A couple of weeks ago, Tim (my husband) and I headed over to a friend’s house on Norwood Ave on the spur of the moment to say hello. Well, she (Lori) wasn’t home. As we walked away from her house, we noticed several homes along the street that are fantastic. I thought, “Why haven’t I written about this street?” So here we are.
Norwood is a long street that runs from Summer all the way to Lafayette Ave. Because of the length of the street, I’m only going to cover Lori’s block, which is between Summer and Bryant.
Let’s Begin at Bryant
We started on the West Side of the street at Bryant. I took this particular hike with Tim and David, our grandson, who is about to turn 12. These are the first homes we see.
Then we came to this, below. This is when I pointed out the three columns at the corners of the porch, and what was (and I guess still is) a Palladian window, with the woodwork surrounding it. When I told David that the glass in the center window would have originally been rounded at the top, he said, “Oh, I see what you mean. So we’re looking for details like that!” Yes, exactly.
As we walked, we talked about architectural detail. The woodwork surrounding windows. Whether the glass is leaded, what sidelights are that flank the front doors. Whether a front door was painted or not etc. I love the windows at the top of this home, below, and the French doors on the upper porch. Would be great to throw those open in the summer for a nice breeze!
Of course, I also mentioned to David that you can’t notice these things when you’re driving.
This is the first one that really made us take notice. David admired the scrollwork in the pediment and above the recessed windows in the peak of the house. I pointed out the leaded glass in the window just to the right of the front entry. This is a beautiful home.
Check out the shingles above and below the windows, which are different from the rest of the home.
We came upon this home, below, across from Lori’s house. And, lo and behold, Lori was coming down the driveway, wondering what in the world we were doing taking pictures on her street. Haha! Urban hiking, of course!
She was apparently on her way out, and caught sight of us, did a double take, and realized it was us, acting like tourists on her street! We chatted for a few minutes, and she promised to hook me up with a neighbor or two, including her mother and step-father, who own the house she lives in.
Take a look at this amazing home. That peak! Those windows! That sweet diamond! The owner has been in this home over 40 years and has done a great job maintaining it! Love it!
Next, we come to this, below. This is one of three on this block designed by architect H. H. Little. He was a well-known architect in Buffalo from 1878 until his death in 1917. Little’s own home was on this block and we’ll come to it soon. But this home was built in 1894 for John Kronenberg, who was the Secretary and Treasurer of Machwirth Bros. Company. It was built as a single family home, but is now three apartments.
And it is spectacular! All the details! David said he thought it had “too much going on”. He might be right that there are a lot of different colors going on, but they’re well chosen and executed well. Very eye catching! To say nothing of the headless, handless mannequin on the upper porch…what is that about? Probably better that we don’t know. Haha! With that one exception, H.H. Little would be happy with the fate of this home.
If there is “too much” going on with the last house, perhaps it is the opposite going on right next door, below.
The Next H. H. Little on Norwood
This home was built in 1898 for F. Behn and Carl Behn, who owned Buffalo Refrigeration Company. It was built as a two-family home with identical floor plans for the first and second floors. There are a lot of lovely details here, the bay window on the second floor with its curved glass, all the woodwork around the windows and at the peak. Very pretty.
Next, we come to the home of William Gaertner, below, who ran for Delaware District Councilman in 1939, and lost. By the end of the year, he was indicted for making false affidavits designating himself as a candidate, to which he pleaded innocent. Apparently he produced a list for his staff, and had them each take turns writing in two or three names at a time, including contact info, on the affidavit. They had no idea they were doing anything illegal. (?) By January, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. It’s unclear what his sentence ended up being, but more than likely, he paid a fine if it was reduced to a misdemeanor. Oh Buffalo.
Anyways, William Gaertner’s former house is gorgeous, although I look forward to seeing it without the plastic surrounding the porch. Assuming it’ll be removed soon. I really like the canopy (is that the right word?) around the inside of the porch. Gives the home a classic look.
And these. They all have their own look and great details.
This one, below, appears to be going through extensive renovations. I believe I heard there was a fire here a while back. Alas, no one was there to talk to when we went by. This is one to watch though.
And one of my personal favorites. Just look at that upstairs room on the left and that super narrow window at that same corner of the house. Sweet! Not to mention the sun room on the front. Those windows appear to be original, and the front entry is just fantastic! The landscaping. Everything looks perfect here. The colors are spot on, the trim is done correctly. I love everything about this home.
The Third H. H. Little
Another favorite. This one, below is the home of H. H. Little. Designed by him, for him. My favorite part? The metal cresting along the roof line ending in a curlicue at two of the peaks. I’ve never seen anything like it. It shows Little’s whimsical side. I also secretly envy this type of recessed patio on the front peak. I would sleep out there in the summer! And I wonder if, and how, the owner uses the patio on the second floor corner? It’s such a private little spot.
The first floor is also red medina sandstone that’s been painted over. I wish it wasn’t painted, but this is definitely a cool house. It’s alway interesting to see what an architect builds for himself.
I’ve heard stories that the elderly gentleman who lives here now, used to drive a Pierce Arrow well after 2000. Now, that would have been a sight to see!
This next one has a bit of a sad story.
The home was once occupied by Mr. & Mrs. Charles N. Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong was a partner in an insurance firm, and very well-to-do. His wife, Florence, was the daughter of former Buffalo mayor, General William F. Rogers. Both Charles and Florence moved in high Buffalo society. After Charles’s death Florence continued to entertain and was frequently written up in the society pages.
On January 1, 1932, Florence left her home, above, for a walk before dinner. She never returned. She was last seen at the foot of Porter Avenue near the canal. Police searched for almost three months, before her body was found near the end of March in the canal. What a terrible end for anyone! And for her family, a daughter and son-in-law.
I don’t usually like to talk about sad stories like this in my posts, but this was so strange and unexpected, that I had to include it.
This next home is another favorite (I have many on this street). I heard from a neighbor that this home was owned by the Adam family from AM&A’s. There is some evidence to corroborate, but it’s not definitive. I am, however, willing to say that the home was probably owned at one time by Robert B. Adam, or his son of the same name.
The home sold in 2020, and was listed as a single family home. But after perusing the photos in the listing, there are at least two apartments, possibly more, in this house. From the sweet wrought iron gate, to the little patio above the carport, to the two dormers in the roof with their amazing windows, this home is fantastic. I wonder, however, if the room in the front with it’s leaded glass windows was always enclosed, or was this a porch at one time. No matter, this home has it all!
Bob & Susan’s Home
This is when we met Bob & Susan. What a home they’ve got! They’ve been in this house since 1976, and boy have they maintained it well. That door! So perfect! The leaded glass, the curved leaded glass and all the other details, including the red Medina Sandstone front. I’ve noticed several on the street that used sandstone. This home is fantastic.
Bob told a story that I have to share! One year on Christmas Eve, at about 10pm there was a knock at their door. Bob and Susan assumed it was a family member but when they opened the door, it was a man who introduced himself. He told them his grandmother used to live in the home, and he had with him a box filled with old photographs of the home, some framed! He gave them to Bob and Susan. Merry Christmas! What a gift. Who wouldn’t love for this to happen to them?! I sure would.
This is where we met Lucky and his owner Paul. Paul says he lives on the other side of Richmond, but walks Norwood with Lucky because it’s such a great street. Love it. Lucky was, perhaps the calmest, most relaxed dog I’ve ever met. That’s my kind of dog!
Crossing the Street
We see this. Just gorgeous! Very well done.
Nichols School on Norwood?
Yes, that’s right. This is the first permanent home of the Nichols School, below! Originally an all boys college prep school, this is where the Nichols School was located in 1892, until it’s present location was completed on Amherst Street, in 1910. Incidentally, the school was almost closed for good, when John Albright spearheaded the saving of the school, and donated part of the present grounds.
The original front porch was enclosed and additions were added to the second floor, to finally arrive at the look of the present home. Which I believe has at least four units, possibly five. How do you like the look?
Then there are these.
When I saw this house, below, I couldn’t help but notice the carriage house in the back. Now, this is a carriage house I’d like to live in!
This home below is part of a growing trend that I’ve noticed. Starting to see more homes painted black (along with the use of black trim paint). I like it. I like it a lot!
This green one, below, has so much to like. Both dormers are great, but the one on the right, how it leads right down to the bay window on the second floor. Almost all the windows are original, including the 9 and 1’s in that dormer! Awesome.
Lori’s House. No, Linda and Kevin’s House
Now we come to Lori’s house. More correctly, Linda and Kevin’s house. And I don’t know where to begin. This home is monumental!
I’ll just start with the current owners, Lori’s Mother, Linda, and Step-Father, Kevin bought the home in 2004. There are four apartments in all. Lori moved into the second floor front apartment five years later. And Tony (now Lori’s husband) moved in a while after that.
How about those porches? Perfect! Great spot for a wedding.
Or Halloween, or Christmas. Or just a casual dinner with friends in the summer. If you live in the area, you know what I mean. Wink, wink.
Anyhoo. I sat down with Linda and Kevin last week to talk about the house.
The Diamond Connection
Lance Diamond was a long time resident at this home. As a matter of fact, he lived in all four apartments at one time or another. He lived here when some, or all of the Goo Goo Dolls lived here. They became friends, which apparently Lance did with everyone. Robby Takac was a regular visitor to the house to see Lance until his death in 2015.
While Linda and Kevin were telling me about Lance, they talked about the many meals they shared together, and about just hanging out with him on the porch. It’s obvious they both miss him very much. Goes to show that homes are always about the people who live in them.
Last spring, Robby asked Linda and Kevin to host a band on their porch during Porchfest in honor of Lance. Perfect porch for it. They agreed, but the pandemic hit, and Porchfest was cancelled. This year, maybe? Time will tell.
Kevin, Linda – you’ve got a fantastic home.
Moving Right Along
This next home shares a driveway with Kevin and Linda’s house. It’s really gorgeous too.
This home, below, was apparently in really, really rough shape. Flippers bought it, and did what they do. Looks like a brand new house. Wish I knew what it looked like before.
And oh my gosh, this sweet thing. I love the new paint job here! Very bold, and it’s so cheerful. My favorite part? The wrought iron on the two front windows – it makes the whole house make sense. H. H. Little would approve of this bit of whimsy.
And these. Aren’t they lovely?
Blown Away Again on Norwood
Just as I started to think things were winding down, we came across this. And it’s signed Tingley/Ogre 2012! In Buffalo street art, it doesn’t get any better than this. They are two of the most talented artists in Buffalo. So, what a find! And it’s been here since 2012? Never noticed it before.
I guess that’s because I’m usually in a car on this street. Here’s a case for urban hiking. Love this.
But, actually, it’s not quite what it appears to be. When I spoke with Newell Nussbaumer, founder of Buffalo Rising, and owner of the garage that is really a house, he explained that the original painting on the garage door was in fact done by Chuck Tingley and Ogre (Matthew Grote). And that garage door was damaged by a car, so Newell and his wife, Amelia took the door down and hung it inside their home. They then had the replacement door painted with what you see here (above) by mural artists Vinny Alejandro and Mark Madden. It is inspired by Danish mid-century modern pottery. Awesome.
Love their persistence. Most people would have just put up a new door and left it with the surround that belonged to the first mural. But Newell and Amelia wanted their yard to bring beauty and joy to their neighbors, so they had the new door painted as well.
A Little Background on the ‘Garage’ House and Yard
The home is a converted garage, or more precisely, a carriage house. It was where some of the neighbors kept their carriages (this is a late 1800s neighborhood remember). They would ride their horses over, hitch them up to their carriage and go on their way. I’m sure in some cases, their drivers did all of this, as we already know this street was home to some of Buffalo’s wealthier residents.
Then the building became a livery, and later still, a taxi company called The Norwood Garage. Wow! What a history!
Newell explained that his mother originally told him about the place coming up for sale. A friend of hers converted it into a home, and when Newell went to see it, he liked it well enough to make the decision to buy it that same day. And he wasn’t even looking for a house! Brave.
A Shared Driveway and Yard
Living in a home behind another home is something that I would say most people would be unwilling to do. Newell and Amelia’s home has a shared yard with three other homes. The people who live here share and share alike. Newell talked about how they watch out for each other, they keep an eye on each others’ homes if someone is not around. They all take care of the place together in a casual sort of way.
A lot of people wouldn’t care for this type of arrangement. But Newell says it works very well. In my opinion, this is what city living is about. People being true neighbors. Working together for the common good, and being there for each other. Newell referred to it as a sort of safety net. I like that.
These next two photos are the other two homes that share a yard with the ‘garage’ house. They’re twins, with minor differences.
Then we saw this! At this point it took every ounce of strength I had to not walk up the driveway to see what exactly was going on in there. Later, Newell filled me in on this one too. It’s in part of their shared yard, and was painted by Mark Madden. It’s the face of Elektra, a Tesla-inspired electrified sculpture. Cool!
Next time, Newell, I’m going in. Haha!
A Couple More
This home, below, is very much like a lot of the homes on this street. That is to say, a Victorian era, or Queen Anne, or shingle style home. It could be grand again. Look closely at the details. The double columns at the back of the porch, the scroll work under the eaves, the shingles…if they’re not damaged. The right paint could make all the difference in the world for this house. Let’s keep an eye on this one.
Where to begin with my impressions of Norwood Ave? I have to say that this street blew me away. The homes, the history, the people! Nichols School! Lucky and Paul! Bob and Susan. Lori, Linda and Kevin. Newell and Amelia! And Lance Diamond, a Buffalo Icon!
I mentioned earlier that Lance made friends with everyone. He made friends with me many years ago as I headed up the sidewalk to meet Lori on her porch. He was sitting on the little stoop just up from the sidewalk. I didn’t know who he was, although I had heard of him. He introduced himself, and told me that any friend of Lori’s was a friend of his.
I cannot tell you how many people I’ve met who’ve said that to me about Lori. She’s good people. She is without a doubt, the absolute salt of the earth. And so are Linda and Kevin. 100 percent. Happy to be considered their friend, and have been for a long time. True Buffalo people.
And being a regular reader of Buffalo Rising for many years now, it was really fun to talk to Newell about his house and his neighborhood. Thank you for that Newell. You’re true Buffalo people too.
Norwood is a long street, I’ve only shown you about one third of it. And I apologize if your home didn’t make it in to the post. There were so many homes! Buffalo’s Garden Walk began on this street – the other end. If you can, you should come see this street. The whole street. It’s truly amazing. And so are the people.
Last week I headed over to Chapin Parkway to check out a street that a reader mentioned to me. While hiking around the area, I happened upon the south end of Windsor Ave. I wrote about a few of the Larkin homes between Rumsey and Forest Ave, but I’ll admit, I’ve never been on this end of the street. Well, that’s not exactly true.
Years ago, while I was still working for the Canadian Government here in Buffalo, I did leave the official residence (which is on Soldiers Circle) through the backyard once with a friend to head over to her house, which was nearby. You see, there are a few homes on Soldiers Circle whose properties extend to Windsor Ave, and have their garages facing Windsor. To be fair though, we headed toward Chapin Parkway, and didn’t see much of the street.
But this day, on foot, walking from Chapin Parkway down to Forest Ave, I saw the street through fresh eyes. Come hike with me.
This is the first home I came to when I turned off Chapin Parkway. And what a home this is. It was built in 1910, and is that the original hardware on the windows? You know, the kind that held the storm windows/screens in place? Love the diamonds in the upper windows and the front porch is lovely. I especially like the three columns with their details at the capitals. The paint is perfect here.
And this pretty home, below. There is so much going on here. I love the Palladian window on the second floor. All the windows for that matter. I think they may be original. And the trim colors are fantastic. Look at the details in the eaves! Goes to show what you can do with paint. Fantastic!
These Next Three
Next I came to these. This first one looks beautiful now, but in the summer it must be stunning with the trees in bloom. I’ll have to come back to see it. The other two make my point about color making all the difference in the world.
There’s a start with the blue and white trim on this one. It would be great if the blue were extended onto the balustrade or balusters, around the windows and maybe the peak. That would really make this house pop, as they say.
The green with the mustard yellow and dark red trim has been painted within the past, oh, 10 years or so. Looks very different from how it used to look, it’s beautiful!
Mary Carr (Mrs. Robert U. Carr) was living in this home, above, in 1945 with her husband Robert and mother-in-law Anna. Mary took up a very unusual hobby. She wrote books for the children of the family, about the childhoods of their parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. Often telling funny stories of a bygone age, amusing anecdotes, and poetry written by her mother-in-law, Anna, Mary would compile the books. She’d use magazines, greeting cards and advertisements to illustrate them, type them up on loose leaf, and cover them with different material for children, and sometimes leather covers for adults.
She did one for each child in the family. Word got out and the requests started pouring in, and she ended up making over 100 of them for friends and friends of friends. It was said that she was fascinated by history and days gone by, especially when that history included friends and family. What a unique hobby. I think I would have liked Mary Carr.
The Larkins on Windsor
In November of 1929, the Buffalo Courier Express reported that Mr. & Mrs. Charles Larkin moved into this home, below. They had previously moved to California about ten years before. I was unaware they came back ten years later.
The home is a beautiful two family though. If you want to see what that room above the front entryway looks like on the inside, take a look at this recent listing. Very charming. That would be my reading nook/sleeping porch. Because everyone needs a good sleeping porch.
This one, below, was once owned by Harvey D. Blakeslee, Jr., a Buffalo attorney who founded Mortgage Service Corporation. He was a 1902 graduate of UB Law School, and served on several boards in the city. He lived here with his wife, Eleanor, his son and two daughters.
This next home was built in 1910 or 1911, by R.W. Goode and Company (developers) but it doesn’t appear that it was sold until 1918 (that’s when city tax records begin for this house). This is the case with many homes on this street, where they were built in or around 1910, but not sold until several years later.
This house, above, is great! It’s almost as if everyone on this street consulted with designers when choosing the colors of their homes. Because they’re all spot on with the colors of the period. This one included. Love it.
I wondered about the date discrepancies though, and had a theory, but it was only a theory. Until I met Nancy on my hike (you’ll see Nancy’s house soon). She mentioned that she had heard from a neighbor on Soldiers Circle that this section of Windsor Ave was a “model” street. This is where the developers built a variety of homes on one street, and used them as model homes, showing them to potential buyers. This enabled the developers to fill in the neighboring streets with homes that were already sold. This street definitely has a variety of styles. Where you see two homes with similar styles, you’ll see a different style porch on each, or an offset front entryway on one, etc. Definitely makes sense with this street.
I gotta tell you, it makes for a beautiful, architecturally diverse street.
Just Look at These!
This first one, the navy blue with white trim, wow! Now, that is my style! I love the front porch with the glass sides. So pretty!
Moving Right Along
This next one was owned at one time by Spencer Kittinger, President of the Kittinger Co. Inc. The Kittinger Company was a very successful local furniture maker. Nice!
This next one is interesting. It was formerly owned by Daniel L. Rumsey and his wife, Luella Mary Nitterauer Rumsey. Of note, this whole area was once owned by the Rumsey family, and they sold it off slowly from the 1890s through 1920 or so.
It’s an interesting house too. From what I can gather, the brick section, although it appears to be an addition, has been there from the beginning. Very different.
Check out these next several homes…they’re spectacular!
These next two are the same house, but photographed from two different angles. The third is the same style house, but executed quite differently. I am reminded that this street may have been a ‘model street’.
Crossing the street, I come to this magnificence. I have always admired the side entry to this home, and everything else about it for that matter.
Cara H. Wheeler
This home, below, has one of the sweetest stories of all. But before I get to that, note the side porch and how it has windows on the windy side, and the colors are spot on. Very pretty house.
Cara H. Wheeler lived here with her daughter Mary and Mary’s husband. Cara lived to be 102 years old! She appeared in Buffalo papers several times, twice for voting in every election since women won the vote (when she appeared in the paper for it, she was 93 and 94 respectively). Once for being a frequent airplane traveler (when she was 93!). And she appeared one last time when she passed away in July of 1960 in her obituary. That makes her birth year 1858. Amazing!
At her 100th birthday dinner, Cara’s son presented her with a bound book (seen in photo above) of birthday greetings from all over the world, including then President Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Billy Graham, the Most Rev. Fulton J. Sheen, Rocky Marciano, Mickey Mantle, Edward R. Murrow, Helen Hayes, Bing Crosby, Ed Sullivan, Lawrence Welk and more.
Cara Henry Wheeler is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery. Going to have to look her up next time I’m there.
And then I came upon this gorgeousness! This is where I met Nancy (I mentioned her earlier). She’s been living here for 17 years and absolutely loves the neighborhood. She grew up on Lancaster Ave so she knows a thing or two about city living. Nancy pointed out something that I noticed as well. On Windsor Ave, there is space between the homes. Every home has a driveway. Honestly, that may have something to do with the ‘model’ street thing. If it looks perfect, it will sell quickly and easily. And this street certainly looks perfect.
About the house. There is so much to love about it. The original windows, the colors are muted but classic, the sunburst balusters in the balustrade. The fan window in the pediment, the natural wood front door flanked by leaded glass sidelights. It’s all these little details that make you look twice when you pass a house.
Nancy was open and friendly, despite the fact that I interrupted a visit with her friend, Liz. Sorry about that ladies, I was just so taken with the house. Thank you both for your Buffalo friendliness.
The Stone Wall
There is a stone wall that ends at Nancy’s driveway. It is left from the estate of Ellsworth Statler, which was at 154 Soldiers Place. The wall runs along this section of Windsor, turns the corner at Bird, and ends just before Soldier’s Circle. Take a look.
There are two homes on Windsor within the Statler walls. I can tell you that the wrought iron in this wall is among the most substantial I’ve ever seen. The houses are lovely, but I would love to see what was originally here.
This last proper house on the street boasts former residents such as Mr. & Mrs. David D. Kennedy, and David W. Rumsey (Sr?). Big names.
I am very glad that I happened upon Windsor Ave that afternoon. It really is a wonderful street, with very friendly neighbors. Nancy was lovely, and because it was a warm sunny day, I met a few others along the way as well, out for walks themselves. All say they love living here. And what’s not to love?
There are beautiful homes with ample yards. If you compare the lot sizes here to other streets nearby, and I’m talking about other comparable streets (Clarendon, Berkley, Granger), Windsor has the largest lot sizes around. This enables the residents to have driveways to park their cars. I know there are people who think that city dwellers shouldn’t need to have a car, but the fact remains that in Buffalo, we still need our cars. And having a decent place to park them is a huge bonus.
In this month of March, when we celebrate women who made history, I find it fitting that most of the interesting history here on Windsor involved women. One who was a history buff herself, and one who took the right to vote so seriously that she never missed an election once women fought for and won that right.
Of course, in their time and in the articles I read, they were referred to as Mrs. Robert U. Carr and Mrs. Clarence L. Wheeler. I actually had to really dig to find out what Cara Wheeler’s given name was, and I only found it because I found a copy of her obituary. And even then, I learned her middle name was Henry! We’ve certainly come a long way.
Every house, every street, every neighborhood has a story to tell, and it’s because of the people. The people are the story. We love to look at the amazing homes they’ve built and lived in, but it’s really about the people. The people of Buffalo.
Get the Book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!
I’ve been wanting to write about Lafayette High School ever since the first time I actually walked past it about a year and a half ago with a friend of mine. I, of course, had seen it before, but until you walk past a building, it’s easy to miss how incredible it can be. And the more I walk in the area, the more I notice all the spectacular homes and buildings along here too. Little did I know what I’d find once I really got into it.
When I first sat down to research the area, I remembered another friend of mine, Martha, grew up on Parkdale. I shot her a text to find out which house was hers at the time, and during a small flurry of texts, I thought that she might like to take a walk. She wanted to, our schedules happened to match up, and so we set out the next day.
Come Hike With Me
For this particular hike, Martha and I met up at the southwest corner of Grant Street, at Sweet_ness 7 Cafe. Martha tells me this was a bakery when she lived just around the block on Parkdale. More recently though, it was a beautiful little full service coffee shop, with amazing food, great service and original art. Yes, I said art. Both inside and out. But today I’ll just tell you a story of the mural on the exterior of the building.
A few years ago now, I sat down with Prish Moran, owner of the building, and talked about how Sweet_ness 7 came to be. She told me how she purchased the building and set about getting her vision for the cafe off the ground. The exterior first floor was covered with graffiti. And not the good kind. Lots of nastiness. When it proved to be much too difficult to remove, Prish painted that section of the building brown in an attempt to make it appear a bit better. Afterwards, people in the area began to ‘suggest’ she do something to brighten up the drab brown-ness of it all.
And Brighten it Up, She Did
One day Prish came across a page she had torn out of a magazine that was, basically, the mural that she ended up painting.
Wait until you hear this. Not long after painting it, Prish was sitting inside the unfinished cafe. She was going through bills, hoping she hadn’t made a huge mistake by buying the building, when someone knocked at the door. When she answered it, there was a man there with several women. He introduced himself, and told Prish he was taking the women, who were Burmese refugees, for a walk through the neighborhood. He was showing them around and when they came upon the building, the women became very excited. They began to cry tears of joy.
They explained that when they arrived in Buffalo they were uncertain about the future for their families and for themselves in a new country. Understandable. But when they saw the painting on the side of Prish’s building, they were reassured that they were exactly where they were meant to be. You see, the painting is of a Burmese Fertility Goddess.
Prish had no idea that’s what it was, she just liked it. But after meeting the women at her door that day, Prish knew that she too was exactly where she was meant to be at that time. Of course we all know the cafe turned out to be a huge success.
Sad, but True
Sweet_ness 7 is temporarily closed right now. In an email Prish tells me that both Sweet_ness 7 and the Tabernacle are currently available for rent. I’ll list Prish’s contact information at the end of this post. As for Prish, she has purchased an inn in the Adirondacks. She is, as usual, fearlessly following one of her many dreams.
We here in Buffalo are looking forward to the return of a cafe to this corner.
On With the Hike
Across Grant from Sweet_ness 7 is this little bit of sweetness, below. This home has been brought back to life in the last several years. Love it. My favorite part? The outdoor spaces. Both of the porches that face Lafayette, and the brilliant rooftop patio over the garage on Grant. That last one is perfect for this spot! Makes me want to sit up there with friends and family on a Saturday night in the summer, sipping cocktails. I’d also like to see what’s been done to the basement, I’m intrigued.
Everything here makes sense. From the commercial space in the garage to the solar panels on the roof of the house. It all just works.
Across the street is what used to be Annunciation Parish. Martha tells me that this was her church growing up. When I asked if she walked to church, she said, “We walked everywhere.” And the story began to unfold as we walked and looked at the homes along the way.
This is Our Lady of Hope Parish today, a merger of Annunciation, Our Lady of Loretto, and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s a vibrant, multicultural, West Side, Roman Catholic Church. I’m going to have to check this one out some weekend.
Moving Right Along
Back on the other side of the street we see this. I love the dormer on this house!
And this. Check this place out! The style? Second Empire, with attitude. Okay, that’s not a real thing. But those awesome colors, and that monstrous red Medina sandstone porch. Wow. And you can’t see it in any of the photos I took, but there’s an entire house in the backyard! I’m not talking about an in-law cottage. I’m talking about a full house!
And there are others with homes in the backyard right along this stretch. At least five in this square block. It’s curious, but I think it’s cool in a way too. Wonder how that ever came to be? Full homes, in behind others. Interesting.
Sisters of St. Mary of Namur
These next few buildings are the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. I feel bad saying I’ve never heard of them. They taught at Annunciation School when it was open. And they are still here, busy as ever, ministering to the people of the West Side. Excellent.
As a matter of fact, in 2019, the sisters celebrated 200 years of ministry! From their website,
“In this century, as we have become a diverse, global community, the Sisters have been attuned to the changing times, extending themselves beyond the classroom. Parish ministry, refugee work, standing against human trafficking, teaching ESL, home visiting, counseling, spiritual direction and prayer groups are among the many works the Sisters have assumed as the Spirit has led.”
I have a lot of respect for sisters. They, unlike priests, give up all their worldly possessions, take a vow of poverty and agree to serve “as the Spirit has led”. It’s really amazing when you think about it.
Annunciation School, that is. At one time it was K-12, serving the entire community. I knew there was a K-8 grammar school here, but didn’t realize it was a high school originally as well. Interesting. Martha went here for grammar school, along with many of the neighborhood children. The students used to (lovingly, I’m sure!) call the school “A Nun’s Creation”. I see what they did there! Haha. Love it!
The school is now closed, but the first floor of the building is a professional incubator office space, and the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center. There are 20 loft apartments of varying sizes above. It’s a great re-use, and if you look at the website, you can see that they’ve kept some of the old school fixtures, like chalkboards! Again, interesting!
The Discovery Trail
I should mention that throughout this hike, we came to stops on the Discovery Trail. It’s a one mile trail that starts at the West Buffalo Charter School at 113 Lafayette, and is marked on the sidewalks of Lafayette Ave between DeWitt and Baynes. The theme of this trail is ‘welcome all cultures’.
I love when a city/neighborhood has these kinds of things. It makes a child love getting out and taking an urban hike! It’s the type of thing they’ll reminisce about someday!
Seriously, if you live in the area, and you haven’t seen these, take a walk. They’re designed by school children at WBCS…and they’re inspiring!
I’ll drop photos of them in, here and there, during our hike so you can experience them just like we did…as we went along.
Back to the hike. As we round the corner on to Parkdale, and as we pass the side of the old school, these are the homes we see.
There are so many things I notice about this home, below. Let’s start at the peak with the pebbled dash. I want to say that there’s a design to the pebbling, but from this angle, I can’t say for sure. The tiles that are set into the bricks are unusual. Martha and I agreed they’ve probably always been there. Note that the bricks directly above the tiles stand out further from the rest, probably to protect the tiles.
Off to the left, you can see that the entry door is on the side of the enclosed porch. But the front of the house has another door, with large sidelights. I like that in the good weather both doors can be open to allow plenty of fresh air.
And this one below, is in great shape! It looks like the upper porch was re-done at some point. I probably wouldn’t have thought to do it, but they saved some of the wrought iron when they did the porch. Really nice touch.
Martha’s Family Home
Next is the home Martha grew up in. She lived here with her parents, three brothers and one sister. It’s a really pretty house. But to get the full effect, check out this listing from a couple of years ago.
Martha and I have to stop ourselves from going into the back yard to look around. I can see the curiosity in her face. She notices that there’s a chimney on what used to be a back porch. If you click on the link above, it’s not just a fireplace that someone’s added, it’s an oven. Maybe a pizza oven? It’s a fantastic porch and yard all around!
As we hike Parkdale Ave Martha is peppering the conversation with names of the people who lived in this house or that. So many that I could never be able to match up the house with the family names. But here’s a few. Guzzetta, LaDuca, Missana, Ciffa, Cavalieri, Lagatutta and Callari.
Some of these families may have lived on Lafayette… But you get the idea. This was a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Martha mentions that she never thought of it that way when she was a child, but telling me all the names really drives it home for her. And it sure does seem like she knew everyone!
As we approached this one, Martha says she thought it used to have an apartment out back, and sure enough, there it is… Note the details around the windows and front entry. I’d never have noticed that if I were just driving by.
At this house below, Martha tells me that when she lived across the street, there was an older couple that lived in this house that didn’t have any children. But they ‘adopted’ all the kids on the street. They must have made an impression, and quite possibly a difference in some of the children’s lives. Sweet story.
This last one is still in great shape. Or back in great shape, I can’t be sure. But it looks good.
On this section of Parkdale (between Lafayette and Auburn) I noticed that a lot of the homes are still the original clapboard. Some have been covered with vinyl siding, but I want to say that most of them are still original. I like this.
Back to the Corner of Parkdale and Lafayette
The first thing I see is this huge, gorgeous old home. Needs a bit of work, but it appears that all the original detail is still intact, most of the original windows are still there, and it could be brought back. I’d love to see it happen. Same color, with white and black trim. Yes, please.
Kitty corner from that home is the Buffalo Dream Center. These buildings are fantastic and appear to be in great shape!
Martha tells me this used to be the Lafayette Baptist Church ‘back in the day’. The Buffalo Dream Center has been headed by Pastors Eric and Michelle Johns since 1993 and now calls these buildings (above) home. The church is very involved in outreach services to Buffalo’s community, serving children, the poor and the hungry. If you are looking to get involved in any of these ministries, take a look at their website. This is one busy place!
As we continue up Lafayette, Martha starts rattling off names again. Castiglia, Battaglia, Cannizzaro, Severino, Cipolla. We stroll on, and this is some of what we see. Fantastic! The two last homes in this grouping are twins!
And this one, back in the day, was home to one of Martha’s friends, the Missana family home. Martha remembers it being beautiful inside. I’d love to see it now.
Along here, they just keep getting better.
And still, Martha is mentioning names, Palumbo, Falcone, Rubbino, Falzone. As we approach Colonial Circle at Richmond, she remembers a family on Richmond Ave named Gulino. She remembers them being very nice.
Here’s a quick story about one of the previous residents of this house, below. Born in 1881, in Italy, Anthony Carnavale came to Buffalo when he was a child. He learned to play the saxophone when he was young, which was considered a pioneering instrument at the time. He played as a member of the 74th Regiment Band, who played at the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exposition. Cool! Carnavale went on to play at many downtown theaters, including the Olympic and the Lafayette.
In 1927, he opened Carnavale’s Spaghetti House on Niagara Street. It became very popular with local politicians and members of the entertainment community in the city. He continued to be active in the music scene in Buffalo until his retirement. Interesting guy. He lived in the house with his wife, Rose, his son and two daughters.
And this one is fantastic. Check out the windows in the dormer.
Lafayette High School
This is where we come to Lafayette High School. Can you imagine going to high school in this building?!
This building was completed in 1903 and designed by Esenwein & Johnson, noted Buffalo architects. Their firm designed the Temple of Music that I mentioned earlier, the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Calumet Building, the iconic Electric Tower, numerous homes, and many, many more!
For whatever reason, Martha didn’t attend Lafayette High School (or Annunciation HS for that matter). So I phoned a friend. Actually, I texted a friend, Lori. When asked what her favorite part about going to Lafayette High School, Lori immediately responded with “Teachers and friends!” I love that about Lori. When I pressed her about the building, she said she always knew how special it was, and always thought it was beautiful. Even as kids, they respected that. Cool. Thanks Lori.
The school is now Lafayette International Community High School, serving the multicultural community that the West Side has become throughout the years. I love this too.
I know a woman who came to Buffalo when she was 16, from Germany, many years ago. She didn’t speak English, and had to spend an entire year sitting in a high school classroom learning English by listening and observing. She felt awkward and, in her words ‘stupid’. It should make all of us happy that Buffalo has schools like this where children can ease into life in a new country more comfortably than in years past.
The Home Stretch
As we pass the high school, we come upon a lot of really great houses.
This one is awesome, below. Martha mentions she loves this kind of sunroom. Me too, Martha! The plaque on the front says 1877, and I daresay that most of those small windows are original! Would that column of windows to the right of the door be considered a sidelight? Either way, I like it. And sweet that there is a literal bell in the place of a traditional doorbell. I love this one.
And this one, below. Like when I hiked Woodward Ave., I’m noticing again that I’m a bit drawn to the orange color of this house. Never would have thought to choose this color, but it works. That said, I’d love it if there were a little more uniformity, maybe the first floor the darker orange, and the second floor and peak the lighter color? It’s possible the owner is working on that. Love the green too!
The entryway is perfection for this house. Goes to show, it doesn’t need to be fancy. Just right.
Guercio’s and More
When we arrived back at Grant Street, we headed over to Guercio and Sons to pick up a couple of things. Martha tells me that she walked over here every Saturday with her Mother to get groceries for the week. Her brother still comes every other week or so. I haven’t been in here in a couple of years, so I took a good look around and if I lived within walking distance, I’d be in here all the time. Great produce, staples, and gorgeous imports. Still love this place.
As Martha and I go back out onto Grant, she mentions again that Sweet_ness 7 was a bakery when she was a kid. After Guercios, she and her Mom would go to the bakery, and then to the Meating Place for, well, meat. Haha! That’s a little up Grant on the east side of the street just before Auburn. You could throw a stone at it from Sweet_ness. Martha says that if they really needed something they couldn’t get at those three places, her Mother would head over to Super Duper, which was further south on Grant.
There were other stores and shops along here as well for all their other needs. I love this.
When I first set out to write this post, I thought I’d research some of the homes along Lafayette and see what I could learn. It’s kind of how I usually start a city living post. But every post evolves in it’s own way, and when I texted Martha about her childhood home, I saw a completely different post taking shape. She was so enthusiastic about the neighborhood, I found I couldn’t wait to see it through her eyes. Sort of like when I hiked around downtown with my 3-year-old granddaughter, and wrote Castles of Buffalo. It’s always good to see things through someone else’s eyes. It gives you a whole new perspective.
Well. Now I have a whole new perspective on the West Side. I’m not a stranger to this area, but I’ve never lived here. I also understand my old friend Martha a little better. That seems to happen when you learn about where someone comes from. Martha became so animated as we turned onto Parkdale! It was pretty cool to watch. I only regret that I was enjoying her talking about the homes and the families who used to live in them so much, that I didn’t get a photo of her ‘in her element’ so to speak.
Idealistically Speaking Though
This neighborhood was a fantastic place to grow up. Martha tells me how they walked or rode bikes everywhere. They’d walk to Front Park near the Peace Bridge to ice skate. They’d walk to church, to school, to their friend’s homes. To relatives nearby. It seems like there were a lot of relatives nearby. Martha and her friends would even ride bikes over to Canada to “this little beach we called the Baby Hole.” Haha. Sweet.
To me it seems idyllic. What more could you ask for?
It’s Thought Provoking
You know, there is a lot of talk around Buffalo about creating livable spaces. Places where people will want to live. This neighborhood is the kind of thing we should want to build. But honestly, I don’t know that you can build it. You can put the infrastructure there, and hope it happens. But I think it has to happen organically. You can’t force it.
Martha and her family could get everything they needed on Grant Street. On the East Side, where my father grew up, his family got everything they needed on Fillmore Ave or the Broadway Market.
It’s a gamble every developer takes. They create from a vision of something they think will be good for the city, or a neighborhood. Then they hope other people see it too. Like when Guercio and Sons first opened their doors on Grant Street sixty some years ago. They took a chance that the people of the neighborhood would want what they had to offer. It turns out that in this case, the neighborhood wanted exactly what they had to offer.
In this little neighborhood, where Martha grew up, what do the people living here now, want (and need) next? The area is coming back, that’s for sure. But what will it take to make it a really idyllic place to live again?
There are people meeting, discussing and planning exactly that, as I write this.
Look for another post on the West Side soon to discuss. This place has got more to say.
Get the Book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!
*Special thanks to Lori Mroz, Prish Moran, and especially Martha Emiliani. Thanks for everything guys!
Interested in renting either Sweet_ness 7 or the Tablernacle spaces at 220 Grant Street, email Prish Moran at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve recently become aware of Edge Park Ave off of Amherst Street near Delaware Park. You might say it’s at the edge of the park. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Honestly though, it’s a couple of blocks away from the park.
This street is a bit different from others I’ve done in that most of the homes were built after 1925. I have it on good authority that Edge Park Ave is part of the land that was once part of the Hoyt estate on Amherst Street. Parts of the estate were developed slowly into the neighborhood we see today. The Hoyt mansion in the photo below sat right where the Nichols soccer field is now, on Amherst Street across from Nottingham Terrace.
The mansion itself has a fascinating history, but that’s for another day. Today, I’d like to concentrate exclusively on Edge Park Ave. Come hike with me.
Let’s Get Started
I approach Edge Park Ave by walking from Delaware Ave down Amherst Street. This last home on Amherst, like so often happens, has the side of the house (and address) on Amherst, but the best side of the home is on Edge Park. It’s a lovely Tudor with subtle Craftsman details. And a tile roof. I even like the garage. In the summer, the landscaping is gorgeous!
Here’s an interesting little tidbit, Charles Hahn Jr. lived here in the late 1930’s. His job? He was the Vice President of Sattler’s Store at 998 Broadway, a very famous store (in Buffalo anyway) directly across from the Broadway Market. Nice!
It’s a beautiful home, don’t you think?
Next I come to the first home that is actually on Edge Park. I love the brick details around the front door here. Pretty unusual. And the wrought iron above the door is a nice touch. This home was built in 1917, so it’s one of the earlier homes on the street. Just lovely.
There is so much that I like about this one (below)! Those windows, and especially the entryway with the columns. Again I am reminded that I thought I didn’t really care for columns, but it turns out that I do, when they look like these! This is a very stately yet understated home. And it looks to me like there may have been awnings over the two first floor windows. Would love to have seen them. I’m picturing striped canvas…
This one’s on a corner lot, and is impressive. I especially love the awning over the front door, and the charming side entry. I love all the dormers popping out here and there. Makes me really wonder about the interior. I also like the use of black in the trim paint. It’s becoming more and more popular, and I like it. I think I could be quite comfortable in this house.
Now Crossing Delham
I know a couple of people who really love this next one. At first glance, I didn’t think it was anything special. Not super partial to the barn style home. But the more I see it, the more I fall in love. It’s well maintained, and I like the new(er) color. Really makes this house noticeable! Looks like a true family home. And you know I love that! I can picture myself sipping tea on the upper porch, watching the sunrise.
It was built in 1927. I wonder what this area looked like back then. Were these side streets paved? Were there sidewalks? This is the type of thing I wonder about when I’m hiking around the city.
Then there’s this Tudor style home. Look at the row of windows on the driveway side of the house. Makes me wonder what’s on the inside. It looks to me like at least some of the windows are original, including those, but I like the ones on the second floor best. 24 panes on the one on the left. Wouldn’t want to clean them (I don’t do windows), but I sure do like the way they look!
There are several homes on the street that have double lots. This appears to be one of them. I read that a handful of early owners on this street acquired the adjacent lots in order to enlarge their yards. Makes for beautiful properties.
Mid-Century Modern on Edge Park!
And this home (below). My son, Matt, pointed it out to me recently. It’s so unusual to see a mid-century modern home in this neighborhood.
As it turns out, the owner, Brenda, arrived home just as I was passing by. We got to talking and she told me that the home was built in 1952 and that soon after the owners (the Freedmans?) put a large addition on. The curved roof was added later as well. That’s a good thing because flat roofs in Buffalo are not the best idea, just in case we get a storm…
Anyways, Brenda, being a friendly Buffalonian, invited me in to see the interior. Brenda lives here with her husband, daughter, and two adorable dogs. What a cool house! Take a look.
This home is everything I thought it would be and more! The red fireplace wall! And those ceilings! Fantastic! I’m sad to say that my photos of the yard out back didn’t turn out well. It’s small, but very charming. Great place to hang out in the summer.
Brenda, thank you so much for sharing your house with us! And good luck to your husband, John, in his bid for Erie County Sheriff!
Look at this beauty right next door to Brenda. Classic. The entryway is beautiful, I like that the door hasn’t been painted over, and the sidelights really make it!
Wait Till You Hear This
Next, I come to the two homes on Edge Park that straddle Rand Avenue. I have a story about these two homes.
But first let’s talk about the actual homes. First, the house on the south side of Rand Ave, home to Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Schwartz. The entryway here is fantastic. Check out that marble surround over the door with the house number carved into it. Nice touch. And I could be wrong, but I think the bay windows are original. So cool.
I’d love to see the shutters, the gutters & downspouts, and the light painted brown to match the front door. It would pull it all together and be spectacular. But that’s just me. Unless all that will be black one day, to match the gutters and downspouts. That’d be great too! And, it is beautiful just the way it is!
The home on the north side, below, was owned by Mr. & Mrs. Howard Boasberg. I really like the entryway here too, and the extra trim around the windows adds a certain charm. This is a great family house!
Anyway, Back to The Story
It takes place in 1959. I’m calling it the Starling Affair. Haha…
Picture this street, like so many others in Buffalo, full of elm trees. There were apparently six elms in particular, some on the Schwartz property, some on the Boasberg property, where hundreds of starlings roosted one summer. And I do mean hundreds.
This was much to the chagrin of the homeowners, who reported that the birds returned to their nests every night a little before 8pm, and made quite a large mess on the sidewalks and the street. People couldn’t walk down the street in the evenings for fear of being splashed!
What to do?
Mr. Schwartz took to hosing down the sidewalks and the street every evening after work. Mr. Boasberg stated that friends were afraid to come to his home because of the mess, and that finding a safe place to park was becoming an issue. He also said that it wasn’t safe for his three year old daughter, and other neighborhood children to play anywhere near the two homes because of the birds.
The birds were also early risers, who began their squawking at 4:30am! Mr. Boasberg estimated there were 325 birds in all! Seriously, that’s a lot of birds. And not only that. They were apparently quite nasty. Mr. Boasberg said that both yards were littered with feathers on a daily basis and that he was burying at least one bird a day! Yikes!
The City Gets Involved
Boasberg complained to the city more than once. And this is where the story takes an ugly turn. From the Buffalo Evening News, August 26, 1959, “City employees turned a fogging machine loose Tuesday evening on a horde of noisy starlings who have set up housekeeping in six big elm trees on Rand Ave. at Edge Park. For two hours the clouds of rising white fumes reportedly chased the pesky black birds up Rand and back down Delham Ave. and along Edge Park. The chemical warfare was ordered by Victor F. Bartkowski, supervisor of vermin and animal control…”
The feel of the story was that the problem had finally been eradicated. Don’t get me wrong. It genuinely sounded like the people of this neighborhood were weary of the weeks long issues with the starlings. But chemical warfare? Yes. This was 1959. Remember DDT? This is not long after that. I don’t know what they used in this case, but pretty sure it wouldn’t be used today.
This is a pretty interesting insight into what life was like in the late 50s! And still could be considered a funny story, as long as no one suffered from the fumes!
These next several houses really surprised me! Take a look…all were built in the 50’s. Really not what I expected to see on Edge Park. Wish there were more shade trees on this end of the street. It strikes me as I walk along, that these homes are very well maintained. Still, it’s not what I expect to see in this part of the city.
A person my age, looking to downsize in a few years, might love one of these. They’re not really small, just quite a bit smaller than a big old city home! And you wouldn’t have to give up any of the convenience of living in the city. Something to think about.
The East Side of the Street
And a few more along the east side of the street. Three of these are all basically the same house, but executed very differently.
This next home has an interesting story. It was built in 1920 and it used to be home to U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, George L. Grobe. He had a reputation as being a very fair man, who did his best to help everyone who asked for it.
Grobe is one of the residents of Edge Park who first leased and then purchased the lot adjacent to his own in order to expand his garden. Gardening was apparently his favorite hobby. As a matter of fact, he was written up in the Courier Express in 1947 for his eclectic garden in the side yard of his house. Neat!
To me, there is something about a bright yellow house. It’s…cheerful somehow. This one is spectacular with its black and white trim. I picture the two French doors in the front thrown open to let the summer breezes in. Lovely.
Then I came to this one. This is the one that made me want to write about this street. A lot of work has been done to this home recently, and it shows. It’s absolutely gorgeous!
But there’s history here too. Remember in the beginning of this post when I said that at least some of this property was most probably part of the Hoyt estate? There are three homes on this street that were advertised as having been built by Hoyt & Hamilton Builders. I also read an article by the Buffalo Evening News in 1937 stating that John D. H. Hoyt, of the realty concern of Hoyt & Hamilton, Inc., was announcing that three homes on Edge Park would be some of the first of Buffalo’s Gold Star Homes.
This home has changed quite a bit over the years (see the advertisement for #39, below). The center dormer and the embellishments to the front entry were added at some point, not to mention two additions to the south side of the home, and one around the back. All fantastic improvements if you ask me (and I know that you didn’t). I love everything about this home, including the history behind it.
What’s a Gold Star Home?
Good question. Check out the advertisements that appeared in the Buffalo Evening News, December 11, 1937. My favorite line is “one carefully planned to give you all the comfort and convenience science has contributed to modern living.” I love it. That is fantastic advertising copy!
The photo of the home with the pilasters is from the Buffalo Courier Express, August 29, 1937.
The Other Two Gold Star Homes
This first one was the very first Gold Star Home sold in Buffalo. Nice. It’s a lovely Georgian Style with a brick front, and a really great front entryway. Although the yard appears level, this home seems to sit up above the others on the street. Maybe it’s the height of the house, I don’t know.
It appears this one’s been added on to as well, at least once in the back, and possibly above the garage as well. But the one below, makes me think that the room above the garage was there from the beginning. It’s difficult to tell from the older photos in the ads. Love this one.
And here’s the third and final Gold Star Home, below. It’s so pretty, and are those windows original? They almost match exactly with the house above. I’m thinking they both still have the original windows. That’s awesome.
This one has a quite large addition out back. With those trees behind the house, it must be a lovely yard.
Just two homes left, but I promise you, these two will not seem anticlimactic.
Check this house out. It’s the same style as the yellow one we saw earlier. Which is Colonial Revival. But the look is completely different. The enclosed porch in the front and the color really change it up.
This home had two brushes with the law during prohibition. One was in 1927 when a man who rented the home was arrested for bootlegging. Ten gallons of liquor and a 75 gallon working still were confiscated.
The second was in 1929. When police were called in connection to a burglary in the home, they discovered two 300 gallon stills, nearly 700 gallons of mash, and sugar and cracked corn in the attic. The owner of the home, Mrs. Mary Walkiewicz said that she rented the attic to a Mr. Julius Kukawski. She claimed to have no knowledge of the still being there.
Sounds an awful lot like the story we heard over off of Agassiz Circle, on Meadowview Place.
From all that I’ve read recently about the prohibition era in Buffalo, these two (three, if you count the operation over on Meadowview) were not all that unusual in Buffalo’s history.
And Last, But Not Least
We come to a home that is actually on Amherst Street, but most of the home faces Edge Park Ave. And what a house!
I like the Spanish influence in the tiled roof, the wrought iron on the patio and even the solid wall for privacy makes me think of a Spanish style home. The property is long and narrow. The garage is to the left of this photo and there’s quite a bit of room in between. I think the color is perfect, that creamy yellow with white trim. It’s just a really lovely home.
It was built for Merrill B. and Ethel (O’Dea) Meyer in 1925. But the real story here is Ethel. Born in 1897, she received her law degree from the University of Buffalo in 1917, making her the youngest woman to do so to that date. She practiced law until her marriage.
But that’s not all. Even after her marriage she continued with a career in teaching. I read an article from 1933 that stated she was a teacher at Park School. Pretty progressive for her time. She passed away in January of 1942; she was only 45. Too young. I think I’d have liked her.
I know I love her house.
My Impressions of Edge Park Ave
Sooooo. There were several surprises on this street for me. One was all the ranch homes on the north end. So unexpected!
And the Starling Affair. I was cracking up reading it, until I got to the chemical warfare part. That was a stark reminder of mid-century ‘progress’.
And I was pleasantly surprised when Brenda invited me to see the interior of her gorgeous mid-century modern home. I’m telling you that she is the epitome of Buffalo friendliness. She welcomed me, and so did her dogs, Willa and Olive. (They were super excited to see me! Haha!)
Everytime something like this happens, now this is going to sound a little crazy, but it sort of renews my faith in humanity. It’s such a simple thing, to be neighborly. But at times it seems like as a society, we’ve forgotten how to do it. It’s good to know that here in Buffalo there are so many people who haven’t forgotten.
People like Brenda. They’re out there. You just have to look. Psssst…you’re not going to find them driving around. Take an urban hike. Say hello when you meet someone on the street. You might just make a friend.
*Special thanks to Sam Hoyt for the info about the Hoyt estate. Appreciate it! And to Connie Hoyt for sending me the photo of the Hoyt mansion a couple of months ago. I was finally able to use it! That home was an incredible loss for Buffalo.
Get the Book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!
Welcome to Part 2 of my series about Larkinville. In Part 1, we discussed a little of the history of the area itself, along with a short history of The Larkin Company. That video of the Larkin Administration Building! I’ve seen it many times now, but it still fascinates me each and every time I see it.
In this post, I hope to give you an overview of what’s going on there today from an urban hiker’s point of view. As I explained in Part 1, I’ve had the chance to hike around this area recently, and today I’ll be concentrating on Seneca Street in particular and what’s going on there. It’s a lot, as you’ll see.
Let’s Get Started
On the day I visited the Larkin Gallery, I decided to walk from the corner of Seneca and Lord towards the Larkin Commerce Center on the north side of the street. This is the first building I see, and it appears to be a typical Buffalo double. And it is. A couple of interesting things here though.
I think the house was built in 1870, and in 1895 a 12-year-old boy was reported missing from this address. The father thought that the boy probably hopped a train out of town. Apparently, it was not the first time the boy ran away from home. The summer before, he had run away and his father found him a day and a half later at an outdoor market in the city. The article I read was from the Buffalo Evening News, and was about five lines long. And the last line mentioned that the police had been notified to keep an eye out. No one seemed very concerned at all! Wow!
Also, there was a fire here in 1897, when the first floor held a paint and wallpaper store, owned and operated by the Koepf family. And in 1943, the family living here was the Czolgosz family. That’s right, same last name as the man who shot McKinley at the Pan American Exposition. I admit to never having thought about Leon Czolgosz’s family. I know he was from Michigan, and it’s entirely possible there was no relation, but….you never know.
Goes to show, every home has a story to tell.
Next, a Grocery Store
This next building was originally a grocery store owned by Frank X. Winkler, who ran the store with his sons. The Winkler family lived directly behind this building on Seymour Street, one of the nicer residential streets in the district. Frank could literally walk through his back yard and into the back door of his business. Also, the store remained virtually unchanged and was run by the Winkler family until 1968. Cool.
After that, the building was owned by a printer, a tile company, and sat empty for a while. SelectOne Search purchased the building in 2015 and has done a fantastic job returning the building to its former glory. SelectOne has their offices on the second and third floors of the building.
The Winkler Building, Commercial Romanesque Revival in style, was typical of the commercial buildings in this area, as you’ll see. When I walk by, I picture Frank Winkler and sons, selling groceries back in the day.
The Schaefer Building
The Schaefer Building was built in 1900 and was designed by Joseph J.W. Bradney, who also designed the Sidway Building, as well as John D. Larkin Jr’s home on Lincoln Parkway. Cool, I’ve heard of Joseph Bradney because of the Sidway Building, but I didn’t know he designed the Schaefer Building, and John D. Jr’s home as well.
This building was restored by the Larkin Development Group (responsible for much of the work here in Larkinville) in 2010 and is now a mix of offices and two bedroom apartments.
The Hydraulic Hearth
This building was built in 1890 and is home to the Hydraulic Hearth Restaurant & Brewery, and I might add some of the finest artisan cocktails in the city. Don’t ask me how I know that…
Here’s an interesting photo I happened upon on facebook, shared by a reader who used to work in the Larkin Building from 1987 – 1995. He shared how he would go to the Swan Lounge (now the Hydraulic Hearth) for a beer after working second shift. I find this photo so interesting, not only because of how different the building looked at that time, but I love to look at old advertisements. Gives you a peek at what was happening in the area at the time.
Quite a transformation to what it looks like today (see below). This photo was actually taken a couple of years ago. On the left you can see the beginnings of what is one of the best outdoor patios in the city. And we all know how important outdoor patios have become. Even in the winter, I wanted to go in and sit for a while. The building is owned by Mill Race Commons, a subsidiary of Larkin Development Group. They’ve done a great job here.
Pre-Covid, one of the biggest Larkinville events of the summers features a Beatles cover band playing on the roof of this building (see lead image). This, of course, harkens back to 1969 when the Beatles performed on the roof of Apple Records in London. Looking forward to seeing the ‘Beatles’ on the roof again. Someday…
The Swan Street Diner
Here’s where I come upon the Swan Street Diner. What every good food destination needs, a real diner. This one’s an original. It’s a 1937 Sterling Company diner car built by the J.D. Judkins Company in Massachusetts. It was brought to Larkinville in 2013 and restored beautifully. The Mahogany wood trim appears brand new, but it is original.
In Part 1, I mentioned that the Larkin Company started Buffalo Pottery (later Buffalo China) in order to keep up with the demand for their premiums. The woman who waited on me the first time I had breakfast there, told me that the diner was able to purchase some of the last place settings that Buffalo China made here in Buffalo in 2013. No other dishes would be more fitting! She also pointed out that the wallpaper and wall graphics (very whimsical and diner-like) inside the diner were designed by local artists who used the dishes as their inspiration. She didn’t seem to think this stuff was a big deal. But I thought it was pretty cool. The diner’s website corroborated her story. And the food is fantastic too!
Engine 32 / Ladder 5 Quarters
Buffalo Fire Department, Engine 32/Ladder 5 proudly serves the Larkin District. The building was built in 1955. Bet these firefighters are glad to see the recent changes in the area.
The Larkin Gallery
It’s time for our tour of the Larkin Gallery with Jerome (Jerry) Puma. Tim (my husband) is with me on this cold, windy day at the end of December. We follow Jerry into the Larkin Center of Commerce, and off to the left (just beyond Eckl’s). We walk through the glass doors and are immediately transported back in time. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you are probably well acquainted with my propensity for time-travel. The Larkin Gallery is an excellent opportunity to feel like you’ve time-traveled. You know, while we await actual time-travel.
Jerry leads us back out into the hallway of the Center of Commerce. There’s a lot to see in this beautiful building. Not the least of which is the amazing photography on the walls by Joe Cascio. It chronicles the transformation of the building. Amazing and powerful shots. He really gives you a feel for what was here before. Check it out anytime. Just let the guards at the desk know what you’re up to. Cascio’s photography alone is worth the trip.
A Lending Library?
Also in the hallway, off to the left, is an actual lending library! Specifically, it’s the Arnold B. Gardner Memorial Lending Library. Gardner was an attorney in Buffalo and after his death the books were donated by his family. They cover everything from American history, art, biographies of well-known Buffalonians, to a collection of short stories about Ireland. And pretty much everything you could possibly think of in between.
What a peculiar thing in a building such as this! But also kind of wonderful!
The Gallery Itself
The Larkin Gallery is the brainchild of Jerome Puma, Director of Acquisitions, and Sharon Osgood, Curator. The gallery opened in 2017, and focuses on the history of the Larkin Soap Company. Jerry tells me that both he and Osgood feel the Larkin Company played such an integral part of Buffalo’s history, that we needed this gallery. Having seen it, I agree. The gallery gives such insight into what life was really like in the late 1800s and into the 1900s. And I don’t just mean the dawn of electricity, or automobiles (although these were huge). This gallery shows you actual products people used on a regular basis in their homes.
Through the years, I, like most Buffalonians, have heard the stories about the history of the Larkin Company. See Part 1. But until you’re standing in the gallery, looking at the actual products and premiums produced by the company, you really have no idea. The size and scope of the Larkin Company was massive. In the gallery, there are drawers full of the catalogs (the art on the covers are amazing!), bottles and bottles of all sorts of Larkin Products from perfume, to castor oil, most still partially or full of product. There are cookbooks for housewives, bags of flour, boxes of ‘short cut’ spaghetti. Tins of coffee, boxes of pudding mix, extracts, and pieces of Buffalo Pottery, all produced by the Larkin Company. And there are many, many more. Absolutely amazing how much of this stuff still exists.
The gallery is funded in large part by the Larkin Center of Commerce. But it’s also made possible by various donations. Donors include Mary Larkin, great-granddaughter of John D. Larkin Sr., Jerome Mead, an art professor, as well as Sharon Osgood, Jerome Puma, and more. Also, Peg Meisenbach was able to fulfill her deceased mother’s (Raeanne Roy) wish that her entire collection of Larkin items be donated to a Larkin Museum. Jerry tells me that some of the larger items in the gallery were among this collection.
Jerry also tells me he checks ebay daily for Larkin items. After scoring a couple of Larkin items at local antique shops myself, I too have started checking ebay occasionally as well.
And the Premiums!
Not to mention the premiums! These items are unbelievable! In case you haven’t read Part 1, premiums were the items ‘given’ to customers who spent $10 on Larkin products. Here are some of the items in the museum.
Check out this video. The Larkin Company made the cabinet, the workings, and the records! Symphonola Records. I don’t know why I love this so much, I just do! And that’s Jerry Puma demonstrating the volume control. I love it!
It would seem to me that local schools should tour this gallery as part of their history classes. It really brings Buffalo history to life. Maybe an urban hike to see the buildings and a quick lesson on architecture. Complete with lunch in Larkin Square afterwards. Sounds perfect doesn’t it?
The Larkin Center of Commerce
Thought I’d better talk about the building we were just in, ha!
The Larkin Center of Commerce doesn’t have one date associated with when it was built. Rather, it was built between 1895 and 1907. It’s actually 12 separate but contiguous buildings. The Larkin Company simply kept adding to the original building in order to accommodate their needs for manufacturing, retail and administrative support. The original brick was covered with a cement-like material in the 1960s, giving it that bright white look. Honestly, the finish could use a bit of work at this point, but for the most part it still looks pretty decent.
The building is currently owned by Seneca Larkin Holdings LLC. Most of it has been opened up and joined together, creating well over a million square feet of usable space. Over 100 tenants now call the Larkin Center of Commerce home.
The Larkin U Building
I’ve veered off of Seneca Street, and on to Van Rensselaer in order to get a better look at The Larkin U Building, which was built in 1893 for industrial scrap recycler D. Ullman Sons Recycling. The Larkin Company bought the building in 1911 for use as a factory. Interesting factoid, the building housed a bowling alley in the basement for use by members of the Larkin Men’s Club. The building was used by two other manufacturers before Larkin Development Group bought the U Building in 2011.
The building underwent extensive restoration and renovations since, and now serves as Key Corps Regional Headquarters. This is another example of the Romanesque Revival Commercial building that was so prevalent in this district. It’s my humble opinion that the work the Larkin Development Group did here is excellent. I’m drawn to this building for some reason. It’s similar to others in the neighborhood, but there’s just something about this one. As my father would say, it’s very well appointed.
The LCO Building
Just a ways down from the Larkin U Building is what is now called the LCO Building, formerly known as the Larkin Warehouse, or the Larkin R, S, T Building, or the Larkin Terminal Warehouse, or Larkin at Exchange. Suffice it to say that this building has undergone many changes over the years. None, I don’t think, is better than it’s current look and use. And while I want to dislike the parking ramp that is adjacent to the building, if I worked in the LCO Building, I might just use it.
Let’s Continue the Hike
As I head back to Seneca Street, I find myself wishing it was summer. The first thing I see is The Filling Station. This building was an actual gas station run by Gulf until the mid 1990’s or so. Hence, it’s name. It’s since been converted into a casual dining space specializing in lunch items, to serve the workforce in the area. It’s also host to smaller events like paint nights, local artisan markets etc.
Adjacent to the Filling Station is the now famous pavilion where all sorts of events take place in the warm months, and sometimes in the cold months as well. It is also here that Buffalo’s Food Truck Tuesdays take place. There are food trucks here almost every night in the summer. But on Tuesdays, this area is packed with the most popular mobile food establishments the city’s got! And being the foodie city that we are, Buffalonians come out in droves to partake. Let’s hope we can do this again soon.
The Kamman Building
This building was completed in 1884, built by John Kamman, a German immigrant who settled in the Hydraulics around that same time. The Kamman family trade was butchery, and their meat markets and grocery chain had at least 30 stores in the area, including this one in the Hydraulics. Note: it was right across from the Winkler & Sons grocery store! Must have been plenty of business to go around.
The building is another Romanesque Revival Commercial design that was typical in the Hydraulics. The architect was Franklin W. Caulkins, who was well-known in Buffalo. See more of his work here and here. The building is owned by an out of town company, Kamman Group LLC with an address in Rochester, NY. It’s a mixed use building with offices and apartments.
Moving Right Along: Custom Canvas
Custom Canvas has been in the area since the 1960’s and is still here. I know Tim and I have bought several awnings from them for various projects and we’ve always been happy with their work and their service. They do everything from repair to custom tarps to cab enclosures, pool covers, military installations, party tents and many more.
Love it that they’ve been here this long. Hope they stay.
Mill Race Commons
Next I come to this. Mill Race Commons. It’s to be a mix of retail on the first floor, and apartments in the rest of the building. Not sure whether I like this or not. I know what the original plans looked like. It’s always interesting to see what these projects look like when they’re completed. This project is being done by Larkin Development Group as well. Looking forward to the finished product.
As I cross Lord/Griffin Streets, I come upon this. It’s a shrine to the Virgin Mary. It was built in the 1950’s by a barber named Joe Battaglia, who lived on the property with his family above his shop. He claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, and that she asked him to build this shrine to her. After Joe’s death, the shrine fell into disrepair. The city took possession and was going to demolish it, but some neighbors fought to preserve it, a few of them bought it and now maintain it. Sweet.
But I do have one question. Why is this shrine listed on Google as “Our Lady of the Prom”? Anybody?
This is where we come upon a smattering of residential homes. The yellow brick home has a double lot and is meticulously maintained. Would love to see the inside of this place. It appears to have been a storefront at one time.
And then there are these two. Reminds me of something out of the wild west. Both have great architectural details. The one on the right has those decorative window surrounds and a nice decorative top. The brick one with the cast iron facade, pilasters, and its rounded windows and corbelled brick is lovely. It’s another, smaller scale Romanesque Revival Commercial building that we’ve seen throughout the neighborhood. I really like these.
Both of these buildings were rehabbed by the Larkin Development Group several years ago now, and have been brought back to retail or office space on the first floor with apartments above. They’ve since been sold.
In 2016, Buffalo Distilling Company moved from a barn in Wyoming County, into this building (see below). It was built in 1890 for Duchmann and Son’s, who ran a carriage factory. They used to build carriages here, and now Buffalo Distilling makes incredibly good whiskey, brandy, gin, vodka and krupnik here. I’ve tried all but the brandy (not my thing, but I’ve heard it’s good) and this group knows what they’re doing.
Buffalo Distilling first leased and eventually bought the building from the Larkin Development Group. All their liquors are made on site, in their self-designed, engineered and installed stillhouse. That’s impressive.
They’ve (of course) opened a cocktail bar and tasting room up front. When you’ve had enough One Foot Cock Bourbon, walk around behind the building and go left on the path. It leads you right to…
Flying Bison Brewery
This place. What can I tell you about Flying Bison Brewery that you don’t already know? They have become a veritable Buffalo institution. I say they, because this brewery is people. When you enter their tasting room you are welcomed as if you’ve been a regular for years, even if it’s your first trip there.
But that’s not all. Without getting into too much detail, let me give you a little bit of background on Flying Bison. Tim Herzog and Phil Internicola, along with 25 other individual investors, started selling beer in 2000. Their goal was to bring the once thriving, locally owned brewing business back to the city of Buffalo.
Opening their first brewery on Ontario Street made them the first stand-alone brewery in Buffalo since Iroquois Brewing left in 1972. And their beer was good. People loved it. But around 2010, the rising prices of ingredients caused them to slow production while they figured a way to survive.
In the end, they sold the company to Saranac Brewing (remember Utica Club?), with the stipulation that Flying Bison would always be made in Buffalo. Tim Herzog continues as General Manager. And he manages the brewery very well. I don’t even know if he realizes it, but Tim Herzog is the brewery.
Helping Out Along the Way
If the company’s vision was to bring the craft brewing industry back to the city, then the vision has been realized. Flying Bison has collaborated with other startup breweries from the beginning, helping, organizing and working together for the common good. Which in this case is to bring Buffalonians (and beyond) good quality craft beer. Staying true to who Buffalo is as a city.
Flying Bison works with other local businesses too. Have you tried Paula’s Peanut Stick Porter? Or Fowler’s Chocolate Cherry Porter? Come on, this is true community stuff! In addition to the regular – all the time beer, the beer list changes with the times and their creativity is seemingly endless. Who would think to brew a peanut stick (which is a Buffalo thing) porter?
Twenty one years later, I would say they’ve succeeded. Look at the craft beer industry in Buffalo. It’s everywhere now! Even all the corner bars carry local craft beer on tap… I get it that this is happening in a lot of cities around the country, but Buffalo has a rich history in brewing. I for one am happy to see it return.
And it may never have happened without Flying Bison. Gee, do you think I should do a whole post about Flying Bison?
Check out the label on Flying Bison’s Larkin Lager bottle. That’s the Larkin Administration Building. Nice touch! Photos used courtesy of Jerry Puma.
In the beginning of this post, I said there is a lot going on in this neighborhood. There sure is. And there is so much more I could have written! There is more to say about the Larkin Company, and family. Not to mention the story behind the Larkin Development Group and Leslie and Howard Zemsky. They’re the faces behind just about all the development in Larkinville. Their story would have to be a book though! Hey…
I’ve heard people say that Larkinville is contrived. Maybe so. But look at the good going on here today, compared to what this area was like just twenty years ago. It was not a place most people wanted to hang out. I’ve recently heard from several people, some no longer in WNY, who stated that this area is horrible, one person actually called it a ‘rat hole of a place’. They’ve obviously been gone for a while, because as you’ve seen, this area is absolutely taking its place in Buffalo’s renaissance. If that is due to the vision of a handful of people (companies) then so be it. Real growth in an area always happens because of the vision of a few people, willing to take a risk.
Think About It
The story of Larkinville is long and somewhat checkered. Buffalo’s rise to greatness, it’s fall in the mid-twentieth century, and it’s return as a dynamic, vital American city has been felt deeply in the Larkin District. Anything that helps a community move forward, while simultaneously looking back and learning from the past, is a good thing for a city. Without knowing them personally, I cheer the Zemskys for their efforts here. I see their role here as somewhat the same as the role John D. Larkin and family played back in their day.
To paraphrase something Jerome Puma of the Larkin Gallery said to me at some point, anything that highlights and establishes a sense of history in Buffalo, is a good thing. I agree wholeheartedly.
Don’t forget to stop in at the Larkin Gallery in the Larkin Center of Commerce. It’s free to go in, although donations are gratefully accepted. They’re open Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm. Tours are available by appointment.
Hopefully, it’ll be spring soon and you can go out on a patio at the Hydraulic Hearth for one of those artisan cocktails I told you about. Or to Flying Bison for a Paula’s Peanut Stick Porter or a Rusty Chain. (They’re both open for indoor socially distanced service, but it is entirely up to you whether you want to go. They both also offer take out services.)
**Special thanks to Jerome Puma – couldn’t have done it without you!
Get the Book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!
Back in November and December, I was able to make it to a few urban trail runs hosted by Flying Bison Brewery. Now, I’m not a runner, but walkers are welcome too, so I’ve been to several of these. It’s one of the few things I can do with friends, while keeping a good distance from each other. (Another reason urban hiking is awesome!) For those of you who are thinking it, social distancing and masks are required at these events. This gives me a chance to urban hike around Larkinville of course, because Flying Bison is right there on Seneca Street.
With all the recent changes going on in Larkinville, I got to thinking about what used to be here. What it was like in the more recent past. But also long ago when this area was referred to as ‘the Hydraulics’.
Shortly after I published a post about the Medical Corridor, I received an email from Jerome Puma. During our email exchanges, he offered me a tour of the Larkin Gallery. Well, you know I never turn down the offer of a tour of anything Buffalo related! So, off I went to the Larkin Gallery. More about that later.
As I sit down to write about Larkinville, I realize that this will have to be a two part series. One, about the Hydraulics and the Larkin Company. And one about what is happening in Larkinville now and how the Larkin Gallery is preserving the history of the Larkin Company.
Let’s get this party started.
In 1827, Reuben B. Heacock founded the Hydraulics Business Association, bringing together several business owners from this immediate area. The Association was responsible for bringing the Hydraulic Canal to the area in that same year. It was fed by the Buffalo Creek and was later connected to the Erie Canal by way of the Main and Hamburg Canal. This is how the name ‘Hydraulics’ was coined.
This was Buffalo’s first use of industrial waterpower. By 1832, the same year Buffalo incorporated as a city, this area was flourishing as the center for business and industry. There was a saw mill, a grist mill, a shoe last mill (shoemaker), a hat factory, a pail factory, and, of course, a brewery. Always breweries, this is Buffalo after all.
There were also many smaller mom & pops who supported these businesses. These would have included ‘garage’ businesses where small parts were supplied to and repaired for machinery used by industry. There would have also been churches, general stores, bakeries and other food service, messenger services, barber shops, taverns and more. The Hydraulics also contained homes, boarding houses and apartments for the many people who lived and worked in the area.
By the early 1840’s railroads came into the neighborhood and served both the people and the companies in the area. Shortly thereafter the canal was no longer used and was filled in by 1883.
The Hydraulics would have been a bustling, thriving area of Buffalo.
The Larkin Company
It’s important to note that the Hydraulics was already well established by the time John D. Larkin and his wife’s brother, Elbert Hubbard, brought Larkin’s two year old soap company into the district in 1877. But his company grew so fast that it would become a major force in the hydraulics for the next 60 years or so. He added on to what is now the Larkin Commerce Center several times in order to accommodate the growing business. He built several other buildings in the district as well for the same reason.
The Larkin Company pioneered several business practices, including but not limited to, catalog sales and the practice of giving rewards for purchases. The “Larkin Idea” put simply was that by selling directly to customers, the cost of the middleman was avoided, including their own sales force. This made it possible to create what was referred to as ‘premiums’ or in other words, a reward for purchasing Larkin products. Hubbard originally came up with the idea of including little decorative cards and postcards with each order, as a little ‘thank you’ for the purchase. Within a few years, Larkin and Hubbard decided to stop using salesmen altogether. They began marketing directly to the customers in their homes with catalogs. The money they saved by not paying sales commissions were spent on ‘premiums’, or rewards.
In the 1890s, Hubbard left the Larkin Company and established the Roycroft Movement in East Aurora.
How Did ‘Premiums’ Work?
Here’s how it worked. When you purchased Larkin products totaling $10, you would receive a ‘premium’ of your choice. The soap and other products that Larkin sold (eventually totaling more than 900 widely varied items) were highly regarded. The company was well respected for quality. The premiums were also good, quality products. They ranged from lamps to desks to living room chairs, to phonographs, dining room furniture, china, silverware and more. In fact, The Larkin Company formed Buffalo Pottery (later Buffalo China) in order to keep up with the demand for premiums.
Larkin products were eventually everything from soap and shampoos, to food and food additives, condiments, shoe and furniture polish, oils, perfumes, painting supplies and wallpaper. Picture frames, manicure sets and nail polishes, hosiery, clothing patterns and clothes! The list is seemingly endless! It would not be difficult to spend $10 when you page through a catalog with that many items. But you might be surprised at how many items you could get for $10 back in the day!
The Larkin Company recruited women (mainly housewives) to start ‘Larkin Clubs’ made up of ten women who would get together monthly. The ten pledged to spend $1/month on Larkin Products, and the women would take turns choosing a ‘premium’ item. Some clubs were larger than 10, some smaller. The women would each receive a premium every 10 months or so, depending the number of women in the club. The ‘secretaries’ would receive a nominal commission. And the company would be assured regular customers. It was genius really. A total win win.
And of course, if you could afford it, you could place an order for a $10 purchase whenever you wanted. Like in this video below, produced by the Larkin Company.
It’s a fantastic look into the history of the Larkin Company, but there are also other things to note as well. The hand wrapping of the soaps, but also how mechanized the factories actually were for their day. I’m pretty sure OSHA would have found the Larkin Company to be in violation of several regs! Haha! Also, the mail truck and other vehicles! The writing of the order in letter form seems so quaint today, but I’m sure that’s how it was done.
This video was brought to you courtesy of Jerome Puma, Director of Acquisitions at the Larkin Gallery.
The Larkin Idea was a Huge Success
By 1920, the company employed 2,000 people, and had $28.6 million in sales (worth roughly $372,500,000 in 2021). That, my friends, is a lot of bread. Absolutely incredible.
The success of the company allowed Larkin to hire Frank Lloyd Wright to build a state of the art, and a work of art, administration building on Seneca Street across from the Larkin Commerce Center. Completed in 1906, the building was noted for its many innovations, including rudimentary, but effective, air conditioning; built-in office furniture, much of which was metal and very unusual for the time; and state of the art public bathrooms.
It was built of red brick with pink mortar, featured two outdoor waterfalls, and that wrought iron! The interior was, in typical Wright fashion, stunning. It held a five-story atrium in the center and open work spaces on the outer walls of the building.
The company eventually topped out at 4,000 employees in the 1920’s. The Larkin family, along with all of the employees, celebrated the company’s 50th Anniversary in 1925.
The Beginning of the End
As early as 1915, John D. Larkin Jr. was getting more involved in the managing of company policies. William Heath (John D. Sr’s brother-in-law and Office Manager) retired in 1924. Darwin D. Martin, long-time and trusted company secretary (probably would be equal to a V.P. today) retired in 1925. It is reported that they had differences of opinions with Junior on how to move forward with the future of the Company. Just what those were, I’m not sure we’ll ever know. After these two left, several other high ranking employees who had been around for a long time followed suit.
This is never good for a company. When so much experience walks out the door, there is bound to be trouble. Not always insurmountable, but definitely a sign of trouble to come.
In 1926, John D. Larkin passed away at the age of 80. John D. Larkin Jr. took over as president. The company struggled through the stock market crash and the ensuing depression that followed.
All of this came at a time when regular folks had better access to automobiles, and retail department stores became more and more common. It was no longer necessary to order products through the mail. Customers could now walk into a store and purchase items that they could actually look at before buying, and take home with them that same day.
The Larkin company, under John D. Jr, tried several different ways to keep up with the changing times, but in 1940, a restructuring of the business took place in order to avoid bankruptcy. Harry Larkin (John D. Jr’s brother, and son of John D. Sr.) took over as president, and John D. Jr. retired that same year. The company was broken up into smaller corporations in order to salvage portions of the business for the stockholders.
What about the Administration Building?
The Frank Lloyd Wright designed building was eventually sold to a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania contractor hoping the back taxes owed on the building (amounting to just over $104,000) would offset huge profits he was making elsewhere. When the federal government denied the tax break, the building sat empty for many years.
The city took possession, and half-hearted attempts were made at selling it, but being removed from the downtown core made it a difficult sell. In the end, the Western Trading Corporation purchased the building for $5,000, promising to tear it down and infill with new builds creating a new tax base for the city.
The Administration Building was taken down in 1950. The materials were used to fill in what used to be the Ohio Basin, now Father Conway Park, between Louisiana Street and Ohio Street. New infill, creating that promised tax base, never materialized.
The video below is a stunning look at both the exterior and interior of the building we have now lost. The Video is courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
In speaking to Jerome Puma, Director of Acquisitions at the Larkin Gallery, I was surprised to learn that The Larkin Company continued to sell items until 1962, and never went bankrupt. Like most, I thought the whole thing ended in the 40s. But Buffalo Pottery continued to operate, with Harold M. Esty, Jr. (John D. Sr’s grandson) as president from 1964 – 1970. It was sold to Oneida in 1983. Good to know.
The story of the Larkin Company is obviously much more complicated than I’ve just laid out for you. But I would have to write a book, and that’s already been done. The best one I’ve seen is John D. Larkin: A Business Pioneer by Daniel I. Larkin, John D’s grandson. There is a lot of history in this book about the man, his family, and the company. It reads like a novel at times, and is extremely well written. When I read it, I felt like I had traveled back in time, and you know how I love that.
All that said, I get a real feeling in this area of the city. Of days gone by, of history, of industry. Of Buffalonians going about their daily lives experiencing the joys, the struggles, the hopes and dreams for the future, just like we do today. Perhaps I get this feeling because it is once again a growing, thriving part of our city, with people staking their futures on success in this same area where The Larkin Company once made its mark on the history of Buffalo.
Stay tuned for next week’s post, Larkinville – Part 2, where we’ll discuss what’s happening in Larkinville now. Who are the people and the businesses that are already here, and we’ll take a closer look at the Larkin Gallery, located in the Larkin Commerce Building. One trip to the Gallery, and you’ll know why so many people are still fascinated with The Larkin Company, and indeed the Larkin family, today.
I’m one of them. See you next week!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in reading about where the Larkin family lived here in Buffalo. Spoiler alert: their homes were (and some still are) spectacular! Enjoy!
**Special thanks to Jerome Puma – couldn’t have done it without you!
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