storm?” “How did you celebrate the big win?” “Where were you when the tornado hit?”

No matter what your answer is…it’s part of the larger story and worth celebrating. As a researcher and historian who combs through other writers’ and journalists’ archived works to re-tell their stories in the light of present day life, I love finding those little bits of everyday life set against the backdrop of big stories.

That’s why these ladies watching TV at a City of Tonawanda department store is my favorite image from the lunar landing. A million people are telling Neil Armstrong’s story– But we here care just as much about what was going on in the Twin-Ton Department store as he was making that giant leap.

The crew at Jenss Twin-Ton in the City of Tonawanda gathered around the TV set to watch live broadcasts from the moon fifty years ago this month.

Watching TV rarely gets you on the front page of the paper, but it seems appropriate that it did for the staff at Jenss Twin-Ton Department store 50 years ago next week.

That man would step foot on the moon is an unimaginable, superlative, epoch-defining feat in human history. But that more than half a billion would watch it happen live on their television sets made it a definitive moment in a broadcast television industry that was barely 20 years old at the time.

Gathered around the TV “to catch a few glimpses of the Apollo 11 events” were Mrs. James Tait, Margaret Robinson, Marian Feldt, Jack Dautch, Grace Hughes, Dorothy Wiegand, Rose Sugden and Rose Ann Fiala.

By the time of the 1969 moon landing, Jenss Twin-Ton’s future was already in doubt as city fathers in the Tonawandas were looking to expand already present Urban Renewal efforts to include the store at Main and Niagara.

Founded in 1877 as Zuckmaier Bros., the department store was sold in 1946 and became Twin-Ton in 1946. Jenss Twin-Ton closed in 1976 when the building was bulldozed as urban renewal caught up. Plans for the department store to rebuild on the site never materialized and the Tonawandas’ only downtown department store was gone for good.

The Twin-Ton Department store is seen on the left of this 1950s postcard. That side of the block was demolished in 1976.

Before there was Paula’s, Tonawanda had Jet Doughnuts

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

The busy parking lot in the Sheridan Drive plaza that Paula’s Donuts has called home for the last six years is often so packed that parking spills over to Gettysburg Avenue.

People come from all over to the Town of Tonawanda for what has become Western New York’s definitive legendary doughnut.

But don’t tell that to the people who’ve been buying doughnuts in what was Weston’s Plaza for decades. They’re happy that the best doughnut around has taken over the space that had been Weston’s Hardware since the early ’50s, but the fry cake benchmark came from another proletariat pastry provider a few doors down from where Paula’s is today.

Jet Donuts

“No doughnut has ever compared to Jet” is a refrain you’ll hear among people who grew up in what is now the shadow of Paula’s. Even when Freddie’s was the Cadillac of Buffalo doughnuts, these folks swore by Jet, which operated from the 1950s to the 1990s.

May, 1964.

Get a few guys from the neighborhood together, and they’ll start rattling off the names they’d shout out to fill the dozen box on Sundays after church or on their way to a Cub Scout meeting. Chocolate Gems, Jelly Moons, cream sticks, peanut sticks, apple fritters, bullseye. They remember the piped-on chocolate swirls and real angel cream that no one seems to do anymore, and that Jet seemed to have donut holes before anyone else.

If there’s a hint of nostalgia for the tastes, there’s plenty of it for the price. A dozen from Jet cost 65 cents in 1963. Regular coupons in the paper would drop that price down to 33 cents a dozen. Plus, as any wide-eyed kid of the ’60s will remember, if you got a red star on the tape that was used to close the box lid down, you’d get a free dozen.

“The Greatest of All-Time” is a debate that often fills sports talk shows and Twitter feeds. It’s difficult to compare Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James in the world of basketball, or try to figure out what Babe Ruth would do with today’s pitching in baseball.

The good news about debating the best doughnut is, you can do it while eating doughnuts. It’s a win-win.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Tonawanda’s Frontier Brewery, famously dumped beer in Niagara River

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The City of Tonawanda has been home to several breweries since farmers began growing hops along the Niagara Frontier around 1810.

The Tonawandas’ most famous beer factory was at 533 Niagara St. at the corner of Hinds Street.

Mugging for the cameras, Frontier Brewery brewmaster Alfred Fischer wipes away tears as he dumps 57,000 gallons of beer into the Niagara River when the Tonawanda brewery closed its doors in 1948. Patrolman Barney Stryker and sewage treatment plant supervisor Everett Sommerfeldt look on.

First opened by George Zent in 1867, the place was also known as Busch Brewing Co. – unrelated to the current discount-priced national brand. The old wooden beerworks, by then owned by Bernhard Voelcker, burned to the ground on the spot in 1913.

Buffalo’s Brewer Mayor, Frank X. Schwab

Voelcker rebuilt, and the new brewery building eventually sold to Buffalo’s brewer mayor Frank X. Schwab, who was selling a low alcohol, near-beer concoction named “Schwab’s Ambrosia” and home-brewing kits from the location at the start of the Prohibition era.

 

Given that his grandfather was a brewer at another Tonawanda brewery, Leon Peuquet paid special attention to the brewery he could see and smell from his home. He grew up a few blocks away from the brewery on Adam Street and wrote about the pre-Prohibition days in the Tonawanda News in 1977.

I can still remember the pleasant odor of cooking malt wafted on the southwest breeze early in the morning. You could always tell when they were brewing.

A Busch Brewing Company advertisement in 1895.

Then there was the early morning sounds of the horses’ hoofs and the rolling wagon wheels as a load of kegs came down over the brick pavement on Adam Street.

No fewer than nine companies made beer at the location.

The Tonawanda Brewing Corp. began operating in the building after Prohibition was lifted in 1933, and a few years later, it became Frontier Brewery, selling Malz-Brau beer in and around Tonawanda.

A 1939 ad with a list of Tonawanda taverns carrying Malz-Brau.

Malz-Brau was very popular in the years between the end of Prohibition and the start of World War II. During the war, Frontier Brewery’s domestic production stopped abruptly as they signed a government contract to ship canned beer overseas for American troops.

An ad for Malz-Brau beer from 1942.

After the war, Frontier’s Malz-Brau couldn’t regain its prewar sales, and the place went out of business not in a blaze of glory – but in a tsunami of suds.

In 1948, during the brewery’s final days, Frontier made national and international headlines with its novel approach to avoiding thousands of dollars in federal taxes on the beer they’d already brewed but had lost the state license to sell.

Tonawanda officials said the yeast would halt the bacterial action at the city sewage plant. So they couldn’t dump it in the sewer.

With the rushing waters of the Niagara only a few hundred feet away, they simply dumped 57,000 gallons of beer into the Niagara River.

Frontier Beer

The state Conservation Department granted permission and supervised the dumping. It was recognized that the carbon dioxide in that much beer could lead to killing fish and other wildlife in the water, but “since the river is so large, it was believed the concentration would not be large and therefore the fish not harmed,” said an Associated Press report that accompanied photos of the dumping in newspapers around the country.

It took two days to dump the 16 storage vats containing a total of 1,975 barrels of beer.

Shortly after the last drop of beer fell into the Niagara, Supersonic Chemical bought the building. In 1951, the building’s years as a brewery were ended with certainty as 18 two-ton steel vats were removed. Benline Manufacturing created a machine shop in the space.

The building was demolished in 1994, and a strip mall featuring a Wilson Farms was built in its place.

Buffalo in the 70’s: Everyone seemed to love The Ground Round

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Through the 1970s and 1980s, The Ground Round was a popular casual dining spot with locations at Seneca and Thruway Malls and on Niagara Falls Boulevard. Created by Howard Johnson’s, it may have been the first place you threw peanut shells on the floor and kids ate for a penny a pound on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

The Seneca Mall Ground Round was two years into its run when the Bills opened Rich Stadium in 1973. Many fans sought ways to avoid having to drive into Orchard Park– Ground Round offered a park and ride solution. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Buffalo’s first Ground Round opened outside the Seneca Mall in 1971.  “The Ground Round,” explained General Manager Burton Sack, “is a fun-type family restaurant featuring a player piano, nostalgic wall decorations from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, free peanuts on all tables, beer by the mug and pitcher, and free toys and games for the youngsters.”

Buffalo Stories archives

Five years later, The Howard Johnson’s restaurant at Sheridan and Delaware in Tonawanda was converted into a Ground Round, as was the Cross Bow Restaurant on Sheridan Drive in Amherst.

Buffalo Stories archives

In 1989, there were 215 Ground Round restaurants in 22 states– six in the Buffalo area. Those local stores were located at 3545 Delaware Ave. in Tonawanda; 208 Seneca Mall in West Seneca; 8529 Niagara Falls Blvd. in Niagara Falls; Thruway Mall and 1445 French Road, both in Cheektowaga; and 3180 Sheridan Drive and 7566 Transit Road, both in Amherst.

The Seneca Mall location was the first to open and the first to be closed– and then bulldozed– as the Seneca Mall was demolished starting in 1994. By the end of the year, half of the  remaining stores were sold to become the home of Kenny Rogers Roasters chicken restaurants.

This photo shows the last Buffalo area Ground Round location on Niagara Falls Blvd. in the Falls in 2004. (Buffalo Stories photo)

Buffalonians love to remember The Ground Round, but fish fry from a national chain? (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Buffalo You Should Know: WNY amusement parks through the decades

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Just what counts as an amusement park has been determined on a sliding scale since the phrase was first recorded in the 1890s.

Buffalo News archives

Crystal Beach, 1989. (Buffalo News archives)

Tell an iPad kid of today that he’s going to an amusement park, and visions of mega-coasters and waterparks at Darien Lake or Disney World will dance in his head.

It’s a far cry from when Buffalonians of not-so-long-ago were contented with the tilt-a-whirl and a merry-go-round permanently set up in some department store parking lot.

11-june-1969-glen-park-crys

For a century, Buffalo’s gold standard for amusement parks — no matter how that term was defined — was Crystal Beach. When it was founded in 1888, Crystal Beach was celebrated for the healing powers of its natural sand and crystal-clear waters. Steamboat excursions from Buffalo, first on the Puritan and the Pearl and later on the Americana and Canadiana, brought visitors to Lake Erie’s Canadian shores, but also to several similar resorts along the shores of Western New York.

Elmwood Beach Grand Island

In 1897, Grand Island’s Elmwood Beach was promoted as the only temperance — that is, alcohol-free — park and beach on the American side of the international border. It was opened in 1894 by the White Line lake steamer company, to provide its passengers with a destination it called “The Island Paradise of Buffalo.” It was operated by Harvey Ferren, owner of the Court Street Theatre downtown.

elmwood-beach-steamer

It was built as “a safe place for bathing” for women and children, with hard white-sand beaches. Special park police made sure that there was no “objectionable swim attire” at this summer resort that “was on a scale previously unknown in the area.” The fact that no liquor was sold there made it a popular destination for church groups, which boarded the boat to the resort at the foot of Ferry Street.

Elmwood-woodlawn-1897

Elmwood Beach was one of a handful of such resorts that popped up on Grand Island. Eldorado Beach was another.

New “high-class amusements and novelties” were unveiled for the 1899 season, but by 1910, the place had been abandoned. The parcel eventually became part of Beaver Island State Park, unveiled in 1939.

West Seneca’s Lein’s Park, Cheektowaga’s Bellvue Park, Fillmore Avenue’s Teutonia Park

These rustic, outdoorsy amusement areas were a drive out to the country in their day, but the land they were once located upon has long since been developed. The areas were used most by Buffalo’s growing German immigrant population.

Leins1

Lein’s Park was built over the course of nearly a decade by Gardenville’s Henry Lein, just south of Cazenovia Creek and what is now Southgate Plaza on Union Road, starting in 1895.

Home to a bear pit, bowling alley and dance hall, the park closed up at some point after Lein — who served as West Seneca town supervisor — was found guilty of graft and sent to prison in Auburn in 1913. He was later pardoned by the governor and re-elected supervisor.

Teutonia-park-ad

Buffalo’s German-Americans were clearly the target clientele for Fillmore Avenue’s Teutonia Park, “the family resort of the East Side” of the 1880s and 1890s.

Teutonia-Park-German-dragoo

While catering to Germans, the grounds one block north of Martin Luther King Jr. (then Parade) Park were owned by Baptist Kahabka, “one of Buffalo’s leading Polish citizens.” The park was one of Buffalo’s leading sports and conventions grounds, with boxing matches and picnics attracting crowds of up to 10,000 people somewhat regularly.

In 1921, the city cleared the land where the park once stood, and built East High School on the easternmost part of the plot.

Bellevue Park sprang up along Cayuga Creek at the last stop of a trolley line from Buffalo. The Bellevue Hotel on Como Park Boulevard was once a part of the sprawling 30-acre park, which was open until around the turn of the century.

Bellvue-Park

Woodlawn Beach

Touted as “The American resort for Americans,” Woodlawn Beach tried to take on Crystal Beach directly, hoping to scoop up some of the thousands who arrived at Buffalo’s Central Wharf to get on ships bound for Canada.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

The steamer Corona, and later the steamer Puritan, took passengers to Woodlawn Beach four times daily from Buffalo. The grounds opened in 1892 with a toboggan slide and “ice-cream” as main attractions. As early as 1894, ads also bragged about the park’s being “illuminated with electricity.”

In 1920, it was electricity that was bringing Buffalonians to Woodlawn in streetcars on what was billed as “only a seven-minute ride” from downtown. Two years later, Bethlehem Steel bought up some of the property for use as a slag dump, but the old roller coaster and amusements stayed in place in various states of operation through the Great Depression.

The evolution of many of these Victorian health retreats and picnic grounds into the more modern amusement park concept was pushed along by one of the great marvels of Buffalo’s 1901 Pan-American Exposition: “A Trip to the Moon.”

triptomoon

Located on the Midway on near what is Amherst Street today, “A Trip to the Moon” offered 60 passengers at once the most technologically advanced amusement of its time. A ride in a “spaceship” offered a simulated tour of the moon.

amusement-parks058

The ride caught the fancy of tens of thousands of visitors to Buffalo and at least that many Buffalonians. That was no doubt behind the idea in naming the features of Fairyland Park at Jefferson at Ferry after the Pan-Am’s big attractions. In 1910, “the Mecca of pleasure-seekers” was promoting its midway and Temple of Music — both with names taken directly from the Pan-Am. But other budget attractions inspired by the world-class event included Mysterious Asia, Cave of the Winds, White Horse Tavern, Southern Plantation, Japanese Rolling Balls, Minerva the Mystic and Reed’s Big Congress of Novelties.

fairyland-ad

“Luna Park was built just after the Pan-American Exposition and was the nearest thing to Coney Island in the pleasure line that Buffalo had to offer,” reported the Buffalo Courier in 1909 after the city’s biggest-ever amusement park burned to the ground at the corner of Main and Jefferson.

Carnival-court-1910

Click for larger view. Buffalo Stories archives

Renamed Carnival Court, the old Luna Park cost more than $250,000 to rebuild. Five cents admission gained you access to rides like Shoot the Chutes, the L. A. Thompson Mountain Scenic Railway, Auto-whirl, Witching Water Ways, Galloping-Horse Carousel, Human Roulette Wheel and Ocean Waves.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

The site was razed to make way for a Sears Roebuck store and parking ramp in 1929. Both of those former Sears structures are now part of the Canisius College campus.

Built in Western New York

A Western New York company gave rise to many smaller amusement parks around the country in the years following World War II.

Herschell-rides

When demand for the handcrafted carousels that had made the company famous since 1880 started to wane, North Tonawanda’s Allan Herschell Co. began making smaller amusement rides it marketed as attractions to small and large venues alike.

Opened originally in the 1920s as a dance pavilion, Lalle’s at Lake Bay, Angola, steadily added amusement rides and booths through the 1940s and 1950s. New amusements for 1947 included the miniature zeppelin, auto and railroad rides, the Dodge-Em, the Ocean Wave and the Chair Plane.

lalles-ad

These smaller amusements were used to entice parents to bring their children — and maybe do some additional shopping — in several places around Western New York. Buffalo’s first suburban mega-shopping center, the Thruway Plaza, opened in 1952 with a handful of rides in its Kiddie Ranch.

Thruway-Plaza-Kiddie-Ranch-

Just up Walden Avenue, on the corner of Dick Road, stood Twin Fair Kiddieland in the parking lot of the department store.

twin-faor-kiddieland

In Niagara County, Page’s Kiddyland at Packard and Military first stood to help draw customers to the Simon-Gulf gas station and then the Whistle Pig restaurant.

Pages-Gulf

One of Western New York’s smallest-yet-long-lasting amusement attractions was Dealing’s on Niagara Falls Boulevard near Ellicott Creek Park.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

The Dealing family first built an elaborately carved carousel on their Niagara Falls Boulevard farm in 1929. After returning from World War II, Earl Dealing added about a half-dozen rides to the one put up by his father. He ran Dealing’s Amusement Park until 1980.

Dealings-ad

Nestled off Main Street in the Village of Williamsville, Harry Altman’s Glen Park Casino is remembered for high-quality musical and Hollywood entertainment and was a regular stop for acts as varied as Sammy Davis Jr. and the Three Stooges. Those too young to remember the music just might remember the rides.

Glen-casino-stooges

Up to 6,000 people or more would fill the tiny park on holidays in the 1960s. The Glen Park Casino, renamed Inferno, burned down in a $300,000 blaze in 1968. The area was developed into a park in 1975.

Glen Park. Buffalo Stories archives.

Glen Park. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Western New York children of the 1970s might remember Fun-N-Games Park just off the Youngmann in Tonawanda.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

Another instance of amusement rides in a Twin Fair parking lot, the park’s most memorable feature might have been the unconnected roadside attraction in front of it—the whale car wash.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

The larger parks like Crystal Beach, Fantasy Island and Darien Lake were built and promoted as regional destinations, and likely remembered by almost anyone who grew up in Western New York, but these smaller parks are just as memorable in our own experiences or the stories or our parents and grandparents of days gone by.

Fantasy Island, 1960s. Buffalo News archives.

Fantasy Island, 1960s. (Buffalo News archives)

What it looked like Wednesday: Tonawanda’s Young Street

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Why this photo was taken in the first place is a mystery. Even exactly when it was taken is unknown. Looking at it today, probably 35 years after the shutter snapped, shows plenty of little differences between the Young Street of the ’70s and the Young Street of today.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

Just to be clear, that’s the corner of a Fotomat in a Twin Fair parking lot. Off in the distance, the beloved and warmly remembered whale car wash. All three of these landmark features were gone by the mid-’80s.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Delaware Drive-In, Knoche Road, 1963

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This one is more a case of built-up than torn down, but the Delaware Drive-In, prominently featured in the aerial photo by longtime News photographer Bill Dyviniak, was torn down to build the Youngmann Expressway.

Buffalo News archives

Landmarks which are still recognizable today include tiny St. Peter’s German Evangelical Church. It was built in 1849 by early German settlers of Tonawanda, including John and Eva Pierson (who happen to be my fifth-great grandparents.) It remained a church until 1967. It’s now the home of the Tonawanda-Kenmore Historical Society, and is easily visible on Knoche Road on the 290’s Elmwood Avenue exit.

Buffalo Stories archives

Opened in 1948, the 35-acre Delaware Drive-in featured a 63-foot-by-63-foot screen and accommodations for 1,000 cars for the twice-nightly shows.

Lucky Pierre broadcasts live from the Delaware Drive-In on WEBR, 1957 (Buffalo Stories archives)

The big screen was torn down in 1963 as the state built the 290 through Tonawanda and Amherst.

Torn-down Tuesday: Tonawanda’s whale car wash

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s one of Western New York’s most favorite-to-remember landmarks — the big blue whale car wash on Young Street in the City of Tonawanda near Fun-N-Games Amusement Park and Twin Fair.

Buffalo News archives

Built in 1973 by Buffalo’s Milton Car Wash Equipment Co. as a prototype for what it had hoped would become a string of “Whale of a Car Wash” franchises, the whale — fiberglass on a steel frame — was 83 feet long, 22 feet high and about 30 feet wide.

A rendering of the whale car wash used to market to potential franchisees around the country. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Adding to what the owner Milan D. Boyanich called a “Disney-like atmosphere” were scattered 18-foot-high fiberglass palm trees, gas pumps adorned with giant sea horse sculptures, and many garbage cans shaped like life-sized-plus fiberglass tropical animals, including alligators and hippopotamus.

The fiberglass whale was molded over several months in the building that was previously home to the Continental Can Co. on Clay Street in Tonawanda.

The City of Tonawanda at first embraced the kitschy roadside attraction. Building inspector Russell LaFleur said “the facility would be an asset to the community.”  Alderman Thomas Mullaney said he believed the car wash facility would be a “welcome addition” to the city. Mayor Sheridan J. Creekmore was the ceremonial first customer when the car wash opened in December 1973.

The cost of a wash was more on weekends and holidays — presumably any time when kids might be begging their parents for a ride through the whale.

His Honor the Mayor may have been the last customer of the car wash who went through the whale without having been begged by a young child to do so. Little ones loved the whale, but residents, not as much, calling the building “garish,” “monstrous, ugly and completely distasteful.” The “Whale of a Car Wash” changed hands in 1974, and soon became the “Willy the Whale” car wash.

By 1983, the whale by whatever name was closed, and the rotting fiberglass sea mammal played a role in that year’s City of Tonawanda alderman’s race. Challenger Joy Papai said she’d received numerous complaints about the Blue Whale and the former Twin Fair property behind it — which was in rubble after a fire at the department store. She promised that she “would work for the development and beautification of this area.”

In 1985, the old whale was torn down to make way for Wendy’s.

Buffalo in the 50s: Linde safeguards Buffalo’s food (while damaging the environment)

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The Linde Air Products Company of Tonawanda boasted in a News ad 65 years ago this week that its production of pure nitrogen helped create a more healthy way to package foods to last longer.

Today, Tonawandans who think of Linde are more likely to think of the lasting effects the Manhattan Project work done there. The federal government spent decades and millions of dollars to remediate the radiological waste left behind from uranium processing done there in the 1940s.