Torn-down Tuesday: Looking east from Lafayette Square in 1937

By Steve Cichon

The address is still familiar 78 years later, but there’s not much from this December 1937 view of Lafayette Square that survives.

Buffalo News archives

The very top of the Soldiers and Sailors monument in the middle of the square is visible in the lower left corner.  That, and the Hotel Lafayette — the Clinton Street wall of which is visible on the right side of the photo — are the only easily seen remaining structures in this photo.

When the Romanesque-Revival old Central Library was opened in 1887, it was said that “no library in all the land is more nobly housed.”  By the 1950s, however, the old building was seen as leaky, cold and difficult to adapt for new technology.  The current Central Library replaced the 1887 building in 1964.

Most, if not all, the buildings visible behind the library and Hotel Lafayette are gone. Most that survived into the ’60s and ’70s were torn down to make way for the never-built Elm-Oak corridor expressway. By the 1980s, modern bunker-like government buildings were built on the vacant blocks between Oak and Elm. The Lafayette Theatre building was torn down in 1972 to make way for a parking lot.

The triangle in the background of the wider view photo, where Broadway and William come to a point, is now occupied by a gas station.


Torn-down Tuesday: Bethlehem Steel from the air

By Steve Cichon

It’s with a hybrid of longing and loathing that we look back at Bethlehem Steel.

By itself, a title like “Torn-down Tuesday” might inspire a sense of loss and memories of once-wonderful places that vanished after a misguided date with a steam shovel or a backhoe.

Sometimes, it’s a bit more complicated. Many of us fondly remember the days when 20,000 of our Western New York neighbors worked for Bethlehem Steel. It was dangerous, back-breaking, really terrible work — but the good pay and benefits from Bethlehem and other manufacturing giants provided the means for hundreds of thousands of men to offer the next generation a life better than their own.

The burning of coal to smelt iron, and the slag and smoke that process created, left our ground, water, and air heavily polluted. It contributed to irreversible environmental damage and very likely played some role in the sickness and disease of thousands of people who never stepped foot in the plant.

But still, smoke stacks meant jobs.

The smoke stacks were still there when this photo was taken in 1984, but most of the jobs left in 1982 when the main plant closed.

Torn-down Tuesday: Buffalo’s hope that parking lots will save downtown

By Steve Cichon

On Tuesdays, BN Chronicles will look at buildings or structures that are no longer standing, and look at what stands there now.

Hundreds of downtown Buffalo buildings were lost to the automobile, either with ways to move them more efficiently or to park them once they got there.

Images all appeared in The Buffalo Evening News in 1955.

Highways like the Niagara Thruway and the Kensington Expressway caused the loss of some downtown structures, but the planned Elm-Oak elevated highway – which was never built – still precipitated the wholesale demolition of every block between Oak and Elm, between the 33 and the 190.

At the same time Buffalo thought these highways into the heart of the city would “save downtown,” something had to be done with the cars once they got there.

Most look back with sadness or frustration at the fact that entire blocks were lost to civic parking ramps, and many other buildings were demolished to make way for private lots.

But as this was happening 60 years ago, the obviously good-intentioned hope was that given some place to park – perhaps the biggest beef about doing anything downtown at the time – that people would come.

That hope can clearly be seen in the advertising of downtown department stores 60 years ago this week.

The Downtown Merchants’ big two page ad touts the pleasure of downtown shopping with two new ramps open with room for 37,000 cars daily.

Many stores were running their own ads as well. Kobacker’s, Hengerer’s, and JN Adam’s all paid to tell the people of Buffalo that “parking’s a breeze” at their downtown stores.

JN’s ad reminds: “Shop all day, if you’d like. Your car’s safe from based fenders, parking tickets, and all the other hazards of the bad old days!”

All that parking didn’t help JN Adam’s. The store closed in 1960, and AM&A’s took over its location. The building with 37,000 parking spots only steps away was vacant for more than a decade. As reported by Jonathan D. Epstein in May 2015, the building is now being converted to a hotel catering to Chinese tourists.