Parkside in 2009 and beyond

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Parkside Today and Tomorrow

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:    

Residents 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.

The Parkside Sign was erected at the corner of Parkside and Florence in 1998.

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 Buffalo is?’

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.

Writing 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.

Michael Riester is one of many residents who’ve made a life of collecting and preserving the history of Parkside, while at the same time shaping its future. Pictured here in 1977, Mike wrote and edited a Parkside History brochure, the first attempt at collecting the history of the area in a single publication.

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.

Both author Steve Cichon and his wife Monica have served on the Parkside Community Association Board of Directors, and both are very active in community events, like the Parkside Home and Garden Tours. Steve serves as a lector at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, where they were married in 2001. Though it didn’t make the first 168 pages of this book, Steve believes his wedding day to be the greatest day in Parkside History.

This page is an excerpt from The Complete History of Parkside by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online. 

The original 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2009, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

 

Published by

Avatar

Steve Cichon

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