It’s almost difficult to imagine Western New York and especially a Western New York snowfall without the phrase that Jimmy Griffin joked would wind up on his tombstone. But while Buffalonians have likely been drinking their way through snowstorms for as long as there have been people here, we’ve only been “staying inside and grabbing a six-pack” for the 32 years since a blizzard descended on Buffalo in January 1985.
It had been only been eight years since the Blizzard of ’77 and Western New Yorkers were still a little jumpy with memories of being stranded, 12-foot drifts, and people freezing to death in their cars.
Heading into a late January weekend in 1985, forecasters were calling for as much snow as the city had seen since ’77. Ultimately, three feet of snow fell in three days, but the weekend timing was actually perfect. One of the lessons learned in ’77 was to keep people off the roads so you could keep the roads cleared.
One would expect the mayor to be out front with snow emergency communications, but during the Blizzard of ’85, Mayor James D. Griffin was Buffalo’s acting Streets Commissioner, coordinating snow removal efforts from City Hall and the heavy equipment depot at Broadway Barns.
Why? The Common Council had repeatedly rejected the mayor’s nomination of Joseph Scinta as Streets Commissioner. After the fifth rejection, in November 1984, Griffin told Buffalonians to “blame their councilmen when the snow was piling up” on city streets.
When the blizzard hit two months later, Griffin was determined to show Buffalonians what he was doing personally to get the streets cleared. He even rode a few shifts on the plows. The mayor issued a driving ban and ordered the police to enforce it. But he also encouraged people to stay home and watch the 49ers and Dolphins in the Super Bowl that weekend, maybe with beverage in hand.
Police enforce a driving ban during the Blizzard of ’85. Buffalo News archives
“Stay inside, grab a six-pack, and watch a good football game,” Mayor Griffin was caught saying on a Channel 7 camera. “Have a six-pack handy so you can enjoy yourself. Don’t take this too seriously.”
The consensus was that most Buffalonians liked seeing Don Shula, Dan Marino and the Dolphins beat up in the Super Bowl, and most liked the job Griffin did in beating back the Blizzard of ’85. The News later gave Griffin high marks for his handling of the blizzard and its aftermath, saying he did “a good job” acting as his own commissioner.
1985 was a mayoral election year, and the Blizzard of ’85 was a central campaign issue. Common Council President and primary opponent George Arthur questioned the city’s preparedness and overall plan for snow fighting.
“When you get 45 inches of snow, I challenge anyone to come up with a plan that works,” said Griffin.
Others attacked the six-pack advice as “unbecoming a mayor.” Griffin would have none of it.
As quoted by Brian Meyer and David Breslawski in their 1985 book “The World According to Griffin,” the mayor hammered back with, “I’m proud of the statement. You get a blizzard here in Buffalo, you have to get off the street. I’ll probably use it again. I don’t see anything wrong with it. It was a humorous statement.”
Griffin was elected to a third term in 1985 and a fourth in 1989.
Did we grab six packs?
But did people heed Mayor Griffin’s advice, that first time it was suggested Western New York grab some beers and relax?
Delaware Avenue, The Blizzard of 1985. Buffalo News archives
In the days following the Blizzard of 1985, The News checked in with a handful of stores to see how they fared.
The Tops Market at 2226 Delaware Ave. – today the spot is Big Lots— and the 7-Eleven on Sheridan Drive—now Romeo & Juliet’s Bakery & Café—reported big runs on junk food and beer as Western New Yorkers apparently dutifully followed the mayor’s advice.
Forty years removed, it’s still evident if you think about it — despite all the death, destruction and jokes, Buffalonians enjoyed the Blizzard of ’77.
On the storm’s first anniversary, University at Buffalo researcher Arthur G. Cryns released a report that outlined the results of a detailed survey of 104 random Western New Yorkers.
By now this anniversary week, you’ve become reacquainted with the numbers. There were at least 23 deaths, 13,000 people were stranded away from home and 175,000 workers lost $36 million in wages.
“The blizzard furnished a considerable proportion of area residents with a welcome reprieve from the routines and obligations of everyday life,” Cryns told the Associated Press in 1978. “Others found occasion in the storm to celebrate and have a good time.”
Cryns’ survey also found that while Buffalonians still held a generally positive outlook on area weather, it was also clear that most people would be more cautious and more vigilant for future predictions of snow emergencies. That prediction has proved true.
The survey might now even have been necessary, as on that first anniversary of the blizzard, Buffalo held the first Blizzard Ball.
Allentown antiques and art dealer Bill Eaton was one of the founders of the Blizzard Ball, which ran for every year for a decade and a few later anniversaries of the storm as well.
“Maybe the blizzard was lousy for business and plenty of other things, but it brought out fellowship in the people of Buffalo,” Eaton told The News in 1978. “Most of us had fun. Got to know one another better.”
Exactly two weeks after the blizzard had started, an editorial in the Buffalo Evening News wrapped it up this way:
“The fact remains that the people of this area were put to an extremely rugged test, which they passed with courage, character and good humor. And that, too, ought to become a permanent part of the Buffalo legend and image associated with the Blizzard of ’77.”
Just what exactly happened to the animals at the Buffalo Zoo during the Blizzard of ’77 has become one of those great stories that everyone seems to have some faded recollection of having heard before, but nobody knows for sure.
So, as you sit around waiting out a heavy snow squall in the warmest corner of the gin mill, everyone throws in details until a story emerges that is fanciful enough to have happened during one of the most fabled events in Buffalo’s history.
The real story might not live up to the craziest version concocted on Buffalo barstools over the last 40 years, but it’s still pretty fanciful.
Two days into the storm, on Sunday, Jan. 28, the giant 8-foot snow drifts that had blown up against their habitat allowed three Scandinavian Reindeer to easily traverse an area usually filled with fences and moats and make their way past the Delaware Park meadow, up towards Buffalo State College.
That’s about where one of the three 500-pound deer was hit with a tranquilizer gun. The excitement caused the others to scatter.
Word of the animals on the loose was broadcast, and good Samaritans helped triangulate the location of the deer, one of which was captured in a Buffalo backyard. The other was lassoed on a Village of Kenmore side street.
Not all the stories ended so happily.
Two sheep wandered out of their pen in the petting zoo. One was safely returned, the other apparently made it over a drift and was never found.
With doorways and paths enveloped in massive amounts of snow, in most instances, food and hay for animals were dropped in from roofs of buildings.
Despite zookeepers’ doing the best they could, 16 birds — including two black swans — and seven mammals — including one of the escaped reindeer and an antelope — died as a result of the storm.
They didn’t starve, acting zoo director Terry Gladkowski told the media as the city was still cleaning up after the storm. It was mainly stress and the cold that killed the animals, many of which were initially caught outside and died later after being brought in from the cold and snow. He said the birds “just basically froze,” and other animals couldn’t receive the daily medical care they needed.
The storm also caused about $420,000 damage to the zoo’s buildings and grounds.
There is a fictionalized version of life in the Buffalo Zoo during the blizzard, written in 1983 by Robert Bahr in the form of a children’s book. According to the New York Times Book Review, the basic plot of “Blizzard at the Zoo” is exactly what you might expect.
“Many of the animals romped and frisked, some stoically endured, and others, like the waterfowl, had to be rescued from freezing ponds.”
In the days and weeks after the Blizzard of ’77 struck Buffalo, full-color images filled Time Magazine and nightly network newscasts, showing Buffalonians continuing to smile and continuing to dig out.
It’s probably our smiles and the sense of resiliency that came through in the news coverage that made Buffalo an acceptable butt of jokes during a deadly natural disaster.
Johnny Carson’s first joke about the Blizzard might have been his version of the “we could have told you Buffalo was a disaster area before President Carter’s declaration” joke, but they didn’t stop there.
The iconic host of NBC’s Tonight Show from 1962 to 1992 lost a few fans in Western New York when the Buffalo jokes continued through the clean-up and into July, and seemed come up often for a quick laugh. A North Tonawanda man wrote a letter to the editor tired of Carson’s “low-intelligence snide remarks.”
Heat wave in New York City? They’re still cleaning up snow in Buffalo, Johnny might say.
“Nobody wants to live there,” Carson said. “Not even O.J. Simpson,” who was America’s highest-profile “Buffalonian” and had been through a contemptuous contract dispute with the Bills before the season that had just ended.
Johnny’s pals got in on the act, too. In one Tonight Show appearance while the clean-up still continued, Don Rickles referred to Buffalonians as “all those blue people” to a chorus of laughter in Carson’s Burbank studio.
After a year of the jokes, Buffalo’s new mayor had just had enough. In his first weeks as Buffalo’s chief executive. James D. Griffin sent Carson a letter.
“You have a golden opportunity to make it a great ’78 by spending a minute or so each night … extolling some of the virtues of Buffalo,” Griffin wrote, going on to list many of Buffalo’s best attributes, but saving the one for which Carson might have a soft spot as last.
“Most assuredly, Johnny, I invite you to share our pride in the fact that the M. Wile Company in Buffalo is the sole manufacturer of that famous clothing known as the Johnny Carson line. And that’s a line I’ll hang my coat on … because after all, that makes us Number 1 -doesn’t it?”
But alas, Griffin’s letter didn’t end Carson’s references to Buffalo’s cold and snow.
In 1980, when there was no snow for Buffalo’s winter carnival, tourism officials sent Carson a telegram asking if he might be able to help find some.
During the particularly warm and snowless winter of 1983, Buffalo had green grass while much of the East Coast dealt with a barrage of snow and cold.
“We’d love to have Johnny Carson come to Buffalo,” tourism official Pat Donlon told United Press International. “The only problem is he’d probably get sunstroke.”
Maybe it was right up until January 27, 1977 that Buffalo was known as a blue collar town. A hardscrabble steel making town. A simple, shot-and-a-beer, look-a- guy-in-the-eye town. It was known as a place with long winters and a string of rotten luck— getting hit hard by the changes in the world through the 1970s.
You knew that OJ Simpson played football in Buffalo and Howdy Doody’s pal Buffalo Bob Smith was from there– but you probably didn’t know about chicken wings yet, because it was a 1980 article in the New Yorker that really put the Buffalo wing in the national spotlight.
Then, starting on January 28, 1977, Buffalo began appearing on the national TV news every night for weeks as the city dug out from The Blizzard of ’77.
The first question of Buffalonians at conventions or in airports was no longer about OJ or Niagara Falls or steel.
“Did the snow melt yet?”
It was always one of the things Buffalo was known for, but 40 years ago today, it became the thing. Even losing four straight Super Bowls and having the longest playoff drought in major league sports hasn’t been able to shake the Blizzard of ’77’s stranglehold on our national identity.
Here it is, 40 years later, and we’re just starting to wholly embrace this wintry identity which Mother Nature foisted on us, and hopefully making more and more people aware that making the best of the cold, snow, and ice is something we’re great at.
Even though a few winters have really kicked us in the teeth, we sure know how to do winter in Buffalo.. and we even do the winters that have done us.
Having the Blizzard of ’77 notched in our belts makes us bad ass. We’ve seen the worst of it and know that we mostly survived. But our hearts often turn to those whose death in 1977 made us more careful as a people.
We’ll never forget the ten people who froze to death in their cars– their awful fate is our permanent warning.
We learned lessons of neighborliness and what it truly means to be a Buffalonian. One tragic example of a the kind of Buffalo guy we all strive to be was Officer Carl O. Reese.
Officer Reese worked for 25 straight hours at the beginning of the blizzard, pushing cars to get people on their way and bringing people stranded just south of downtown medicine and food, putting their health and comfort before his own. After more than a full day on his feet, he went back out to help free cars stuck on the Skyway.
Officer Reese collapsed of exhaustion and suffered a heart attack upon arriving home after that marathon shift– he was only 38 years old, and survived by a wife and small child.
From the pages of the Courier-Express: a day-by-day recap of the Blizzard of ’77:
Coming this week with BN Chronicles’ look back at The Blizzard of ’77:
Johnny Carson and how Buffalo became a permanent punchline:
See the front pages of the Buffalo Evening News and Courier-Express, watch a full-half-hour broadcast of the WBEN-TV Channel 4 news, and listen to radio around the dial in Buffalo at the height of the Blizzard.
Stan Makowski was a pretty good bowler, and even as mayor played in tournaments for Tippie’s Social & Athletic Club.
Buffalo News archives
At one time or another during his 10 years at Allied Mills, he lost the tip of an index finger in an accident. Even as mayor, when the guys were playing softball and there were two outs on the board, someone would inevitably ask, waiting for him to show off the wound.
“Hey Mack (which is what everyone around The Valley called Makowski, even as mayor) how many outs? One-and-a-half?”
Among the chorus of laughter every time was Makowski’s own laugh.
Buffalo News archives
A shop steward at Grain Millers Local 110, even as mayor (and until the day he died), he proudly carried his membership card in his wallet. He earned the card unloading hundred-pound sacks in the railyard at the grain mill. Mrs. Makowski used to sew an extra layer or two into the shoulders of his flannel shirts, because the friction of the burlap sacks flying next to his neck would burn holes down to the skin.
“I’m not much of a speaker, but I am a worker,” Makowski said upon becoming mayor.
With Mrs. and Mayor Sedita. Buffalo News archives
He served three years in the Army during World War II, including eight months in Iwo Jima.
So much about Stanley Makowski sounds like it could be ripped from the biography of just about any Buffalo son of Polish immigrants, member of “The Greatest Generation,” a man who never lived more than a block away from the house where he was born.
Buffalo News archives
He was humble and mostly quiet — not prone to extremes and rarely yelled or swore. Everyone knew he’d been around, that he’d been in a fight or two, that he’d seen some things in the Army. People knew he was tough enough, and he didn’t feel the need to constantly tell people.
Officially opening city pools at Schiller Park, 1973. Buffalo News archives
He was happy to be part of the team, part of the group. He didn’t need to be noticed. Not the kind of guy who filled up a room when he walked in.
He remembered his friends. He remembered where he came from.
Buffalo News archives
He was that same guy as mayor.
Those triple-shouldered shirts had long gone to the rag man, but when Mayor Stanley Makowski was home on the weekends — every weekend, he’d pull on the same pair of gray flannel work pants he wore when he was unloading grain off boxcars. Like every other man in the neighborhood, the weekend was the time to re-putty the window or paint the fence.
Buffalo News archives
People he knew his whole life might call him “Mayor,” but just as many still called him Mack. That was true especially at neighborhood places like Ike’s on Van Rensselaer, where plenty of guys in The Valley would walk to get their hair cut. Next door to Ike’s was Tippie’s — where most of those guys, Mack included, would first show off their new haircuts and then catch up with the boys over a beer or two.
He was just a neighborhood guy. It might have been that the thing he liked most about being mayor is being able to help regular folks and make City Hall work for them.
Buffalo News archives
By the time Makowski had become mayor in 1974, the economic and psychological slide that city leaders had been white-washing for decades were becoming difficult to slough off. Buffalo’s industrial decline seemed to burst out of control.
His first budget as mayor called for belt-tightening that translated into more than 350 jobs cut from City Hall. There was a very tangible impact on those getting pink slips, but there was an emotional impact on Buffalonians across the board.
If anyone saw where Buffalo was heading early on, and worked to avoid it, it was Makowski. His career in elected office began in 1955 when he challenged the endorsed Democrat for a seat on the Erie County Board of Supervisor s— the forerunner of today’s county legislature. He won by four votes with calls for efficiency in government.
Buffalo News archives
His earliest fights in government — in 1956 — were trying to convince the city and suburbs to begin implementing baby steps towards a far more efficient metropolitan-style government.
“We must think in terms of a metropolitan region when we are making future plans for the county,” Makowski said when speaking of roads, sewers and water. Before the end of the 1950s, he’d become Buffalo’s youngest Councilman.
From left: Erie County Democratic Chairman Joe Crangle, Erie County Sheriff Michael Amico, Makowski, County Comptroller (later Congressman) Henry Nowak and Mayor Frank Sedita. (Buffalo News archives)
In 1957, his calls for a countywide, unified effort in snow removal fell on deaf ears. Twenty years later, Makowski was mayor during one of the seminal moments in Buffalo’s history — The Blizzard of ’77.
Makowski with Governor Carey after the Blizzard of ’77. Buffalo News archives
A News poll at the time showed that a majority of Western New Yorkers thought Makowski did at least a fair job in handling the unprecedented natural disaster, but others said he was indecisive.
Particularly since it was shortly after the storm he decided not to seek re-election, Makowski’s name gets tossed around like one of those hundred-pound sacks of grain as somehow “responsible” for the unpredicted, unparalleled onslaught of Mother Nature and the negative attention Buffalo received afterwards.
It seems to be human nature to need a culprit, or to boil history down to a sentence or a simple idea, but it bothers most of those who were closest to him to hear Makowski being “blamed for the blizzard,” mostly because there were few Western New Yorkers who took the inability to get people the help they needed more personally than Makowski.
The blizzard hurt him personally. He struggled with the fact that there was no more he could do. Fire engines were frozen and even the National Guard could only work in half-hour shifts in the cold, but that people were suffering and he couldn’t end it affected him deeply. He openly admitted he was probably a little too sensitive to criticism and any inability to meet the needs of the people.
It weighed on him to the point where he was ready to walk away from City Hall, and go back full time to that simpler life he never really left in the first place.
Buffalo News archives
A final straw might have been a picket line set up outside a fundraiser.
As a union man himself, Makowski never begrudged any worker the right to picket — but as a family man, wanted to protect his small children from any abuse that might be sent his way. When the mayor, his wife, and their eight kids entered the Statler by a side door, several protestors saw it — and lobbed some choice words at the mayor in ear shot of the smallest of the brood.
Mayor Makowski with his two youngest children at a Hotel Statler fundraiser, 1977. Buffalo News archives
At the end of his time as mayor, a News editorial said Makowski had “been hurt by his own nice guy” image, but it wasn’t an image. It was the man, in City Hall, in the grain mill, at Tippie’s Social Club, in the home he lived in when he died, which was next door to the home in which he was born.
Pioneer announcer and journalist Lou Douglas has died. He was 85.
The Korean War vet came to WBEN-AM/FM/TV in 1957 and his unflappable, smart, level-headed approach to news anchoring and interviewing was part of the fabric of the station for 30 years. Douglas was considered by most as the dean of broadcast journalists.
In his early years as a junior announcer at The Buffalo Evening News stations, television still played second fiddle to AM radio. Many of his early assignments were on Channel 4, including regular 6pm walks from WBEN’s Statler studios to The Buffalo Evening News’ building near the foot of Main Street. There, he’d read the 6 o’clock news as prepared by The News’ staff, broadcast–as was announced at the beginning of each newscast– “From the Editorial Floor of the Buffalo Evening News.”
Douglas would continue to appear as a reporter, host, and announcer on TV through the 1970s, but he is best remembered for his work at WBEN Radio.
It was his voice that anchored coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Buffalo in 1962. He broadcast from inside the prison complex during the Attica uprising. Living in Kenmore, his home was closest to the WBEN’s Elmwood Avenue studios– which meant extended duty for Lou during the Blizzard of 1977.
He always sounded even-keeled on the air, and was the same way in the newsroom, where he was remembered for reading the Wall Street Journal and never being afraid to pick up the phone to calmly make the most outlandish and seemingly impossible interview requests for his afternoon and evening interview spots.
In spanning three decades, Douglas really had two separate careers; one as a staff announcer, and one as a journalist. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the people you saw on Channel 4 and heard on WBEN were announcers– and only announcers. Union rules dictated that they could not and would not write their own news scripts or conduct news interviews or gather information.
By the mid-1970s, those rules had changed, and most of the “announcers” who had been bringing Buffalo news and weather since the ’40s and ’50s were gone. Not Douglas, though– his abilities as a staff announcer complimented his ability to gather the news, interview the newsmakers, and write his own newscasts.
He retired from WBEN in 1987, and spent a brief period at WWKB Radio a few years later before retiring for good.
In 2010, I spoke to Lou about his days in radio, and the possibility of the Statler building facing the wrecking ball. This interview wasn’t meant for broadcast, but is wonderful none the less. That interview, along with some career highlights, are listed for playback below. Please feel free to use any of the audio or photos in the celebration of Lou’s life in any media.
Steve with Lou Douglas, 2010:
WBEN’s Election 85 coverage: Kevin Keenan, Lou Douglas, Brian Meyer, Mark Hamrick, and John Murphy
WBEN News with Lou Douglas, 1973. Attica uprising, will Mayor Sedita resign?
WBEN News with Lou Douglas, January 1977. The Blizzard of ’77.
WBEN’s Coverage of JFK’s Visit to Buffalo, 1962. Lou Douglas live from Niagara Square.
BUFFALO, NY – It was the benchmark storm by which we measure all storms in Western New York. In killing 29 of our Western New York neighbors and cutting us off from the world (and heat, and food) for a week, this storm also gave Buffalo a greater dose of respect for the power and cruelty of what winter can bring; it’s a lesson that has become a part of our DNA. While we scoff at snow and predictions of snow, deep down, we know what’s possible.
We haven’t had an event like the Blizzard of ’77 since, and we are nearly certain to never repeat it.
While we’ve been hit with weather that had elements of that watershed snow storm– a blizzard in 1985, 7 feet of snow in 2000, The October Surprise storm– we as a people and a society learned from that first one and each successive one. Our civil authorities, police, fire, road crews, public weather forecasters, commercial forecasters– everyone is ready to make sure that we remain safe during potentially deadly winter weather events.
This page is being published as the snow is beginning to fall during “Winter Storm Vulcan,” which has prompted the National Weather Service to issue a Blizzard Warning for Western New York. We don’t use the “b-word” lightly here. While it’s the second blizzard warning of this unusually snowy and extremely cold winter of 2013-14, this winter marks the first blizzard warnings in 20 years.
With today’s snowfall in mind, if Jimmy Griffin were with us today, he might modify that famous advice he gave during the Blizzard of ’85. Sure, he’d still encourage us to stay home and grab a six-pack, but he might also encourage us to enjoy some time online, remember some long-gone names, faces and names, and remember that it could be much worse that what we’re experiencing today.
From the Audio Vault…
For this tremendous collection we are indebted to longtime radio enthusiast Tom Taber, who spent the night of January 29, 1977, tuning around the radio dial at his home in Albion, NY. Much of the audio is scratchy and fades in and out, but I think that helps paint a better picture of sitting in your bedrooom, playing with the radio while watching the snow pile up outside the window.
BUFFALO, NY- So sure, it’s freezing. This is a prolonged cold snap like many of us in Buffalo can’t remember, especially in light of a couple of really mild winters.
Now you’re thinking, so what does Cichon have for us today? More on the anniversary of the Blizzard of ’77?
Well, if you want that, here’s a copy of a Channel 4 newscast from just after the Blizzard. When I worked at Channel 4, I garbage-picked a 1977 copy of this tape when a newer copy was dubbed in the late 90s. This tape is very interesting, if you want to wallow in cold.
But me, I’m wishing for warmth. So instead of the 37th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’77, I’d rather talk about another upcoming anniversary: It was 25 years ago this year that the last cars groaned and creaked along the shores of Lake Erie on the Comet.
It’s been a quarter of a century since we spilled across the Peace Bridge to be greeted by delicious all-day suckers, Paul Bunyan, and that creepy piano playing guy in Laff-in-the-Dark.
If the thought of a quick PSSSSHT of air up your shorts in the Magic Palace or the sound of the talking garbage can thanking you for keeping the park clean doesn’t warm you up today, there might not be anything that will.
If you’re old enough to remember, watching this 30 second TV spot will warm your heart if not your skin today…
It’s the 25th anniversary of Crystal Beach closing this year, and it’s also the 10th anniversary of my Buffalo pop culture website, staffannouncer.com. All year long, I’ll be sprucing up some of the pages that have been there for a while, and creating a bunch of new ones that I’ve been meaning to create for years.
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