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.
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
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