Parkside’s City living constants, places of worship, and places to learn

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Keeping a Thumb on City Living Constants

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.”

Traffic

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.

The Park Meadow, early 80s.

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.”

Violent Crime

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 October, 2000.

St. Vincent’s was known for it’s Latin mass, seen here in 1992, Fr. Valentine Welker officiating.

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.

“Church 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. “

Central Presbyterian, Main & Jewett

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).”

Refreshing 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.” 

Institutions of Learning

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.

But 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

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

 

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Steve Cichon

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