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.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.