Buffalo in the ’50s: Neon signs along the Peace Bridge

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Lines at the Peace Bridge are nothing new, but the scenery has changed through the years.

Buffalo Stories archives

Even when the toll was a quarter and the most evasive question you’d be asked was “Where do you live?,” the backups still felt like forever after a weekend of fun at the cottage or on the Comet.

While the cars were queued up in the 1950s, they were bathed in the glow of neon.

Monstrous iconic signs from Texaco Gasoline and O’Keefe Ale and Old Vienna Beer greeted international travelers to and fro during an age when crossing the bridge was a friendlier and less intrusive experience.

As Texaco shouted “Welcome to Buffalo” in light, O’Keefe and OV advertised what were then two of the Dominion of Canada’s most popular beers. Old Vienna remained a blue-collar Buffalo favorite through the 1980s, with many taverns offering specials on OV splits — Old Vienna beer in 7-ounce bottles. An O’Keefe sign also graced the top of the Hancock Building in Niagara Falls.

Buffalo News archives

 

What it looked like Wednesday: Lines at the grocery during World War II rationing, 1943

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The Office of Price Administration was actually established several months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as the country prepared for the possibility of war.

Weeks after the declaration of war, price controls and rationing were implemented on all manner of consumer goods except agricultural products.

Ben Dykstra, butcher and grocer at the corner of Main and Merrimac in University Heights, shows off the full March, 1943 ration of canned goods for a family of four.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

Families had to register for ration books, as Mrs. EW England was doing at School 16 on Delaware and Hodge in 1943.

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Women jammed markets when they knew they could get good meat. Such was the case at Neber & McGill Butchers on William Street in 1943.

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Additional ration points could be earned by turning in food waste, like grease, for the war effort. Mrs. Robert Bond of Hampshire Street collected four cents and two brown ration points for turning in a pound of rendered kitchen fat to Anthony Scime, of Scime Brothers Grocery, at Hampshire and 19th on the West Side.

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Even after the war, shortages continued. This is the scene at the Mohican Market on Main Street near Fillmore in 1946, on a day when butter was available.

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The News called it “a mob scene” inside, where Office of Price Administration rules dropped the price to 53 cents. Some markets, confused by the change in rules, were selling for 64 cents.

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The OPA was dissolved and price controls ended in 1947.

What it looked like Wednesday: Guercio’s, Grant Street, 1985

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Any of us who have spent time away from Buffalo have our rituals when we return to Western New York. Loganberry. Wings. Super Mighty. Hot dogs (Texas hots). Hot dogs (Char-broiled). Hot dogs (so long as it’s a Sahlens).

Guercio & Sons’ Grocery during a construction project on Grant Street in 1985. (Buffalo News archives)

Aside from — you know — seeing mom, many of our immediate “musts” revolve around food. One stop for many who grew up in or have roots on Buffalo’s West Side, one stop combines food and family.

The mention of Guercio’s can fill a West Sider with a yearning for the pungent aromas of cheese and pickles and cured meats. It’s the type of old-world store which barely exists anymore, making a visit to Grant Street special whether you’re coming from Amherst or the Carolinas.

Guercio’s was known as the Grant Street Market in the days before Vincent and Nancy Guercio came to Buffalo from Sicily in 1954. They bought the place in 1961, and in 1967, the name was officially changed to Guercio & Sons.

Guercio & Sons has been a bastion for the ingredients that make food Italian, and for generations the shop has made the experience of buying those ingredients part of the experience of being an Italian in Buffalo or a West Sider or just someone who appreciates great food and great service.

From the fruit and vegetables displayed on the sidewalk to the cheese and meat counter inside, Guercio’s is a throwback without feeling like an anachronism. Even if you’ve never been there before, somehow walking in, it feels like it’s already etched in your DNA. It’s one of those places you can take your grandkids to.

While it’s the nonnas and bambinos who are mostly likely to wax poetic about Guerico & Sons, it’s the newer Buffalonians hailing from Africa, Asia and Latin America who make up more and more of the everyday neighborhood shoppers there. This is the wonderful little store for current West Siders, just like it was for a previous generation or two.

Neither Grant Street nor the entire West Side have too many institutions that help bridge the gap between yesterday’s West Side and today’s West Side. At Guerico’s, there really hasn’t been a yesterday and today, just a long-standing commitment to being the kind of place that feels right for anyone who walks in.

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.

Buffalo in the ’60s: Torso found in Black Rock Canal solves mystery of missing banker

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In 1959, Buffalo industrialist, banker and former Assistant Navy Secretary Edward Germain seemed to vanish without a trace.

When he left a small group of friends at the Buffalo Club, the longtime president of Dunlop Rubber told friends he was going to drive to his summer home just over the Peace Bridge in Canada.

He never arrived. A 32-state search ensued, and the case made national headlines.

A $10,000 reward was offered, but the only information on the case came from a man who watched Germain’s blue 1958 Chevrolet scrape along several parked cars on Buffalo’s Lower West Side. The car was moving slowly enough that the man could run alongside and offer to help, but the man behind the wheel — who appeared to be the 69-year-old Germain — seemed to be in some sort of trance and unable to stop or move.

Another less-certain report told of a car like Germain’s traveling the wrong way on a I-190 offramp.

When this was all the investigation netted, one doctor supposed that Germain could have had a stroke, but those who knew him said that he was as healthy as a man going on 50 even though he was going on 70.  Germain’s family seemed to think the wealthy man, who lived on Nottingham Terrace, was robbed. They feared they wouldn’t find him alive.

Germain’s Nottingham Terrace home. (Buffalo News archives)

Police seemed hung up on the fact that the car hadn’t been found. Divers searched the Niagara River but found nothing, and the case went cold for four years.

Then in 1963, kids playing in the Black Rock Canal found the decomposed remains which were matched to Germain by the still-intact clipping of his sister’s obituary in his pocket. Robbery didn’t seem to be a motive. Along with the newspaper article, his wallet also was filled with cash.

Buffalo News archives

Divers searched the river again — this time north of the Peace Bridge, instead of south near where his car was last seen.

Buffalo News archives

After 365 search hours, the mangled remains of Germain’s car were found, with the key still in the on position, and a shoe with bone fragments in it near the accelerator.

Buffalo News archives

Once the car and car were found, the case was closed. No further reporting was done on any investigation after the accident. The final mentions of the incident came with the probate of Germain’s $740,000 estate.

Buffalo in the ’50s: West Side Italian radio with Mama and Papa Rico

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

They were the heart and the voice of Buffalo’s Italian-American community. For 50 years, Emelino Rico — known to listeners of “Neapolitan Serenade” as “Papa Rico” and the head of “Casa Rico” — broadcast Italian music, in Italian, for Italians, from his home on Seventh Street on Buffalo’s Italian West Side.

Mama & Papa Rico in their studio at their Seventh Street home on Buffalo’s West Side. (Buffalo Stories archives)

For most of five decades, come 10:30am, the Liberty Bell March would open another program of cultural pride, personal warmth and a taste of the old country. While he was heard on many stations through the years, often two or three stations at the same time, for 45 years the Ricos were heard on WHLD 1270-AM.

Emelino came to America as a movie producer in 1922. Ten years later, on a stop in Buffalo, he met Mary Pinieri, who was destined to become the West Side’s beloved Mama Rico.

Their lives, Mama Rico told listeners to their 50th anniversary celebration on WHLD in 1985, were spent highlighting the best in Italian music and culture, “helping others, and doing charitable work.”

Heavily edited publicity photos of Mary and Emelino Rico, from the Buffalo News archives.

The Ricos worked to bring some of Italy to Buffalo, and some of Buffalo to Italy, with many trips and exchanges. Papa liked to tell the story of a 1967 audience with Pope Paul VI, when His Holiness greeted him immediately by saying, “You run the Italian program in Buffalo.”

Many of Buffalo’s most famous Italian-Americans said the time spent at Casa Rico helped jump start their career — those like Tony Award-winning choreographer Michael Bennett and pianist Leonard Pennario.

Papa Rico died in 1985, Mama Rico in 1993, but the Rico name has continued on — sons Lenny and Joe Rico have continued the family tradition of broadcasting in Buffalo.

 

Torn-Down Tuesday: When the Erie Canal wandered through the West Side

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Many Buffalonians know that the Erie Canal started in Buffalo — at the old Aud site at Canalside. Where it went from there is a little less well-known, but even easier to picture — the canal bed as it ran through the Lower West Side is essentially paved over for a very familiar roadway. Between Erie Street (next to the old Aud site) and Porter Street (next to the Peace Bridge), the Erie Canal ran on the path of what is now I-190.

The Canal was part of life on the Lower West Side, but not in the “low bridge” and “mule named Sal” sense. It was, for intents, a garbage dump. An illegal dump, but a dump nonetheless.

The garbage-filled waterway is the long-defunct Erie Canal in this 1938 photo. City Hall is seen to the south, and the bridge crossing the canal is at about the same place where the pedestrian bridge now crosses the 190 from Hudson Street to LaSalle Park. (Buffalo News archives)

In the 25 years following the snapping of the photo above, the Lower West Side would go through a series of scorched earth “Urban Renewal” type projects that left the area entirely unrecognizable to someone who would have been familiar with the canal.

When the Lakeview Housing Project was announced, residents were told the canal bed would be transformed into a playground for children. If this ever happened, it only lasted for about a decade with the 1950s building of the “Ontario Thruway.”

Gone would be tightly packed “slum areas” like the one below.

Buffalo News archives

This image, probably taken in front of 370 Trenton Ave. near Hudson Street, was provided to newspapers in 1938 as the typical sort of “slums” which would be condemned to build the new Lakeview project. By 1939, Trenton Avenue looked like the photo below, with 696 units of housing planned, costing renters on average about $4 per month.

Buffalo News archives

Today, the corner of Trenton and Hudson has gone through another transformation, with a new generation of subsidized housing built there over the last several decades.

 

What It Looked Like Wednesday: West Side corner store, 1955

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This corner store was at the corner of Dewitt and Helen, behind PS 19 (now the Native American Magnet School) on Buffalo’s West Side in 1955 — but it could have been on any corner, anywhere in Buffalo.

Buffalo News archives

The photo was taken as Mrs. Frank Ott was forced to close the store, because young hoodlums were driving away women customers with “foul language and insults,” while also stealing about $1,000 in merchandise over the course of a year.

From Iroquois, Carling and Genesee beer to Squirt and Vernor’s pop — and Rich’s Ice Cream — the place was crowded with groceries and merchandise that were unique to Western New York.

A reader points out that this storefront and the neighboring home were destroyed in a fire in 2014.

 

Buffalo in the ’80s: Cars into buildings, the prequel

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Over the last several years, cars crashing into buildings — particularly restaurants like Schwabl’s in 2014 and Kosta’s in 2015 — have led some to begin to think of Buffalo as the “cars crashing into buildings” capital of the world. Recent accidents have even been plotted into maps.

Western New York’s attention became focused on vehicles crashing into buildings in 2011, when a car driven through the window at Cheeburger Cheeburger on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst resulted in two deaths of patrons inside the restaurant.

At the scene of a car crashing into a bank several years ago, one police captain told me he doesn’t think these crashes happen more than they used to — it’s just that several high-profile cases have called our attention to these types of incidents and the fact that everyone is now carrying a phone in their pocket makes it easier to report on every case.

Buffalo News archives

A woman was seriously injured when a conversion van slammed into the side of the McDonald’s on the corner of Union and Main in Williamsville in 1989.

In fact, as long as there have been cars, they have been hitting buildings. Here’s another example from 1959.

For more on the trend, and whether Buffalo is actually unique in our number of vehicle/structure crashes, read Ben Tsujimoto’s analysis from last May.

Buffalo in the 40’s: Frank Sedita’s Booze Shop

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I found this postcard a while ago, showing two men standing in a West Side liquor store in the 1940s.

Anthony Tauriello and Frank Sedita. Buffalo Stories archives
Taurielllo & Sedita Liquor Store, 436 Niagara Street. Buffalo Stories archives

The Man on the left would become a congressman in the 60’s (Anthony Tauriello) and the man on the right would become Buffalo’s Mayor– Frank Sedita, the current DA’s grandfather.

Now that I dug out the card, I’m giving it to the Sedita family. Neat heirloom.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com