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.

1960s Buffalo in Glorious Color

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

eBay user soon2bexpat has a treasure trove of more than 300 vintage color slides posted for sale today, and many of them are from Buffalo and Western New York.

Glorious, full-color glimpses of the way life used to be around here, mostly from the late 1950s through the early 70s.

Many are labelled as from Buffalo, but many more are apparently snapshots of day-to-day life on the Niagara Frontier in a bygone era.

All of the “certain” and a good number of the “safe to assume” Buffalo images follow. As of print time, many of these remain for sale from soon2bexpat  if you are interested.

If you can help better identify any of the people or places in any of these images, please drop me an email: steve@buffalostories.com

IMG_2626One of several shots taken in various Buffalo basement bars… Genesee and Iroquois lights hang on the wall on this one, pointing to a pretty clear Buffalo connection.

IMG_2624A similar-but-different bar features cans of Buffalo-brewed Stein’s beer stacked.

IMG_2616Beers in the basement.

IMG_2609Church hall? VFW? One thing is sure, that’s Buffalo’s own Simon Pure beer in the can to the left.

IMG_2606The only thing more Buffalo than sitting in the garage drinking a beer, is sitting in the garage drinking a beer while your friend plays the accordion. Extra points for white belt and argyle socks with shorts.

IMG_2627This could be a Polish-American wedding anywhere given the accordion player, but since the slides were mostly from Buffalo, I’ll guess that we can claim this one, too.

IMG_2604This one looks like a more honest-to-goodness gin mill, with at least four Iroquois signs on the wall.

IMG_2620I don’t know if her name is Mabel, but she quite clearly likes her Black Label.

 

IMG_2625There were several Purina mills and elevators in Western New Yoek, including one in The Valley. Can’t say for sure if this is one of them or not.

IMG_2611Again, it’s likely a Buffalo image, but I can’t say for sure. I can say it’s a Lehigh Valley snow plow…
IMG_2623UB playing at Rotary Field on Bailey Avenue. That’s the VA Hospital in the background.

IMG_2622

 

IMG_2612The Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks at Memorial Auditorium. Number 3 for the Sabres is Mike Robitaille.

 

 

IMG_2613This Sabres line is the French Connection– Rick Martin, Gil Perreault, and Rick Martin. The defenseman, number 2, is Tim Horton.

 

IMG_2614It’s a New York plate, so Buffalo is a good guess. It’s a great car either way.

 

IMG_2615A different New York plate– a different great car. This could be any one of a dozen neighborhoods in Cheektowaga.

 

IMG_2617The Daughters of Charity were responsible for the operation of Sisters’ Hospital. It appears that they are in a ballroom at the Statler Hilton.

 

IMG_2618The Isle View has been a Tonawanda landmark since Prohibition, and still is to this day– Doesn’t look too much different, either.

IMG_2610Wanda & Stephanie– Buffalo’s famous Mother/Daughter polka duo, were known as “America’s Polka Sweethearts.”

IMG_2608Random scene: Could be WNY or not…

IMG_2602Location not clear, but could be a lake boat…

IMG_2607Burger Basket, Sweeney & Payne in North Tonawanda. Home of the 39¢ Mr. Big.

IMG_2599Buffalo trucking concern.

IMG_2598Fire at Ann’s Restaurant. Almost certainly in Western New York with the Rich’s Ice Cream sign… There was an Ann’s Restaurant at the corner of Main and Virginia– it’s now a parking lot. Could be this place…

IMG_2605A possible Western New York storefront…

IMG_2597A ship docking in Toronto…

IMG_2594Buffalo Airport

IMG_2596Parade on Niagara Square

 

IMG_2621Firemen’s parade, downtown Buffalo

 

IMG_2619

A cardinal sits among bishops in a City of Buffalo (CHESTER KOWAL, MAYOR) parade shelter

IMG_2600A Buffalo Police captain, as priests look on…

IMG_2601A parade in front of Lakeshore Tire…

IMG_2585St. Patrick’s Day on Main Street in Buffalo in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

 

IMG_2587 IMG_2588 IMG_2589 IMG_2590

If you can provide any more information on any of these photos, feel free to email me: steve@buffalostories.com.