Tony’s Tour of the City of No Illusions

My parents both were born and raised in Buffalo. Though I’ve never lived there, I’ve always felt a strong attachment to the city.

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This past weekend, I had my Dad show me some of the most significant places he remembered there. I want to point out I’m well aware Buffalo has a number of artistic, culinary and cultural attractions. It is a beautiful city, renowned for its parks, and architecture, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m just highlighting decay and blight.

But this tour was mostly about my family’s personal Buffalo landmarks. My Dad showed me many places he remembered from growing up. (Since we only had an afternoon, I didn’t really see any of where my mother used to live, in South Buffalo. I’m hoping to see that on another trip.)

As we drove into the city, my Dad pointed out the foundries (or where they once were, anyhow) where he had worked – such as Worthington Iron, the Red Star Iron Works.

Our first stop was the Buffalo Central Terminal, which used to be a train station. My father remembered having taken trains here, though it obviously hasn’t been used in many years. We spoke with a man who was there as part of a volunteer group which comes to clean the place up every Saturday to keep the building from deteriorating further.

According to the group’s web site, www.buffalocentralterminal.org, the building opened in 1929. “The art deco style station was built to accommodate up to 3,200 passengers per hour, or 200 trains per day,” the web site states. That’s hard to imagine given the way it looks now!

Here are some photos from inside and outside. Imagine what this must have been like when it was bustling with passengers and trains:

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The complex consisted of a main concourse, a 17-story office tower, a four-story baggage building and two-story mail building along Curtiss Street, and the now detached train concourse. The complex sits on a 17-acre site 2.5 miles east of downtown Buffalo, the web site states. A timeline on the site states the last train left the station in 1979, though it had been declining since 1956. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Look at the beautiful detail on the trim outside of the station:

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We drove on, through the historically Polish neighborhood to the Broadway Market. Inside, there are shops selling produce, baked goods, and in honor of the season, butter lambs, candy, and beautiful hand-painted Polish and Russian Easter eggs. A Polka band was playing, and the place was packed on a Saturday afternoon. According to the market’s web site, www.broadwaymarket.com, it has been operating since 1888- pretty impressive. Thanks to my Dad for these amazing photos!

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Our next stop was Niagara Street, on the city’s West side, to what was once a very Italian neighborhood in the 1950s and 1960’s where a number of my father’s family members had lived. Vestiges of the old neighborhood remain, in some of the business names. I honestly expected this to be a fairly blighted area, but it turned out to be in pretty decent shape- judging by my (albeit somewhat superficial) view driving through. There definitely were not many boarded-up homes here, and the residents seemed to be from all different racial backgrounds. We drove by a small Asian market, and several women we saw appeared to be recent immigrants from Africa or the Middle East, and were wearing beautiful, colorful dresses.  My dad’s grandfather’s old home on York Street was brightly painted with multi-colored trim, his uncle’s old house on 14th Street was also in good shape.

We drove by a bunch of my Dad’s old apartments, before arriving at Elmwood Avenue, an area is filled with beautiful homes and apartments, shops, coffee houses, and restaurants. My Dad shared many fond memories of his hippie years here!

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Our next stop: Delaware Park, part of the city’s famed Olmsted parks system, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. It’s easy to see why these parks are regarded as the city’s crown jewel.

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We passed my mom’s Alma matter, Buffalo State College, on the way to North Buffalo, where my Dad grew up.

In North Buffalo, we passed the old National Biscuit, where my dad’s grandfather worked.

We drove down Rodney Avenue, where my Dad had a paper route as a child. (He delivered 78 copies of the Buffalo Evening News in a one-block area!)
Sadly, the neighborhood was virtually unrecognizable to my Dad, having been completely transformed from when my he lived there in the 1950s and early 1960s. (When I returned home and Googled the street name, I found a web site advertising a house for sale on Rodney for $8,500.)

We turned a corner onto Victoria Street, where my Dad grew up. His family’s former home at 153 Victoria had burned down. What had once been a neighborhood market on the corner- where my father recalled buying penny candy, bread, and cold cuts – was completely boarded up and vandalized. I wanted to take a photo of it, but my Dad wouldn’t let me get out of the car. A number of houses on the street were boarded up – covered in spray paint, windows broken, porches sagging. My Dad hadn’t been there in nearly 50 years, and clearly seemed upset by what we were seeing, though I’m sure some part of him anticipated this is what the old neighborhood had become.
“It was shocking, how absolutely final it seemed,” he wrote when describing the scene to his brother and sister.

We went a few blocks to his old elementary school, PS 61, which is still standing and clearly in use. It looked like it was in pretty decent shape.

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Up the street was the church my father’s family attended, Blessed Trinity.  It was clean, still in use and appeared to be an island amid the blight which surrounded it.  Its facade is beautiful with colorful sculptures and tiles unlike any I have ever seen on a church. (My Dad said the detailed tile work always frightened him as a small child.) It wasn’t clear if the school next to it was still in use.

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After that depressing look at neighborhood decay, it was pretty much time to go home.

-KG

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Tony’s Tour of the City of No Illusions

  1. Eric

    Great story. I wish I could get back there for tour. That is the co-op house! I hope you at least had time for a Mighty Taco run.

  2. Better and yet worse than expected. I really block out all that bad stuff in order to remember the good stuff.

    I have a feeling your mom’s and my old haunts would be much the same. I went briefly (pre-primer) to School 67, where my dad (your Grandpa B. also went to school). I’ve been back to my high school (your mom’s as well) which is fine and seen a bit of that neighborhood which is also pretty good. When we were little girls, our Grandma B. took us on a train ride (mid 50s) to have that experience as it was already going downhill. Did you go by your mom’s apt. on Elmwood?

  3. Dolores Amato

    Kate,

    Lovely piece. I believe that I first met your mom at the old Elmwood Place. The photo of the house on Victoria Street belonged to our nextdoor neighbors, the Andersons’s. Kit Anderson was one of Grandma G’s good friends. The boarded up store was the home of my best friend, Sharon and her mom, Mary, who remained a loyal friend to Grandma G’. What I remember most about the neighborhood was the that the adults all looked after us. It was a good place to grow up in those days. Your dad built snow forts across the street from the Anderson’s house. The boys would pelt the girsl with snowballs and build elaborate tunnels in a good snow year. We l played Kick the Can in the street, our hearts pounding with excitement. Your dad, Tony, was one of the Kings of Vitctoria Street in our day.
    Aunt D

  4. Sarah Hartley

    Very interesting and nostalgic look. Thanks!

  5. Jerry McMenamin

    Dolores, thank you for steering me to this story. It is very interesting, and I really like the photos. It’s a good formatt – photo essay, would it be?

  6. Claudia

    Love the pics, love that your dad took you on this tour. Great descriptions of the places you visited. Makes me want to do the same with my dad next time I’m in the Cleve.

  7. Pingback: You Heard it Here First | Rust Wire

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