By Steve Cichonsteve@buffalostories.com@stevebuffalo
There is a category for Buffalo Neighborhoods, but as the historian of Buffalo’s Parkside Neighborhood, and having written two books on the neighborhood’s history, giving the Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Parkside Neighborhood it’s own category makes sense.
Scroll to read more about Parkside or search for something specific…
BUFFALO, NY – They are called “Father” and “Sister” and it’s a case where they both really feel like members of hundreds of Central Park, Parkside, and North Buffalo families. It’s also a case of reciprocated love and concern.
Before each retired in the last few years, you had to go back to the 1970s to find someone else doing the jobs they loved, heading the St. Mark Parish and St. Mark School.
Though they approached their jobs with personalities almost as different as two human beings could be, Sr. Jeanne Eberle and Msgr. Francis Braun spent 30 years of ther lives selflessly and tirelessly giving their love and of themselves for the people of St. Mark, particularly the smallest ones.
For decades it was a common sight to see kindergarteners and first graders line up to give Sr. Jeanne a hug at the start or end of a school day, while the too-cool seventh and eighth graders walked on by, all with Fr. Braun watching closely, stationed on his own side of the hedge separating the rectory and the school.
It happened many times through the years, though, that the “too cool” kids became parents of St. Mark kids, once again willing participants in hugs for the woman who they know cared as much for their kids as they did themselves.
At Mass on Sunday, Msgr. Braun’s stories of days gone by, and his family made most of us feel like we were listening to stories of our own family. His grandfather the cop, the Crystal Beach boat, the firehouse around the corner, his Irish mom and German dad. We might still know Father’s family stories better than our own.
As the author of two books, including “The Complete History of Parkside,” Steve Cichon wants to write this story because these people are very special to him and the community.
“The history of St. Mark is rich and fascinating, and there are many wonderful stories to tell. From the stained glass depictions of events in the life of Jesus, to the thinly veiled anti-Catholic bigotry which lead to St. Mark being built at the corner of Woodward and Amherst, no one tells those stories better than Fr. Braun,” says Cichon.
“It’s only a natural extention, then, to also talk to Father about his life and times, and to record all of the great stories he shared about himself with us through the years. The same is true of Sr. Jeanne. It’s as much a genealogy project about two beloved family members as it is a book about our church. I’m blessed and honored to have so much support in writing and researching it.”
The hope is to have the work completed by the end of 2014, the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the current St. Mark church building.
If you have any photos, items, or stories pertaining to the history of St. Mark,
please contact Steve Cichon at firstname.lastname@example.org
While the Buffalo Olmsted Park Conservancy now exists to run and maintain Buffalo’s Parks, as first founded, The Friends of Olmsted were concerned not only with the parks and public spaces designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, but also with the streetscapes and other Olmsted designs which aren’t necessarily parks, but are a part of the master landscape architect’s “city within a park” idea.
The Parkside neighborhood was designed by Olmsted as a buffer between Main Street and the serenity of the park meadow. In the early 1980s, the Friends of Olmsted worked to have many of Olmsted’s landscape designs listed on the National Register. In 1986, with the help of the Parkside Community Association, “The Parkside Historic District” streetscape was recognized by state and national registers.
Part of the several year process in gaining that status involved identifying each structure within the streetscape footprint, and identifying the characteristics of those structures. In other words, some very smart people looked at every house in Olmsted designed portion Parkside and wrote a brief description along with research on when the structure was built.
The final report is several thousand pages long, and actually gives much greater detail on each of the 1109 “contributing principal buildings” of Parkside, but on this page are those brief descriptions of every house. The links below are hundreds of pages, painstakingly scanned, to provide information like this on every house:
This is an example of what you’ll find inside… The listing for my home. Sadly, that glass door on the side porch didn’t make it from the early ’80s to 1999 when we first walked into the house.
To find out about your house:
open the report by clicking this link. (While it’s a large file an takes some time to download, this method is probably easier that trying to use the reader below.)
clicking “Ctrl+F” once the PDF is open
type in the number of your house (there made be a few with your number, but this is the easiest way)
if that doesn’t work, for for your house number with spaces in between the numbers. (e.g., mine comes up as “1 1 7” instead of “117”)
if that doesn’t work, search for your street name then scroll a bit. (note that most streets are broken up odd/even.)
If your street or house isn’t listed, it was not a part of the survey done by the Friends of Olmsted in 1986. Sorry!
The report states Parkside has “an informal, curvilinear street pattern” largely reflective of Olmsted’s original 1876 and 1886 subdivision plans for the neighborhood. The neighborhood is “characterized by numerous, relatively narrow, 1/8 acre building lots and a preponderance of small, wood frame, single family residences” built between 1888 and 1936.
The application states, “The architectural character of the historic district is largely defined by repetitive, narrow, late Victorian period houses with front porches and gabled facades built between 1895 and 1915, as well as by standardized American four-square houses, with square floor plans, boxy massing, and hipped roofs with dormers built between 1900 and 1925.”
Steve Cichon is the author of “The Complete History of Parkside.”
The Complete History of Parkside, Buffalo, NY A New Book by Buffalo Author Steve Cichon
A history of the Frederick Law Olmsted designed neighborhood, from its place in the history of the Seneca Nation, to its role in the War of 1812, to Olmsted’s design and the turn of the century building out of the area, and the neighborhood’s 20th century evolutions. Included are discussions of the area’s earliest colorful settlers, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, Delaware Park, The Buffalo Zoo, and the stories and anecdotes of many more struggles, individuals, and institutions that have made Parkside one of Buffalo’s premier historic neighborhoods today.
Questions You’ll Have Answered as You Read:
Where is Parkside’s mass virtually unmarked grave?
How did a Parkside quest for riches turn to… naked women?!?
Why did the FBI have Parkside staked out for most of a decade?
You’ll also learn details on how America’s first jet plane was built in Parkside, and the scandal with Parkside roots that nearly brought down a Presidency.
135 historic photos, 172 pages.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steve Cichon is an award winning journalist with WBEN Radio, where he’s been a news reporter and anchor since 2003, having worked in Buffalo radio and television since 1993. Steve and his wife Monica became Parkside home owners on Valentines Day 2000, and quickly fell in love with the neighborhood. They continue to renovate and restore their 1909 EB Green designed American Four Square, and will likely continue to do so into perpetuity.
Books available for purchase NOW online… and at the following locations:
Talking Leaves Books (Main St. and Elmwood Ave. Locations)
The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Shop
While, like any other city neighborhood, Parkside continues to deal with many of the issues of urban living; Parkside also seems to band together to deal with the problems like few other communities. After a rash of break-ins in 2007, putting many residents on edge, a grass roots e-mail tree grew from the PCA, block clubs, and strong neighborhood friendships. The burglars were caught, due in large measure, to the vigilance and awareness stepped up by the mass e-mails, and the resounding feeling that criminals weren’t going to run the neighborhood.
In a front page article in the Buffalo News, titled Parkside Keeps an Eye on What’s Going On (April 27, 2008), Stephen T. Watson writes:
of the Parkside neighborhood stay in close contact, let each other know what’s
going on and quickly report any problems or suspicious activity…There’s a kind
of a sense of neighborhood awareness and activism.
In naming Parkside one of the top city neighborhoods, a 2003 Business First Article says of the neighborhood, “‘There’s a great community association in Parkside that really gets things done,’ says (Realtor Carole) Holcberg. ‘They do a house tour; they do a garden walk. They really improve the quality of life there.’ Fifty-eight percent of the workers who live in Parkside hold management or professional positions like doctors, lawyers or teachers. Only four other city neighborhoods are above 50 percent.”
The reasons are numerous, but growing neighborhood educational institutions like Canisius and Medaille Colleges, Mount St. Joseph’s Academy, St. Mark School, Nichols, and St. Mary’s School for the Deaf make academics feel at home in the neighborhood.
The numbers of and quality of amenities also continues to grow. During the 1980s, Parksiders lamented that there wasn’t a venue to buy fresh produce or meat. While retail in Parkside has remained limited, the surrounding North Buffalo retail scene has exploded.
Target and Office Max opened in 1996 in plot of land on Delaware Avenue that was once an old railroad track bed and a junk yard. Wegmans opened in 1997 on land that was once a Mentholatum factory. In 2005, the west side of Delaware Avenue at Linden was a used car dealer, with an abandoned Tops Market and Ames Department store behind it. The area today boasts a IHOP restaurant, Tim Hortons, and Kohl’s Department store; all new builds, and a Big Lots store in half of what used to be Tops. Dozens of restaurants, taverns, and boutiques dot The Hertel Strip, a shopping and “night out” Mecca for the crowd that likes the nightlife, but not at the fevered pitch found elsewhere in the city.
The Parkside Community Association remains a strong voice in the community. As the feel of the neighborhood has changed, the focus of the group has to some degree as well. Code enforcement is still a high priority, but so, too, has become the celebration of those who prize and want to share their homes and neighborhood with the city and the world. Kathleen Peterson was the Executive Director of the Parkside Community Association from 1998-2009, and saw events like the Parkside Tour of Homes and the Parkside Garden Tour grow into institutions, and become main sources of funding for PCA programs as city, county, state and federal funding became ever more scarce.
There are many individuals who have watched Parkside evolve over the decades. Jack Anthony has been a Parkside observer in parts of eight decades. Some of the zeal of the past is gone, but he says, the people keep the neighborhood moving.
“Even today, we still have black people moving into Parkside, and we still have white people moving into Parkside. It’s still a rarity in the city. It’s wonderful. But the PCA and the various block clubs serve different purposes now. People talk about crime and traffic, which is the same anywhere you go. What do you organize around?
“We were fighting blockbusting, fighting for our neighborhood. We had a reason to get started. People were scared about blockbusting. It’s not like getting people excited about planting flowers. But we are still organized here, ready to go in case something happens.”
But you needn’t have grown up in Parkside to become a leading citizen. After nearly a decade and a half of shepherding the Good Shepherd flock as the Episcopal Church’s Rector, The Rev. David Selzer has become a neighborhood institution. He and his family have played a vital role in the Parkside Community, and most were sad to see them leave Parkside for Ottawa in August, 2008. Before he left, he talked about what he’ll miss most about Parkside:
We moved here from the Twin Cities. Our first
apprehension was that we were no longer in a big city, Our second apprehension
was that we heard from people the stories were all about the good ol’ days,
that so much of the identity was with the steel plants closing, and that there
were just a lot of memories. The nervousness came with, ‘Well, is that all
Someone kept saying, Buffalo is ‘The City of Good
Neighbors.’ Our experience, in the 13 years we’ve been here, is that not only
is Buffalo the City of Good Neighbors, but its a thriving community, and
particularly the Parkside Neighborhood. It’s extremely integrated. More
integrated than the neighborhood we lived in Minneapolis. It welcomes people of
all races, people of all kinds of cultures and backgrounds; it values its
history. People are very caring and motivated, too. Whether it be the Buffalo
Zoo or the casino, the people here have a tendency to be very active about it,
and that’s very wonderful thing. People aren’t just going to sit by and let
history happen to them without creating it.
It’s also this neighborhood of incredible history
and gift. From the houses that many
people live in, to the institutions that are also a part of it. The other gift
I see in this neighborhood is that a number of the institutions are willing to
work together, for improvement of not just their own particular piece of turf,
but the whole community as well.
My sense is community is the most important
aspect of living in a neighborhood. I’ve always been convinced that suburbia is
deadly because it isolates people, and that the gift of the city is clearly
that sense of being neighbors, and being in community with each other. That can
happen through the church, or through community organizations like the PCA, but
it has to be planned, and it has to be deliberate. It has to be worked on.
What’s great here, is that happens, but we’re really in danger if we say, ‘Oh,
it was wonderful, but it’s not happening now.” You have to keep it moving.
based on a conversation with longtime Parkside activist and past PCA President
Ruth Lampe, Mark Goldman wrote succinctly about the neighborhood in his 2007
book City on the Edge:
Because of the proximity to Main Street, near both Cansius College and the old campus of the University of Buffalo, Parkside’s reasonably priced Victorian homes have long attracted the local academics. Parkside also attracted upwardly mobile, second- and third-generation ethnics particularly Irish Americans.
When block-busting realtors, hoping to prey on the fears of white residents of Parkside, began hovering around the neighborhood in the 1960s, a handful of concerned neighborhood activists, eager to defend their community against the tactics that had destroyed so many others, organized the Parkside Community Association… though blacks were moving into the neighborhood in increasing numbers, the whites of Parkside, encouraged by the work of their community association, stayed.
By the end of the decade, a time when so many other neighborhoods succumbed to the frightening cycle of events that caused blight and decline, Parkside not only survived but thrived as a racially mixed, inspiringly beautiful middle-class neighborhood in the heart of the city.
As Parkside looks to the future, it looks to the past to pave that road ahead. The rebuilt Martin House Complex brings thousands to Buffalo and Parkside each year. Historians like George Stock organize and give walking tours of the neighborhood to eager Buffalonians unaware of the architectural treasurers lurking in the neighborhood by the zoo. It’s the same effect when the PCA sponsors its annual Tour of Homes.
History is being remembered and preserved, as folks like Michael Riester and Patrick Kavanagh, in 2000, organized efforts to place a marker on Main Street near Humboldt, in memory of the sacrifices made at Flint Hill during the War of 1812, 200 years ago. Nearly 60 folks attended the unveiling, including Mrs. Ruth Granger Zelanek , the great-granddaughter of Judge Erastus Granger. A volley of taps was played in memory of the lives lost during the War of 1812, and those several hundred in the Parkside neighborhood.
Riester and Mike O’Sullivan, both past Presidents of the Parkside Community Association, have researched the provenance of virtually every home in the neighborhood for the PCA’s Century Plaque Program, which recognizes homes that have made it through 100 years still in one piece.
Finally, a quote from the tireless Ruth Lampe, a transplant from Iowa who has helped drive Parkside in the right direction for four decades. “PCA used to be an activist organization with basic concern for immediate community problems.
“We became, necessarily, involved in government grants and programs. Now those grants are coming to an end. PCA is at a cross roads. I hope that it can revitalize itself and again look to zoning issues and the problems of residents.
“PCA has gone through many phases in its short history. I’m confident it will find its role. But it takes people with the energy to involve themselves in community affairs.” Ruth said that in 1984, but it’s just as true today. Hopefully, the readers of this book will take to heart those words, and help make the places they live, wherever they may be, better places to live.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon
When Frank Lloyd Wright inscribed a copy of his autobiography to Darwin and Isabelle Martin in 1932, he did so with a dramatic flourish, sending their way the sort of praise he usually only lavished on his own work:” To Darwin D. Martin and his wife—hero and heroine of this tale—with esteem, affection and gratitude from their architect – Frank Lloyd Wright.”
The inscription juxtaposes wonderfully with a note written to Sebastian Tauriello, the Buffalo architect who bought the nearly 20-year abandoned Darwin Martin House on Jewett Parkway in 1954. The home had been sacked by vandals, neighborhood children, and by the son of the original owner Darwin D. Martin, Darwin R. Martin.
Tauriello thought having a copy of the original plans of the home might help him in the almost insurmountable task of bringing new life to the home that Wright called “The Opus.” He wrote to the by-then aged Martin, who no doubt knew of the condition of the home, and the massive efforts about to be undertaken to breathe new life into his worn masterpiece. Wright’s response was frosty at best:
Dear “Tauriello”: Hope you treat the opus according to its merits. When we return to Wisconsin May first I will look up the plans and send you a set of prints with a bill for the prints.
Uncertain of what a bill from an eccentric Frank Lloyd Wright might be, the Tauriello family proceeded without the plans.
As “the opus” sat in a state of disrepair, rotting, several individuals and organizations made attempts to salvage and save the house from the time it was abandoned by the Martin family in 1937. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra tried, unsuccessfully, to raise funds to buy the home. The City, which bought the home for $394.53, did so when it was auctioned for taxes in 1946.
In 1952, the city swapped properties with Patrick Dwyer. The city wanted to build a school on land Dwyer had owned elsewhere in the city, and Dwyer immediately started plans to raze the entire Martin complex, including the main home, to make way for an apartment building. Neighborhood outcry, more concerned about property values than the possibility of losing an architectural treasure, quickly ended those plans.
Driving along Jewett Parkway one day, Sebastian Tauriello became interested in the Martin House after seeing the “For Sale” sign planted in the yard by Dwyer. The successful Buffalo architect, who lived with his family on Amherst Street, was well aware that the home was built as the finest, most complete example of Wright’s Prairie Style. But by 1954, it was a decrepit eyesore that that been sold for taxes eight years earlier, and was known as a place for adventuresome neighborhood kids to climb inside and find “stuff” (albeit Frank Lloyd Wright designed “stuff”) to smash and break.
The home itself was assessed at $0, because of the severe damage the structure had endured. The property was assessed at $22,000, and that’s what the Tauriello family paid for the house, pergola, conservatory, and garage in April 1954.
Mortgages of $35,000 were taken out to begin the process of turning the crumbling edifice into a home. The sprawling main house was divided into a living space for the Tauriello family, an office for his architecture business, and two other apartments.
One of the apartments was occupied by 1930s Buffalo radio star and later WBEN-TV Station Manager George Torge for virtually the entire time the family owned the home.
In order to afford the massive undertaking, the Tauriello family had, from the beginning, planned to sell most of the two acres of land that came with the house. These plans were realized in 1960, when Tauriello had the severely damaged pergola, conservatory and garage demolished to make the land desirable to buyers. Unlike the attempts almost a decade earlier to build apartment buildings on the property, neighbors seemed accepting of plans given the tremendous amount of work that had been poured into the property.
Three apartment buildings were constructed in the backyard of the Martin House, two stories high, holding a total of 20 units. Dubbed The Jewett Gardens, the construction isolated the three remaining structures of the original Martin complex: The Martin House, the Barton House, and the Gardener’s Cottage.
Sebastian & Ruth Tauriello and family saw through renovations to the Martin House to shore it up, and make it a home befitting their own tastes. Their efforts almost certainly saved a neighborhood landmark from continued decay and worse. Sebastian Tauriello died in 1965, and in 1967, UB President Martin Meyerson had the University purchase the home as the President’s Residence. The UB School of Architecture endeavored to make sure that Buffalo and the world knew what a treasure stood at the corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, made much easier with the growing appreciation of Frank Lloyd Wright, and particularly his Prairie style.
Eventually, the home no longer fit in SUNY plans, and, in 1980, neighbors were worried as UB was about to hand the home over to the state for disposition. The PCA was very concerned that the house remain in public hands and that it be available for tours.
That concern grew into an effort that had the house designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. Martin House Curator John O’Hern told the Buffalo News at the time of the designation, “This brings attention to the fact that the building has national significance, and not just local significance. Sometimes we need to be reminded by somebody outside our area about what we have.”
John C. Courtin, a longtime Jewett Avenue resident, served many years as the liaison between the Parkside Community Association and the group coordinating restoration efforts at the Darwin Martin House starting in the 1980s. He also played a vital role in the massive renovation and restoration that’s taken place at the complex through the 1990s and 2000s.
The Darwin Martin House Restoration Corporation was officially founded, and a cooperation agreement signed between the group, SUNY Buffalo, and the State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation on March 26, 1993 at the Martin House.
Three phases of complete restoration have taken place. Surrounding lands and homes have been purchased and returned to the way they were in 1907. In a reversal of history, the three large apartment complexes constructed on the grounds in the 1960s were demolished, in order to make way for the rebuild of the Wright designed pergola, conservatory, and carriage house; just as the decrepit 60 year old remnants of the Wright Originals were condemned to make way for the apartment structures.
Governor George Pataki and Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer were among the dignitaries in attendance as the ribbon was cut on the restored buildings on October 4, 2006. The ribbon was cut by Eric Lloyd Wright and Darwin Martin Foster, the grandsons of the architect and the patron.
In 2009, a new visitors’ center, The Greatbatch Pavilion, was opened to the public. The $5 million glass enclosed structure was designed by Toshiko Mori.
While the world-renown Wright structures that are a part of the Martin Complex have been in the spotlight and gained worldwide attention for decades, Parkside is also the home of another Wright home that has gone under a transformation in recent years.
The Walter V. Davidson House, at 57 Tillinghast Place, was purchased by businessman Russ Maxwell in 2006. He hoped to open the home as an upscale, rentable-by-the night bed-and-breakfast-without-the-breakfast setup, but neighbors verbosely opposed the plan.
None the less, the home has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in much needed TLC, paint, and landscaping, and has been opened often for various occasions and events, including the Parkside Tour of Homes.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon
For better or for worse, the histories of Parkside and the Buffalo Zoological Gardens have really been inseparable. From Elam Jewett’s care of the first two deer donated to the city in 1870, to the arrival of Frank the Elephant in 1905, to the Depression-era WPA improvements that built the Zoo up and out, to the fight to keep the Zoo at Delaware Park, the Buffalo Zoo and Parkside have seen their fates intertwined since either has existed.
By 1930, however, the zoo had seriously deteriorated. Nearly 20 years had passed since any improvements were funded by the city. Indignant citizens carried on letter campaigns to the newspapers and City Hall. The animals and the site had been suffering severe neglect. In 1931, the Zoological Society was organized, but the throes of the Great Depression made it impossible to raise money to improve the zoo.
It would take the New Deal programs of President Franklin Roosevelt to refurbish the Zoo. Starting in 1935, $1.5 million dollars worth of federal WPA money was poured into a structural modernization project. Many murals and stone sculptures (below, 1946) were added to the grounds, and a gleaming new building was opened by 1938, but it was largely empty for lack of funding for new specimens.
That changed under the directorship of Marlin Perkins. Later famous as the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom from 1958- 1985, while in Buffalo, Perkins grew the popularity of the zoo, particularly through the training of some animals, like Eddie the Chimp, to perform for the crowds. Another $840,000 in WPA funds allowed for more work in 1939, and in 1942, the reptile house was opened. Perkins left in a wage dispute in 1944.
Still woefully under funded, the zoo installed concession stands and a train ride around the zoo in 1950 to help raise money for improvements. Cries about litter and a carnival-like atmosphere grew even louder when 21 people were injured when the miniature train toppled over in 1952. To encourage people to drive to the zoo, The Parkside-Quarried Limestone Farmstead home was razed in 1950 to provide parking for the zoo.
Things had only gotten worse for the zoo, when, upon a tour of the facility in 1958, Mayor Frank Sedita declared Buffalo should either have a zoo to be proud of, or none at all. The grounds were closed to the public for 5 months, and $300,000 was spent in renovations. The new and improved zoo was opened to the public in March 1959. And despite over a million visitors to the Zoo in 1965-66, the opening of the Children’s Zoo in 1966, the opening of the giraffe house in 1967, and the first-ever concerted membership drive in 1969, funding continued to be a problem for the zoo.
After years of talk and hand wringing, April 1973 saw the first admission fees at the gates of the Buffalo Zoo. $1 for adults, 35 cents for children 6-16, under 6 were free. The budget surpassed $1 million for the first time in 1974.
So just as Parkside struggled through much of the second half of 20th century, so, too, did the Zoo. There were highlights and low lights along the way. Parkside joined the rest of Buffalo in catching “Koala Fever” when in summer 1987, Blinky Bill, the Australian Koala, was expected to attract more that 200,000 people to the Zoo and the neighborhood for the month he was on display.
But for the most part, as a community, Parksiders seemed more interested with the Zoo’s exterior maintenance than what was going on inside the cages.
In the spring of 1991, The Buffalo Zoo unveiled plans for a new Parkside/Russell entrance, an expansion of the elephant display, and an education department building, the back of which would face mostly Parkside Avenue.
As many residents saw it, the planned “improvements” would look like nothing more than a 160-foot long, 12 foot high, concrete wall facing into their neighborhood. After resistance from residents, the height was scaled down to 9 feet, and Zoo officials worked with the community to make the design more aesthetically pleasing to the surrounding community.
As this was being treated as the front page headline story in the Parkside News, inside the pages of the community newsletter was an editorial by Friends of Olmsted Parks, suggesting that as the zoo, and its original mandates grew, that it would perhaps be best for the zoo to find a “better location to fulfill its mission.”
The writers pointed to the on-going strife over the construction project as an example of how the zoo might be out growing the neighborhood and the park. This was the first mention of a topic that would divide the Parkside Community as the 1990s wore on.
The neighborhood’s oldest institution would become its most controversial. Parkside’s mettle was tested, when, in 1997, Zoo officials began talk of moving the Zoo from the only home it’s ever known in Parkside, to a more open, expansive space near Buffalo’s waterfront in the Old First Ward.
The featured topic at the PCA annual meeting, November 18, 1997, at School 54, was to discuss “the new zoo initiative, and the potential uses for the city-owned space currently occupied by the zoo.”
Something needed to be done with the aging zoo. As reported in the Parkside News, “The decision of the zoo’s board to directors to pursue building a new zoo elsewhere in the city, presumably on the waterfront, has been widely reported. The zoo faces the probability of losing its accreditation without major investments to modernize animal habitats and make other mandated changes.
“(Zoo Director Tom) Garlock explained…. Space limitations at the existing site, both for modernizing existing habitats and increasing parking space; and a lack of funding sources for zoo renovation also played a role in the board’s decision to pursue a new site.”
Many residents were angered by the Zoo Board’s later admission that they never seriously considered staying in Delaware Park. In a February, 1998 letter to Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello, PCA President George Stock wrote regarding the plans to move the Zoo:
“We have been disappointed and a bit mystified by the seeming lack of interest on the city’s part concerning this dramatic development in our neighborhood, which poses the most significant challenge to Parkside’s stability in recent history.
“While divided over whether the Zoo should stay or move, our residents are of one mind on the necessity for the city to begin working with our neighborhood now to address the implications of the situation.
“The Zoo’s departure would have a stunning impact on our neighborhood… (R)esidents express a sense of deep personal loss, and in some cases, anger, at the Zoo’s determination to move. It has been a stalwart, albeit at times controversial, anchor in Parkside for nearly a century. Its departure, no matter what takes its place, would be traumatic and difficult for this stable and prosperous neighborhood.”
Numerous meetings were held between residents, the Zoo, and city officials. Mayor Masiello had created a Zoo-Re-Use task force. Many neighbors felt their world turned upside down as they had barely been able to celebrate the progress being made in revitalizing the Darwin Martin House, as they began another uphill fight to save another neighborhood landmark.
It was a grassroots effort built up over decades that helped save the Martin House. Any efforts to keep the Zoo put would have to gain critical mass in a much more expedient fashion. A half-dozen neighbors sitting in a Woodward Avenue living room were struck with an inspiration, some money was quickly collected from the group, and The Committee to Keep the Zoo in Delaware Park was born.
The committee spread hundreds of lawn signs reading Improve, Don’t Move. They only counted one “lonely” “New Zoo Now” sign in Parkside. Janice Barber and Joel Rose wrote in the Parkside News, the disparity “stand(s) as a silent testament to the sentiment of most Parkside residents.”
The signs became a phenomenon, and spread around the region like wild fire. Clarence, Elma, Niagara County; one was hard pressed to find a community where there wasn’t a home showing support for keeping the Zoo in the space place where it had entertained and educated since 1875.
As the debate intensified, there were several reports of mass theft of “Improve Don’t Move” signs. One witness told of three men in a black pickup truck stripping several blocks of Crescent and Summit Avenues of the signs in the early morning hours of a single day. A week later, other blocks of Crescent and Woodward were hit.
Meanwhile, Zoo officials were doing what they thought would be in the best interest of the animals. They thought a new facility would help re-ignite their fundraising, which had fallen off dramatically, making refurbishing the aging Parkside campus exceedingly difficult.
Zoo President Thomas Garlock publicly stated on numerous occasions that he felt it was the selfish desire of home owners to protect property values, and not the best interest of the animals, motivating those fighting to move the zoo to a property more than three times the size of the Parkside facility (80 acres vs. 24 acres).
Though he later admitted the comment was “curt and off the cuff,” Garlock did little to soothe things over with the anti-moving crowd when he was widely quoted as saying, “The only animals the people in the Parkside neighborhood are concerned about are the homo sapiens.”
In fall 1998, The Zoo Board voted to move forward with plans to secure $160 million in funding for a new Zoo and aquarium on Buffalo’s waterfront, three blocks from then-Marine Midland Arena. Wide public opinion, gauged through polls, calls, and letters, prompted officials to seek government funding on all levels for the project.
The issue was much bigger than just the neighborhood, and made some strange bedfellows. Some Parksiders who’d spent 16 years fighting with Jimmy Griffin as Mayor, suddenly found him as an ally in the Move the Zoo debate.
Griffin was upset at the proposal’s reliance on public money, and thought the waterfront deserved better, telling reporters, “I know we’ve always had an awful lot of wildlife down in the First Ward, and I was part of it,” Griffin laughed. “But this is outrageous.”
But the region as a whole was split. A Business First poll conducted by Goldhaber Research in August/September 1998 showed that 43% of Western New York residents wanted to see the Zoo move, and 43% wanted to see the Zoo renovate the existing facility.
The neighborhood and the PCA galvanized in opposition to the Zoo’s Board’s plans to not only move, but its plans to seek millions in public funding to build the new, $250 million zoo.
Despite Zoo officials insistence that the move was a “done deal,” the thousands of “Improve, Don’t Move The Zoo” lawn signs, and the spirit behind them helped keep the venerable institution at its Parkside home.
Of all the opinions that were offered over the year-and-a-half battle, the most important one, however, came from someone who’d never been to the Zoo, and only to Parkside once or twice. New York Governor George Pataki was reluctant to provide any funding for the waterfront project, and within days, both candidates for Erie County Executive, Joel Giambra and Dennis Gorski made clear they couldn’t support the project without the financial support of the Governor.
A long 18 months of gut-wrenching neighborhood controversy ended when Zoo Directors voted in September 1999 to remain at the Parkside location. The whole affair was akin to a Civil War in the neighborhood, and many neighbors still maintain icy relationships after tempers flared and tactics were challenged as the question of moving the zoo boiled.
Garlock quit the Zoo, and he was replaced in September 2000 with Donna Fernandes. Her ability to spearhead the raising of a record $24 million for improving the Buffalo Zoo was no doubt made easier, ironically, by her predecessor’s very public failure in trying to move the facility.
After the decision to improve was made, millions of dollars worth of renovations were realized, with much expected in the future. Now one of the more popular attractions, the Sea Lion Exhibit opened in 2005, proving the Zoo didn’t have to be moved, and could be improved. The exhibit also welcomed one of the neighborhood’s more verbose residents to the area. The loud and joyful barks of Smokey the Sea Lion resonate throughout the neighborhood, and are the sounds that many Parksiders fall asleep to with their windows open summer evenings.
Delaware Park: Again a Source of Pride
When Frederick Law Olmsted designed The Park, replete with The Meadow, it wasn’t too long thereafter that The Deer Paddock was added, soon to become the Zoo. And almost since the beginning, there’s been tension between the Park and the Zoo.
A 1978 Zoo masterplan called for a 500 car parking lot in the middle of the Delaware Park Meadow. Outraged residents spoke up, but the Zoo still insisted upon (and received) a new entrance along Ring Road, complete with snack bar and gift shop looking out over the ball diamonds and rugby fields the planners had earlier hoped to pave over.
Mark Goldman writes in his 1983 book High Hope:, The Rise and Fall of Buffalo, NY that “the city went along with the zoo, and this once safe and quiet park area has become traffic-clogged, dangerous, and unsightly. Thus, Delaware Park remains fair game for road happy planners and a car crazed public.”
As late as 2000, in the wake of the Move the Zoo controversy, once it was decided the Zoo would stay put, a plan was floated to expand the Zoo’s footprint into the area of the park between Ring Road and Parkside Avenue, replacing the basketball courts and tot lot with parking. The plan was quickly abandoned.
It wasn’t just Zoo interests that impeded residents from using the park to its fullest, poor planning, or battling interests often left park users less than satisfied. Through the years, a lack of sanitation and gardening, battles between golfers trying to play through the baseball outfields, and outfielders dodging sliced tee shots, and the ever increasing presence of the automobile left many to wonder whether it was worth visiting the park.
Much of the 1980s was spent with Parksiders debating the merits of vehicular traffic on Meadow Road (the “Ring Road” in Delaware Park.) At one point, one could circumnavigate the entire park via automobile, and many did so with little regard to the safety of those making use of the park.
While the open road made the ball diamonds, golf course, and soccer fields more accessible, it also encouraged use of the park as a cut through. It was a hotly debated topic in Parkside, with some saying cutting off park traffic will clog neighborhood streets, and others wishing autos to be banned nearly completely from the park. Resident David Gerber lamented the condition of Delaware Park in a March/April 1988 op-ed piece in The Parkside News:
Our various attachments to the park have deepened the sadness many of us have felt, especially over the last five or so years, over problems that seem to pervade Delaware Park. Automobiles compete with bike riders, bike racers, runners, walkers, wheel chair exercisers, and even the occasional big wheel driver for use of the traffic laden Ring Road. Golf, soccer, and baseball vie for the same space, each menacing in different ways to the others. Volleyball can only be played along the frequently flooded bridal path. There seems no longer to be a place to sit and have a picnic or simply enjoy the open space, grass and trees.
There isn’t enough room for parking, and the Zoo threatens from time-to-time to grab what room there is. The Park doesn’t seem safe for family recreation. It’s growing less enticing for everyone, a victim of its own attractiveness, and of a fierce competition for space that seems to have no rules but the survival of the strongest.
After years of public debate, Acting Parks Commissioner Stan Buczkowski favored a plan closing Ring Road to traffic, saying it was the only way to calm traffic, especially with only two police officers assigned to the entire city parks system at the time. By fall of 1990, Buczkowski oversaw the installation of the permanent barriers on Ring Road at the Middlesex Road entrance. Traffic almost immediately dropped to a trickle.
Often throughout the 135 year history of Buffalo’s parks, tough economic times have left the public spaces in desperate need of repairs and attention. However, through budget crises of the 1990s and 2000s that left the City of Buffalo and Erie County under the fiscal screws of two separate Fiscal Control Authorities, Buffalo’s Parks actually came out ahead. The result was an historic agreement with the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
Guided by the original plans of Frederick Law Olmsted for an “urban landscape that integrates the city, providing common ground and connectivity among the neighborhoods,” the conservancy has fought for respect for the parks. Heavily involved in the push to have speed reduced on the Scajaquada Expressway, the most noticeable difference in Delaware Park for most Parksiders since Olmsted’s taking it over– The beautiful gardens that have replaced the dried out mud patches along the park’s borders with the community.
It’s a Renaissance that has certainly been noticed by longtime residents of the Parkside area. George Zornick, who grew up on Russell Avenue in the 1960s and 70s, now lives on Parkside Avenue directly across from the Park. He greatly appreciates the difference.
“The park is so much better kept now; so much more beautiful. Back when the city owned it, they mowed the grass and that was about it; the golf course was ragged. I don’t want to say it was scattered with litter, but it’s not like today with the zone gardeners and everything is so nice and manicured.”
Though at press time of this work the future of the agreement between the Olmsted Conservancy and the City of Buffalo remains unclear, the Olmsted folks remain committed to dozens of $1 million-plus projects around Delaware Park over the next 20 years, including an $80.3 million casino restoration, a $10.2 million Hoyt lake restoration/renovation, a $908,000 renovation of the meadow area, a $4.09 million renovation of baseball diamonds, a $954,000 Parkside Lodge restoration, and a $9.47 million reconstruction of Ring Road.
Perhaps the biggest plans to help recapture the original essence of Frederick Law Olmsted involve the Conservancy’s leadership on plans to down grade the Scajaquada Expressway back into a parkway over the next 2 decades, at an estimated cost of $33.7 million.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon
Though usually thought of in terms of a staid, august, and venerable neighborhood, Parkside has also seen its share of glitz and glamour. For the same reason so many Buffalonians are attracted to its wonderful architecture and tree-lined streets, Hollywood producers have also taken notice over the years.
three weeks in February, 1982, Summit Avenue went Hollywood for a week. Burt
Reynolds and Goldie Hawn spent that time holed up at 45 Summit Avenue, shooting
scenes for the big screen motion picture Best Friends. The local accommodations
were much cheaper than the LA high rollers were used to, as Ellen Parisi wrote
in her History of the Good Shepherd Church, only a few doors down from the home
where most of the film was shot:
In order to accommodate
the cast’s and crew’s noon meal, the advance people made arrangements to rent
Jewett Memorial Hall. “Probably the biggest mistake I ever made,”
said Fr. Jerre Feagin, Good Shepherd rector 1978-82, “was not charging
them more. When they asked how much it would cost to rent the hall for three
weeks, I said, ‘One Thousand dollars.’ that was a lot of money to the Church of
the Good Shepherd. But the man looked at me with great surprise in his eyes, as
if to say, ‘Is that all?’ and he immediately wrote a check.”
The Parkside home of Alex Trammell and the Buffalo snow provided the perfect backdrop for producers. Signs outside of the home pleaded for untracked snow… But one four-legged critter didn’t see the sign and spoiled the scene producers had hoped for, namely virgin, freshly fallen snow. But that errant dog didn’t provide the only challenge to filming:
“There was one problem with a neighbor who didn’t want (the film people) there,” Fr. Feagin continued. “It was a nuisance. They roped the streets off. Mounted police were all over keeping intruders out. Big sound and power trucks came in at 5am and parked all over the streets. There were catering trucks selling things. It was like a carnival.
“Well, this one neighbor didn’t like it, and in protest, every time they’d begin filming, he’d run his lawnmower. In February. The director, Norman Jewison, approached me and asked me to do something. The man causing the trouble was a Roman Catholic, so I called Fr. Braun from St. Mark’s and he straightened it out. That movie company was only a few hours from packing up and leaving town in search of a new location if Fr. Braun hadn’t been able to stop the noise.”
from The Natural. Glenn Close and Robert Redford on Main St at W Oakwood Pl.
Below: Redford standing in roughly the same location, from a different angle.
was back in Parkside the following year, this time at the corner of Main Street
and West Oakwood Place for the shooting of The Natural. Glenn Close and
Robert Redford spent a few days in August, 1983 at the Parkside Candy Shoppe.
The no-nonsense long time owners of the ice cream parlor, Ted and Sandy
Malamas, told the Parkside News in 1988 that they were impressed with
Close, who garnered an Academy Award Nomination for her role in the film. Given
their silence on the rest of the cast, one
can draw ones own conclusion.
The scenes shot inside the store were, according to the story, taking place in Chicago. A large matrix of I-beams was erected of Main Street at Oakwood to give the appearance of Chicago’s elevated train. Filming of the movie also took place at War Memorial Stadium and All-High Stadium, the Buffalo Schools field just up the street behind Bennett High School.
After a twenty year hiatus from Tinsletown, Parkside returned to the small screen in 2003 as the setting for the MTV Reality Series Sorority Life. Season 2 of the show featured the Delta Xi Omega sorority from the University at Buffalo. Their sorority house for 2002 was at the southwest corner of Crescent and West Oakwood. Shooting for the show happened all over the neighborhood, but perhaps most publicly at Kostas Restaurant on Hertel Avenue, where cameras followed one of the sisters to work as a waitress.
Parkside also played a dark role in a similar MTV show shot in Buffalo the following year. Three UB students were arrested after breaking into the Buffalo Zoo in 2003 as a part of a videotaped stunt for the show Fraternity Life. In an incident reminiscent of stunts dreamt up after a night of collegiate drinking at the Park Meadow two decades earlier, The pledges were to break into to the zoo, and take an animal home as a pet.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon
While maintaining the value and physical appearance of housing stock is of critical importance, so too, were a number of other battles the PCA has fought along the way. The Parkside Community Association has led many charges over the years in keeping the community one of the city’s most envied, as “Parkside’s voice” as the city evolved.
As Buffalo hemorrhaged population, and the city made infrastructure changes and consolidations, Parksiders and the PCA fought to maintain a fair share. When Buffalo’s neighborhood Police precincts gave way to the plan dividing the city into 5 much larger districts, PCA was there making sure that Police protection wouldn’t drop off when the Precinct 17 House at Colvin and Linden was closed in favor of the D District house on Hertel Avenue.
The PCA was also there a decade earlier in 1982 as Councilmatic districts were re-drawn, with one proposal cutting Parkside in half. This plan was quickly abandoned by city planners with the voices of Parksiders heard.
The Association also played a major role in the development of School 54 first into a Center of Excellence School, and then as an Early Childhood Learning Center, riding the changes of the Buffalo Public Schools over the last several decades. Through the 1970s and 80s, the PCA went after funds to help in a defined preservation and restoration program for the homes of the community and the neighborhood at large. Ruth Lampe, once the PTA President at 54 has taken great pride in the positive change at the school saying, “the magnet school concept and Buffalo’s successful desegregation efforts made the community more attractive because families moving to Parkside could choose from a range of options.”
Since the building of the Scajaquada and Kensington Expressways in the 1950s and 1960s, the streets of Parkside have become heavily traveled by the people of North Buffalo, Kenmore, and Tonawanda as the quickest way to get to the expressways to get downtown or to get back home.
Among the early proposed solutions to congestion, a 1965 investigation into the feasibility of an underpass where Parkside Avenue and the Scajaquada Expressway meet. It was the first of many times the community would become involved in traffic patterns in the neighborhood.
It was the work of people living in the neighborhoods that brought 4-way stop signs, and all of the traffic signals along Parkside Avenue to the area as traffic calming measures.
The first block of Russell became one way at the request of residents; the traffic signal at Parkside and Russell Avenues was added at the behest of residents and the zoo in 1987.
A decade earlier, it was a much more intense battle for the traffic light at Parkside and Florence Avenues. Even after deaths occurred in traffic accidents at the dangerous curve and intersection, it took years of fighting to have the device finally erected.
Residents argued that the signal wasn’t just necessary for drivers, but for pedestrians looking to get into the park. In 1976, the light was deemed unnecessary by the City Commissioner of Transportation Daniel Hoyt, despite that sharp curve and the numerous reports of damage to trees and homes at the intersection as motorists left the road.
A compromise was agreed upon with Commissioner Hoyt, as he promised to erect a traffic light at Parkside and Florence Avenues if neighbors agreed to allow a playground on park land near the intersection. $23,000 in block grants built the tot lot, which stands today; very near the still standing traffic light.
The Parkside Bar Scene
Like most city neighborhoods, traffic wasn’t the worst of it. At one point in the not too distant past, a handful of bars and taverns dotted the Parkside neighborhood, especially on Main Street and Parkside Avenue.
The PCA investigated and wrote letters on behalf of neighbors near the Casa Savoy Bar at Main Street and Orchard Place in 1968. In the late 1980s, neighbors and the PCA fought against efforts to turn the former Parkside Candy Shoppe at Main Street and West Oakwood Place into a bar. The Parkside Sweet Shoppe was open for several months selling desserts and booze, but didn’t last.
However, since the advent of the Parkside Community Association, there has been no one single business to receive more complaints, from more neighbors, than the Park Meadow Restaurant.
Located at the corner of Parkside and Russell Avenues, The PM was originally a restaurant where many parishioners of St Marks and St Vincents grabbed their Friday fish fry, and left the neighborhood swathed in the inviting classic Buffalo smells of grease-soaked beer batter.
All during the 60s and 70s, the Park Meadow was a big hangout for Canisius College students, as well as several area high schools. At night it would get pretty rowdy, lots of beer drinking; not illegal activity per se, just a public nuisance for the folks right around the bar.
In the mid 70s, Dennis Brinkworth purchased the property, removed the kitchen, put in a full bar, and the problems amplified. Neighbors had more complaints about drunken youths, tossing beer cups and tossing their cookies onto lawns for blocks around the gin mill.
Neighbors and the PCA viewed Brinkworth as hostile towards their concerns. Brinkworth always claimed he was just trying to run a business. Before the conversion to a full bar, Brinkworth said he “was lucky to make $40 a night and practically had to give away the fish fry.”
In 1979, three young men who’d been drinking all night at the Park Meadow, broke into the zoo and began attacking the polar bears, throwing large stones and trash cans into their pit. One of the young men was injured as, in a drunken stupor; he fell into that bear pit.
This and other incidents lead to the eventual revocation of the bar’s liquor license. The PCA has fought numerous attempts since to sell alcohol at the building, and has let subsequent restaurant managers know from the outset, that the community wouldn’t support the sale of any spirituous beverage on the premises.
The experience also hardened PCA activists to other business in the neighborhood as well, making sure that business plans, and plans for keeping the peace were clearly spelled out.
In 1983, neighbors fought an attempt by one-time Buffalo State basketball star and Buffalo Braves great Randy Smith from opening a video arcade on Main Street near the corner of Vernon at 2612 Main. The Common Council twice rejected a bid for license from the on-time NBA iron man because of concerns the Buffalo News reported as potential “loitering and minor crimes.”
While Parkside has dealt with petty crime just as any other city neighborhood has, violent crime – even random murder – has also scarred the neighborhood on rare occasions. In 1961, Delaware Park took on a very sinister feel. Young Andrew Ashley was kidnapped from his family’s Jewett Parkway home, his body later found in the artificial lake in the quarry behind the Lodge (at Parkside and Florence Avenues) in the park.
Some remember a liquor store owner was murdered inside his Parkside store in a holdup in the early 1970s, and around the same time, three teens were stabbed in an apparently racially motivated attack near Main Street and West Oakwood Place.
In the early to mid 1980s, a string of rapes occurred in and around the Delaware Park area, close to the David statue. A West Side man, Anthony Capozzi was convicted for several of the attacks. However, it was only two decades later that a task force convened to catch a serial killer collared the actual Delaware Park Rapist.
Through DNA analysis and the man’s own admission of guilt, these rapes were properly connected to the man who had become known as the Bike Path Rapist and Bike Path Killer, Altemio Sanchez. Capozzi, who bore a striking resemblance to Sanchez at the time, was exonerated and set free from prison.
Greenfield Street was rocked both literally and figuratively when, in 1987, an explosion and fire gutted the 46 Greenfield Street home of Gerard Ciccarelli. This, the fourth arson at the home, coincided with the day Ciccarelli was to be released from prison after serving a year for luring a 16 year old Cheektowaga girl to his home and molesting her.
Though Judge John Dillon denounced Ciccarelli as a “reprehensible lecher” who’d been arrested 14 times on 35 charges, neighbors told the Buffalo News at the time of the fire that they “resent the implication that anyone in the neighborhood was involved in anyway.”
Unfortunately, homicide isn’t foreign to the area, either.
In 1984, 89-year-old Alma Strasner was raped and viciously beaten to death at her Willowlawn Avenue home. The case went unsolved for 24 years, until 2008, when Buffalo Police Cold Case Detectives ran evidence from the scene through the national DNA databank. They came up with a hit.
Edward Richardson, who was in jail in Seattle on misdemeanor charges, was once a handyman who had done work for and lived on Crescent Avenue, around the corner from Mrs. Strasner.
Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark credited Detectives Charles Aronica and Mary Gugliuzza with reopening the investigation and submitting blood evidence for a DNA analysis. Richardson eventually pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.
More recently, on Good Friday 2006, 41 year old George Pitiliangas was gunned down as he closed up his 2285 Main St. Restaurant. The long-time owner of Tony’s Ranch House was closing up the popular Parkside eatery– was once home to Henry’s Hamburgers– when 23 year old Amhir Cole gunned him down in the store.
Cole is serving life without parole, plus 25 years. Judge Michael D’Amico leveled the unusually heavy sentence after Cole had convinced a mentally challenged man to admit to the murder.
A memorial for Pitiliangas in the restaurant’s parking lot drew hundreds from Parkside, Central Park, and the Fillmore/Leroy neighborhoods, with more than one observer commenting that George’s tragic death brought folks from all walks of life, and both sides of Main Street together, just as his restaurant did. Pitiliangas’ mother reopened the restaurant 45 days after the shooting.
Parkside’s Houses of Worship Today
After 129 years on the same block of Main Street, Parkside’s first church, St. Vincent de Paul was closed. In 1992, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo began announcing plans to reduce the number of parishes on the Central East Side of Main Street from ten to five.
Despite consternation and the heavy hearts of many in the financially sound parish, St. Vincent’s was merged with Blessed Trinity, several blocks away on Leroy Street. The buildings of St. Vincent de Paul were sold by the Diocese to Canisius College for $250,000. Many St. Vincent’s parishioners harbor a deep anger and resentment about the process to this day.
At the final mass on the Feast of Pentecost, May
30, 1993, a remembrance booklet was handed out to parishioners. It’s fitting
closing quote, as noted by Michael Riester, “the physical structure may
not last forever, but the love and spirit of St. Vincent’s will live on in
us… These things of God indeed do not perish.” The prayers of many
Parkside residents were answered when the church was not torn down, but given a
$3.4 million face lift and opened as the 515-seat Montante Cultural Center in
The closure of St. Vincent de Paul leaves St. Marks as the neighborhood’s lone Catholic church. Msgr. Francis Braun and Sr. Jeanne Eberle have spent more than 25 years at the helm of St. Mark Church and School. Dubbed the “Dynamic Duo” of St. Mark’s by Bishop Edward Kmiec, he awarded them The 2009 Bishops Medal for 60 combined years of faithful and dedicated service to the parish.
Both have lent their names to buildings on the St Mark campus. In 2004, as the community celebrated his 24th anniversary of service to St. Mark’s, his Golden Jubilee as a priest, and his 75th birthday, The Rev. Francis Braun Auditorium was dedicated. Upon completion of improvements at the school in June 2008, the lower level classroom wing was named The Sr. Jeanne Eberle SSJ Wing of Academic Excellence.
Upon receiving the area-wide recognition of the Bishop’s award, neither Msgr. Braun nor Sr. Jeanne wanted to speak about themselves, but did want to talk about the school and the community.
“We want to feature the school,” Msgr. Braun told the WNY Catholic. “People in North Buffalo already know about it, but (the award) is a means of letting the rest of the city know about the school.”
“Father (Braun) is very interested in the school, which is great,” said Sister Jeanne. “He boosts the school all the time.”
“Because it’s good for the neighborhood,” added Msgr. Braun. The school has been good for the neighborhood, and vice versa. While many parish schools closed through the 90s and 00s, people moved to Parkside because of St Mark’s School, and St. Mark’s School stayed open and healthy because of the health and vitality of the neighborhood.
Over the years, many have made comments about the pair working together for so long, a rarity in this day and age, that one of them, let alone both, would stay in the same post for so long. “They said it’s like being married,” joked Msgr. Braun. “I said, ‘No, no. We send notes to one another and see each other every few weeks.’ And they said, ‘That’s like being married!'”
The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd continues on as well; searching for a rector at the time of publication. Whoever takes the job will be filling the large shoes of Rev. David Selzer, who was at Good Shepherd for over 13 years.
Selzer always made sure that his church was part of the larger community, and vice versa.
“In the same way the founders of this church, as a memorial chapel to Rev. Ingersoll of Trinity Church in Downtown Buffalo, envisioned both a church and a community center, we are continuing that tradition of being a presence in the Parkside Community. We obviously do worship, and are a part of that sense of a worshipping community, but were also doing outreach in terms of community service. AA meetings, dog obedience classes, ballet classes, PCA meetings, planned parenthood meetings, being the home base for the Parkside Home Tour, any number of activities in which the community is involved.
“Part of the result is you have people who see themselves as members here by virtue of their worship, but there are also people who are members by participating in any one of those activities.
At the same time, there’s the outreach function of this congregation. We’ve had a viable food pantry for the past 15 years, on Monday morning, a lot of folks who see people coming and say, ‘They don’t look like Parkside people,’ but they see themselves as a part of the community because they receive food.
is both a place to worship, and a place to be a part of. The Halloween Party
has been here 25 years plus. So now we have parents, who came here for
Halloween bringing their kids here. This is their Halloween party. It
doesn’t belong to the church or the Parkside Community Association. It’s a
place to be safe, and place to get treats that they know won’t have something
awful in them, and it’s also a place where the fire department, and the police
department can bring canines and do their stuff with the kids as well. “
Just up Jewett Parkway, Central Presbyterian had been experiencing a steady decline in membership for years. At its height, there were over 3,000 members at Central.
By 1985, membership had shrunk to about 800; by the mid-2000’s, it was in double digits. The huge costs of maintaining the buildings overwhelmed the congregation’s ability to support them, and a buyer was sought for the whole campus. After two years of leasing its buildings to a charter school, the grounds were sold to Mt. St. Joseph Academy in 2007.
In May 2008, the 30 members of Central Presbyterian officially merged with First Presbyterian Church. Ironically, it was approximately the same number, roughly thirty, that left First Presbyterian over 170 years earlier to form Central.
Since 1971, just outside the boundaries of Parkside, at the corner of Amherst Street and Parker Street, stands Masjid Taqwa, a mosque owned by The Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier.
While still maintaining the Parker Street building, An-Noor Masjid was built established in Amherst 1995 and is one of the largest Masjids (the Arabic word for mosque) in Western New York. Currently, ISNF is supervising the complete renovation of the interior of the Parker Street Masjid.
After having spent most of the last half century as a funeral home, Parkside’s oldest home, The Washington Adams Russell house, is now the home of The Church in Buffalo. On its website, The Church writes,” We are Christians who frequently meet together at 2540 Main Street in Buffalo, as well as in our homes.
“The building in which we meet on Main Street is our meeting hall; it is not the church. We, the believers in Christ, are the church. The word church in the original language of the Bible, and in its true meaning, simply stands for the believers themselves, the called-out congregation. We are not any special kind or group of Christians, but simply those who believe in and love the Lord Jesus and meet together in one accord with gladness and singleness of heart (Acts 2:46).
“We do not really have a name, although some have tried to give us one. We are simply believers in Jesus Christ who desire only to hold and honor the precious Name of our Lord Jesus. In the first century, believers were simply Christians (1 Peter 4:16), and that was a name given to them by others (Acts 11:26).”
Springs Church is in the building that was built as the Park Presbyterian
Church on Elam Place, between Crescent Avenue and Jewett Parkway, in 1897. Refreshing Springs vision is “Helping men,
women and families from multiple economic and ethnic backgrounds to truly know Jesus,
making disciples throughout W.N.Y. , and the world, through evangelism,
planting churches, equipping workers, and establishing leaders.”
Aside from bringing a certain air to the neighborhood, the many institutions of learning in Parkside, including two of the three largest private colleges in the area, have also brought many real, tangible positives to Parkside as well.
Canisius College actually financially encourages its employees to live in Parkside. Its Employer Assisted Housing Program began in 2002, and faculty and staff can receive up to $7000 for buying a home in Parkside or another eligible city neighborhood.
But even more tangible, Canisius, as well as the other neighborhood schools, have been at the forefront of reusing buildings that, in other parts of the city, might have gone abandoned. Since the mid-80s, Canisius College has grown from 12 acres to 30 acres, with much of that growth in Parkside.
Indeed, Canisius has purchased and invested millions of dollars in many buildings mentioned in this narrative. In Parkside, the college purchased the former Streng Oldsmobile Dealership. The former Sears Store, more recently the Western New York Headquarters for Blue Cross/Blue Shield is now the Canisius Science center.
All of the buildings that were once a part of the St. Vincent de Paul parish are all now Canisius buildings. Many of the Sisters of St. Joseph buildings on the west side of Main Street have been sold to Canisius, including, the most recent home of Mount St. Joseph Academy, which has been raised by Canisius to make way for future development.
It’s caused somewhat of a domino effect, with Mount St Joseph’s Academy then moving into the former Central Presbyterian church at Main and Jewett. No longer directly affiliated with the Sisters, the students of Mount St. Joe’s Elementary enjoy a 7:1 student to teacher ratio.
At the heart of the Buffalo area’s third largest private college is another former Mount St Joseph’s structure. The main building at Medaille was until the mid-80s, the home of Mount St Joseph High School.
Medaille saw a 138% increase in enrollment 1995-2003, and its over three thousand students ranks the school just behind neighboring Canisius and Niagara in size. Medaille owns many of the beautiful homes on Humboldt Parkway near the school.
Another institution started by the Sisters of St. Joseph still going strong in Parkside is St. Mary’s School for the Deaf. SMSD carries on the traditions brought to the corner of Main Street and Dewey Avenue over 110 years ago.
The school’s efforts to reach out to the neighboring communities continue with plans for a student-run coffee house in Parkside. Hoping to capitalize on the explosive popularity of the Darwin Martin House, plans to open The Elam Jewett Café in Jewett Hall at the Church of the Good Shepherd continue to progress.
While not an educational institution, the Tri-Main Center is perhaps the area’s most creative re-use of a building. A year after Trico abandoned its factory at Main Street and Rodney Avenue, in 1988, Tri-Main began offering its mixed-use office, studio and light industrial facilities.
whatever you call Tri-Main, don’t
call it a plant. Matt Wolfe has helped market the complex over the years, and
told Business First in 2002, “It’s funny because if you can get them away from
thinking of this place as a factory, most people walk around here and say
‘Geez, I didn’t know all this was here’,” Wolfe said. “Besides, I
guess by calling it the ‘old Trico plant’, it does give them a point of
reference and an idea of where we are.”
Tri-Main is also Parkside’s best link to the current White
House. Kittinger manufactures its fine furniture at its Tri-Main factory and
workshop. In the same space where Ford Model-Ts and America’s first jet plane
were manufactured, Kittinger artisans design and build furniture for the White
House, including the “fireside chairs” both Presidents Barack Obama and George
W. Bush sat in during their inaugural ceremonies.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon
Parkside’s long-standing reputation as a politically conservative area predated the carving out of the neighborhood by Frederick Law Olmsted. The Granger Family, the first long-term white settlers in the area, was originally sent here with political patronage jobs from Thomas Jefferson.
The Granger family’s stone mansion on property that it now a part of Forest Lawn Cemetery was long known as the site of dozens of Republican fundraisers from the time of Lincoln up to the 1930s.
Elam Jewett was a close friend of the Buffalo’s Whig President Millard Fillmore. Before moving to what is now the corner of Jewett Parkway and Main Street, Jewett was the publisher of the very conservative and staid Commercial Advertiser, Buffalo’s most influential newspaper.
As one might expect, the neighborhood that sprung from the farm lands owned by Granger and Jewett became a very conservative Republican stronghold for well over half a century, aiding in electing Republican North, and later Delaware District Common Councilmen, as well as Republican Mayors of Buffalo. As late as the 1950s, Parkside was a predominantly Republican district.
In the 1960’s, however, the pendulum began to swing back. The election of John Kennedy to the White House, and a very likable Democrat, Frank Sedita, as Buffalo’s mayor, was making it easier to win over hearts and minds all over the city.
And in 1970, Parkside joined with the rest of the Delaware Councilmatic District in electing the first Democrat ever to represent the area on Buffalo’s Common Council. William B. Hoyt II was the namesake and grandson of a lawyer who worked for New York Central Railroad, was an early Pierce Arrow investor, and was integral in pulling off the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. The elder Hoyt lived in a mansion on Amherst Street; now the site of the soccer and football fields of Nichols school.
The Younger Hoyt served on Buffalo’s Common Council from 1970 until 1975, and then continued to represent the northern half of the Parkside neighborhood in the New York State Assembly from 1975 until 1992, when after decades of tireless work for the Parkside area, he died after suffering a heart attack on the floor of the Assembly.
Since 1992, William B. Hoyt III, known to everyone as “Sam,” has served in the same seat as his father in Albany. That father-son duo represents 40 years of uninterrupted elected public service for the people of Parkside.
Emblematic of the larger clash of cultures issue were the goings on at the heart of Parkside one weekend night at the height of the counter-culture movement. At the corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, where Elam Jewett built his church “Good Shepherd,” and from where the neighborhood sprung, two worlds collided.
The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Darwin Martin house had, by the late 1960s, become the official residence of the President of the University at Buffalo. Across Jewett Parkway, in the home noted Buffalo Architect William Sydney Wicks designed and built for himself, lived one of the University’s most “infamous” dissident professors, Dr. Elwin H. “Ed” Powell.
Ed Powell called the house “The People’s Pentagon.” Powell was an early opponent of the Vietnam War, holding “teach-ins” about the conflict in 1964. He led war protests through the 60s and 70s, and sheltered war resisters at the house in 1971.
His son, Jim Powell, remembers growing up in the house during that time. “The FBI and other law enforcement had the house watched for many years and the phone lines tapped. Sometimes my friends and I would go out in the middle of winter and offer the agents hot drinks while they sat there in the snow watching our house. They never accepted.”
The federal agents also did their best to make sure the neighborhood knew of the subversive activity going on in their neighborhood. “Sometimes they went door to door showing pictures of naked hippies… taken through the fence of our back yard where, at any given time during parties, there’d be dozens of naked hippies splashing around. Never a dull moment.”
The photos were likely unnecessary. The younger Powell remembers his status in the neighborhood rising, as parents told their children they weren’t even allowed near the home Jim Powell calls “a commune of Charlie Manson look-alikes with a rag-tag bunch of teenagers hanging around.”
He writes of the night the UB establishment clashed with the counter- culture in what he saw as “The bright shiny Cadillacs and Buicks versus the VW bugs and buses, Mavericks and Valiants.”
The University was having a fancy party at the
Frank Lloyd Wright house and invited everyone to attend the Gala Formal Event
at the magnificent UB President’s house at 125 Jewett Parkway on the corner of
Jewett and Summit. As luck would have it, Dad was throwing a Hippie-Laden
Moratorium Day blow-out party at 124 Jewett.
Dad’s counterculture parties at our house were legendary, yet another reason parents forbade their kids from going near the place. There were usually massive amounts of beer, often in kegs and the gallons and gallons of cheap wine flowed like the Great Niagara a few miles away. Yet that wasn’t the half of it, there was so much grass and LSD, there was absolutely something for everybody.
The music was amazing, the bands would set up in the large formal dining room that faced out across Jewett to the FLW house and the music was so loud it could be heard for blocks. Hundreds of people would show up for Dad’s parties and by 9 PM there was usually a whole pile of hippies swimming naked in the pool.
Dr. Powell lived in the Wicks House until his death in 2001, but before then– he was able to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act, portions of his over 30,000-page FBI file.
Powell’s son Stephen noted in a eulogy for his father that “they had taken the great pains to go through every page and cross off the names of the informants that had contributed to this great work. Some had even lived at the house with us. He was aghast and incensed when he read the conclusion of the summary report of the file when they decided he was ‘actually a pretty nice guy’ and was not a terrorist threat.”
7: The Parkside Community Association
The Parkside Community Association owes its foundation in part to another group, HOME, Housing Opportunities Made Equal. According the HOME website, in 1963, the founding members of HOME came together from a variety of racial and religious backgrounds to address the ever present problem of discrimination in the Buffalo housing market.
The two men who founded the PCA met at a HOME meeting. “Dick Griffin and I both lived in Parkside,” remembers Jack Anthony, “and met at a HOME meeting. We said HOME is good, but what about our neighborhood?
“So June, 1963, we moved my parents furniture out of their living room, we got some folding chairs from George Roberts Funeral Home, Main at Willowlawn, and we leafleted the neighborhood to say we were having a meeting about our neighborhood.
“We filled the living room, and a good crowd showed up. It was organized around blockbusting. So we organized, I was the first President. We had different committees. Traffic, trees. Dutch Elm Disease killing off the trees was a really big problem. A lot of people were very upset by that. We did a lot of things other than blockbusting.”
But, as previously outlined, much of the group’s initial effort went into preventing blockbusting. Word got out rather quickly that this wouldn’t be acceptable. Early on, Parksiders decided to build an integrated community and worked for racial harmony and diversity.
one black real estate agent who was accused of blockbusting. We invited him
into my living room; he denied having ever done any blockbusting; and what’s
more, he promised he’d never do it again. That was the only real concrete
incident, but the word got out– If you trying blockbusting in Parkside, the
PCA’s going to be after you.”
PCA wasn’t just involved with keeping those that would destroy the neighborhood out; from its very beginning, the Parkside Community Association was charged with bringing new people into the neighborhood.
“We distributed plenty of literature, our first pamphlet was called, Who Needs Suburbia. It basically said we’re looking for nice neighbors no matter what color you are. So as far as most folks can see, it worked. “
David and Ruth Lampe were among the most vocal of the pioneers who helped develop the neighborhood back from its lowest point. As they were sending their children to School 54 in an effort to maintain and build upon the character of the school, the Lampes were reviving the dilapidated American Four Square they’d purchased on Crescent Avenue between Robie Street and Florence Avenue in 1970. It was one of a number of homes on the block that had seen better days.
Aside from being the PTA President at School 54, Ruth Lampe would go on to spent the next four decades as a stalwart member of the Parkside Community, acting as a block club organizer, PCA President, Housing specialist, and fighter for causes important in maintaining and growing the neighborhood.
In 1984, Lampe was interviewed by the Parkside News, 14 years after her arrival in Parkside. “(In the mid-70s), Parkside had all the trappings of a neighborhood in trouble. Its housing stock was beginning to deteriorate; it was next to a changing community; it was relatively isolated; its local school was in trouble. Few other communities have turned around so quickly and so impressively. Parksiders can take pride in their success.”
It was a major community effort, on many different levels, to make it all happen. The PCA fought against plans of The Trico Products Corporation to tear down a handful of structures along Greenfield Street near Main to build a parking lot for its plant (now the Tri-Main building).
In a 1970 formal letter to city officials opposing the plan, President Richard Griffin wrote, “One primary purpose of the PCA has been to promote and retain the residential character of our community…. One city official has aptly described Trico’s proposal as ‘blockbusting into a residential neighborhood.'”
The PCA has also, since the early days, attempted to preserve the character of the neighborhood by insisting on strict code enforcement for both businesses and home owners.
When the PCA’s Housing Committee was formed in 1967, the minutes of the Board of directors meeting said the committee should “determine what structures are (in a state of disrepair) and make efforts to persuade the owner to remedy the situation. Our purpose is not to form a vigilante committee.”
After identifying poorly kept premises, they worked to figure out why work wasn’t being done, and helping when needed. The committee also worked to commend those who maintained their homes beautifully.
As time wore on, and despite the thought by some that the PCA should “mind its own business,” the association began to take a firm stand on building codes, and encouraged the passage of codes and law which provided a legal basis to help keep the neighborhood from falling into the same condition as many other city neighborhoods.
This means painting and general upkeep, but also making sure, for example, the proper permits are in place before a lawn and greenery can be cemented over and a curb cut for a parking pad.
It also applies to building usage. PCA successfully fought Buffalo State College’s Sigma Tau Rho fraternity from opening 252 Crescent Avenue as a Frat House in 1970. UB’s Dental Fraternity had operated a house at the corner of Summit and Russell Avenues for many years. The frat was described in a 1970 Buffalo Evening News accounting as “terrible and disastrous” for neighbors. PCA Co-Founder Dick Griffin told one reporter of “students playing loud music and cavorting on the lawn with their girlfriends. Parkside wasn’t sorry to see them go.”
The PCA also generally tries to look at preservation and rehabilitation of a property, as opposed to demolition, to prevent the blighted “gap-tooth” look seen in some city neighborhoods. One notable exception was the large apartment house which stood at the corner of Florence and Parkside Avenues in varying degrees of vacancy and vagrancy from the 1950s until the time it was torn down in the 1970s.
The Parkside Community Association was not, of course, the only community group active in Parkside.
St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic church, which operated just south of Humboldt Parkway on Main Street for 125 years, was very much interested in the future of the city neighborhoods it served.
The church paid particular interest in, as a 1979 Courier-Express article described it, “an aging but elegant North Buffalo apartment building. Michael Riester wrote about it in the March 2000 edition of Parkside News:
With the advent of the 1960’s, St. Vincent’s bravely confronted the great social changes underway. Under the direction of Msgr. Paul Valente, parishioners turned their attention to concerns facing her neighborhood. St. Vincent’s joined the fight to oppose redlining, the illegal banking practice of refusing to loan money for inner city home purchases.
Describing the changing mission of the traditional parish, Msgr. Valente is quoted as saying, “What it’s becoming is more of a community center. We are trying to become more community conscious and less missionary in the old sense of going out to make converts. We simply want to indicate by our concern and action that we feel a part of the community, and that we have the interests of the community at heart.
Encouraged by Msgr. Valente, an enthusiastic group of parishioners became a part of the Community Action Organization. This grassroots organization involved 16 catholic parishes who decide to try to fight redlining by peaceful means…
During the summer of 1975, a group of parishioners began an in-depth study of slumlords within the (Parkside) neighborhood. They focused their attention on the owner of the Crescent Apartments at 196 Crescent Avenue. Having gained the support of the tenants, committee members actually accompanied city housing inspectors through each apartment, making a list of needed repairs.
At one point, over seventy-five neighbors demanded a meting with Mayor Makowski and city housing inspectors to address a list of over seventy-five code violations within the building. A meeting did take place at the St. Vincent’s Parish rectory, and through repeated exposure in the Buffalo News, the building was sold to a new owner.
Ruth Lampe has been a stickler for housing and building code compliance, and has served as the PCA’s Housing Specialist.
In a 1984 interview about housing, Lampe said, “PCA’s controversial and largely successful housing program ensured that the area’s housing stock was well maintained, even in cases where owners would not have otherwise afforded to make improvements.
“We often take this community for granted. We need to have some historical perspective. (In 1974), housing prices were depressed and we had real problems. Now (in 1984), while everything is not perfect, we have solved the number one problem– the stability and attractiveness of the community. “
Parkside’s efforts to “Preserve a Neighborly Neighborhood” became the title of an article published in The National Observer, in 1972, which acted as a weekend edition for the Wall Street Journal. PCA Co-founder Richard Griffin takes a reporter on a tour of the neighborhood which had just undergone a decade of momentous change. The mood of the piece is, we’re hopeful, working on it, and hoping for the best.
The hoping and the work paid off. “Parkside inspires more confidence than it did four or five years ago. One real estate broker confided that one of the reasons for the Elmwood-Delaware Area’s resurgence was the number of people fearful of investing in Parkside,” Real Estate Reporter Phillip Langdon wrote in a 1979 Buffalo Evening News larger piece on the “comeback” of the city as a whole. The article continued:
(Richard) Mabee (of Gurney,
Becker, and Bourne Realty) confirms what Parkside residents say — that
“Parkside has gained a lot of appeal. It’s become a very successful
Some nervous whites moved out, but Mabee says “those spots were filled
in not only by successful blacks but by university people, who are more
broadminded.”…”They’re active and they’re smart,” Mabee says
of (the Parkside Community Association).
A 1977 Parkside newsletter quotes a Community Planning Assistance Center (CPAC) study of the changes in Parkside, comparing the area in 1970 to the way it was in 1977.
Parkside community residential housing prices have increased on average from
$21,500 to $33,500 in 1977. The sales listings have decreased from a 1973 high
of 92 to a 1976 total of 46, which can be interpreted as a sign of confidence
in the area as viewed by its residents…. Owner occupied dwellings have
increased from 895 in 1970 to 925 in 1975, an increase of 30 units.
The same 1977 newsletter came with a page labeled “Thoughts on Our Neighborhood,” a sample of opinions offered up by members:
have young children, young married couples, old married couples, retirees,
grandparents, blacks, whites, others, blue collars, white collars, laborers,
professionals, liberals, conservatives, moderates, radicals, reactionaries,
anarchists, entrepreneurs, communists, all living together… one from many.
Many opinions also focused on the slowly upgrading housing stock, and the varied nature of the areas homes, and a still tempered hope for the future of the neighborhood.
The PCA would take a major role in bolstering those tempered hopes, but only with the active support of the people of the neighborhood. It was still a topic of great interest when written about in the February 1981 Parkside News:
you might not be aware of it, the ‘renaissance’ of the Parkside community has
taken a lot of work by your neighbors over the past few years. Building code
enforcement, tree planting, zoning enforcement, solving small community
problems, and housing improvements have been among the main concerns of the
As the Parkside Community Association has progressed, the resident involvement it has stimulated has been the major force in the perception and creative dealing with newly emerging neighborhood needs.
Three years ago, in 1977, in response to the perception that the neighborhood was in need of a defined preservation and restoration program, the membership voted to open a formal office with the assistance of outside funding. PCA was awarded community development funds to help with its programs. In 1979, New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal funds were added to the PCA’s budget.
Despite all the successes, challenges continued. While blockbusting was corralled very early on, redlining has lasted in various forms even up to this day, and the fact that it is so institutionalized, makes it very difficult to fight.
When the term first came into usage, it referenced the practice of denying loans and insurance (or allowing loans or insurance but at incredibly raised rates) to people in communities that banks and insurance companies found undesirable (usually that meant poor or black.) The definition expanded to include other businesses that would deny basic services or adequate access to services based on geographic location.
The Community Association’s annual spring meeting in 1976 was entitled, “Redlining and Disinvestment. The Erie County Citizens Organization present their findings of ‘banking disinvestment’ in Buffalo.“ Finding loans to buy or renovate a home in the area was getting increasing difficult, as was finding reasonably priced homeowners insurance for many.
Other societal changes made some other forms of redlining more apparent as well. Up until the mid ‘70s, a family’s groceries could, for the most part, be purchased within the confines of Parkside. Grocers like Red & White would have fruits and canned goods, one of the several delicatessens had smaller items. At various times there were butchers and bakers. But with the rise of supermarkets, came the fall of the Mom and Pop stores, and residents had to rely on the behemoth stores outside of the neighborhood confines for groceries.
By the early 80s, many were beginning to question the variety at the area markets. Most Parksiders shopped at the Bells in Central Park Plaza, the Super Duper on Great Arrow near Delaware, and the Tops on Delaware at Linden. It was observed that the fresh meats and produce weren’t as fresh or plentiful as in suburban stores, and that some staple items, like milk and bread, were priced higher for city shoppers.
Taking it on as an obvious quality of life issue, The PCA publicly campaigned for changes. The manager of each store was called out in editorials in the Parkside News and in the larger press, and it was insisted that such practices wouldn’t be tolerated. It’s just a small example of raising the quality of life in many different ways to make the area more attractive to people willing and able to invest.
Throughout the 1970s, one major investment Parksiders looked forward to was the building of the LRRT, light rail rapid transit, right along Parkside’s spine on Main Street.
For more than a decade, residents actively participated in deciding where the stops should be placed in the neighborhood. By the time the MetroRail plans were set in 1982, it was thought 10,000 people a day would be arriving and departing from the Amherst Street station every day. Many Parksiders (and City Planners) of the day saw this as the future of the neighborhood. All around the country, areas newly serviced by light rail had always seen property values escalate.
While in retrospect, the projected numbers fell way short of expectation, and the project wasn’t the panacea that many thought it might be, it still helped give Parkside a boost.
The June 1981 Parkside News headline read, Housing Values in Parkside Soar. Just as average home value increased and the number of sales dropped 1970-77, 1979-81 saw more stabilization, based in part of the impending opening of the MetroRail.
The 1979 MLS average for homes sold in Parkside was $27,800. A year later, it had jumped to $35,800. There were also 50% fewer sales. Area home values increased 28.5% 1979 to 1980, as compared to an only 8.3% increase in WNY as a whole.
In 1984, UB’s Department of Environmental Design conducted an analysis of the Parkside neighborhood, looking to see how the Comprehensive Code Enforcement program affected the community. As far as housing values, they rose 29% in Buffalo between 1978 and 1982. In Parkside, housing values rose 56% during the same period.
With the future of the neighborhood on a much more firm footing by the mid 1980s, many stopped worrying about treading water, and began looking to the future. Many looked at the past as a means to ensure that future.
By 1983, an initial survey of the Parkside neighborhood was completed by the Friends of Olmsted Parks, with the hope and expectation that the Olmsted-designed neighborhood might be recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the next few years, a complete survey was completed, with the efforts spearheaded by Erie County Legislator Joan Bozer, she a Parkside resident. The full document is over 1,000 pages, and includes a two page summary of every building within Parkside, and painstakingly inventories the historic relevance of every article of the neighborhood’s landscape:
Parkside… Historic District in Buffalo, New York is located approximately
four miles north of Buffalo’s central business district at the east and
northeast sides of Delaware Park. The district is characterized by an irregular
street pattern, which generally follows the contours of the adjacent park’s
edge, and by a large number of single family residences built for middle and
upper-middle class families during the nineteenth and early twentieth
The Parkside… Historic District covers a relatively flat, crescent-shaped area of approximately 226 acres. There are 1768 contributing buildings included in the district; 1109 represent principal buildings and 659 are outbuildings, usually garages. Three of the contributing buildings were listed on the National Register in 1975 as part of the Darwin Martin House Complex…
The district also includes nine contributing structures, representing historic streets and street segments significant for their association with Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1876 and c.1886 plans for the development of “Parkside.” These features comprise: Agassiz Circle, Amherst Street, Crescent Avenue, Greenfield Street, Humboldt Parkway, Jewett Parkway, Parkside Avenue, Summit Avenue, and Woodward Avenue. There are 22 non-contributing principal buildings in the historic district. Most of these are infill housing units or post-1926 apartment buildings; however, several represent severely altered buildings constructed within the district’s 1876-1936 period of significance.
In 1987, Parkside officially won the Historic Designation. PCA Board President Robert A. Kilduff wrote about it in the Parkside News:
The real benefit of the designation is more intangible,
more psychological than financial. It involves recognition of the value of what
we have inherited as well as a renewed commitment to preserve it….
The Historic designation has also seen an increase in activism in the affairs of the Park. Parkside was designed around the Park, and was seen by Olmsted as an integral part of the Park System. Parkside was created as a built-in protector of the Park system, serving to buffer the Park from inappropriate uses.
Now, many Parksiders complain that Delaware Park is no longer seen as a part of the community by “the powers that be,” but as a regional entity… PCA’s watch dogging of conditions an usage of the park has seemed parochial to some, but the mission of Parkside is more than parochialism, but rather an historic mission.
That same year was watershed year for the Community Association, as in March 1987, a PCA was established with the purchase of a new headquarters building. The PCA committed to buy and renovate the former dental offices of Dr. Monreith Hollway at 2318 Main Street, which included the office as well as two units of low income housing. Initial renovation costs, to be provided by two state grants, were to total $71,000. “Owning the building is seen by PCA as a commitment to renovating a visible and deteriorating community resource.”
But it wasn’t as easy as initially thought. By January, 1990, difficult and costly renovations had dragged on, and the PCA was being evicted from its previous office space at 10 W Oakwood Place, as owner was trying to sell the building. The PCA had lost state funding to refurbish the building at 2318 Main Street, and the project was becoming entangled in a web of city, state, and federal regulations.
But the many problems were overcome, and, by mid
1991, as the PCA got ready to move into its building at 2318 & 2320 Main
Street, one longtime Parkside Resident was awash with memories. Milton Carlin
remembered his father’s jewelry store was on the right side of the two
store-front building. At that time, the left side was Russell’s Barber Shop, At
that point, the building’s dentist owner, Dr. Hollway, practiced upstairs. The
jewelry store existed in the space through the 1940s, when Dr. Hollway moved
his practice into the storefront. It remains today the PCA headquarters.
As the neighborhood and the focus of the community association changed, one man greatly credited with keeping neighbors on track was Derek Bateman; the Executive Director of PCA from 1982-1992.
As he left, he was lauded as greatly responsible for helping to turn around the attitudes about the neighborhood’s housing stock.
“He saw the neighborhood through its comprehensive code enforcement, a process that upset many homeowners, but brought about dramatic changes in the physical appearance of the area.”
Bateman wrote at the end of his tenure that plenty of what was seen and what was not seen in Parkside had been influenced by the PCA during his time as Executive Director:
There are no video arcades at the corner of Main
and Amherst or Parkside and Russell, and nor are there disruptive bars at
Parkside and Russell. There is a stoplight at the intersection of Florence and
Parkside, and many new trees along Parkside’s streets.
There is a newly renovated Parkside-Florence tot
lot, initiated by interested residents working with the PCA. The new historic
street lights, now being put up, would have been inappropriate suburban looking
fixtures had it not been for PCA intervention.
While neighborhoods around the city continued to deteriorate, Parkside, with its strong community, and strong community association prospered. But maybe too much, as a double edged sword came for the PCA in 1996: The State of New York’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal determined that the Parkside Community Association met its original goal of creating a stable and economically diverse neighborhood.
While this milestone came as great news, it also came with the state ending its yearly grant of $63,000, nearly immediately, as of March 1996.
It came as a shock, and caused the organization to change the way it had operated for many years. Three jobs, and one proposed job, were eliminated from the PCA.
The organization had long been open for housing assistance for low income homeowners. Those requests were being forwarded to the North Buffalo Community Center. New emphasis was put on membership and fundraising. The writing of grants and annual requests of city, county and state lawmakers became yearly events.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon
After the war, people wanted to leave the worn city behind, in favor of bright, clean, shiny new suburbs. And what better way to get people to the suburbs than 4 and 6 lane divided highways.
The original thought was enthusiastic, but, as later admitted, misguided. Planners said when the population along the Niagara Frontier reaches 1.5 million, 2 million, 3 million… the people spread all over Western New York will want to get Downtown quickly for the best entertainment, for the glitziest shopping, for the finest restaurants, and, of course, to work.
“Suburban traffic,” it was written in the 1946 report The New York State Thruway and Arterial Routes in the Buffalo Urban Area, “must be given high consideration in the logical treatment of any conditions in the city.”
There was very little resistance to this idea to prepare Buffalo for the bold new future. The Parkside neighborhood was at the center of the plan that would turn Buffalo into the 20 minute city it continues to be.
There was a much different aesthetic in the days before six lanes of highway made an abrupt incision in the landscape. Parkside’s southerly border was and is Humboldt Parkway, but the pre-1960 Humboldt Parkway was a far cry from what it is today.
street was designed by Olmsted to connect The Park (Delaware Park) to the
Parade (later Humboldt Park, now Martin Luther King Park) in such a way
that one could travel from one to the other without feeling like they left a
park at all. Once, eight rows of stately
trees stood on the 200-foot wide median between the two sides of the divided
At Delaware Park, Humboldt Parkway ended at Agassiz Circle, with the grand entrance to Park. The Parkway continued with the grace-fully curved, two-lane Scajaquada Parkway. Young people would often pull off the road to “park” under the statue of David, or toboggan in the winter.
Mrs. Martha Lang, who lived on Crescent Avenue for over 50 years, remembered vividly her mother’s home on Humboldt Parkway in the 1940s.
Speaking with the Parkside News in 1990, she called Humboldt’s tree-shaded median “a place for lovers to stroll, kids to play, to sit on your front porch and watch the passing scene.” She lamented its loss, and said the whole character of the area changed when the Scajaquada Expressway took its place.
In 1953, with the north/south 190 already in place, planners released plans for a series of 5 east/west highways to bisect the city and increase the ability for traffic to move in and out of downtown, with no waiting in heavy city traffic.
One of the proposals seemed like a fait accompli. Unlike the others, which cut through neighborhoods, this cut through land described by planners as “vacant.”
Four years later, in 1957, that “vacant” land that was the middle of Delaware Park became home to a high speed thoroughfare. The Scajaquada Creek Expressway opened as a widened, jersey-barriered and guard-railed 50 mile-an-hour version of the sleepy, winding 15 mile-an-hour path which once stood in the same place.
To meet up with the planned Kensington Expressway, The Scaja-quada Ex-pressway was extend-ed past the footprint of the old Scajaquada Parkway, right through the beginning of Humboldt Parkway to about Delevan Avenue. Humboldt Parkway was at grade level with Main Street.
The blasting that took place to sink the roadway to 20 feet below grade, and expose the walls of Onondaga limestone, rattled picture frames off of walls throughout the neighborhood, just as the blasting out of the Beltline did 50 years before, and blasting out of the MetroRail would 30 years later.
Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways were built, Agassiz Circle, once the
stately, grand entrance to Delaware Park, all but disappeared. No longer a parkway divided by grass and
trees, Humboldt Parkway became two parallel one way streets separated by six
lanes of blown out-sunken in asphalted expressway. The city encroachment that
Olmsted designed Parkside to eliminate was here.
But believe or not, it really could have been worse. In his 1983 book High Hopes, Mark Goldman outlines a 1958 proposal for another expressway, thankfully never built, called the Delaware Park Shortway. It would have “taken a large chunk of Delaware Park meadow and built there yet another divided highway, across the park and parallel to the Scajaquada.”
Aside from the new Scajaquada Expressway going through the middle of it, The Delaware Park Meadow went through some other changes as well. The golf course was laid out around the turn of the century, and fully constructed in 1930.
The Park Superintendent’s house, “The Farmstead,” built in 1875, was torn down in 1950 to make way for the current Zoo parking lot. And the stone garden– a quarried-out area behind the Parkside Lodge at Florence, filled with plants and flowers– was filled in to make way for a par 3 golf hole after a child was found dead in the pond at the bottom of the pit.
But it wasn’t just politicians and city planners who changed the Parkside landscape in the 1950s and 60s. Mother Nature, too, landed a body blow to the trees of the neighborhood, when Dutch Elm disease struck.
Over 10,000 trees died of Dutch Elm disease in the City of Buffalo, many hundreds in Parkside. Up until the early 1960s, every street in the neighborhood was covered with a canopy of elm branches. By the mid 1960s, it became clear that the battle to save the trees was a losing one.
In the earliest days of the Parkside Community Association, one of its major concerns was the dying trees. The first item in the April, 1966 newsletter for the group dealt with the trees, and seemed to be grasping at straws.
YOUR ELMS — It is evident that we are losing the fight against Dutch Elm
disease. The chemical Bidrin which offered hope a year ago has not proved
itself and is now not being used.
only safe and effective treatment is the special DDT spray which must be used
before the leaves unfold in the spring. Davey Tree Experts and United Tree
Surgeons are among the firms under “Tree Service” in the yellow pages
which are known to offer this service. Spraying equipment, however, is limited
and there are not many days left which are clear and calm enough to apply the
NOW is the time to order this service if you want to SAVE YOUR ELMS.
But not even the later-found-to-be carcinogenic DDT was enough to stop the spread of the disease. It was well into the ‘80s and ‘90s before a concerted city-initiated effort would begin to replace the hundreds of trees that had fallen to the blight, and changed the character of the neighborhood forever.
Despite the fact that suburban flight had begun, most who grew up in Parkside in the 50s and 60s describe it as a Leave It to Beaver, idyllic place to live and grow up.
“We left our doors unlocked. Break-ins were unheard of. It seemed every other house had kids our age. There were always pickup games in the street…Football, baseball… and even though we used a tennis ball we still broke a few windows. It wouldn’t be unusual to get 20 boys together to play football or tag in someone’s backyard.”
But each of those 20 boys was white. The streets of Parkside were populated almost entirely, with only rare exception, by whites. “It’s not like there were fights in the streets, but when black kids rode their bikes through the neighborhood it was noticed. It was still a pretty lily white neighborhood.”
Most kids knew that it wasn’t smart to travel outside of your own neighborhood by yourself at that time. Long glares from the kids of the strange neighborhood you were visiting was likely the best treatment you could expect. But in Parkside, it was painfully obvious that if you were black and passing through, you didn’t belong.
As a man who later fought vigorously to bring the races together in Parkside and in Buffalo as a whole, Jack Anthony graphically remembers the somewhat unusual sight of black children as he grew up in Parkside in the 1940s.
“Sometimes we’d see black kids in the park, on their ‘nigger bikes.’ That’s what we called them. Some of the black kids had these bikes with a couple of horns, a couple of headlights, all jazzed up. We never thought white kids would do that. And we hated those kids, and we hated those bikes,” remembered Anthony.
Racial differences and problems weren’t the only under bubbling current. Ethnic and religious bigotry was also more widely socially acceptable. Anthony recalls his high school experience, just north of the Parkside neighborhood.
When I was a freshman at Bennett (early 1950s), we had race riots. It was Jewish kids and non-Jewish kids… There were no blacks there then, so it was, as we used to say then, white kids being up Jewish kids, and vice versa. Isn’t that sick?
One of the ministers from Central (Presbyterian Church at Main and Jewett), a rabbi, and a priest all came to an assembly talking to us all about being better citizens. I can remember a bunch of friends leaving a “Hi-Y” High School YMCA meeting and head up to Hertel to find a bunch of “kikes” to beat up.
That was the mentality. But by the end of my four years at Bennett, relations between the Jewish kids and non-Jewish kids had greatly improved. One of my best friends, a Jewish kid, got beaten up pretty badly. I often wondered whether it was my other friend and his crew who may have done it.
But by the early 1960’s, the situation was changing.
“Urban Renewal” projects, like the building of the Kensington Expressway, were destroying the neighborhoods inhabited by middle-class upwardly mobile black families. Displaced, many were attempting to make Parkside and other predominantly white middle-class neighborhoods their home.
Some unscrupulous businessman played on the fears of whites that their neighborhood was “going black.” The result in many Buffalo neighborhoods, including Parkside, was red-lining and blockbusting.
Redlining is an effort on the part of people in the banking and insurance industries to increase the price of, or deny services based on geographic location.
Blockbusting was a scheme involving real estate agents putting families under pressure to sell their homes “before the neighborhood goes bad.” Both were an effort to destroy neighborhoods by buying cheap, selling high, and playing on the fears of people living in a changing city and changing society while reaping profits.
In 1963, four black families lived in Parkside. At least one real estate agent began calling their neighbors, speaking vaguely of perspective buyers, and the fact that they should sell while they can. Panic reigned, and several people, affiliated with a neighboring church, pooled resources to buy a house from underneath a black family looking to move into the area.
In May 1963, a community meeting was held at St. Mark Church to discuss all manner of topics affecting the neighborhood. After a long discussion of a proposed North Buffalo Ice Rink, lifelong Parkside resident Jack Anthony asked the group’s thoughts on black families moving into the area. Discussion was immediately cut off, and the topic deemed “too controversial.”
Flabbergasted, Anthony and Richard Griffin organized a community meeting to discuss race in Parkside. At the time, the neighborhood was very diverse in almost every way: A mix of all ages, religions, educational backgrounds, and economic conditions. Anthony and Griffin agreed that while it hadn’t yet, racial diversity should also come to Parkside in a way that it didn’t around the rest of the city.
The Parkside Community Association (PCA) was formed, and on July 1, 1963, an 8 page outline of what the group stood for was distributed around the neighborhood. An excerpt from that original PCA Newsletter follows:
feel there is a real need for this to maintain and improve our wonderful
area…. (At our first meeting), a very frank and fruitful discussion occurred.
It was agreed that no useful purpose would be served by an extended argument
over the integration of this particular part of the city. Integration present
and future is a fact. Four Negro families presently own or occupy homes. More
persons of a minority race will no doubt purchase homes in the near future.
This is their right as it should be any person’s right to reside where he
chooses. No one is opposed to anyone residing in our community because of his
race or religion.
What the group wants for this neighborhood is to make it the best possible place to live — to raise our families, to obtain an education, to grow intellectually, spiritually, and physically. We want good neighbors regardless of color. We want all to stay and continue to live where we live. We want to attract persons of all ages, religions, races, education, economic abilities, etc to move our fine community.
We want to preserve the area’s residential character. We are proud of our public and parochial schools and of our well kept houses, trees, lawns, shrubs, and yards. We like to live in the City of Buffalo among its fine families and with the urban conveniences we enjoy. We think that no area offers as much housing for a reasonable price as the property which we are fortunate to own. We desire not only to preserve these values but to improve our particular community so that it is a model of responsible urban life.
While interested in more than just open housing, the PCA had to move quickly to counter-act the unscrupulous real estate agents and others looking to profit from the fears of others.
Scare tactics were used to try to get people to sell, rumors of neighbors selling their homes spread had spread like wildfire. The PCA stepped up to stop the illegal division of single family homes into multiple units, which helped stem sales. They also drummed out real estate agents and others using unethical practices for their own gain at the cost of the neighborhood.
The likable and outgoing personalities of Griffin and Anthony helped them bring neighbors aboard and their activity in St. Mark and Central Presbyterian churches respectively helped bring those institutions and the clergy at those two institutions, in line with the process.
Jack Anthony has, over the years, related this story with the original language in tact to underline the types of people he would come against.
Pastor Dr. James Carroll listened to one angry congregant at Central Presbyterian. “The first time a nigger comes into this church and sits down next to me, I’m leaving.” Rev. Carroll was quick to reply, very calmly, “Let me shake your hand now then, because I’m not coming out of the pulpit to say goodbye to you when that happens.”
It was under conditions such as these that the Mesiahs were among those first four black families to own a home in Parkside. Frank Mesiah, later to become an original PCA Board Member, and President of the Buffalo Chapter of the NAACP, was interviewed by Ruth Lampe for an article that appeared in the September 1988 issue of The Parkside News.
In 1961…(The Mesiahs) forced to leave their Humboldt-Delevan home because of the construction of the Kensington Expressway…. When Frank told a real estate agent in a telephone conversation that he was a policeman and teacher, he immediately assumed he was white and made an appointment to show him homes in North Buffalo.
But when he appeared at the office, the agent went into a panic and, after much double talk, he ended up never showing Frank any homes. Finally, a black realtor helped them find a new home on Crescent Avenue…
recalls experiencing some hostility from some residents and tells of a few
parents who wouldn’t let the Mesiah daughters play at their houses. But he also
remembers that those people’s children would sneak down to play at the
Mesiah’s. He can also laugh now, remembering people offering him shoveling jobs
while he was shoveling snow outside of his new home, or people asking is wife,
“Is the lady of the house in?”, when she answered the door.
also admits he felt somewhat suspicious when “all of the sudden this
neighborhood organization comes up to ‘preserve the neighborhood’.” But
after meeting with Dick Griffin and Jack Anthony, he was convinced of their
sincerity and developed confidence in them. He came to understand they were
reacting to talk that predominantly black areas didn’t get proper garbage
pick-up, different things were allowed to happen to the houses, and absentee
landlords increased. “PCA wanted to be sure that things like that didn’t
Mesiah himself would spearhead efforts to eradicate blockbusting from the neighborhood. The November, 1967 Parkside Newsletter read, “Mr. Mesiah reported on a contact with Genesee Realty Co. with respect to a certain notice sent. The representative of the Genesee Realty said that they would desist from sending these in our community. The 1965 PCA Report to members included this piece of information:
Real Estate: Three of the officers of the Association recently met with a real estate agent whose company was alleged to have called two residents of a street in our area where a house has been purchased by a Negro.
The agent was most cooperative in questioning his staff, and although he was convinced that no salesman in his office made the calls, he assured us that none will ever be made from his office under such conditions.
If any resident is ever contacted by a real estate salesman who urges sale because of non-white neighbors, get the agent’s name and address. Contact Jack Anthony or Dick Griffin with this information so that appropriate legal action may be initiated by the Association against such a salesman, in this way we will continue to let it be known that our area is not available for blockbusting.
But of course, not everyone felt this way. One resident remembers, “Parkside was a white neighborhood, and there were plenty of people who wanted to keep it that way. While it may have not been a plank in the PCA, one of the reasons for the growth of the group was the hope that it would help keep Parkside white. Now that may have been a misunderstanding, but that’s how many people thought.”
“It was a common thing to hear in the neighborhood; when someone was selling, ‘You’re selling to the whites, right?’ and when white people moved in, ‘Glad you moved in.’ It wasn’t screaming racism, but it was understood that we should want to keep the area white.
Right in the front of many people’s minds is what happened in the Central Park Plaza area (just across Main Street.) It was once a nice, working class neighborhood, then, seemingly over night, ‘it went, you know…'”
But, all and all, an even-handed approach made Parkside a continued desirable area for people of all races; not an accomplishment that most city neighborhoods could boast of, even as time wore on.
Many leaders of the WNY African-American community, either by deed or office, have made Parkside home over the ensuing years. Frank Mesiah and his family have lived on Crescent since 1961. Longtime Deputy Speaker of the New York State Assembly Arthur O. Eve, Jr. raised his five children on Jewett Parkway.
Two racial trailblazers in the world of athletics have also called Parkside home. Willie Evans, the UB Football star halfback, who was denied the right to play in the 1958 Tangerine Bowl because of his race, lived in Parkside for over 30 years. Jim Thorpe, the first black man to ever lead a PGA Major when he took the lead of the 1981 US Open, lived on Parkside Avenue for most of the 1980s, and could often be seen hitting golf balls in Delaware Park.
School Integration: Parkside School #54
the desire and goal of many in the neighborhood that families with the means to
buy a home in Parkside, regardless of their race, should be allowed to live
freely and be a welcome part of the community. But home life was only one part
of the clash between the races in Buffalo in the 1960s and 70s.
“White flight” was caused in many areas of the city when the racial balance at public schools in the neighborhood changed in a matter of a year or two. Once again, this situation presented itself in Parkside at School 54, which has stood on Main Street since 1895.
Just as the Parkside Community Association fought blockbusting, it also worked to make schools racially balanced. When the association was formed, 2 of its original 5 goals dealt directly with maintaining and building upon the success of the school. 54 was already enjoying a rebirth of sorts. As the PCA was founded in 1963, plans were already in the works for a new school to be built. A PCA newsletter from January, 1964, includes a building update, and an update on the group’s early lobbying efforts.
Demolition work has been completed at the new site
of School 54… The Board of Education (has abandoned) the voluntary student
transfer plan because it was not in the best interests of maintaining racial
balance at the school.
The new (current) school would open in 1965, built on the property that was once Hagner’s Dairy. The former building stood to the left of the current one; the site where School 54 stood from 1895-1964 now serves as the school’s parking lot.
In 1958, Matthew Duggan became principal at School 54, still housed in the old building. Mr. Duggan’s leadership through some rough times, and the strong participation of parents and the community, helped keep School 54 a “showcase school” while many of the city’s other schools deteriorated through the 1960s and beyond.
But making sure that new building remained one of the city’s finest schools was no small task. Many Parksiders, both parents, and PCA members, lobbied City Hall and Albany to gain better funding for the school, and to help maintain racial balance at the school.
A 1962 survey of Buffalo schools by the NAACP sets the scene. 17 Buffalo Public schools are listed as “Negro schools,” with at least 60% of its pupils black. 14 of those 17 had at least 90% black students. There were 47 “White schools,” with 19 having 100% white enrollment, and 28 more having 95%-99% white pupils.
Only 16 schools were listed as “integrated,” and 11 of those schools had an African-American enrollment of less than 20%. Parkside’s School 54 was one of only 5 schools in the city where blacks and whites approached even numbers. In 1958, 11% of students were black. 39% of students were black in 1960. By 1964, the number had grown to 54%.
came about through a number of different factors. The school was a part of an
early desegregation trial, where parents in one east side neighborhood were
given the option of having their children bussed to the more academically solid
School 54, rather than walking to their own neighborhood elementary school.
Many parents chose this option, and the number of African-American children
attending school in Parkside grew.
In a vacuum, the experiment might have been a success. But just as some families succumbed to the blockbusting attempts by scrupulous real estate salesmen, some saw the increased black enrollment at 54 as a threat to their children’s education and placed their kids in the neighborhood Catholic parochial school at St. Mark’s at Woodward and Amherst. In 1953, there were 40 1st graders at St Mark’s. A decade later, in 1964, the number had more than doubled to 88.
There was hope, however, in the construction of the new school. The dilapidated, outdated classic 1890s school house had been a worn-out collection of hodge-podge additions and classrooms literally created from closets for years. The bright new plant promised a pleasant atmosphere for learning, and plus a wonderful school yard and playground.
In May, 1965, letter to parents of school aged kids; the Parkside Community Association outlined the hope for a new school with a sense of hope and optimism. Schools Committee Chairman Saul Touster wrote, “It is our expectation… That there will be a migration of students from… St. Marks into School 54, especially in the lower grades.”
The tone was decidedly different in a letter Touster wrote to State Education Commissioner James Allen from the Community Association a month earlier:
(T)his school, instead of being considered a
positively integrated school, must now be considered a school whose racial imbalance
threatens to make it a de facto segregated school. The inclusion of an optional
area for the school’s district has had the effect of concentrating upon School
54 the pressure for integrated education for the negro community. It is in no
one’s interest that a school be pressured until it “topples over.” If
balance cannot be maintained here at a school where community reception of
integration has been so positive and community interest continues to be so
willing, then the larger problems will become hopeless of solution.
While there were parallels to be drawn between housing integration in the Parkside Neighborhood, and the school integration in School 54, there were, however, some key differences as well.
Michael Riester, who’d grow up to be a historian, social worker, and President of the Parkside Community Association, was in the mid 1960s, a kid on West Oakwood Place and a pupil at School 54. “It was a neighborhood school. The majority of the kids were from the neighborhood, from both sides of Main Street, and both white and black.”
But when Riester was in 5th grade, in 1966, things changed. There was a fire at School 17, on Delevan Avenue near Main Street. 130 mostly poor, and all black students were “temporarily transferred” to 54. The addition of these children pushed the ratio of black students to almost 80%, a statistic that the PCA knew only added fuel to the fire that blockbusters were trying to create.
“It seemingly happened overnight,” Riester recalls.”(School 54) went from a neighborhood school, to a school that integrated kids from very different economic situations and cultural situations. You had poor black kids coming from the Fruit Belt, coming to 54 with kids from the neighborhood who were privileged. It was violent, a very difficult time. The tension in the school and in the classroom was racially charged. These kids were very angry. Now, I understand why they were angry; why they were frustrated. I’m not sure I did then.”
It was in this atmosphere that some long established Parkside families moved to the suburbs, and many who didn’t move, considered options other than Buffalo Public Schools for the education of their children. Among that second group: The Riesters.
“There was a boy who was a few years ahead of me, who lived on Crescent, who was stabbed at the corner of West Oakwood and Main, so badly he was hospitalized. My mother seriously thought about pulling me out and putting me in a parochial school. I remember her saying we could get you into St Joes or Holy Spirit. But I wound up staying at 54 until 7th grade.”
“It was a foreign environment for me, certainly, and for many kids who lived in the neighborhood. It increased our fear of the unknown; the violence that we experienced, that I experienced, did not help me understand what the black experience was, and it was very frightening.”
back, Riester knows. “These kids had nothing, and they were being thrown
in with these wealthy white kids, who didn’t know what it was like to show up
at school hungry. The teachers must have understood, but were overwhelmed.
“When school was let
out you would have fights. It was primarily, from what I remember, was black
against white. I was beat up at least twice. What was ironic, it happened two
blocks away from my home. I lived two blocks from school and couldn’t make it
home some days. It increased the fear of Main Street.
“It was a strange time. For the hour after school let out, you knew you were going to get beaten up if you didn’t run home. But then, within two hours, your neighborhood returned. I don’t even know if our parents really realized the extent of what was going on in school and right afterwards.
“I don’t think anyone would challenge the statement that integration at School 54 wasn’t a well thought-out process for any of the kids, for white kids and black kids.”
One of the early concrete victories of the Association came after years of work by folks like PCA Board members Saul Touster, Richard Griffin, Jim Barry, and Jack Anthony. In 1967, the State Education department awarded a $100,000 grant for 54 to develop a “superior program at the school to encourage families not to move out of the district.” Those funds were used to cut class size, hire additional staff, provide enrichment and remediation programs, and pay for a preschool program for 4 year olds.
These programs were enough to make many Parkside families consider School 54 for their children. After a decade-high of 85 kindergarteners at St Mark’s School in 1965, only 65 kindergarteners signed up for the 1968-69 school year.
But with the late 1960s questions of race and integration were no longer just the fodder of letters and public meetings. The frustrations of the African-American community were boiling over onto the streets, shocking and worrying some of the most ardent supporters of racial harmony and equality in Parkside.
Again, Mike Riester shares his memories. “I can remember sitting with other neighbors on my porch listening to gunfire, because the (infamous June/July, 1967) riots had come up as far as Jefferson and Delevan, only a few blocks to the south and east. Across from the Health Sciences Building at Canisius, there was a gun store, and the rioters had taken over the gun store. I can remember hearing the shotguns. The blasts. That was really frightening.
“My grandmother was at Sisters Hospital during the time. My father walked up to the hospital to visit her (from our home on West Oakwood Place near Crescent Avenue), and I can remember my mother being worried that he’d be attacked. That’s the fear. That’s how charged those times were.
“When Martin Luther King was assassinated (in 1968), we were let out of school early because they feared violence. I remember being told, ‘Run home. Now Michael, run home.’ That’s the environment we were in.”
The world was changing, too. Riester recalls that Main Street was becoming a place you didn’t want to go, and it was also about the time a child was abducted from his Jewett Parkway yard, and later found dead in Delaware Park. “I can remember my parents telling me, ‘You’re not to go to the park anymore.’ We couldn’t go to the park unless we were in a large group. We couldn’t go to the zoo anymore, even though it was free. It was the overall loss of innocence. It was like Camelot came crashing down. And it was happening all over the country, and it hit Parkside, too.
“That’s not to say we weren’t kids. We played outside all day and all night, until the street lights came on. But we were instilled with a little fear of some things. But it was a very normal childhood. There were black kids, and Asian kids, and white kids, but we all were neighborhood kids, and that was the important thing.
“All things told, I think Parkside handled integration very well. I remember when the first black family moved on my street, West Oakwood. Dr. Champion and his family. I became friends with the kids right off the bat.
“We obviously knew there was a difference in the color of our skin, but there I was in their home as often as they played on my porch. I don’t remember any racial thoughts among us kids; I’m sure we worked it out in our own children’s way. I remember adults saying things, but because integration was a gradual process in Parkside, it was easier. Many of the families who moved to Parkside in the 60s, both black and white, are still here.”
“What was key was many of the families who moved into Parkside, the black families, were really no different from the white families socially and economically, culturally. I never remember any fights or violence happening in the neighborhood. It happened at school, but not in the neighborhood.”
In 1976, Federal Judge John T. Curtin accused city leaders of “creating, maintaining, permitting, condoning, and perpetuating racially segregated schools in the City of Buffalo,” and therefore ordered desegregation. School 54 was, as far as federal guidelines were concerned at this point, a segregated school with nearly 70% black enrollment.
A headline in the Buffalo Evening News at the time said Struggle for Stability At School 54 Watched As a Cameo of Hope. Many Parkside residents, lead by PTA (and later PCA) President Ruth Lampe, fought vehemently to keep the school integrated. Ruth and her husband David sent their two boys to the school.
Lampe spent many hours fighting rumors and misconceptions about 54 and Buffalo Public Schools in general. Many of her Parkside neighbors recall Lampe’s “won’t take no for an answer” tactics in insuring that they send their children to the neighborhood public school, and not one of the area parochial schools.
Meetings and open discussions on the issues facing 54 were lead by Board of Education Member Florence Baugh, Delaware Common Councilman Harlan Swift, and the co-Chairmen of the Citizens’ Council on Human Relations, Frank Mesiah and Norman Goldfarb.
Mirroring the strong PTA of the 1920s, a similar group in the 70s and 80s pushed forward an agenda that helped keep School 54 at the top of the class. Parkside residents Shirley Blickensderfer, Elva Radice, Marquerita Bell, Eileen Wagner, Chet Brodnicki, Jo Faber, Nancy Keech, Pat Schuder, Lori Lynch and numerous others were among those making sure the school received the parental, financial, political support it needed.
The story of School 54 could have easily been different without the legion of people interested in a strong school, and the strong in-school leadership of Principal Matthew Duggan and Sal Criscione (and their reciprocating concern for the neighborhood of which the school was a part). It is the school, in so many ways, that helped keep Parkside from slipping into the problems facing so man other fine city neighborhoods.
In 1980, School 54 became an Early Childhood Learning Center Magnet School, teaching grades Pre-K through 2. The school currently bears the name “Dr. George E. Blackman School of Excellence Early Childhood Center #54,” named in honor of the one-time Buffalo School Board President who spoke up fiercely for the type of teaching done at the school, whose current mission statement reads:
To create a
school environment in which all children can learn. Our mission is to deliver
instruction which is developmental, challenging, and success oriented.
As of 2009, the school is slated for massive renovation in Phase 4 of the Buffalo Schools on-going $1 billion reconstruction project.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon