City Living – Edge Park Ave.

City Living – Edge Park Ave.

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…

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.

And Then…

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 Schwartz home. Part of the scene of the Starling Affair of 1959.

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!

The Boasberg home. The other scene in the Starling Affair.

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!

Several Surprises!

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.

And Then…

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.

Home Stretch

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.

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Larkinville – Part 2

Larkinville – Part 2

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.

Photo credit: Unknown (Is that a white, Chrysler LeBaron?)

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 patio at Hydraulic Hearth

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.

A Shrine?

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?

Homes…and More…

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.

Buffalo Distilling

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.

My Impressions

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!

Larkinville – Part One

Larkinville – Part One

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’.

What we now know as the Larkin Commerce Center.
Check out the buildings on the right (no longer there).

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.

The Hydraulics

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.

The red brick building on the left used to be a saloon. The building on the right, a boarding house.
More about these next week.

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

John Durrant Larkin

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.

Larkin Idea

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!

Larkin Secretaries

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.

The Wright designed Larkin Administration Building.

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 main floor in the Administration 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.

The main reception desk at the Larkin Administration Building.

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.

My Impressions

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.

My well-worn copy.

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.

Next Week

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!

Get the Book!

They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!

City Living – Around the Block at Agassiz Circle

City Living – Around the Block at Agassiz Circle

A couple of weeks ago, as I drove on the 198 near Forest Lawn, I lamented to myself (again) about the loss of the once beautiful Humboldt Parkway. Yes, I do have occasion to use the controversial, but also well used highway that split our Delaware Park (and indeed a thriving neighborhood) through the middle. As do, I suspect, a lot of Buffalonians who wish the highway were still a beautiful ‘bridle path’ that ambled through the park and over to MLK Park.

But that’s not what I am writing about today. Suffice it to say that if the Scajaqada were torn out tomorrow, and returned to its former glory, I would rejoice right along with all the principled people who refuse to use it today. But for now, I occassionally need to, and do, use it. Just like I will when it’s returned to a tree lined two lane city street. (Hope!)

But on this day, it was the homes on Agassiz Circle that I was thinking about. Specifically the ones near Medaille College. Who lives along there now? And how does their view differ from the way it was back in the day? Curious, as usual, I decided to take a closer look.

Let’s Begin

As I left the house to head over to Agassiz Circle, I mentioned to my husband that I didn’t think I’d be able to continue my urban hikes posts through the winter because people are generally indoors at this time of the year. And let’s face it, the people I meet along the way are what makes these posts interesting.

Happily, I was wrong. On this hike, I met and spoke with four residents of this neighborhood who were friendly and willing to chat. Take a look.

The Homes on Burbank Terrace and Burbank Drive

I started this urban hike at the corner of Meadowview Place and Burbank Terrace.

Burbank Terrace

As I entered the street, this is the first home I saw. Just my style. Love everything about this house. I always marvel at how some homeowners get the color just right. The color of this house is perfect. Not fussy with the trim – just all one color and it looks like a classic craftsman style home. I especially love that the windows appear to be original. Love it.

As I start to move on, the homeowner comes out on the front porch to talk to me. Her name is Brittney (I apologize if that’s not the correct spelling) and she’s very friendly. I explain why I’m taking pictures on her street. We talk about her home, about the neighborhood, and about the cemetery. She tells me there have only been two owners of this home. And I believe she is correct. Well, two families that is. The first owner was A.J. Brady Jr, who worked for Brady Bros., which was run by his father and uncle, and was a lumber business located in North Tonawanda. His daughter Mary Louise was the previous owner to Brittney and her family. So two families.

Brittney invites me to the backyard to see their view of Forest Lawn and to take photos. The backyards are very small along this stretch. Here, it’s about having the wide open space of the cemetery on your border. Brittney says that her kids know Sarah Jones very well. At my look of confusion, she explains that Sara’s is the closest grave to their backyard. She speaks about Sarah almost affectionately. I find this to be very sweet, but also very realistic. It teaches children that death is a part of life. We’re all going there; am I right? Why shouldn’t we talk to our kids about it?

Moving On

Brittney also tells me that this home, below, was built on a bet. Apparently, the people who built it had it designed to fit into this tiny piece of property, because people bet it couldn’t be done. I think they did it very well. No yard here at all, just the wide expanse of cemetery out back.

I love this neighborhood already. Thanks Brittney!

As I walked away from Brittney’s home I took one more photo of it, and another of this one, below, when I met up with Patrick, who was walking his dogs. I handed him my card, and explained what I was doing. He seemed okay with it, but his dogs were definitely not interested in talking to me, so we continued off in opposite directions.

Patrick later emailed me and we’ve had a few back and forths, discussing the neighborhood and Buffalo in general. He loves living in the neighborhood. And why wouldn’t you?

More Homes

After walking to the end of Burbank Terrace, I turned around to head over to Burbank Drive. It was then that I met up with Jeff, and his super sweet dog, Trixie. She’s 15, but certainly doesn’t act her age! She’s a beautiful girl, isn’t she?

Isn’t she sweet?!

Jeff and I talked about how much he loves living on this street, he’s been here for 23 years. Everyone I meet mentions that everybody knows everybody in the neighborhood. I like that.

Burbank Drive

As I head on to Burbank Drive, I see a lovely Cape Cod. I have never seen this particular use of wrought iron on a porch, but I like it so much, I wonder why it’s not done more. I think this is one of the best Cape Cod style homes I’ve ever seen. It’s larger than it appears in my photo. It’s the kind of home that is grand, without being massive. Does that make sense? If there is such a thing, it’s a grand Cape. This is one that makes me think that I wish it were summer. I’ll have to come back.

There are a few more houses along here, but the owners expressed an interest in privacy, and always wishing to be respectful, I will not share photos of those homes. The homeowners were friendly, mind you. Just private, and I can understand that.

I decided to take a break at this point and head over to Medaille before starting up again on Agassiz Circle.

Medaille

The photo above is the main building of Medaille College, which is the former building that housed Mount St. Joseph’s High School.

As I walked towards Agassiz, the first home I saw was this one, below. This home is gorgeous. I love the little balcony above the front door. And the bay windows are really pretty.

It doesn’t, however, have it’s own address. It is (obviously) the office of admissions for the college though, so it probably shares the address of the college. It’s beautiful.

The Driscoll Home

Then I came to this house.

It was once owned by the Driscoll family. Daniel A. Driscoll was a member of Congress for four terms, beginning in 1908. He went on to serve as postmaster in Buffalo from 1934-1947. To that date, only one had served a longer term, Erastus Granger, who was our first postmaster.

Photo Credit: Unknown

Upon his retirement from government work, Daniel returned to active, full-time management of the family business, the Driscoll Funeral Home at 1337 Main Street, founded by his father in 1861. He was also the president of the Phoenix Brewery Corporation since its organization in 1934.

Driscoll was reportedly quite a character, was known for his quick wit, had a soft spot for Ireland, (his parents both arrived here from Ireland as small children) and was apparently not fond of the mortuary business. He never married, and passed away in the home (above) in 1955, after an illness of several months. He was 80.

Moving Along the Circle

The next few homes are stunners as well. This first one is lovely with that sunroom above the carport! Would love to sit out there on a sunny afternoon.

Here, below, I love the tile roof, and those low slung arched windows that match the arches on the porch.

This home, below, just sold in December of 2020, and interior photos can be seen here. My photo doesn’t do it justice. There is a storage Pod in the driveway presently which I tried to avoid in the photo. It appears to be a well lived in, lovely (large) home.

A Sad Story for Such a Beautiful Home

This home, below, is a quintessential city home, is it not? It’s got a sad story connected with it though. In 1933 the Albert Abendroth, Sr. family lived in the home. Their son, Albert, Jr. (19) attended Canisius College, and because he did well with his studies, his parents gave him a new car.

Shortly thereafter, on May 31, 1933, Al (as he was known) took the car, and along with his friend William (Bill) Shepard Jr. (18) headed over to Long Beach, Ontario, Canada, to a Canisius College class picnic.

At the picnic, the two headed out into Lake Erie in a canoe and were never seen again. The canoe was found during the search for the boys. It is presumed the two drowned. It is unclear whether their bodies were ever found.

In a cruel twist of fate, amid massive search efforts the day after the accident, there were reports that the boys were found alive, and were being brought into Detroit by a freighter. The families, and indeed the whole of Buffalo and Long Beach, Ontario, rejoiced!

But when the freighter arrived, the stunned crew knew nothing of the disappearance of the boys. The freighter did not even have radio equipment on board. (?) It would be June 23, before the obituary for Albert Jr. would show up in the Buffalo Evening News.

Nevertheless…

The home is beautiful and has been very well maintained. There is even a little free library out front, which you know I love. Note the wrought iron and glass crescent moon hanging above the library. Sweet.

And this amazing, gorgeous home!

Meadowview Place

This street was aptly named. When these homes were built their view was of a beautiful wood that overlooked the meadow side of Delaware Park. In fact, the view was Delaware Park. Let me tell you what I mean.

Before Humboldt Parkway was torn out and the 198 was put in, the Parkway ambled off to the northwest through Agassiz Circle and straight into what is now the Parkside entrance to Delaware Park. The parking lot at that entrance was much the same as it is today. The Parkway then veered off to the left and continued to amble through the park, over Delaware Avenue and along Hoyt Lake.

So, you see, Meadowview Place used to border Delaware Park. Now it is cut off from it. Essentially, all the space between Meadowview Place and Meadow Drive (what we all now call Ring Road) was a thinly wooded area, and meadow. Below is a view from Meadowview over into that parking area I just mentioned. Picture it, without any roads in between.

Must have been lovely.

The Homes

The homes are fantastic. Even with the 198. They’re mostly set back aways from the street, so there’s plenty of room.

Here’s the view from these homes, below. Not too bad in the middle of a Friday afternoon; I only see a couple of cars.

Then I came upon this home, below. It reminded me of one of the Sears homes that I found over on Tillinghast. But the dates don’t match up. This one was built in 1900, and Sears didn’t start selling kit homes until 1908. Boy, it really does look like one!

I keep thinking on this hike, I’ll have to come back to see this neighborhood in the summer when everything is in full bloom!

This one is lovely as well.

Perhaps the Most Interesting Home in the Whole Neighborhood

This home, below, probably has the most interesting story in the neighborhood. It looks like such a nice family home. And I’m sure it is. But it was not always the case, depending on your opinion, of course. I happen to revel in the history of this house. The audacity is awesome! Read on.

Back on January 4, 1933, there were two arrests made here for the illegal possession and manufacturing of, you guessed it, liquor and intoxicants. Remember this was the prohibition era. Harry H. Hall, owner of the home, and Joe Saco, renter of the ‘barn’ were both charged. Federal agents staked out the house for three weeks prior to the arrests and observed the business comings and goings during what was probably the busiest season for sales, the holidays.

Wonder if they waited until after the holidays to raid the place in order to let people have a good holiday (the customers, I mean), or would the charges be ‘greater’ with proof of so many sales? We’ll never know. But the scope of production was incredible. The government estimated that 500 gallons of 150 proof alcohol was being produced here daily. Daily! Moonshine anyone? Wow! That is a lot of booze!

How did they come to know about it, you ask? They smelled the mash while driving by one day. How could you not, with that much in production?

The ‘barn’ was built into the side of a hill. The upper floor held an apartment and lockers for the wealthy Buffalonians who rented riding horses from Mr. Hall. The horses were kept in the basement level where the still was kept and were brought up to the riders. The renters of the horses would have no idea that there was a large still in the lower level, unless they recognized the smell of the cooking mash.

The Operation

It was apparently quite the operation. There were seven vats that held 2,000 gallons each and one 5,000 gallon vat. Wow! The contents of the building, including 12,800 gallons of mash, and 2,000 gallons of syrup, and other distilling equipment were seized and taken to a government warehouse. Wow!

I believe the photo below is the “barn”. The road dead ends at this building. From the 198 a stone wall is visible on the side of a hill, constituting one wall of the lower part of the structure.

It is unclear if either of the two men arrested were found guilty or served any time. Mr. Hall maintained that he merely rented the “barn” to Mr. Saco. But he was the one renting the riding horses. How could he have not known?

Pretty interesting story, eh? Well, read on for another one.

Rock Stars on Agassiz?

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this because it’s pretty cool.

In one of my conversations with Patrick, he mentioned that Gregg Allman and Cher stayed on Agassiz Circle back in the mid 70’s. Allman was going through rehab here at BryLin at the time and the couple, along with Chaz (Chastity, at the time) and the couple’s son Elijah Blue, stayed for several months. I knew they were here back then, but I didn’t know they lived on Agassiz Circle while they were here.

On a personal note, the doctor who treated Allman was the brother-in-law of a friend of mine (I am aware that this statement is so Buffalo!). My friend loaned the couple a crib for Elijah Blue, who was a baby at the time. Can you imagine? Loaning a crib to a mega star like Cher?!

You can read a very interesting story about Allman and Cher’s time here in this Buffalo News Article. It confirms they were living on Agassiz, but I still don’t know which house. Anybody?

Also, while reading about it, I found another article about Gregg Allman playing a concert for Canisius High School while the couple was in town. It’s a great story, and is from the Buffalo News as well.

My Impressions

So happy I looked into this area! I’ve been wondering about it for quite a while now, and I ended up meeting some pretty nice people on this urban hike. I saw a lot of beautiful homes, and learned some more about our city.

I love the history here. From the story of a family who lost a beloved son, to an interesting postmaster, to bootleggers!

I’ll admit the story of the Abendroth family hit close to home for me, having lost a family member in a similar way, complete with a 5 day search. I know the devastation a death like this causes a family. So my heart really went out to the Abendroth family while reading about it.

But, I have to also admit that I did not expect bootleggers in this neighborhood. As I said before though, the audacity of that crime was amazing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seemed like a big operation. 500 gallons a day! Literally taking place just steps from the Buffalo Parks Labor Department, which I believe to have been there at the time. And even if it wasn’t there yet, anybody could have wandered up to it from Delaware Park, because remember, there was no 198 at the time! Oh Buffalo.

When I take these urban hikes, I always choose a neighborhood because of the homes. But on every hike, it always ends up being about the people. I met some really nice ones on this hike. And found some great stories about Buffalo as well.

Like I always say, take a walk Buffalo! You’ll see more of our city on foot than in a car any day! And you just may make a friend or two!

**Get the book! They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!

The Beck Family Home

The Beck Family Home

After writing and publishing a post about an urban hike I did in the Medical Corridor, I received an email from a reader regarding a home that used to be at 923 Washington Street, now an empty lot (photo above). What a story it turned out to be! 

I had originally reported in the post, that word on the street told me that there was a home on Washington Street at the corner of Carlton. And that the city had tried to take ownership for development. There were two sisters who were in their 90’s living there. They fought the city in court to keep their home. But eventually the sisters and the city came to an agreement to move the house. The person who told me the story didn’t know where the house had supposedly been moved to.

The address at 923 is now a vacant lot. I lamented that the two elderly ladies went through an awful lot of grief to make way for a vacant lot.

After publishing, I received an email from a reader revealing the real story. I did a little research on my own, and decided to write a whole new post about the Beck family home, because I think it’s important that we learn from our mistakes. And I believe that what happened in this case was a mistake. This is what I’ve learned.

The Original Home

The home in question was not moved off of the property on Washington Street, but had been moved to that location. But, let’s go back and start at the beginning.

The home was built sometime around the Civil War, by the grandfather of sisters, Anna and Veronica Beck. It was built on Ralph Street, or Ralph Alley as it was known at the time. Ralph Alley used to run parallel to and one block west of Michigan Avenue near Goodell.

Who Lived There?

Most of the people living on Ralph Alley throughout the late 1800s and into the 1900s were either German immigrants or descendants of German immigrants. Most of the men worked in some way, shape or form in Buffalo’s brewing industry.

Homes on Ralph Street (Alley), since torn down. Photo courtesy of Steve Cichon
Torn-Down Tuesday: Ralph Street has been wiped off the map

The occupation of Anna and Veronica’s grandfather is unknown. As is the occupation of their father, Frank Beck. I believe Anna lived in her grandfather’s home and took care of it on a full time basis. Veronica, however, according to census records, worked as a bookkeeper for Marine Bank. All of the family members, including Frank’s wife Lillian (mother of Anna & Veronica) lived in the home at 42 Ralph Alley. They were members of St. Louis Church on the corner of Main and Edward Streets.

Funny to think of that now. But back then, extended family members lived together much more often. Anna and Veronica lived with their parents, and probably their grandparents until the elders passed away. Think about that for a minute. I love my kids and everything, but I’ll admit I’m glad they don’t live with us anymore. And I’m pretty sure they’re happy about it too. Just sayin.

So, What Happened?

In the 1970’s most of the neighborhood around the Beck home at 42 Ralph Alley was razed as part of the Oak Street Urban Renewal Project. The project included the building of the McCarley Gardens apartments. The neighborhood was very densely populated with homes. Over a hundred were torn down. Anna and Veronica took the city to court in order to save theirs.

McCarley Gardens as they appear today at the corner of Michigan and Goodell.

It was a lengthy court battle, roughly two years, but the sisters won. Well, sort of. The city agreed to move the house from its original spot on Ralph Street, to the corner of Washington and Carlton, aka 923 Washington Street. Through tough negotiation, the sisters were deeded the land as well, and it was stipulated (by the sisters) that upon the death of the last family member, the home would be torn down and the city was to be given an option to buy back the land for $100. Both the sisters and officials for the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency signed the agreement.

From a Buffalo News clipping. Original photo by Sharon Cantillon

The sisters were happy with the outcome. And by that I mean I’m sure they would have preferred that none of it had happened, but they didn’t lose their home. And they could still walk to their beloved St. Louis Catholic Church, which was apparently one of the sticking points in the negotiations. They had lived in the shadow of the great spire of St. Louis their whole lives and didn’t want to leave it. Now, they wouldn’t have to.

View of St. Louis Church from the lot where Anna Beck’s home once stood at 923 Washington Street.

The sisters lived out their days in the home (Veronica passed away a number of years before Anna).

Anna Beck Dies

In 1998, Anna Beck, the last surviving family member passed away. Per the agreement entered into with the city, her will stipulated that the home be torn down and the city be given the option to purchase the property for $100.  

Well, guess what?  The city changed its mind.  To be fair, the common council of 1998 were somewhat more preservation minded than those of the 1970s.  The common council felt certain that the home was historic (although it held no such distinction) and so the city took the Estate of Anna Beck to court to block the demolition.

Attorney for Anna Beck, Mary Kennedy Martin, argued that Ms. Beck was adamant the house be demolished.

It seemed the City of Buffalo and the late Anna Beck had unfinished business.

What About the Home Itself?

The home itself was a veritable museum at this point.  It was reported at the time that it appeared that no updates had taken place in the home after the 1930s.  The contents included cooking utensils, an early Hoover vacuum cleaner, a refrigerator that was not much more than an ice box, a wringer washing machine, a treadle sewing machine (run on foot power!) and vintage 1930’s furniture.  All still being used in the 1990s! Anna cooked on the same cast iron stove her mother used before her.  The home was painted the same yellow color with green trim.

Amazing.

The Final Fate of 923 Washington

But, in a court of law, the will stood up to the challenge.  Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina ruled for Ms. Beck, as her will was very clear and ironclad. In what he called a very difficult decision, he had to uphold the letter of the law (as he is charged) and ordered that the executor of Anna’s estate go through with the demolition. The ruling itself is a fascinating read. (Believe me, I know what that sounds like!) Read it here.

Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina examines the cast iron stove Ms. Beck cooked on until her death in 1998. From a Buffalo News clipping. Original photo by Sharon Cantillon.

The executor, by the way, was the Rev. Louis Gonter, who was a parish priest for the Diocese of Buffalo. The bulk of Anna’s estate, amounting to roughly $150,000 was left to St. Louis Catholic Church, which meant so much to Anna and her family.

What Else?

Throughout my research into this topic, I found myself wondering about Anna Beck. Wish I could have met her. She must have been the definition of a complete minimalist. I think I live pretty simply. But not like Anna Beck.

I have so many unanswered questions. Why would she have been so adamant about having the house razed? Was it out of spite because the city forced her and Veronica off Ralph Street and over to Washington Street? Or did she really feel that no one else should live in her family home? Also, the way she never changed or updated anything in the home. If she was really so attached to the stuff of her parents and grandparents, why demolish the house?

The only photo of Anna Beck I could find. From a 1998 Buffalo News Story.

Also, what would cause a person to never update anything in their home at all? I get the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But…geez. A wringer washer? Who knows? It may have been living through the depression that was at the root of Anna and Veronica’s thrift. I don’t think it was money. Anna left a residual estate of $150,000 in 1998. She wasn’t loaded, but she wasn’t poor either.

I guess we’ll never know.

My Impressions

I have mixed feelings about this story. On one hand, I’m a preservationist at heart. To be able to see this home now, as Anna left it in 1998 would be amazing. The fact that we lost a home, much preserved back to the 1930s, is a real shame from a historical standpoint.

I’m sure that all of the items inside, or ones like them, would be able to be gathered to create the museum that was 923 Washington Street. But it wouldn’t be the same, would it? Just the fact that they were all under that roof, being used regularly until 1998 would make it a museum worth seeing.

The sidewalk remains in front of a home that is no longer there.

That’s such a big part of what we history nerds love so much. It’s the stories behind the buildings we so admire. Wondering about the people and the places they inhabited. Where they lived, laughed, cried, and loved.

This simple home told the story of three generations of a Buffalo family. It lasted far longer than most of the mansions on Millionaire’s Row over on Delaware Ave. I’d love to be able to see Anna Beck’s home today, just as it was when she lived there.

Deep breath.

On the other hand, I understand the law, and in this case, it was upheld to the letter. Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina’s ruling was fair, thorough and brilliant. He saw both sides of the argument, and no stone was left unturned in his decision. From the ruling: “Valid contracts cannot be so cavalierly breached.”* The City of Buffalo (Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency) and Anna Beck entered into a binding contract. Anna Beck executed her agreement with her last will and testament. The city of Buffalo was forced to uphold theirs.

And with that, we lost the home at 923 Washington Street, formerly 42 Ralph Alley. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

Just One More Thing

There’s no real sense in spending a lot of time on it. What’s done is done. But at the beginning of the post, I said I thought that what happened here was a mistake. By that I mean that back in the late 70s, no one recognized this home for what it was. And in the twenty years following, still no one noticed. No move was made towards preserving the treasure that it was. To have a vernacular home from the 1860s, in the heart of the city, virtually unchanged since 1930…would be incredible.

The judge’s hands were tied in this case though.

We are better at this now than we used to be. We’re moving in the right direction. As a city, let’s not make this mistake again. Let’s move forward.

*Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mettina’s ruling

**Special thanks to Jerome Puma!

***Since the home was demolished, this lot has been owned by both Kaleida Health and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. It is now owned by 927-937 Washington Street LLC.

Our Lady of Victory Basilica & the Man Who Built It

Our Lady of Victory Basilica & the Man Who Built It

It’s the holidays, so I thought I’d write about one of Buffalo’s most notable churches, Our Lady of Victory Basilica. I’m writing on the suggestion of my husband, Tim. He’s been suggesting it for a while, and several months ago when I decided it was time to get organized with my schedule, I put the Basilica on for Christmas time. I thought it would be fitting to write about such magnificence during one of the happiest times of the Church calendar, the birth of Christ.

Let’s talk about the history and architecture of this building and the man who built it. It’s a big part of our city’s history.

We’ll Begin with Father Baker

As a Buffalonian, born and raised, I have been hearing about Father Nelson Baker my whole life. But who was he really? That’s a good question. So I did some reading, and he was a pretty interesting guy.

Nelson Baker was born in 1842, in the then growing city of Buffalo. He was one of four sons belonging to Lewis and Caroline Baker. He was baptized as a Lutheran at birth, the faith of his father. But for years Nelson attended daily mass with his mother, a ritual he very much enjoyed. At ten, he was baptized Catholic. That’s important, obviously.

A young Nelson Baker. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

His parents owned a grocery / general store downtown, and the family lived behind the store. Nelson completed high school and began working in the family business. He was good at it. He was smart, good with numbers, and enjoyed getting to know the customers.

When the Civil War broke out, Baker served in the 74th New York Regiment, with distinction.

After the war he went into the seed and grain business with a friend, and did very well for himself. At this time he was very generous with his time and money at a local Catholic orphanage in Limestone Hill (present day Lackawanna). The orphanage had a home for younger boys, and one for older boys on their campus, in addition to a parish church.

That Nagging Feeling

But something was nagging at him. He struggled to discern a priestly vocation. He made many excuses. Too old. Not educated enough.

Eventually he entered the seminary after a long conversation with a priest, Father Hines, at Limestone Hill. Baker was ordained a priest in 1876. His first assignment? The orphanage at Limestone Hill, alongside Father Hines.

Father Nelson Baker. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

Perhaps it was his business experience that frustrated him about this first assignment. Father Hines was no businessman. In fact, the orphanage and parish were deeply in debt. It had grown to $60,000. That’s a lot of money now, but back then it was astronomical.

Out of frustration, Father Baker asked for, and was granted a transfer. After just one year though, Father Hines passed away, and the Bishop summoned Father Baker back to Limestone Hill. There he would stay for the rest of his life.

The Turnaround

Creditors were after him immediately. He tried asking for extensions, to no avail. Not knowing what else to do, he simply withdrew every last penny he himself had from his business days, and paid off the debt.

It was at this point that Baker’s business acumen came into play. This is part of the story is important. He wrote letters to postmasters all over the country asking for the names of charitable Catholic women in their towns. (That certainly wouldn’t fly today!) He then started the Association of Our Lady of Victory, and wrote hundreds of letters to these women asking them to join the Association for twenty five cents a year, to benefit the boys in his care.

It worked! It wasn’t a lot of money (although some gave more) and so thousands across the country joined the Association. In effect, he was pioneering what we call today the direct mail fundraising campaign.

Life Gets In the Way

At this time, the idea for Our Lady of Victory Church was already in his mind, patterned after a church he had seen in Paris during his seminary days. But there were several other projects that took precedence. In addition to the many repairs and renovations to the two homes for boys on the property, there was the church to take care of, which at the time was called St. Patrick’s.

Father Baker at his daily rounds at the OLV Infants Home. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

When Baker heard that young, unwed girls were tossing their babies into the Buffalo River in order to save them from a life of poverty, he was horrified. For the mothers as well as the babies! He opened an Infant Home, which was to become a sanctuary for unwed mothers and their babies. Everyone was welcomed, no questions asked.

Baker spent what some considered too much money drilling on the land for natural gas. It took longer than normal, but they found it, and it was enough to heat all the buildings on the site, and roughly 50 homes that were close by. It is still being used today.

The Association continued to grow through it all. And so did the parish. The congregation outgrew the current church, St. Patrick’s, but everytime Father Baker thought he could begin, another emergency would come up and delay his plans.

Finally…

In 1916 St. Patrick’s Church suffered a fire and there was extensive damage. Many suggested rebuilding immediately. Father Baker ordered repairs done but didn’t initiate a new church. He waited until he thought the time was right.

The Great Dome. Photo courtesy of the OLV website.

Finally, in 1921, at a regularly scheduled church meeting, he announced to stunned church members his intentions to build a new church. He outlined his plan to build a large shrine to his patroness, Our Lady of Victory. He promised to complete the church with no debt, and he kept his word.

Our Lady of Victory is Built

Father Baker engaged a renowned architect, Emile Uhlrich for the design, and a local contractor to do the work. He spelled out plans to use only the finest materials and craftsmen to build a church fitting of his patroness. He hired only the most talented artists in the world to complete the work. Professor Gonippo Raggi, from Italy, and Marion Rzeznik (a Polish born Buffalonian) created the beautiful oil paintings throughout the church, depicting Mary’s life. Otto Andrle, a well known Buffalo artist, created the incredible stained glass throughout the church.

OLV as it was when built. The twin towers were shortened when a lightening storm damaged them in 1941. Photo courtesy of OLV website.

The Best of Materials

Forty-six different marbles were used. The pews are made of very rare African Mohogany. The artwork is exquisite. The stations of the cross were carved by the Italian artist Pepini, and it took him fourteen years to complete the project. The great dome depicting both the Assumption and the Coronation of Mary was the second largest in the country when it was built. The first being the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. There are angels everywhere inside and outside the basilica. It is estimated that there are as many as 2,500! Wow! There are four swirled red marble columns surrounding the Our Lady of Victory statue on the main altar.

Baker spent approximately $3.5 million – but with no debt at completion. He enlisted the help of the Our Lady of Victory Association, which now numbered in the tens of thousands. He ‘sold’ marble blocks for $10 each.

Each and every contributor’s name is listed in a book that was placed under the statue of Our Lady of Victory on the main altar. No matter how much or how little they donated.

The finished church is nothing short of magnificent! Just months after completion, the church was named a Minor Basilica by Pope Pius XI. Father Baker’s greatest dream was realized, his gift to Mary had been made.

Incidentally, OLV was only the second church in the country to be named a basilica at the time. The first was St. Adalbert’s Basilica right here in Buffalo, in 1907. Cool, Buffalo!

For the Pope

Because this church is designated as a basilica, it always stands ready to receive the Pope. Up near the main altar, pictured below, are a tintinnabulum (left), and a canopeum (right). The tintinnabulum is a bell mounted on a pole with a gold frame. It is to be used in any processions the Pope may take part in. And the canopeum serves to symbolically protect the Pope and remains halfway open awaiting the Pope’s arrival. Interesting!

The End of an Era

Father Nelson Baker passed away on July 26, 1936. His Cause for Canonization was approved in 1987. His body was moved from Holy Cross Cemetery and placed in a tomb inside the basilica, at the Grotto Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in 1998. By all accounts, Father Nelson Baker was a humble, quiet man who did great things in a humble, quiet way. The faithful of Lackawanna await his approval for canonization.

Our Lady of Victory Basilica is a thriving parish today, and the Association of Our Lady of Victory lives on in the Spiritual Association of Our Lady of Victory, one of OLV’s Charities, serving children and families in need.

My Impressions

To call Our Lady of Victory Basilica impressive is an understatement. It couldn’t be more impressive! I only wish the lights had been fully on in the church when I was there so that my photos could give you a true feel of the place.

Most Buffalonians at least have heard of Father Baker. How many children back in the day were coerced into behaving with the threat of being dropped off “at Father Baker’s”? A lot I would guess. I know my brothers were. But it was good to get to know this whole story. Sometimes these ‘legends’ become so big in our minds that we forget they were people. People who lived, loved and accomplished great things. And in this case, Father Baker did it humbly, and without fanfare. At least not during his lifetime.

The Millions Spent on Our Lady Of Victory

Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna stands as a testament to Father Baker’s faith in God, and his devotion to the Blessed Mother. And while it may be difficult for us to understand the expenditure of millions of dollars on a building when there are poor people who are in need of the basics, (this is something that I struggle with), it was pointed out to me this week, that it’s easy to think that way today. We already have so many treasured buildings of worship.

And back in the day, people equated sacrificing in order to give, as having true faith in God. And building great churches was seen as a magnificent sacrifice, or offering, if you will, to God. Back then, they felt it would please God to create something so grand in honor of him. If this is the case, then Father Nelson Baker certainly pleased his God, and his patroness, Our Lady of Victory, because this church is unparalleled in Buffalo, and I daresay the country.

I’ve seen OLV a thousand times, but every time I approach, it takes my breath away. It’s awe inspiring. I actually find it difficult to choose the right words to describe it. It’s one of those places that you have to see for yourself. Photos don’t do it justice. Especially mine. Either way, if you haven’t at least seen this church from the outside, make it a point to get over there and check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

I wish you good health, happiness and peace this holiday season and in the coming year!

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