Willow Lawn is a short street with a long history.
Like the rest of the southern two-thirds of Parkside, the properties on Willow Lawn were once a part of newspaper publisher Elam Jewett’s Willow Lawn farm and estate, most of which was sold in part to the city for Delaware Park and in part to the Parkside Improvement Company (and others) for development into the Parkside neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Elam Jewett died in 1887, but until his widow’s death in 1901, Mrs. Caroline Jewett retained the family home at the corner of Main and Jewett Parkway and parcel between School 54 and the parkway which bore the family name.
This ad appeared in the Buffalo Evening News in 1901.
To take a step back, the history of Willow Lawn goes back another century or so to the earliest days of Buffalo, when the Parkside area– far outside the village and then city limits– was known as the Buffalo Plains.
Dr. Daniel Chapin was among the area’s most sought-after medical professionals when he moved to the rugged frontier that was Buffalo in 1807. He built a rustic log cabin on his 175-acre farm on the Buffalo Plains stretched from what is now Main Street west back through Delaware Park, The Buff State campus, and the Richardson Complex property.
Chapin traveled on foot between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, with little more than his dog, his gun, and the tools of his medical trade. He was a naturalist and insisted on keeping the natural plant life on his farm in as natural a state as possible. We have him to thank for the native beauty of the area of his land that is today Delaware Park.
During the War of 1812, part of the Chapin farm also acted as an encampment for soldiers who had come from the south to defend the nation’s border at Buffalo. Many of those men died of exposure and disease, and at least 300 of them remain interred in the part of Daniel Chapin’s backyard where he helped bury them– in the Mound in the Meadow underneath the Delaware Park golf course.
Chapin’s son was commander in the militia of Erie County during the War of 1812, and around 1820, Col. William W. Chapin built the family a larger log cabin much closer to what is today the corner of Main and Jewett.
Barton Atkins, a prolific writer who grew up in the Buffalo Plains, had great memories of playing with Col. Chapin’s son Harold on the property he remembered well during the 1820s and 1830s.
A primitive home of a pioneer farmer, a log dwelling, the yard dotted with trees indigenous to the soil, and enclosed with a rail fence. The barns, corn-cribs, sheds stored with farm implements all in plain view. Multitudes of domestic fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens. peacocks, and guinea hens, rambling about, the pastures alive with horses, cattle, swine, sheep, and goats; the whole presenting a scene decidedly rural.
-Barton Atkins, describing the scene at what is now Main & Jewett in the 1820s
Col. Chapin’s 1820 log cabin was expanded and encompassed by a home that was larger and more aesthetically pleasing as the years went by. the place became known as Willow Lawn, named after the many willows planted by Dr. Chapin on the property.
By the time Elam Jewett purchased the Willow Lawn estate in 1864, he was one of Buffalo’s leading citizens. The lifelong Republican and publisher of the Commercial Advertiser newspaper was close friends with Millard Fillmore.
Fillmore and Jewett traveled through Europe together in 1856, and it was likely in Europe that Jewett was introduced to “the love apple,” today known as tomatoes. The tomatoes Jewett grew at Willow Lawn were thought to be the first tomatoes grown in Buffalo.
In the run up to the Civil War, Jewett and the Commercial Advertiser took a hard line against slavery. This sentiment may have been overplayed in a grand-niece’s retelling of the Jewett story in the Courier-Express in 1941. Along side several other over-statements of fact, “a concealed subterranean room” at Jewett homestead is mentioned as a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad.
It’s mentioned here primarily to debunk it– in hundreds of pages read on Jewett and Willow Lawn, and tens of thousands of pages read on the history of the Parkside area, I’ve never seen another reference to the Underground Railroad outside this one article, again, with a descendant speaking 80 years after the Civil War as a source.
Before his death in 1887, Jewett gave the Episcopal Church the land for the Church of the Good Shepherd, and donated most of the cost of it’s construction.
In 1892, Mrs. Jewett donated land to the City of Buffalo for Public School 54– known for many years as “The Parkside School.” That school was built on the land currently occupied by the present School 54’s parking lot.
In the following years, the Willow Lawn Estate would be opened to the public in raising money for the church and the school. The Beltline trains and Cold Spring horse-cars were listed as convenient modes of transportation for folks visiting Willow Lawn for one such fundraiser in 1889.
The life of Mrs. Caroline Wheeler Jewett , filled with years and graced with all womanly virtues, came to an end at 8 o’clock last evening, when she passed away at the family home, Willow Lawn.
In 1905, Jewett’s heirs split off the southern most part of the remaining Willow Lawn parcel for new development.
“The magnificent homestead lands of the Jewetts, at Main Street and Jewett Avenue, have been subdivided and are now offered for sale to parties
desiring home-sites in an exclusive, scenic section,” read one ad.
Another touted the “euphoniously titled” Willow Lawn’s “semi-private park style” in “the most beautiful section of the city.”
Willow Lawn, 1906. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Beautiful Willow Lawn Homestead, corner of Main Street and Jewett Avenue, has been subdivided and placed with us for sale. A new street, 70 feet wide, has been opened from Main Street to Crescent Avenue. Sewer and water pipes laid on each side are already in, and the pavement nearly finished. The lots are being sold under restrictions for residential purposes only, making some of the most desirable home sites in the Parkside District. Nearly one-half of these lots have been sold, so it is up to you to hurry if you want a lot in this desirable subdivision, the highest and healthiest section in the city where attractive surroundings are assured at a very low price.
“As a setting for a fine piece of domestic architecture,” the Buffalo Courier reported, “the site is ideal.” All but two of the lots on the street had homes built on them by 1911, and the last home was built on Willow Lawn in 1917.
As homes were being built in the “Willow Lawn subdivision,” the buildings of the original Willow Lawn estate– including the home of the Chapins and Jewetts– still stood at the corner of Main & Jewett.
Willow Lawn’s final hurrah would be as the home of a newly formed school based on learning from nature while in nature.
In 1913, after a year on Bird Avenue on the West Side, The Park School and it’s open-air approach to learning took over the last vestige of Daniel Chapin’s estate 106 years after he first built a log cabin there.
The Park School became a nationally renown beacon of progressive education.
For nearly a decade, children walked the same grounds Barton Atkins talked about 100 years earlier. Not confined to desks, children often weren’t even confined to indoors– with classrooms built in tree houses and screened bungalows. Days were often spent outside, even in the dead of winter, with the pupils warmly cocooned in woolen sleeping bags for lectures.
The Willow Lawn home was torn in 1922 after The Park School left for the school’s current home in Snyder. The current apartment buildings on the lot were built shortly thereafter, and available for rent by 1927, as shown in the ad below.
When the Jewett and Russell farms were opened for building sites about 1890, among the first questions was of adequate schooling for the children of families coming to live in this new part of town. Many schools in the surrounding areas were old and filled to capacity.
The year 1892 saw public education come to Parkside, when “The Parkside School,” a brick school house which was to eventually become Buffalo School 54, was opened on land donated for the purpose by Mrs. Elam Jewett.
Originally a 16 room school, the building grew as the neighborhood did; additions came in 1905 and 1913. The later addition was really more of an encapsulation, with the original facade being enveloped completely by the new build.
Part of what made the school an institution was the continuity of the teachers and staff. The school’s first principal, Miss Clara Swartz, lived a few blocks away at 154 Woodward Avenue. Her tenure at the school ran from the school’s opening until her retirement in 1924.
Thirty years’ worth of Parkside youth all had the same principal at the Parkside School. Toward the end of Miss Swartz’s tenure as principal, came Miss Mary Kirsch, who began teaching first graders in the early 1920s. She would teach generations of Parkside 6 year-olds before her retirement in the early 1960s.
While these two women, whose careers spanned 70 years in education, were both remembered for their warmth with the children, Miss Schwartz was also remembered for patrolling the halls with the rubber hose. She used it liberally on misbehaving children.
school has long had one of the strongest Parent-Teacher Associations in the
city, as early as 1920, making sure that
the school was always among the finest in Buffalo. The group often won the
favor of city officials, winning upgrades for the school like a new cafeteria,
more classrooms, and an improved heat plant.
As the years wore on, dress codes banned slacks for girls, and dungarees for everyone in the 1950s. The school day began with a morning prayer, and, even after Miss Schwartz hung up her hose, corporal punishment was still a means of making sure students fall into line.
But School 54 changed as Buffalo and Parkside did, and those changes, and how they were carried out, is a major part of Parkside’s identity through the 60s, 70s, and 80s. More on that part of the story is yet to come.
One big change came in the mid-1960s when ground was broken on the current School 54. In 1964, the last vestige of Parkside’s agrarian past was demolished; as Hagner’s Dairy was taken down to make way for a new state of the art school building.
As students past and
present gathered to watch the demolition of the old school that so many had
passed through, memories flowed of not only the school, but of old Main Street.
Hagner, whose family home and dairy gave way for the new school, remembered
when, the generation before, elegant residences of the Grieb and Berger
families were leveled to open up space for the Cadillac and Oldsmobile dealers
directly across the street, making car lots between the Tinney/Braun and Streng
Buying a Car in Parkside
The Parkside area of Main Street became home to many upscale motor car showrooms. They included the Hupmobile Showroom (soon to be Dick Willats Hudson Dealership, photo on previous page ) next to Smither’s Parkside Pharmacy at Leroy Avenue, as well as the popular Studebaker showroom between East Oakwood and Dewey Avenues. One could also buy a Pierce-Arrow or even a venerable Ford in Parkside as well. The Ford Factory and showroom was at the corner of Main Street and Rodney Avenue, along the northeast side of the Beltline tracks.
While the factory on the north side of the Beltline was turning out cars for working men and women of the country, both metaphorically and literally on the other side of the tracks was the “Update Building” for the ultra-elegant Pierce-Arrow.
Built in Buffalo on Elmwood Avenue, The Pierce-Arrow motor car was the status-symbol car of choice for John D. Rockefeller, Babe Ruth, Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding, and for dozens of Hollywood stars, like Carol Lombard. The siren girlfriend (and later wife) of Clark Gable, Lombard purchased a Pierce-Arrow in 1926.
Later, the company began to offer hydraulic brakes. Never wanting a starlet to be without, the company paid to have the auto shipped back to Buffalo by train, unloaded off the Beltline into the Update Center, new brakes were installed and the car shipped back all at Pierce-Arrow expense.
It was typical for Pierce-Arrow owners to ship their cars to Parkside for yearly maintenance and updating.
The update building remains, but for most, Pierce-Arrow in Parkside means the showroom. In 1929, the showroom moved from Main Street between Tupper and Edward to the Main Street at Jewett Parkway location, which until that time was the site of Floss’s Coal and Ice.
The $500,000 masterpiece building, along with the Central Terminal and City Hall, is one of a handful of fine Buffalo buildings built in the style that would become known as “Art Deco.”
Crowned by a 40 foot tower, the building’s exterior boasts windows friezed with polychromed terra cotta. Inside, the coffered ceiling is adorned with tire and hub medallions. The floor could accommodate up to 15 luxury automobiles.
While in 1929 there were 1,500 Pierce-Arrows motoring around Buffalo, the timing for the move to the brand new, state of the art showroom couldn’t have been worse.
The nation would soon be in the grips of an economic depression. Sales dropped off, and by 1936, the Pierce-Arrow showroom had become a Cadillac showroom.
Cadillacs would be sold from the spot for the next 62 years under 3 different names. First Maxson Cadillac from 1936-57, then Tinney Cadillac from 1957-81. Finally, from 1981-98, the dealership was known as Braun Cadillac. When Braun moved its showroom to Depew, Buffalo Savings Bank purchased and renovated the space as their headquarters branch.
In 2007, Buffalo Savings was bought out by First Niagara Bank, which continues to run a branch at the Jewett & Main location.
Just to the south of the Pierce-Arrow showroom, stood Eagan & Streng Chrysler starting in 1923. The building of green marble became an Oldsmobile dealer in 1930, and when Eagan died in 1938, Herbert H. Streng’s name went up on the sign alone. The Streng family spent 75 years selling cars in Parkside at 2365 Main Street.
In 1973, the Strengs bought the property between their dealership and Tinney Cadillac to the north, adding room for another 60 Oldsmobiles, making the dealership the largest in WNY.
Only weeks after Braun Cadillac closed in 1998, Herbert S. Streng, the son of the founder of Streng Olds announced General Motors bought the dealership back from him, effectively ending the ability of Parksiders to buy a new car in the neighborhood. “I just sold one customer his 30th Streng Olds. GM isn’t just buying a dealership from me,” Streng said upon news of the closure, “They’re buying a life time.“
Canisius College bought the Streng Dealership building, and in 2001 opened Demerly Hall there. The green-facaded building now houses the school’s health and human performance graduate programs.
But Parkside’s first foray into the world of the automobile came decades before Streng or Pierce-Arrow.
The Ford Motor Company opened their sales, service, and assembly operations plant in 1915. It was designed by Albert Kahn and Ernest Wilby, who based the building on that of an earlier Ford plant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
You can still see “FORD” inlayed in the brick on the smokestack of the building as of 2009. The showroom was on the ground floor, manufacturing on the higher floors.
From 1915 to 1923, 599,232 Model-T Fords were assembled at the Main Street facility. The last Model-T rolled off the assembly line in Buffalo in 1927.
Then from March 1928 to August 1931, Model-A Fords were built in Parkside until all Ford’s local manufacturing was transferred to the Fuhrmann Boulevard/Woodlawn plant.
After Ford moved its machinery from that building to a plant of Fuhrmann Boulevard in 1931, Bell Aircraft took over the plant through 1942. During that time, Bell produced the Airacomet P-59, America’s first twin-engine jet warplane.
Initially called the XP-59A and disguised with propellers on the jet engines, the plane never saw wartime service, but did provide the ground work for the US’s venture into the jet age. In May 1942, the CNX Corporation, a subsidiary of the Hercules Motor Corporation, churned out diesel engines for the US Navy, and did so through the end of the war. More to come on the war effort in Parkside.
Once the war was over, in 1945, Trico Products Company bought the structure and manufactured windshield wiper components at the building from the early 1950s through 1987 at what was known to Trico workers at Plant 2.
The old Ford plant became the multi-use Tri-Main Center in 1988 and continues to serve both sides of Main Street with dozens of offices, studios, light industrial plants, and shops of many different sizes.
Much sprang up around the
tracks laid down along, over and under Main Street. In 1905, The Highland
Masonic Temple was built by architect EB Green; predating the Central Presbyterian
Church and Presbytery Buildings next door to the south. The lodge got its name
from the Highland Station, the Beltline stop directly across Main Street, to
the south of the tracks.
Once train travel gave way to the automobile, the Highland Station was torn down in favor of a gas station. This photo dates from the 1940s, and clearly shows the Ford/Trico Plant as the backdrop. With the gas station torn down, in 1987 Broad Elm started construction on the site at the corner of Main and Jewett. In 2005, The Montante Family donated the plot of land to the north of the tire shop to the community as “The People’s Park.” It’s cared for and maintained by the communities surrounding it on both sides of Main Street.
The Backbone of Main Street
Gert and Ernie Schmitter were just two of dozens and dozens of small business owners who have made a living and a life along Main Street. And while the institutions written about thus far gave gravitas and stability to the area, it was the smaller mom and pop shops, where people did their day-to-day consuming, that are remembered so richly and warmly by the people who called Parkside home during Main Street’s heyday.
The corner of West Oakwood Place and Main Street was the heart of the business district that served Parkside, and at the heart of that corner: One of the most warmly remembered shops to ever grace the Parkside section: Parkside Candy Shoppe.
shop delighted young and old alike at the corner of Main and West Oakwood for
generations. First opened by the Kaiser Family on St. Patrick’s Day,
1917, the Malamas Family took over the operation in 1944. Tom Malamas spent a
great deal of his young life at the soda fountain then owned by his parents and
“You walked in to two long cases of candy, we had 14 booths, and 6 stools at the soda fountain.” During that time, the noon time luncheon menu was very popular, as was ice cream in the evenings.
The exterior and the soda fountain were featured in the 1983 film “The Natural,” and Malamas says the scene was very reminiscent of what it was actually like inside Parkside Candy Shoppe in the 40s. “People would come from all over for our hot fudge sauce and chocolate syrup. I was too young then to think of it, but I wish I had those recipes now!”
wasn’t just the candy and ice cream. Ted and Sandy Malamas were lauded when
they finally closed up the store in September 1986, after over 40 years of
operation. “They had strong religious and civic pride that made them an
integral part of the Parkside neighborhood. They weren’t just selling ice cream
and candy, they were selling quality and devotion.”
From the front door of Parkside Candy, one could see car dealerships, including the Studebaker shop across the street car tracks, Central Park Bowling Lanes, the druggist, the hardware store, a delicatessen, a grocer…
Historian Mike Riester has done the counting: In 1915, three bakeries, several meat, poultry, and green grocers, a tailor, toy store, a bowling alley, barbers, dentists, a hardware store, dress and hat shops, and the Kaiser Candy Company (to become Parkside Candies in 1930) were all several steps from Main Street and Oakwood Place.
Riester says without a doubt, the golden era of business along the Parkside section of the main thoroughfare was in the late 1920s and 1930s…. An incomplete list of businesses includes; Hawser’s Bakery, Clock’s Bakery, Red & White, Stokes Candies, Carillon’s Jewelers, Thomas Taylor Shop, Russell’s Barbershop, Ruchte’s Hardware, Wangler, Marion’s Ice Cream, Rychert’s Florist, Bald’s meats, and the Bills’ Sisters Delicatessen at East Oakwood, which featured Stellar’s Almond Rings.
But it was places like Parkside Candies– places where a kid could satisfy a sweet tooth that seem to be remembered better than most. Unterecker’s served ice cream and candy near at the corner of Main Street and Orchard Place in the 1920s, and two Parkside Drug stores had complete soda fountains, Dwyer’s and Smither’s.
Dwyer’s, later Woldman’s, was on the corner of Main
Street and Florence Avenue, and retained the feel of an 1800’s apothecary up
until it closed in the 1970s. Aside from the soda fountain, Dwyer’s is
remembered by many for the rainbow sherbet cones served there.
Knight Smither opened the “Parkside Pharmacy” in the 1880s at the
corner of Main Street and Leroy Avenue. There it, too, remained until the late
1970s. Many generations of Parkside residents got their first job at Smither’s,
where Karl Smither and Don Hill were the bosses.
Longtime resident Jack Anthony’s father owned a drug store at Fillmore and Rodney, but he also has fond memories of Smither’s.
“Merle Alderdise– he grew up on Greenfield— and I would skip out of services at Central Pres when the minister would start his sermon, and we’d go up to Smither’s at Main and Leroy, and eat a sundae, and get back before anyone noticed.”
But inside those dozens and hundreds of shops, were the shopkeepers. Real characters that helped make more interesting in an earlier time. When the following article on “Frank the Barber” was written for the Parkside News in 1981, he had seen virtually all the history talked about in this Main Street chapter unfold outside his shop window, in the section of store fronts just north of Central Presbyterian Church and the Highland Masonic Lodge, and to the south of Greenfield Street.
Almost 50 years have passed since Frank the Barber
came to Parkside to cut hair. Today, (April 1981) the oldest active businessman
in our neighborhood, Frank Notaro, 77 years young, doesn’t even seem ready to
quit! His shop, located on Main Street just north of Jewett, has served
generations of families, including some notable residents of our city…
Frank can go on and on telling of the many
customers and their sons and grandsons and even great-grandsons who he was
served. The shop, which opened in the 30’s, makes you think of days gone by.
The 1938 Zenith Floor Model radio is still used everyday. “I had the first
TV in the area for a barber shop,” Frank adds. The comic books and
magazines bring back many memories of the past. The shop has a delightful glow
Frank came to America in 1912, from Alimunusa, a
small town in Sicily. He began a shop across Main Street in 1932, and moved to
the present site in 1940…” He and his wife Genevieve were married and
have enjoyed 53 years together. The Notaros are residents of Parkside and have
raised two daughters. Pictures of his son-in-law and grandson in the service
hang on the walls of the shop. He was quite a bowler in his day, participating
in leagues at St. Marks and Central Presbyterian Churches. The Notaros attend
St. Mark’s Church.
Frank and Genevieve Notaro have made Parkside their
home and work. Their beautiful Christmas window display, featuring ceramic and
china figurines, is enjoyed by all who pass by during the season. The Notaros
have never returned to Frank’s homeland. Parkside has always been their home.
Frank Notaro retired in 1983, and took a piece of Parkside Americana with him. Al Villa was another longtime businessman. His Buffalo Lawnmower Service and Sales business was on Main Street, just north of West Oakwood Place, from 1963 to 2005. Al once shared with me his secret to good health: Chocolate milk. For years, Al says he’d get it ice cold right off the milkman’s truck, and it‘s good for anything from headaches to upset stomachs.
Just as it is today, but even more so in the past, one couldn’t walk too far along Main Street without running into a doctor’s office or an undertaker. One doctor, a dentist, in fact, had his office next door to Al Villa’s shop.
Dr. Monreith Hollway retired in the 1970s, leaving
the storefront (above) mostly vacant for nearly 2 decades, until March 1987
when the Parkside Community Association began the process of acquiring grants
to buy and renovate the property for the group’s offices, and low income
housing in the one-time dentist’s office upstairs.
Of course, there were places for adults to congregate as adults as well. Once prohibition was lifted, there were two long-time popular taverns. Grabenstatter’s, near Dewey Avenue, and Diebold’s red brick tavern, at the corner of Leroy Avenue, both serving to quench the thirst of Parksiders, and the German immigrants on the east side of Main Street.
Grabenstatter’s Restaurant became Margaret Kaufmann’s Copper Kettle. One of Parkside’s first Main Street businesses, in the days of the stage coach to and from Williamsville, was a gin mill.
John R. Schardt, Jr. ran a tavern at 2095 Main Street (near Kensington), and was doing so in 1911. By 1915, the saloon’s liquor license was in the name of John J. Brinkworth, whose descendants ran the Park Meadow Bar and Grill at Parkside and Russell, as well as numerous other taverns and businesses around the city up to this day.
The building was vacant by 1930, and gone by 1940 (replaced by the Shell Gas Station in the Main/Humboldt photo on page 66.) This site, or close to it, had, in the 1830s, been the site of a toll gate, to help pay for the paving of Main Street.
Through the 60s, 70s and 80s, the block of Main Street between Vernon Place and Orchard Place, near where Main Street and Fillmore Avenue meet, was a hot nightspot for the young set, and for jazz fans.
Clubs and restaurants like The Casa Savoy, Dirty Dick’s Bathhouse, and the original Tralfamadore Cafe were well-known places for music and partying.
In 1972, three North Buffalo brothers bought a vacant bar with a leaky roof on Main Street. It was the birth of a Parkside institution. The Stuffed Mushroom was born at the hands of Jim, Dennis, and Donald Alfieri at the corner of Main and Orchard Place, and remained for nearly three decades.
They wanted to bring back the aura of the hot spot of the 40s and 50s at the same address, the “Park Casino.” The 1941 bar remained, and the brothers built out from around it. And they didn’t stop at the walls of the Stuffed Mushroom.
The Alfieris were among the original organizers of the Main-Amherst Business Association, which is still active and partners with the Parkside Community Association as well as the Fillmore Leroy group, FLARE, and brother Jim was a director of the PCA. The Stuffed Mushroom closed in 1996.
For almost two centuries, Main Street– and the goings-on on Main Street– were inseparable from the goings-on in the Parkside neighborhood.
As the 21st century enters its second decade, however, many who’ve lived in Parkside for a decade or more have never had reason to visit, walk on, or even drive through the portion of Main Street that has been the traditional backbone of the area.
The slow, often painful changes that Main Street and the City of Buffalo experienced, and how the people of the Parkside area came to deal with them, are the integral part of the Parkside story that makes the community so unique among Buffalo neighborhoods.
This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon