Love him or not, there is no disputing the fact that James D. Griffin relished his time as Buffalo’s mayor, and there were few events where Mayor Griffin was more joyful than he was each year at Buffalo’s St. Patrick’s Day parades.
Buffalo News archives
“This is my 16th parade as mayor, but my 32nd all-around,” recalled Griffin at his last parade as mayor in 1993, as he had a beer outside DuBois Restaurant on Niagara Street. Unperturbed by the 14-degree windchill, he told News reporter Lauri Githens, “This is a great day. Every day is a blessed one for the Irish.”
The parade has been on Delaware Avenue now for decades, but before the building of the MetroRail in the early ’80s, Buffalo’s Irish and Irish-at-heart would parade up Main Street from Memorial Auditorium to North Street.
Bagpipers pipe past AM&A’s at Main and Court in 1972. (Buffalo News archives)
Since 1994, Buffalo’s second St. Patrick’s Day parade, the “Old First Ward Parade,” has brought grassroots marching and wearing of the green back to where it all started.
This 1937 photo shows the start of that year’s parade at Elk (now South Park Avenue) and Louisiana Street.
Buffalo News archives
News reporter Anne Neville wrote a comprehensive history of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2014. You can read that story here.
The area is now the parking lot next to the HSBC Atrium on Perry Street, but in 1945, it was the home of the Market Terminal Warehouse.
Buffalo News archives
The building’s name referred to the Elk Street Market, which was across Michigan Avenue from the building. The Market Terminal Warehouse filled nearly an entire block bounded by Perry, Mississippi and Scott streets.
The building had been, for generations, the home of a sheepskin tannery owned by Jacob Schoellkopf. Schoellkopf used the fortune he made in tanning to invest first in milling and brewing, then railroads and banking, before becoming the “King of Electricity” after buying up several firms that were trying to harness the energy of Niagara Falls to make electricity.
He eventually also started the Schoellkopf Chemical and Dye Co. along Elk Street and the Buffalo River, which was eventually bought out by National Aniline.
After years of back taxes piled up, Schoellkopf & Co. sold the building in 1945.
The building was also one of many Buffalo industrial scenes photographed by abstract painter Ralston Crawford, who grew up in Buffalo and attended Lafayette High School before going on to capture industrial scenes like Buffalo’s grain elevators, bridges, trains, and aircraft. Considered one of the innovators of Precisionism, Crawford’s work graced both the covers of magazines such as Fortune and the halls of such great museums as Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The exact demolition date of the building is unknown, but dates to sometime before the opening of the then-Marine Midland Atrium in 1991.
By the time this photo was taken in 1978, vast tracts of one of Buffalo’s oldest working-class neighborhoods were long gone.
The decades’ old shanties of the First Ward and surrounding neighborhoods had long been a target of urban renewal. The Niagara Extension of the Thruway took over railroad right-of-ways, but it cut some streets and neighborhoods in half in the process. The Commodore Perry public housing project replaced block after block of rich, old-time neighborhoods with soulless government-owned tenements.
The Irish families that lived and worked there for generations left as the harbor and grain jobs did.
Thirty-seven years after this photo was snapped, parts of the First Ward are seeing new life. Within blocks on Fulton and Marvin, there are the Elk Terminal Lofts and the mixed use Fairmont Creamery Building. There’s all the development of the Buffalo River Works, Canalside and HarborCenter areas a short walk away.
And while the lot where this storefront/tavern/home once stood is now empty, it stands directly across the street from the Seneca Creek Casino.
Residents of the Perry Projects organized a rally and protest at St. Brigid’s School to “alert people to the methods used by the Communists to infiltrate our way of life” after a pro-Communist petition was passed through the area.
When we think romantically about “Buffalo’s good old days,” when a man could walk into any plant of factory in town, put in a good day’s work and provide well for his family, one part of the equation we often forget is labor strife.
This week in 1950, about 500 grain elevator employees walked out on strike. That decision had an impact on another 4,000 workers who refused to cross picket lines or were idled because their work was reliant on the strikers. These included grain scoopers, grain car coopers, longshoremen, construction workers and railroad switchmen. In many cases, grain stored in the elevators was transferred to nearby Buffalo grain mills for rendering. The mills were also closed down.
As 300 carloads of grain sat on docks a few days into the strike, there was some mild violence and minor injuries. The state also ruled that none of the 4,500 idled workers would be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Lt. Simon O’Donnell, a native of Ireland, lived at 268 Elk St. — which today would be 268 South Park Ave., if it were still standing. And, if still standing, the building would be across South Park from the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino.
O’Donnell was assigned to the Ohio Street Firehouse and to the fireboat George R. Potter — one of three fireboats working in Buffalo at the time. When he died 105 years ago this week, in July, 1910, he was one of the city’s most popular firefighters.