Torn-Down Tuesday: The Mansion House, Main & Exchange, 1932

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The Mansion House was built on the ground one of Buffalo’s early taverns and hotels. Originally known as Crow’s Tavern, the place was bought by Phillip Landon, an early surveyor of Buffalo, in 1806.

Buffalo News archives

(Buffalo News archives)

Landon’s public house served as Buffalo’s first public school as well as Buffalo’s first county courtroom.

The original tavern was destroyed when the British burned Buffalo in 1813.  Phillip Dorsheimer bought the entire block, and built a five-story building. Another floor was added, and that rebuilt gin mill was styled into a modern hotel by new owner Rebecca Wheeler in 1829.

For the next 100 years, the hotel served Buffalo’s elite arriving first by stage coach, then by canal and then by rail.

“The Mansion House, the career of which abounds in color and historic lore, was host to aristocracy of its day,” wrote The News as the building was slated for demolition in 1932.

The structure was called “one of the most outstanding landmarks in Buffalo’s history” weeks before it was taken down, to make way for buildings to be utilized by the New York Central Railroad.

The New York Central right-of-ways were then sold to New York State for the building of the I-190.

Piers holding up the I-190 now occupy the space once home to Mansion House.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Before the Hampton Inn at Delaware & Chippewa

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The initial planning of the Hampton Inn at Delaware and Chippewa was met with some degree of skepticism in the years before it opened in 2001.

“We’re talking about a development that would have an impact on an entire downtown block,” said Mayor Anthony Masiello before later endorsing the plan which also called for the demolition by implosion of the former Ford Hotel to make room for Hampton parking.

It wasn’t the first time that city block had undergone a transformation.

The Hampton Inn was built inside the structure of the Willis K. Jackson Building—a six-story Bley & Lyman fireproof structure first opened for occupancy in April 1923.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

The concrete, steel and brick building with ornamental terracotta was designed by the same firm that created the plans for the downtown Hens & Kelly store and the Saturn Club.

The erection of the Jackson Building saw the demolition of one of Buffalo’s classic, typical looking structures of an earlier era.

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This building stood on the corner for the second half of the 19th century. The Ford-Meadows home was torn down in 1922.

Torn-Down Tuesday: The old City Hospital at the ECMC site

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The current Erie County Medical Center building is an imposing concrete structure and an East Buffalo landmark.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

But the hospital on Grider Street wasn’t always a hulking gray monolith. Buffalo City Hospital opened in 1918, and the peaceful gardens surrounding it were described in 1934 as a fresh air garden, with benefits and recuperative powers for patients.

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In 1939, Buffalo City became Meyer Memorial. Among the $150,000 in improvements to the hospital in 1962 were two new delivery rooms, being shown off here by nurses Lois Newton and Frances Thorp.

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The hospital’s name changed to Erie County Medical Center with the opening of the current building in 1978.

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Torn-Down Tuesday: The Sample’s flagship store on Hertel Avenue

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Anne Bunis started the Sample Shop in the front parlor of her Hertel Avenue home in 1929. Soon after, her husband, Louis, had the idea to have “living mannequins” in the front window. What had been static displays had become fashion shows for passersby on Hertel.

Anne and Louis Bunis inside Samples flagship Hertel Avenue location. Buffalo News archives

Anne and Louis Bunis inside Sample’s flagship Hertel Avenue location. (Buffalo News archives)

That one house grew into a string of five houses within a decade. In 1947, the houses were torn down and the long familiar Sample store was built.

The Sample, Hertel Avenue, 1990. Buffalo News archives

The Sample, Hertel Avenue, 1990. Buffalo News archives

In 1989, as 88-year-old Anne Bunis watched her company open a store in the Walden Galleria and even as the cake was being cut in celebration of the Sample’s 60th anniversary, the end was in sight.

The 11-store chain dwindled to three, and those remaining Sample stores were ordered closed by a bankruptcy judge in 1990.

In 1993, the flagship store on Hertel Avenue was razed to make room for a senior apartment complex.

As noted in a 1990 editorial, the loss of the Sample to Hertel was as big a blow to the neighborhood as the loss of Sattler’s was to Broadway-Fillmore.

1974. Buffalo News archives

1974. Buffalo News archives

 

Torn-Down Tuesday: The Glenny/Hoyt House on Amherst Street

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When it was torn down after World War II, the Amherst House was the last surviving structure in Buffalo with direct ties to city designer Joseph Ellicott, as well as one of Buffalo’s oldest surviving homes.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

Ellicott had the house built for his niece in 1823 on Main Street between High and Goodrich, in the footprint of what is today’s Medical Campus. The pillars on the front of the house were said to be selected from forests all around Western New York by Ellicott himself, who also supervised the trees’ being dragged back to the outskirts of Buffalo.

Tall locust trees filled the property, and peacocks were kept on the lawn. A mansion in the grandest sense, the basement was home to a Colonial baking oven in the kitchen and a well-used servant’s quarters.

By the 1890s, the formerly bucolic and rural feeling “Washington Park” area had been overrun by the trappings of Buffalo’s brewing industry. From the mansion’s stately windows, there was a view of the Empire Brewing Co. in the back on High Street and the German American Brewing Co. to the left on Main across High, not to mention Buffalo General Hospital a few blocks away.

In 1884, at the corner of Main and High. The home was owned by brewer Charles Gerber, who hosted Grover Cleveland and Mark Twain in the home. Cleveland was said to have visited Gerber frequently to drink Mr. Gerbers beer and enjoy the brewers jolly personality. Twain was said to regularly burst through the front door claiming to be a burglar during his time in Buffalo.

In 1884, at the corner of Main and High. The home was owned by brewer Charles Gerber, who hosted Grover Cleveland and Mark Twain. Cleveland was said to have visited Gerber frequently to “drink Mr. Gerber’s beer and enjoy the brewer’s jolly personality.” Twain was said to regularly burst through the front door claiming to be a burglar during his time in Buffalo.

John C. Glenny bought the house for $300 and wanted to move it — but city fathers denied the request. To skirt that denial, in 1891, he had the house broken down in to several pieces and moved to the then-more rural Amherst Street site that is now Nichols School’s Peek Field.

The pieces of the house were moved down High Street to Humboldt Parkway, then across the park meadow to the spot where it stayed for the next six decades. The move cost $10,000.

Only blocks away from the Pan-American Expo grounds, the Glennys played host to “many distinguished visitors” to Buffalo in 1901.

Following Glenny’s death in 1910, Buffalo attorney, Pan-Am organizer and Pierce-Arrow executive William B. Hoyt bought the home. The Hoyt family owned the home until Mrs. Hoyt’s death in 1945.

In 1941, Mrs. Hoyt — the grandmother of the late Assemblyman William B. Hoyt II — offered the property to the Buffalo Historical Society as a historic property, but the society couldn’t afford the upkeep. After her death, the property was sold to the Evangelical and Reformed Church, with the idea that the house would be torn down to make way for a new home for the aged. However, a provision in Mrs. Hoyt’s will was discovered that said the property could only be used for residential or education purposes until 1956.

In 1949, the Courier-Express described the once-grand home as “a ruin” in a story called “Death of a Mansion.” The home, which once hosted Presidents Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore and Cleveland, looked like “a southern mansion, abandoned after the Civil War.”

The photo shows the home in 1949, dismantled, awaiting court approval for a final demolition and the building of a home for the aged on the property. At the time, this core part of the house was the citys oldest surviving dwelling.

The photo shows the home in 1949, dismantled, awaiting court approval for a final demolition and the building of a home for the aged on the property. At the time, this core part of the house was the city’s oldest surviving dwelling.

The green light for a demo on Buffalo’s oldest surviving house was given in 1952, and in 1954 a home for the elderly opened on the site. In 2003, Nichols bought and razed the United Church home’s 1950s structure and replaced it with a state-of-the-art athletic field.

Torn-Down Tuesday: ‘Green Lightning’ sculpture – an amplified hoax?

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Now it’s generally accepted that the neon sculpture “Green Lightning” by Billie Lawless was “pubic art as public art,” although the artist has maintained from the very beginning that “people’s interpretation (of neon panels depicting what most people say look like dancing cartoon penises) is up to them.”

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Billie Lawless shows a scale model of Green Lightning. (Buffalo News archives)

Mayor Griffin famously called the sculpture obscene, and ordered it dismantled. Lawless climbed atop the piece to stop the demolition. One judge ordered that the takedown should not continue, and rebuked the mayor. Another judge ruled in favor of Lawless in a lawsuit against Griffin and the city, but awarded no damages. “Green Lightning” was displayed elsewhere with no public outcry.

That’s the two paragraph version of a story that made for great newspaper copy and TV news live reports for more than a decade, leaving out many twists and turns in the drama.

Looking back at the story and reading the daily news surrounding it as it unfolded, to dispute the notion that artist Billie Lawless pulled a hoax on city and art officials is no more in question than whether those neon sculptures are “dancing dog bones” or male sex organs. At the same time, there also are few who stood by Mayor Griffin’s decision to remove the artwork from city property in the manner he did.

Here are highlights in the “Green Lightning” saga as they unfolded in the pages of The News.

Nov. 15, 1984: A small story ran on page B-13 announcing that a sculpture was to be dedicated in the Elm-Oak arterial that afternoon.

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Nov. 16, 1984: Mayor Griffin orders “Green Lightning” removed. Arts Commission Chairman Sam Magavern said he saw nothing pornographic or questionable about the piece, but said, “If people see something in it that’s wrong, we have to change it.”

Police on the scene to direct traffic during the unveiling the night before were the first to officially raise questions. In a report to his superiors, a lieutenant from the Michigan Street Station wrote, “To my shock, I did not observe a multicolor artwork, but four neon objects anatomically resembling male genitals.” His report continued that traffic came to a crawl around the sculpture and there were several calls to the Michigan Street Station.

The artist Lawless, son of the former Common Council President William Lawless, said the images were based on graffiti that adorned a Bailey Avenue building for years and was deemed “harmless” by all who viewed it. He vehemently denied that any of the figures should be viewed as a sex organ.

“It can be viewed as other objects as well,” Lawless told reporters, with dancing dog bones famously mentioned as one seemingly plausible, but entirely dubious possibility.

David More, Executive Director of the Arts Commission, said, “There is a general consensus that the model actually approved didn’t fully indicate the suggestive nature of the piece now installed.” He went on to say, however, the public perception of the piece may have been shaded by the television coverage of the drama.

Nov. 17, 1984: Lawless stands atop his sculpture as city crews work to dismantle it. In a negotiation with police, the artist agreed to pull the plug on the neon until a judge could hear the case. Members of the Buffalo Police Salacious Literature Unit were under orders to arrest Lawless should he have tried to relight the sculpture.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

“People’s interpretation is up to them. Perhaps it has something to do with their minds,” Lawless said.

Magavern reiterated that he saw nothing wrong with the piece, but still asked Lawless to consider changing some of the panels. Lawless said he’d consider.

Nov. 20, 1984: Saying Lawless pulled “a giant hoax,” officials provided a tape recording of an Oct. 13, 1983 Urban Renewal Agency meeting, where Lawless described the neon in his work as showing an “abstracted dancing figure representing life.”

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Lawless attorney Michael Brown snapped back saying, “everybody knew what that thing was,” although when asked what he thought it was, said, “I have not seen it lit up.”

Nov. 21, 1984: With a 6-1 vote of the Urban Renewal Agency, Walt’s Tree Service, a city contractor, began taking down the four panels of the sculpture containing the controversial neon elements.

A city contractor dismantles Green Lightning. (Buffalo News archives)

A city contractor dismantles Green Lightning. (Buffalo News archives)

The work began after 5 p.m., but Lawless was tipped off — and was given a temporary injunction by State Supreme Justice Vincent Doyle. The court order arrived after two panels had already been taken down.

Lawless says he’ll “definitely pursue legal action” against the city for damage to “Green Lightning.” “They cut it with torches and just started to dismantle it,” Lawless told reporters.

“I don’t know if Walt is a specialist in dismantling art, but they severed it as if it was a limb off a tree,” said Lawless.

David More, the Executive Director of the Arts Commission, handed in his resignation over the debacle.

“Billie Lawless has perpetrated a hoax on the city,” More said.

Nov. 22, 1984: The News was in contact with several neon contractors who refused to bend the tubing for Lawless as he put together his sculpture.

“There is no doubt Billie knew what it was,” said Larry Woods of Neon Graphics in Clarence, who declined the job when offered. “I accused him of trying to pull something off. I never thought he’d get this far with it.”

“He said they were dancing dog bones,” reported the owner of Wilcox Bros. Sign Company, “but I’ve never seen a dog biscuit that looked like that.”

The neon elements were crafted in Albany, because none of the shops in Buffalo would do the work.

Nov. 23, 1984: Another controversial Western New York sculptor, Larry Griffis, voiced his outrage in an interview with News reporter Michael Beebe.

“To cut it down, what the hell kind of mayor do we have? What kind of city do we have?”

Griffis says it was pretty clear to him what the piece would show.

“I saw it in the shop. I thought it was just as explicit in small scale as it is now. One problem might be the kinetic (moving) portion of the fourth panel. That makes it so explicit.”

Nov. 24, 1984: The Buffalo News Editorial Board writes, “Mayor Griffin was entirely correct in objecting to the ‘Green Lightning’ sculpture in Downtown Buffalo, but he drew a deserved rebuke from State Supreme Court Justice Vincent E. Doyle for not seeking court approval before ordering the work dismantled.”

Nov. 27, 1984: Changing his earlier stance that he saw “nothing wrong with the piece,” Buffalo Art Commission Chairman Samuel Magavern signed a letter to funders calling the work “pornographic and vulgar.” Magavern also credited Mayor Griffin’s having acted “promptly and effectively” to block the display. He also told patrons that he felt duped. “We feel badly that he used us.”

Several patrons reacted to the letter with concerns that Lawless, having “pulled one over” on the city, should leave him feeling ashamed of himself “because he is really hurting other artists who want to get help from the city.”

Not all reaction was negative. One sponsor called it “stimulating, refreshing and sophisticated.”

Dec. 5, 1984: An op-ed written by Lawless and partner Kathie Simonds describes the artist’s inspiration for the figure in question. He says it was graffiti — spray paint on an imitation brick wall on Bailey Avenue, and that it had been there for years.

Saying the entirety of “Green Lightning” had not yet been explored, Lawless and Simonds say, “Ironically, the sculpture has fallen victim to its own controversy.”

Explaining what they envisioned the piece to mean, Lawless wrote, in part, that is was “burlesquing male dominance and myths attendant to male dominance.”

Dec. 11, 1984: After some criticism in the community for not printing photos showing the controversial elements of “Green Lightning,” News Editor Murray Light responds in his “Your Newspaper” column by saying, in part, “The News did not print the pictures of the illuminated neon panels because this paper does not think they should be seen in a family newspaper or should have been displayed publicly.”

Feb. 8, 1985: The city-owned plot where what’s left of “Green Lighting” still stands, was noted as a spot where city crews had been dumping snow that had piled up during the Blizzard of ’85.

May, 1985: Lawless says the “Green Lightning” controversy hasn’t hurt him financially, but most of his sales are in places like Philadelphia and Boston. “Buffalo’s shortage of yuppies is the problem,” Lawless told reporter Jane Kwiatkowski, “because young people in Buffalo just don’t buy art as they do elsewhere.”

One of the 11 lightning bolts that were part of the sculpture had gone missing, but was found in a South Buffalo backyard. The 8-foot high, 500-pound sculptural element had been swiped as a prank.

Lawless works to fix damage done to Green Lightning. (Buffalo News archives)

Lawless works to fix damage done to “Green Lightning.” (Buffalo News archives)

June, 1985: Acting State Supreme Court Judge Wayne Feeman ordered that the city not take any further steps to remove the sculpture, but also indicated that if Lawless relit the panels, that it could be removed as a public nuisance.

June 12, 1985: The News Editorial Board again took on the “Green Lightning” controversy.

“Aside from its artistic merits, which are a matter for art critics to decide, the sculpture placed many of its viewers, and the home city of its creator, in an untenable position.

“A great many people in Buffalo and elsewhere are not comfortable with displays as garishly suggestive as this one. That’s why they don’t normally appear in such prominent places — anywhere. If Lawless placed ‘Green Lightning’ in an art gallery or sculpture park, that might not have presented a problem.

“But it is on public land, in the center of one of the city’s busiest traffic corridors. The city was left with the choice of offending many of its own citizens or opening itself up to charges of prudishness and parochialism by suppressing an artwork.”

The editorial goes on to say that Mayor Griffin’s unilateral decision to dismantle the piece — condemned by a judge — only added to the sensationalism surrounding the work.

June, 1992: Both Lawless and Mayor Griffin testified at the trial where the artist sought damages from the city.

In claiming $500,000 in damages, Lawless said the removal of “Green Lightning” “was like an assault on me.” A psychologist testified Lawless felt victimized by the city.

Griffin said he thought it was “bad art,” but ordered it down over fears it could become a “public nuisance,” creating traffic problems.

“I’m no connoisseur,” testified the mayor, “but I felt the structure was an embarrassment to downtown Buffalo,” and could also do damage to the city’s reputation.

After the two-week trial, the jury found that the city failed to take proper legal steps before dismantling “Green Lightning,” but didn’t award Lawless any monetary damages.

With the lawsuit finished and the case over, News Critic Jeff Simon wrote in part, “As I understand the decision in the Billie Lawless ‘Green Lightning’ case, the jury decided: 1. That Mayor Griffin acted like a jerk tearing it down. 2. That Lawless acted like a jerk putting it up. 3. Therefore, it’s all moot. ‘Tsk, tsk’ on the mayor and no money for Lawless… Justice seems to have been served.”

After years on display in Chicago along the Eisenhower Highway, “Green Lightning” is now dismantled and stored at Lawless’ Cleveland studio.

The patch of grass where controversy erupted remained empty for 20 years — until a new corporate headquarters helped spark a different sort of interest in the neighborhood.

“This is the gateway to downtown as you exit the 33,” Mayor Byron Brown said at a 2014 news conference announcing plans to build Catholic Health’s new headquarters where 20 years earlier “Green Lightning” had stood. “To have all of these jobs coming to downtown Buffalo builds critical mass, more people working in downtown, and more people working downtown will be there to support businesses that are located in downtown Buffalo, so it’s very good news.”

Any chance to see if Buffalo’s sensibilities have changed?

“If they want to bring it back? Any time,” Lawless said in 2014. “And if they want to pay for it, that’s not a problem.”

But for Lawless and his erecting “Green Lightning” in Buffalo in 1984, it seems that it was less about the metal and lights and more about the reaction from the very beginning.

Torn-Down Tuesday: The Lehigh Train Terminal, 1959

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When the new Lehigh Valley passenger terminal opened in 1916, it was “a cause for civic celebration,” and “the dreams of years fulfilled.” Its erection gave Buffalo the passenger terminal that for a generation people had been wishing and hoping to see built.

Postcard image, Buffalo Stories archives

Called “the most portentous” passenger terminal in “this section of the country,” the four-story structure was built of gray Indiana limestone.

Buffalo News archives

By 1959, rail passenger service was becoming a thing of the past in Buffalo. In fact, many of the Lehigh Valley right-of-ways were sold to New York State to build the I-190. The mammoth structure had become unnecessary, and had been allowed to fall into disrepair.

Buffalo News archives

The station was demolished in 1960 to make way for the Donovan State Office Building, which was refurbished and is now the home of Phillips Lytle, Courtyard by Marriott and Pizza Plant.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Pierce’s Palace Hotel in 1880

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Dr. Ray V. Pierce’s Palace Hotel brought taste and opulence to the West Side spot now occupied by D’Youville College.

Buffalo News archives

Opened in 1877, the place was half hotel, half hospital. Two generations of Pierces were known for the sale of patent medicines and the cutting-edge “curing” of disease. The baths and gymnasiums on the campus were known nationwide for their healing and restorative powers.

1879. (Buffalo Stories archives)

It was from the Prospect Avenue balcony of the Palace Hotel that Buffalo industrialist Frank Baird introduced Gen. James Garfield to Buffalo shortly before he was elected president in 1880. The throng of people welcoming the candidate stretched from the Central Depot at Terrace and Court (behind today’s City Hall) all the way to the hotel. President Ulysses S. Grant was also a guest at the Palace.

Pierce’s Palace Hotel was open only four years before it burned down in 1881. After that, Pierce opened his Invalids Hotel and Surgical Institute on the 600 block of Main Street; that survived until 1941.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Broadway at Pratt, 1973

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Sadly, a drive down Broadway east from downtown is largely a lesson in urban decay. Many worn-out buildings left uncared for, many lots where buildings that formerly fit that description once stood.

Buffalo News archives

Shown here in a 1972 photo, these structures at 400 and 404-08 Broadway no longer stand.

The wholesaling business run by Noah Mandelkern, and then his son Albert, first opened on Broadway in 1916.

Buffalo Stories archives

Mandelkern’s was a well-known seller of bulk seasonal items like school supplies, small Christmas gifts, Easter novelties, etc.

At one time, they were also dealers of one of America’s most famous shoe polishes — proving they did know almost anything from Shinola.

Next door, August Meyer opened his manufacturing and distributing business in 1915. At first, A.F. Meyer & Sons dealt in store and bar fixtures, soda fountains and beer pumps.

By the time son Edward Meyer took over the business in 1933, they were also the area distributor for Green River pop, a lime flavored soda that was the second most popular soda in the Midwest and Chicago for much of the first half of the 20th century.

The business was sold to the owners of Tops Friendly Markets in 1967.

The homes now occupying the lot were built in 2002, according to city records.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Seneca at Washington, 1890

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Just a block away from Main Street, Washington Street has been the backbone of Buffalo’s backbone for parts of three centuries.

Buffalo News archives

This photo offers a real flavor for what Buffalo was like leading up to the Pan-American Exposition. Tightly packed buildings and tightly packed sidewalks with plenty of people rushing around one of America’s great modern metropolitan spaces.

The photo also shows a bit of presidential history. Eighteen years before this photo was snapped, Grover Cleveland — who was between his two nonconsecutive terms as president — got into a fist fight with a political rival who called him a liar.

The fight between Cleveland and Mike Falvey, it was said, started in the gutter at Washington and Seneca — the intersection pictured — and wound up at Gillig’s Wine Merchants for a makeup session of drinking. Gillig’s was right next door to St. John’s Episcopal Church, which can be seen in the distance to the right.

Today, the corner looks a bit different, to say the least.

First, Seneca Street now ends at Washington. There’s the complication of a ballpark having been built there. Gillig’s – where President Cleveland made peace after his pugilist exploits — stood about where the Mayor Griffin statue now stands at Washington near Swan.

The original Glenny Building — visible to the left — burned down in 1905, but was then rebuilt. That building has recently been the site of $6.9 million in renovations  with plans for 36 downtown apartments to open there soon.