Buffalo 50 years ago: Allentown Art Festival, 1969

       By Steve Cichon

“A sea of humanity floods Allentown” read the headline in the Courier-Express as the 1969 edition of the Allentown Art Festival set new attendance records topping 250,000 people.

With 500 exhibitors, the 1969 show was the first where Allen Street was closed to vehicular traffic.

“The crowds were remarkable patient and didn’t seem to mind the surging mass of humanity on all the sidewalks and streets in the area,” wrote Courier reporter Deborah Williams. “It is truly an event for all tastes and ages.”

Torn-Down Tuesday: Keeping ‘garish, honky-tonk’ look out of Allentown in 1967

       By Steve Cichon

Courier-Express art critic and SUNY Buffalo State art professor D.K. Winebrenner had a weekly column in the Sunday paper where he opined not just on art, but on the state of aesthetic in Buffalo.

In a December 1967 piece, Winebrenner railed against the “commercial invasion” of Allentown.

Neba Roast Beef, Main Street, 1967

“The Chairman of artistic rehabilitation in the area, artist Virginia Tillou, has expressed alarm that stands, restaurants and taverns along this dignified thoroughfare may result in a ‘honky-tonk’ appearance and destroy the efforts of the Allentown Association to upgrade the surrounding area,” wrote Winebrenner.

Red flags went up when Burger Chef opened in the spot now occupied by Tim Hortons on Delaware Avenue near Allen Street. The fear was that Allentown would begin to fill with “garish establishments” like those found in suburbia – especially around Sheridan Drive and Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Mister Donut, Sheridan Drive at Longmeadow, 1967

Winebrenner wrote a scathing commentary on what is now, 50 years later, ubiquitous fast-food architecture.

“There is a new kind of pop architecture that is as audacious (and as annoying) as pop art. It is characterized by a general indifference toward standards and tastes of the past, borrows from dada and art nouveau (past and present), and flaunts architectural precepts (past and present) without batting an eye.

“Referred to casually as ‘hot dog stands,’ these culinary emporiums often specialize in less prosaic edibles such as hamburgers and other sandwiches, doughnuts and coffee, or the gastronomical delight of fried chicken. Some of these pop stands even sell pop.

McDonald’s, Niagara Falls Blvd. near Maple, 1967

“They come in many sizes, all small; and in many shapes, all boxes; but with imaginative appendages that conceal their humble concrete block structures, such as sweeping gable roofs that meet the ground, or more sophisticated modified mansards that mask nonexistent garrets. Often they are crowned with exotic spires and cupolas.

“Gone are the simple structures of local entrepreneurs, (albeit covered with a motley assortment of signs provided by distributors of ginger ale and cola) and in their place are standardized replicas of uniform designs which extol corporate images of national chains from coast to coast.

Kentucky Fried Chicken, across the Boulevard from the Boulevard Mall.

“Fortified with the advice of exterior decorators, the universally uniform trade marts come in bright colors and patterns that stand out against the Cape Cod homes in the suburbs and the pathetic patina of old city buildings, giving an aura of great importance to small structures surrounded by ‘black on black’ mats of black top. The effect is heightened when lighted colors, spotlights and neon tubes contrast with enveloping night.”

Carroll’s Drive In, Niagara Falls Blvd. just north of Sheridan, 1967.

Winebrenner, who was one of the founders of the Charles Burchfield Center at SUNY Buffalo State, died in 1975 at the age of 66. While he might have been pleased that his dissertation on garbage fast-food architecture was found and shared 52 years after it was first written, he probably wouldn’t have been pleased that the driving reason behind sharing the story was to share the wonderful photos of late ’60s eateries that accompanied the original piece.

The heart of Allentown: Delaware & Allen through the years

By Steve Cichon

This is the corner of Delaware and Allen as it appeared, looking north, in 1884.

It was the home of James Sawyer in 1880. He was an early businessman along the Central Wharf in Buffalo, eventually becoming a bank president and philanthropist. He worshiped at Westminster Presbyterian Church — the steeple of which is visible in the distance.

Also visible, in the foreground, are the streetcar tracks for the horse-drawn trolleys that plied Allen Street in the 1880s.

Sawyer died in 1881, and his daughter lived in the home until she sold it to a physician in 1908. The house played host to doctor’s offices, was the original home of the Mabel Danahy dress shop, and eventually became a Knights of Columbus hall.


Upstairs, a long line of artists living and worked in what was described as “one of the most cosmopolitan studio apartments in town” by the Courier-Express in 1947.

In 1962, the structure fell victim to a building boom along Delaware Avenue.

“Delaware Ave. is rapidly becoming the Park Ave. of Buffalo,” read a report in the Courier-Express.

“There is more construction now underway on the section of Delaware, between Gates Circle and downtown, than there has been at any other time in the last three decades.”

“The rapidly changing face of what is generally known as Buffalo’s most beautiful Avenue is a miracle of private redevelopment.”

The building is now home to Gurney, Becker and Bourne Realty and the McGuire Group.

Buffalo in the ’90s: Music at Nietzsche’s

By Steve Cichon

“It’s not as classy as the Tralf, as wild as the Continental or as bluesy as the Lafayette Tap Room,” wrote News Critic Anthony Violanti in 1994. “Nietzsche’s, though, fills a special niche.”

Buffalo News archives

“There’s never been a club in Buffalo history that has lasted this long where so many different styles of music have been represented,” the late Michael Meldrum told The News. He ran Nietzsche’s Monday night open mic night for decades before he died in 2011, using the stage there as a starting ground for hundreds of artists of many different sounds through the years.

Joe Rubino took the keys to 248 Allen Street in 1982, and within a year or two, the joint was pumping with live music every night. In the decades since then, Nietzsche’s has unquestionably been one of the driving forces and primary showcases for the local music scene it has helped nurture — especially during a bleak few years on the Buffalo music scene.

It was a time News Pop Music Critic Jeff Miers said was filled with “anxiety over generating enough cash to pay for beer, guitar strings, Ramen noodles and bus fare” for musicians.

For at least 50 years — from the 1930s through the early 1980s, the spot now known as Nietzsche’s was called the Jamestown Grill.

Jamestown Grill ad, 1937 (Buffalo Stories archives)

The baseball team was unbeatable for decades, and as the place was raided for underage drinking many times through the years, there’s little doubt that many West Side and Allentown teens had their first drinks in the place at 16 or 17 years old when the legal age was 18.

Buffalo in the ’70s: TV reporter chased with a hatchet at ‘Deep Throat’ debut

By Steve Cichon

Nationwide controversy erupted when the pornographic film industry took a step toward legitimate films with the release of “Deep Throat” in 1973.

Unlike previous adult flicks, this one featured a plot along with actual attempts at acting and cinematic values.

According to an Associated Press account, the film was “sneaked into Buffalo” one weekend in the fall of 1973 and played at the Allendale Theatre on Allen Street. That Monday, State Supreme Justice Theodore Kaiser viewed the film, along with co-feature “When the West Was Fun,” and ordered the films seized and the theater manager, 73-year-old Benjamin Solomon, arrested and charged with violating obscenity laws.

That weekend, as word spread of the controversial film being shown in Buffalo, a Channel 2 news crew set up outside the Allentown theater to talk with people on their way into watch the movie. When Solomon saw this, he bolted from the ticket booth wildly swinging at reporter Susan King and cameraman Steven Cocklin with a hammer hatchet.

He tried to hit King and missed. King, who was Buffalo’s first female television news anchor after coming to WGR-TV in 1972, filed a report with police and Solomon was charged with menacing and harassment on top of the obscenity charges.

First as the local news anchor during the “Today” show, then as a featured reporter and weekend evening news anchor, King had quickly become one of Buffalo’s favorite television personalities in only about two years in Buffalo. She also spent several months as the primary weekday anchor at Channel 2 after Ron Hunter left the anchor chair. She received widespread critical acclaim, but was ultimately replaced by Rich Kellman.

Buffalo Stories archives

At the time, there were wasn’t a television station in the country that employed a permanent, solo female news anchor. Channel 2 and King weren’t bound to be the team to cross that historic threshold, but there was no disappointment in an interview with The News.

“I can’t say that they lead me on,” King told The News in 1974. “It was a wild summer and I learned a lot,” she said, making reference to Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation, all which came during her time in the anchor chair.

Buffalo News archives

Within a few months, King went from Buffalo to a station in Washington, D.C., before moving to ABC as a White House Correspondent.

Susan King is now the Dean of the UNC School of Media and Journalism in Chapel Hill, NC.

As for “Deep Throat,” in the end, the owners of the Allendale were fined $3,000 for showing the film. Theater manager Solomon admitted to swinging the axe at King, pleaded guilty, and was given a suspended sentence. The 103-year-old Allendale Theatre is now the home of the nonprofit Theatre of Youth Company.

Controversy erupted again in Buffalo the following summer when the Granada Theatre on Main Street in University Heights started showing “The One and Only Throat.” A judge put a ban on the showing of the film under that name as well — but not before ads made it into papers around Western New York.

Buffalo Stories archives

What It Looked Like Wednesday: Allen and Franklin, 1981

By Steve Cichon

When Buffalonians talk about neighborhoods in danger of being lost to freefalling divestment, Allen Street has not been a part of that conversation for a very long time.

Buffalo News archive

Thirty-five years ago, the story was a bit different. “Boarded Up Dreams” was the title of this photo as it appeared in The News in 1981.

The “burned and boarded up” buildings on that corner had been in the sights of developers Stanley Collesano and Dennis Insalaco, but plans for all four corners fizzled when three banks pulled $3.1 million in promised cash — which in turn led to $1.6 in federal urban development grants going away.

The building, minus the boarded windows, still stands a block from Main Street and the hope of the new Children’s Hospital and Medical School, visible from the building’s stoop.

Buffalo in ’40s: Albright Art Gallery opens series featuring Burchfield paintings

By Steve Cichon

On April 28, 1999, News Reporter Tom Buckham took a look at a Burchfield watercolor that had come up for auction on a website “known as Ebay.” Fifty-five years earlier, the Albright (not yet -Knox) Art Gallery opened a series of comparisons between Burchfield paintings and photos of the scenes painted. Included in the series is a Wadsworth Street home in Buffalo.

The art center bearing the name of the renowned artist, who lived much of his life in Buffalo, has been a part of the arts renaissance in the city. In 2013, the Burchfield Penny Art Center, at 1300 Elmwood Ave., celebrated five years across the street from the Albright-Knox.

Camera, artist record scene differently

“The different languages spoken by the camera lens and the artist’s brush are illustrated in these two versions of the same scene in Wadsworth Street near Days Park.”