Torn-down Tuesday: Tonawanda’s whale car wash

By Steve Cichon

It’s one of Western New York’s most favorite-to-remember landmarks — the big blue whale car wash on Young Street in the City of Tonawanda near Fun-N-Games Amusement Park and Twin Fair.

Buffalo News archives

Built in 1973 by Buffalo’s Milton Car Wash Equipment Co. as a prototype for what it had hoped would become a string of “Whale of a Car Wash” franchises, the whale — fiberglass on a steel frame — was 83 feet long, 22 feet high and about 30 feet wide.

A rendering of the whale car wash used to market to potential franchisees around the country. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Adding to what the owner Milan D. Boyanich called a “Disney-like atmosphere” were scattered 18-foot-high fiberglass palm trees, gas pumps adorned with giant sea horse sculptures, and many garbage cans shaped like life-sized-plus fiberglass tropical animals, including alligators and hippopotamus.

The fiberglass whale was molded over several months in the building that was previously home to the Continental Can Co. on Clay Street in Tonawanda.

The City of Tonawanda at first embraced the kitschy roadside attraction. Building inspector Russell LaFleur said “the facility would be an asset to the community.”  Alderman Thomas Mullaney said he believed the car wash facility would be a “welcome addition” to the city. Mayor Sheridan J. Creekmore was the ceremonial first customer when the car wash opened in December 1973.

The cost of a wash was more on weekends and holidays — presumably any time when kids might be begging their parents for a ride through the whale.

His Honor the Mayor may have been the last customer of the car wash who went through the whale without having been begged by a young child to do so. Little ones loved the whale, but residents, not as much, calling the building “garish,” “monstrous, ugly and completely distasteful.” The “Whale of a Car Wash” changed hands in 1974, and soon became the “Willy the Whale” car wash.

By 1983, the whale by whatever name was closed, and the rotting fiberglass sea mammal played a role in that year’s City of Tonawanda alderman’s race. Challenger Joy Papai said she’d received numerous complaints about the Blue Whale and the former Twin Fair property behind it — which was in rubble after a fire at the department store. She promised that she “would work for the development and beautification of this area.”

In 1985, the old whale was torn down to make way for Wendy’s.

Buffalo in the 50s: Linde safeguards Buffalo’s food (while damaging the environment)

By Steve Cichon

The Linde Air Products Company of Tonawanda boasted in a News ad 65 years ago this week that its production of pure nitrogen helped create a more healthy way to package foods to last longer.

Today, Tonawandans who think of Linde are more likely to think of the lasting effects the Manhattan Project work done there. The federal government spent decades and millions of dollars to remediate the radiological waste left behind from uranium processing done there in the 1940s.

Buffalo in the ’70s: Get your Fun*N*Games Park tickets at B-Kwik

By Steve Cichon

Fun*N*Games Park was a small amusement park just off I-290 on Colvin, right behind the whale carwash.

B-Kwik Markets were owned by Tops as a mid-sized grocery store between a full-sized Tops Market and the Tops-owned Wilson Farms convenient stores.


1960s Buffalo in Glorious Color

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

eBay user soon2bexpat has a treasure trove of more than 300 vintage color slides posted for sale today, and many of them are from Buffalo and Western New York.

Glorious, full-color glimpses of the way life used to be around here, mostly from the late 1950s through the early 70s.

Many are labelled as from Buffalo, but many more are apparently snapshots of day-to-day life on the Niagara Frontier in a bygone era.

All of the “certain” and a good number of the “safe to assume” Buffalo images follow. As of print time, many of these remain for sale from soon2bexpat  if you are interested.

If you can help better identify any of the people or places in any of these images, please drop me an email:

IMG_2626One of several shots taken in various Buffalo basement bars… Genesee and Iroquois lights hang on the wall on this one, pointing to a pretty clear Buffalo connection.

IMG_2624A similar-but-different bar features cans of Buffalo-brewed Stein’s beer stacked.

IMG_2616Beers in the basement.

IMG_2609Church hall? VFW? One thing is sure, that’s Buffalo’s own Simon Pure beer in the can to the left.

IMG_2606The only thing more Buffalo than sitting in the garage drinking a beer, is sitting in the garage drinking a beer while your friend plays the accordion. Extra points for white belt and argyle socks with shorts.

IMG_2627This could be a Polish-American wedding anywhere given the accordion player, but since the slides were mostly from Buffalo, I’ll guess that we can claim this one, too.

IMG_2604This one looks like a more honest-to-goodness gin mill, with at least four Iroquois signs on the wall.

IMG_2620I don’t know if her name is Mabel, but she quite clearly likes her Black Label.


IMG_2625There were several Purina mills and elevators in Western New Yoek, including one in The Valley. Can’t say for sure if this is one of them or not.

IMG_2611Again, it’s likely a Buffalo image, but I can’t say for sure. I can say it’s a Lehigh Valley snow plow…
IMG_2623UB playing at Rotary Field on Bailey Avenue. That’s the VA Hospital in the background.



IMG_2612The Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks at Memorial Auditorium. Number 3 for the Sabres is Mike Robitaille.



IMG_2613This Sabres line is the French Connection– Rick Martin, Gil Perreault, and Rick Martin. The defenseman, number 2, is Tim Horton.


IMG_2614It’s a New York plate, so Buffalo is a good guess. It’s a great car either way.


IMG_2615A different New York plate– a different great car. This could be any one of a dozen neighborhoods in Cheektowaga.


IMG_2617The Daughters of Charity were responsible for the operation of Sisters’ Hospital. It appears that they are in a ballroom at the Statler Hilton.


IMG_2618The Isle View has been a Tonawanda landmark since Prohibition, and still is to this day– Doesn’t look too much different, either.

IMG_2610Wanda & Stephanie– Buffalo’s famous Mother/Daughter polka duo, were known as “America’s Polka Sweethearts.”

IMG_2608Random scene: Could be WNY or not…

IMG_2602Location not clear, but could be a lake boat…

IMG_2607Burger Basket, Sweeney & Payne in North Tonawanda. Home of the 39¢ Mr. Big.

IMG_2599Buffalo trucking concern.

IMG_2598Fire at Ann’s Restaurant. Almost certainly in Western New York with the Rich’s Ice Cream sign… There was an Ann’s Restaurant at the corner of Main and Virginia– it’s now a parking lot. Could be this place…

IMG_2605A possible Western New York storefront…

IMG_2597A ship docking in Toronto…

IMG_2594Buffalo Airport

IMG_2596Parade on Niagara Square


IMG_2621Firemen’s parade, downtown Buffalo



A cardinal sits among bishops in a City of Buffalo (CHESTER KOWAL, MAYOR) parade shelter

IMG_2600A Buffalo Police captain, as priests look on…

IMG_2601A parade in front of Lakeshore Tire…

IMG_2585St. Patrick’s Day on Main Street in Buffalo in the late 1950s or early 1960s.


IMG_2587 IMG_2588 IMG_2589 IMG_2590

If you can provide any more information on any of these photos, feel free to email me: