Very soon, nearly 12 decades of tradition at The Buffalo Zoo will come to an end when Buffalo Zoo’s two Asian elephants, Jothi and Surapa, move to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
When they’re gone, it will mark the first time since 1900 the zoo has been without an elephant, or at least plans to find an elephant to bring here.
Buffalo philanthropist Frank Goodyear paid to bring a juvenile elephant from India to Western New York just before the Pan-American Exposition, which was held only a few blocks away from the zoo.
“Frank H. Goodyear has promised to fill a big gap in the city’s collection of animals by providing an elephant, which is in great demand. When the zoo can boast of a real live Indian elephant, a lion, a Bengal tiger and a baby hippopotamus, the joy of Buffalo children will be complete,” reported The Buffalo Courier in anticipation of the elephant’s arrival.
Frank the Elephant was named after his benefactor, and was just over 5 feet tall and 2,000 pounds when he arrived in Buffalo at the age of 7. The elephant spent most of his first several years at the Buffalo Zoo with a shackle around his front leg attached to eight feet of chain.
“He seemed to enjoy the bracing breeze and looked as if he would have enjoyed a longer chain rope,” reported The Courier in 1901. “The reason of Frank’s short allowance of chain was said to be his fondness for attacking fences. By and by the post to which he is tied will be moved to a safer distance and he will then be allowed more exercise room.”
For many years, his only true exercise came when he was put to work. Parks crews attached a giant cement roller to Frank, and he was part of the crew used to repave and flatten the roads around Delaware Park.
As Frank grew larger, and his popularity grew, so, too, did calls for more humane treatment.
It would take 13 years of political wrangling and arguing over the cost of the extravagance of a house “just for an elephant” before Frank would get a new pad – the Elephant House, which remains home to elephants at the zoo to this day.
John Lord O’Brian made his opposition to the planned $35,000 expenditure to build a new home for Frank a major plank in his candidacy for mayor – calling it a needless waste and a “needless expenditure of the people’s money.”
Among the final straws which helped convince city fathers of the need of a proper facility was the day when Frank gave his leg a quick snap and easily broke apart the cuff and chain which held him in place all day, every day. A new, more solid shackle was made permanent.
It took zookeepers two days to saw through the chain and shackle which kept the now-12,000 pound elephant in place before the new house was built.
Big Frank was much happier in his new, more spacious home.
The Buffalo Times called Frank “the monarch of the $35,000 castle of marble, brick and steel,” and went on to say, “The giant pachyderm fretted in the strange confines for the first few days, but yesterday afternoon was treading the concrete floor of the spacious arena as proudly as if in the native wilds of an Indian jungle.”
He was given pool time, which seemed to be his favorite part of the day. Frank’s morning baths, which were filled with trunk sprays of water and gleeful trumpeting, were among the zoo’s biggest attractions in the first part of the last century.
Frank was also known for fits of rage. His tusks were the largest ever grown in captivity. He broke one off when he violently smashed it against the stone wall of his house.
The violence came with much mistreatment. Children would toss glass bottles into his enclosure. He liked playing with them, but when they’d break, he’d get glass in his paws or his gums. He needed a minor surgical procedure when he swallowed some glass in the 1920s.
He also loved tobacco. Men would throw him cigar butts and he’d gleefully eat them, and zookeepers would give him cigars to eat on special occasions.
The Buffalo Zoo always promoted Big Frank as one of the largest animals in captivity, even after his death. Frank’s obituary ran in newspapers around the world. The 10-feet-tall, six-ton elephant suffered a stroke and died in 1939.
It’s the kind of story that plays out even today, more than a hundred years later.
You’re a college kid getting ready to make the couple-hour trip home for Christmas, when you realize one of your football teammates isn’t going to be able to make the two day trip back home to be with his family—so you invite him home, knowing there’s always extra room at the table.
A Buffalo version of this story happened in 1913 when Louis Byrne, a cadet and football player at West Point, invited his fellow cadet and football teammate Ike—Yes, that Ike– home for Christmas.
Byrne’s late father was Col. John Byrne—a former Buffalo Police Commissioner and Commandant of the Pan American Expo Police Force. As a somewhat prominent Buffalo family, their comings and goings were fodder for the society pages of the newspapers.
Cadet Dwight D. Eisenhower’s visit to the Byrne residence on Summit Avenue in the Parkside neighborhood was written up in both The Buffalo Evening News and the Buffalo Morning Express.
Eisenhower’s next visit to Buffalo came 39 years later, when then-General Eisenhower made a speech in the run up to his election as President in 1952.
In his later years, one of Byrne’s favorite stories involved bossing Eisenhower around at West Point. A version of the story even made a nationally distributed Associated Press article.
Louis T. Byrne was an upperclassman at West Point in 1914, and one day was giving a plebe a “going over.”
“I suppose you expect to become a general?” Byrnes asked.
“Yes, sir I do, sir,” replied Dwight D. Eisenhower, the plebe.
You can visit the House where Ike stayed… by the way… on this weekend’s Parkside Tour of Homes— It was later owned by Mathias Hens of Hens & Kelly fame.
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.
Tens of millions of dollars into a decade-long renovation, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House is among the crown jewels in Buffalo’s resurgence in architectural tourism.
Wright called the home his “opus” and considered it one of his great designs, but as it was being built in 1905, not everyone in Buffalo felt that way. Those feelings were reflected in the pages of The Buffalo Courier, which referred to the place as the “Martin freak mansion” in one story and then as “the freak house of the twentieth century” in another.
The text of an article about the Martin House from the Courier’s Real Estate page follows.
PARKSIDE’S GREAT NOVELTY IN THE MATTER OF MODERN ODDITIES IN HOME BUILDING
The freak house of the twentieth century on this continent is now being built at Jewett and Summit avenues, Parkside. It will be built entirely of angles. Except for two arched fireplaces, there will not be a curve anywhere, from the walls that form the shell of the house to the spindles that help form the banisters of the stairways.
But in this house of successively multiplying series of sharp angles will be about as comfortable a home as can be made on earth. It will be lighted by its own electric plant. It will be heated by its own hot water plant. All the water supply will be filtered. The hot water supply will always run hot immediately because it will be “on circulation.” A passage 10 feet long underneath a pergola will connect the house with the stable. The passage will also be utilized as a bowling alley.
It may prove to be a house of puzzles to the undiscerning visitor. No steps will be seen by the coming guest, although there will be two sets in the front portion of the house, to say nothing of two more sets leading to a broad veranda. And when the guest gets inside the house he’ll have a hard time finding a way to the second story. There will be one stairway for the use of the family and its guests. But it will start unobtrusively from a spot that has 33 reproductions. So there will be only one chance in 34 of finding the stairway. As the architect expresses it, “we mortify our staircases”— they are a means to an end and never a feature.
The owner of this house is Darwin D. Martin. The architect is Frank Lloyd Wright of Chicago. He is trying to found a simple style of American architecture.
The house is being built on a lot having 200 feet on Jewett Avenue and 300 feet on Summit Avenue. It faces on Jewett. The house will be 155 feet wide, while its deepest dimension will be 88 feet. It will be only 30 feet high. It will have a deep basement and two stories. Above the base of white concrete the walls are of brick faced with slender Roman vitreous brick running in this from tan to orange. The face brick is laid with half-inch sunken joints, thus serving to bring the beauty of the coloring into greater relief “like corded silk.” These walls will run up to a low hover hip roof of red tile with cornices 5 1/2 feet beyond the face of the building. The outline of the building will be broken up by many angles, always perfectly balanced by angles on the other side.
Every point in the building inside and out will be balanced by some other point.
A broad veranda on the east side of the house is balanced by a large porte cochere on the west side. The projection from the front wall of the building made by the extension of the library is balanced by a similar projection of the dining room from the rear wall.
A pergola 80 feet long and 10 feet wide will connect the house with a conservatory in the rear lot. This building is 18 feet wide by 60 feet and 15 feet high. To the left or west of the conservatory is the stable, which is practically finished. Both conservatory and stable are faced with the Roman brick and contain series of balanced angles of their own. All the buildings will be fireproof.
The outside steps of the house will be concealed by piers of the face brick topped by concrete coping on which will be placed stone vases four feet across. Although the top of the basement windows will be three feet above the level of the ground they, too, will be hidden. A series of terraces will effectually bar them from outside observation. Yet they will shed a profusion of light into that section of the building.
The house and its connected buildings will have an artistic setting.
The interior of the house will have a simple elegance more costly than ornate embellishments and will be carried out on the same principles as the exterior. The cost of the building is estimated at $150,000.
Don Allen touted himself as “the World’s Largest Chevrolet Dealer,” and through the 1950s, he probably was.
Headquartered from his showroom at Main & Fillmore (located in the spot where Rite Aid now stands), Allen bought and sold Chevy dealerships all around Western New York and around the country.
Aside from the store he bought in Buffalo in 1938, there were dealerships in Lackawanna and Lockport locally, along with others in Albany, Manhattan and Miami.
When Allen died in 1959, his automobile empire was selling 40,000 cars a year.
The Main/Fillmore shop was eventually sold to Joe Bokman, who in turn sold the dealership to the infamous Dan Creed in 1972.
Like Allen, the Main at Fillmore location was part of Creed’s larger automotive empire. He owned dealerships in Canada and Rochester as well, and is remembered for his abrasive television commercials, which were described in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle this way in 1976:
Creed would scrawl prices with shoe polish on car windows and tell TV viewers, “If you don’t buy at this price, SHAME ON YOU.”
In 1999, Buffalo’s first free-standing Eckerd Pharmacy opened on the spot. In 2006, Rite Aid bought out Eckerd.
Over the last 115 years, plenty has been written about Buffalo’s Pan American Exposition and all the exciting and interesting events that happened on the grounds — up to and including a presidential assassination.
The map below shows where the exposition took place in the larger City of Buffalo.
This map shows the specific grounds.
I’ve always been interested in what Buffalo was like to live in during the Pan-Am. Here are eight quick glimpses at what Buffalo was like during the exposition and, perhaps, some lesser-known facts about it.
1. The Pan-Am drew plenty of criminals
The transient nature of the crowds coming through Buffalo for the Pan-Am allowed those of lower intentions to blend in with the crush of new people in town.
Almost daily, laundry lists of petty crimes and break-ins were written up in the papers. While the thefts of gold-filled watches from the wrists of women on the midway of the Pan-Am were clearly Expo-related, other stories seemed to have strained ties at best to the Pan-Am.
There was a story about the burglar who sat at a piano and played music “so sweet that it would have soothed the most savage beast,” but wound up stealing some clothes and an umbrella from a home on Orange Street.
There was also a mysterious woman in a black dress who was credited with several robberies – the theft of several hundred dollars, as well as, it was assumed, a solid gold watch from the coat pocket of the Expo superintendent. The coat was hanging on a nail in the toilet room of the Canadian Building when the $75 watch was swiped.
It was at the Pan-Am where Buffalo earned the nickname “The City of Light,” but with no thanks to the criminal element. As quickly as crews put up electrical light standards on the Pan-Am grounds through the month of May, souvenir fiends were busy swiping the beautifully globed fixtures.
2. Tesla and Edison visited … twice
Those lights were firmly in place for Thomas Edison’s second visit to the Pan-Am in August.
“This is the apotheosis of the incandescent light,” “exclaimed the great Edison as he stood on the Esplanade last night, looking right and left at the overwhelming and dazzling radiance about him.”
While Edison enjoyed the light show, it was the use of another invention – his moving picture camera — that captured forever some of the sights of the Exposition and Buffalo in general.
Edison may have looked with wonder at the lightbulbs, but they were being illuminated by Nikola Tesla’s Niagara Falls Power Station.
Like Edison, Tesla visited Buffalo’s Pan American Exposition twice. Also like Edison, he was less interested in the electrical display he helped create and more interested in one of his other pet projects: electrical communication with Mars.
“Mr. Tesla is at work on some of the greatest sensations known to modern electrical science,” wrote the Courier in 1901. “He will endeavor to make good his promise to communicate with the planet Mars.”
3. The Pan-Am wasn’t necessarily cheap
According to official guides, to visit all the attractions offered and pay the 50-cent admission to the Pan-Am grounds would have cost about $12 per person. One online inflation calculation says that’s about $323 in 2016 dollars.
Some visitors said it cost them $75 to see the all the sights, which is more than $2,000 in 2016 dollars. While $75 sounds high, it is plausible that some of the less scrupulous independent operators might have tried to charge more than the posted price.
4. On Delaware Avenue, a dining car for ‘ladies and gents’
One of my obsessions with the Pan-Am is finding photos of the area immediately surrounding the Exposition site. At the time, this portion of the city was only very sparsely developed, which is what made it perfect for the mostly temporary structures of the great event.
This diner car stood about where a 7-Eleven now stands on the corner of Delaware and Amherst.
5. Elmwood and Amherst: the most popular trolley stop
The corner of Elmwood and Amherst is now a rather average city corner, with a drug store, bowling alley and gas station.
In 1901, it was the main gate of the Pan-American Exposition. Amherst Street was the Midway between Elmwood and Delaware.
Just south of Amherst Street, on the west side of Elmwood, was the main streetcar exchange for the expo. Most visitors coming from downtown would have taken the streetcar and gotten off here, around the site of McKinley High School.
Buffalo Stories archives
6. Today, Voelker’s; then, a hip hotel
The building has been occupied by Voelker’s Lanes for generations, but during the Pan-Am, the structure at the northwest corner of Elmwood and Amherst was home to one of the city’s more popular hotels: the Alcazar.
I always try to imagine this view as I’m driving home to Parkside Avenue from Wegman’s: basically, the Pan-Am, looking east from Elmwood and Amherst.
7. A tent city accommodated visitors on a budget
In anticipation of the Pan-Am in early 1901, The News wrote, “Buffalo’s population will soon share the cosmopolitan character of the great metropolitan cities of the world.”
This was true, but not all visitors were “high society.” Many folks who couldn’t afford $2 to spend the night at a nice hotel instead spent $1.50 a night to stay at the tent city built just for the exposition in what is now the Parkside neighborhood.
“Camp Jewett” ran alongside Parkside Avenue at Oakwood Avenue.
8. Bacardi gets its American start
The judges at the Pan-Am did. The now world-renown liquor won its first gold medal in Buffalo, beating out 11 other Cuban rums and starting a run at the top that continues through today.
The Office of Price Administration was actually established several months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as the country prepared for the possibility of war.
Weeks after the declaration of war, price controls and rationing were implemented on all manner of consumer goods except agricultural products.
Ben Dykstra, butcher and grocer at the corner of Main and Merrimac in University Heights, shows off the full March, 1943 ration of canned goods for a family of four.
Buffalo News archives
Families had to register for ration books, as Mrs. EW England was doing at School 16 on Delaware and Hodge in 1943.
Women jammed markets when they knew they could get good meat. Such was the case at Neber & McGill Butchers on William Street in 1943.
Additional ration points could be earned by turning in food waste, like grease, for the war effort. Mrs. Robert Bond of Hampshire Street collected four cents and two brown ration points for turning in a pound of rendered kitchen fat to Anthony Scime, of Scime Brothers Grocery, at Hampshire and 19th on the West Side.
Even after the war, shortages continued. This is the scene at the Mohican Market on Main Street near Fillmore in 1946, on a day when butter was available.
The News called it “a mob scene” inside, where Office of Price Administration rules dropped the price to 53 cents. Some markets, confused by the change in rules, were selling for 64 cents.
The OPA was dissolved and price controls ended in 1947.
Just what counts as an amusement park has been determined on a sliding scale since the phrase was first recorded in the 1890s.
Crystal Beach, 1989. (Buffalo News archives)
Tell an iPad kid of today that he’s going to an amusement park, and visions of mega-coasters and waterparks at Darien Lake or Disney World will dance in his head.
It’s a far cry from when Buffalonians of not-so-long-ago were contented with the tilt-a-whirl and a merry-go-round permanently set up in some department store parking lot.
For a century, Buffalo’s gold standard for amusement parks — no matter how that term was defined — was Crystal Beach. When it was founded in 1888, Crystal Beach was celebrated for the healing powers of its natural sand and crystal-clear waters. Steamboat excursions from Buffalo, first on the Puritan and the Pearl and later on the Americana and Canadiana, brought visitors to Lake Erie’s Canadian shores, but also to several similar resorts along the shores of Western New York.
Elmwood Beach Grand Island
In 1897, Grand Island’s Elmwood Beach was promoted as the only temperance — that is, alcohol-free — park and beach on the American side of the international border. It was opened in 1894 by the White Line lake steamer company, to provide its passengers with a destination it called “The Island Paradise of Buffalo.” It was operated by Harvey Ferren, owner of the Court Street Theatre downtown.
It was built as “a safe place for bathing” for women and children, with hard white-sand beaches. Special park police made sure that there was no “objectionable swim attire” at this summer resort that “was on a scale previously unknown in the area.” The fact that no liquor was sold there made it a popular destination for church groups, which boarded the boat to the resort at the foot of Ferry Street.
Elmwood Beach was one of a handful of such resorts that popped up on Grand Island. Eldorado Beach was another.
New “high-class amusements and novelties” were unveiled for the 1899 season, but by 1910, the place had been abandoned. The parcel eventually became part of Beaver Island State Park, unveiled in 1939.
West Seneca’s Lein’s Park, Cheektowaga’s Bellvue Park, Fillmore Avenue’s Teutonia Park
These rustic, outdoorsy amusement areas were a drive out to the country in their day, but the land they were once located upon has long since been developed. The areas were used most by Buffalo’s growing German immigrant population.
Lein’s Park was built over the course of nearly a decade by Gardenville’s Henry Lein, just south of Cazenovia Creek and what is now Southgate Plaza on Union Road, starting in 1895.
Home to a bear pit, bowling alley and dance hall, the park closed up at some point after Lein — who served as West Seneca town supervisor — was found guilty of graft and sent to prison in Auburn in 1913. He was later pardoned by the governor and re-elected supervisor.
Buffalo’s German-Americans were clearly the target clientele for Fillmore Avenue’s Teutonia Park, “the family resort of the East Side” of the 1880s and 1890s.
While catering to Germans, the grounds one block north of Martin Luther King Jr. (then Parade) Park were owned by Baptist Kahabka, “one of Buffalo’s leading Polish citizens.” The park was one of Buffalo’s leading sports and conventions grounds, with boxing matches and picnics attracting crowds of up to 10,000 people somewhat regularly.
In 1921, the city cleared the land where the park once stood, and built East High School on the easternmost part of the plot.
Bellevue Park sprang up along Cayuga Creek at the last stop of a trolley line from Buffalo. The Bellevue Hotel on Como Park Boulevard was once a part of the sprawling 30-acre park, which was open until around the turn of the century.
Touted as “The American resort for Americans,” Woodlawn Beach tried to take on Crystal Beach directly, hoping to scoop up some of the thousands who arrived at Buffalo’s Central Wharf to get on ships bound for Canada.
Buffalo Stories archives
The steamer Corona, and later the steamer Puritan, took passengers to Woodlawn Beach four times daily from Buffalo. The grounds opened in 1892 with a toboggan slide and “ice-cream” as main attractions. As early as 1894, ads also bragged about the park’s being “illuminated with electricity.”
In 1920, it was electricity that was bringing Buffalonians to Woodlawn in streetcars on what was billed as “only a seven-minute ride” from downtown. Two years later, Bethlehem Steel bought up some of the property for use as a slag dump, but the old roller coaster and amusements stayed in place in various states of operation through the Great Depression.
The evolution of many of these Victorian health retreats and picnic grounds into the more modern amusement park concept was pushed along by one of the great marvels of Buffalo’s 1901 Pan-American Exposition: “A Trip to the Moon.”
Located on the Midway on near what is Amherst Street today, “A Trip to the Moon” offered 60 passengers at once the most technologically advanced amusement of its time. A ride in a “spaceship” offered a simulated tour of the moon.
The ride caught the fancy of tens of thousands of visitors to Buffalo and at least that many Buffalonians. That was no doubt behind the idea in naming the features of Fairyland Park at Jefferson at Ferry after the Pan-Am’s big attractions. In 1910, “the Mecca of pleasure-seekers” was promoting its midway and Temple of Music — both with names taken directly from the Pan-Am. But other budget attractions inspired by the world-class event included Mysterious Asia, Cave of the Winds, White Horse Tavern, Southern Plantation, Japanese Rolling Balls, Minerva the Mystic and Reed’s Big Congress of Novelties.
“Luna Park was built just after the Pan-American Exposition and was the nearest thing to Coney Island in the pleasure line that Buffalo had to offer,” reported the Buffalo Courier in 1909 after the city’s biggest-ever amusement park burned to the ground at the corner of Main and Jefferson.
Click for larger view. Buffalo Stories archives
Renamed Carnival Court, the old Luna Park cost more than $250,000 to rebuild. Five cents admission gained you access to rides like Shoot the Chutes, the L. A. Thompson Mountain Scenic Railway, Auto-whirl, Witching Water Ways, Galloping-Horse Carousel, Human Roulette Wheel and Ocean Waves.
Buffalo News archives
The site was razed to make way for a Sears Roebuck store and parking ramp in 1929. Both of those former Sears structures are now part of the Canisius College campus.
Built in Western New York
A Western New York company gave rise to many smaller amusement parks around the country in the years following World War II.
When demand for the handcrafted carousels that had made the company famous since 1880 started to wane, North Tonawanda’s Allan Herschell Co. began making smaller amusement rides it marketed as attractions to small and large venues alike.
Opened originally in the 1920s as a dance pavilion, Lalle’s at Lake Bay, Angola, steadily added amusement rides and booths through the 1940s and 1950s. New amusements for 1947 included the miniature zeppelin, auto and railroad rides, the Dodge-Em, the Ocean Wave and the Chair Plane.
These smaller amusements were used to entice parents to bring their children — and maybe do some additional shopping — in several places around Western New York. Buffalo’s first suburban mega-shopping center, the Thruway Plaza, opened in 1952 with a handful of rides in its Kiddie Ranch.
Just up Walden Avenue, on the corner of Dick Road, stood Twin Fair Kiddieland in the parking lot of the department store.
In Niagara County, Page’s Kiddyland at Packard and Military first stood to help draw customers to the Simon-Gulf gas station and then the Whistle Pig restaurant.
One of Western New York’s smallest-yet-long-lasting amusement attractions was Dealing’s on Niagara Falls Boulevard near Ellicott Creek Park.
Buffalo Stories archives
The Dealing family first built an elaborately carved carousel on their Niagara Falls Boulevard farm in 1929. After returning from World War II, Earl Dealing added about a half-dozen rides to the one put up by his father. He ran Dealing’s Amusement Park until 1980.
Nestled off Main Street in the Village of Williamsville, Harry Altman’s Glen Park Casino is remembered for high-quality musical and Hollywood entertainment and was a regular stop for acts as varied as Sammy Davis Jr. and the Three Stooges. Those too young to remember the music just might remember the rides.
Up to 6,000 people or more would fill the tiny park on holidays in the 1960s. The Glen Park Casino, renamed Inferno, burned down in a $300,000 blaze in 1968. The area was developed into a park in 1975.
Glen Park. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Western New York children of the 1970s might remember Fun-N-Games Park just off the Youngmann in Tonawanda.
Buffalo Stories archives
Another instance of amusement rides in a Twin Fair parking lot, the park’s most memorable feature might have been the unconnected roadside attraction in front of it—the whale car wash.
Buffalo News archives
The larger parks like Crystal Beach, Fantasy Island and Darien Lake were built and promoted as regional destinations, and likely remembered by almost anyone who grew up in Western New York, but these smaller parks are just as memorable in our own experiences or the stories or our parents and grandparents of days gone by.
As with most things in life, the smallest details can make a great difference.
As our region’s rebirth and renaissance continues, more and more of us in Western New York are coming to better appreciate many of wonderful little oddities which combine to make Buffalo poised to use our uniqueness as a standout city for generations to come.
The things that “make Buffalo, Buffalo” should never be more important than they are now.
I’m hoping to call attention to one small element in Buffalo’s unique character, which is easily overlooked until it’s gone.
For generations, when Buffalo’s Common Council ordered roads built, the call for Medina Sandstone curbs was written right into the legislation. Many of the red curbs of Buffalo have been in place since the time when it was horses, and not cars navigating between those curbs.
The oldest and most prevalent of these streetside chunks of stone still show the striations of old world craftsmanship, and serve as a citywide network of direct physical links to a time when Buffalo was one of the nation’s largest, wealthiest, and most modern cities.
Considered rare and beautiful and used sparing around the world in buildings like Buckingham Palace, Buffalo was lucky to be so close to the Orleans County quarry where the red rock came from that entire churches and buildings, and yes, even curbs were made from the stuff.
With great limits on new Medina Sandstone, especially for something as pedestrian as curbing, Buffalo has turned with greater frequency to the less exciting granite for curbs.
The gleaming white granite does the job of creating a barrier between the road and the sidewalk, but can we agree that it’s lacking in the spectacular and rich history and beauty of our uniquely Buffalo Medina Sandstone?
As roads are reconstructed with additional curbing for safety, and street/sidewalk intersections are being rebuilt to make them more accessible for those using strollers and wheelchairs, it’s understandable that our decades and centuries old red curbs might have to be replaced.
However, it’s my hope that now and in the future, a greater emphasis might be given in the consideration of reusing these materials whenever possible. Further, that if the nature of construction prohibits the reuse of the curbing at a particular site, that the removed curbing be saved for use at a future site where some additional curbing might be necessary to maintain the Medina Sandstone.
I would ask that the City Engineering and Public Works Departments move to create rules to this effect, and that the Common Council move to create law to make sure that it happens.
Too much of our city’s heritage had been lost to indifference and mismanagement.
Here’s a case where that doesn’t have to happen, and we can stop putting one of Buffalo’s unique features to the curb.
Last week, the state Department of Transportation announced the fast-track downgrade of the Scajaquada Expressway to “Scajaquada Boulevard.” When this undated photo was taken – probably in the 1950s – there was barely a “Scajaquada Path.”
Buffalo News archives
Still familiar landmarks include what was then Mount St. Joseph Teachers College, now the main building of Medaille College, at the bottom left. To the right, Agassiz Circle remains in name only—this is now the 198/Parkside intersection. The park parking lot is also very similar today.
At the top of the larger photo, shown in detail below, you will notice the still familiar ball diamonds – but none of the on- and off-ramps for the Scajaquada Expressway. You’ll notice that some of the lots at Middlesex and Delaware remain undeveloped in the photo.
The biggest change, of course, is the four-lane highway which would now be running through the middle of the page.