Castles of Buffalo

Castles of Buffalo

I have a confession to make. I don’t get downtown very often anymore. Working from home is great, but I admit I miss the action. I only get downtown a handful of times each month. Everytime I do, I get that old familiar feeling. That “I love this town” feeling. I don’t know how to explain it. Downtown Buffalo is just a part of me.

And I think I may be rubbing off on my granddaughter Aoife (pronounced ‘eefa’). To be fair, my son, Aoife’s father, works downtown in the Brisbane Building so that may have had an influence too, but either way Aoife loves downtown.

So, a couple of months ago I had one of my favorite photos of city hall (below) put on canvas. When it arrived, I showed it to Aoife and asked her if she knew what it was. With a big confident smile, she said, “Yes. It’s a castle!” She’s three. So I said, “You’re right, it’s a Buffalo Castle.”

Since then, Aoife loves to ‘go walking’ downtown to see all the Buffalo Castles. I was downtown this morning walking along Main Street, and thought of how Aoife looks with awe at our Buffalo castles. I was inspired to share them with you.

Let’s Get Started with City Hall

Buffalo City Hall. It’s one of the largest municipal buildings in the U.S, at 32 floors and over 560,000 square feet. That aside, it’s an exquisite example of Art Deco design. The architects are Deitel & Wade, and it was completed in 1932. I love this building.

When she’s a little older, I’ll teach Aoife about all the little details that are everywhere on this building. The frieze above the front entryway depicting the history of our city up to the year it was built. The details on the windows. The Native American designs at the top of the building. And the statues on either side of two of Buffalo’s presidents – Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland. Those two may or may not be there when she’s old enough to learn about them. But for now, to Aoife, city hall is the original castle. We both love it.

I especially love the way the building presides majestically over Niagara Square and the McKinley Monument. And speaking of that…

The McKinley Monument

This monument is of course here in honor of President William McKinley who was fatally shot at the Temple of Music, an attraction at the Pan American Exposition in September, 1901. The architects were Carrere and Hastings, and the animals were sculpted by A. Phimister Proctor.

From all accounts, Buffalo deeply mourned the death of McKinley and great thought was given to the design of the monument. It has been said that the sleeping lions were included as a sign of strength, a nod to McKinley’s presidency and the turtles (yes, you have to look for them, but they’re there) were included as a symbol of eternal life, which is what the city at the time hoped for President McKinley.

The monument was dedicated in 1907, six years after McKinley’s untimely death. It underwent its first restoration in 2017. The square itself has changed around it many times, but the monument is here to stay. Not necessarily a castle, but Aoife loves the animals and the fountain, so it’s going on the list!

The Statler Building

In the shadow of the McKinley Monument, it’s easy to see the Statler Hotel, one of my other grandchildrens’ favorites. Apparently Miles learned about it in first grade in a social studies class and was awed that one man owned a building so giant (his words). I talked about Ellsworth Statler in another post, including what’s going on in that building now. He had great influence on downtown life in Buffalo back in the day. I guess you could say that he helped to create the downtown vibe that I love so much.

The hotel itself is definitely one of our castles.

Robert H. Jackson United States Courthouse

Just west of the Statler building, is the U.S. Courthouse. Not all of our ‘castles’ are old. This one was built in 2011. At that time, I worked in the Seneca One tower on the 30th floor, and my office overlooked Main Street. So I watched the courthouse being built. Robert H. Jackson is a Western New Yorker who served as a Supreme Court Justice, so it is fitting that the building is named for him.

Not normally a fan of very many modern buildings, I didn’t expect to like this one. But I do. There’s something very pleasing about the design. The architects are Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates out of New York City. The lower glass wall visible in the photo has the entire U.S. Constitution etched into it. Pretty cool. Castle worthy.

Old County Hall

And then there’s this. This building speaks to me, like some do. It gives me a real feeling of history in Buffalo. Built in 1876, it’s the oldest of the downtown ‘castles’. The center clock and bell tower is 270 feet tall – must have been an amazing sight to see in 1876! Especially since the clocks were back lit by gas lamps at night.

Picture this. It’s 1876. When it gets dark at night, it gets really dark. Not like today with street lights ablaze and illuminated buildings everywhere. It got really dark back then. The nightly lighting of the clock tower became an evening destination for the citizens of Buffalo. Rich and poor alike would take their evening walks or carriage rides to the Old County Hall to behold this clock tower. It still impresses today.

I devoted an entire blog post to this building because it’s one of those that makes me wish time travel could be a thing so that I could shoot back to 1880 or so to see the clock tower lit up without the distraction of all the other lights in the area.

While walking near this building Aoife asked me who the ‘people’ were on top of the tower. Good question. They respresent Justice, Agriculture, Mechanical Arts, and Commerce. That explanation, of course, meant nothing to her, but it meant a great deal to the people of Buffalo in 1876. Enough that they would put them high above us on pedestals to guard over the city. This, is a Buffalo castle.

The Guaranty Building

As we walked away from the Old County Hall, Aoife looked up and said, “Oh Nana, I like those circle windows.” She was, of course, looking at the Guaranty Building. Good eye, kid.

As we approached the Guaranty Building on the opposite side of the road, on Church Street, I started to tell Aoife the story of this building. How it was built in 1895-96, how it was the tallest building in Buffalo at the time, and how it was designed by a very famous architect named Louis Sullivan. Aoife couldn’t have cared less about that. Did I mention that she’s three?

In the meantime, we had crossed Church Street and stood at the base of the corner of the building looking up at the tree of life carving which drew our eyes up to the cornice. That she was interested in. Along with the other Art Nouveau details in the terra cotta exterior, and she was also impressed with the gargoyles. We went into the lobby, where we gawked at the Tiffany-like ceilings, the mosaic walls, and the bronze elevator cages. All are simply gorgeous.

As we walked away from this Buffalo treasure, Aoife said, “That was definitely a castle.” I agree.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Right across the street from the Guaranty Building is St. Paul’s Cathedral. If all those spires don’t make you think of a castle, I don’t know what would!

This church was built in 1851 and was designed by Richard Upjohn, who was well known for his English Gothic church designs. Beautiful inside and out, it is definitely one to go take a look at. I am always struck by how, no matter where on the street you are looking at this building, it appears that you are looking at the main entrance (which is actually on Pearl Street).

The Ellicott Square Building

Now, I don’t really think the Ellicott Square Building resembles a castle, but Aoife sure does enjoy all the faces on the facade. I’ll admit that after I pointed out the Medusa heads lining the cornice of the building, they scared her a little bit. So I told her they were little girls welcoming her into their building. She accepted it.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The architect was Charles Atwood of Daniel Burnham and Company, one of the most prestigious architectural firms in the U.S. What a fantastic example of Italian Renaissance design this building is!

But to me, it’s the interior of the building that puts it on Aoife’s list of Buffalo castles. Whenever I walk into the atrium, I can’t help but look up and around the room. The staircases, the Italian marble mosaic floors, the elevators! It’s still stunning after all these years. 124 to be exact, having been completed in 1896. At that time it was the largest office building in the world. In the world!

It’s definitely castle worthy.

The Old Post Office / ECC City Campus

Back out on the street, I take Aoife through an alley over to the Old Post Office. She takes one look and states, “I think this one is a castle, Nana.” I agree. What do you think?

It was completed in 1901, and had three government architects, Jeremiah O’Rourke, William Aiken and James Knox Taylor. It’s a mix of styles between Victorian Gothic and Richardsonian Romanesque.

And to a kid this one is perhaps the most castle-like of all. It’s a real stunner! And like city hall, there are a lot of details to look at here. Gargoyles, eagles, lynx and bison. And, like the Ellicott Square Building, the inside is amazing! In Aoife’s words, “Woah…”

One M&T Plaza

As Aoife and I head back to Main Street, we see One M&T Plaza. She tells me she doesn’t think this one is a castle. But the closer we get, I can see the wheels turning. And I think she’s changing her mind.

Then we see it. The fountain. That puts her over the edge. It goes on the list. It’s a castle to Aoife because of the fountain. Ah! To be three and have your only responsibility be the discovery of everything around you. That fountain made her so happy.

I’m beginning to think Aoife does have a great eye, because this fountain was designed by Harry Bertoia, and I’ve heard his larger sculptures now sell for upwards of a million dollars! It is a beautiful fountain, and its curves are a nice contrast to the modern, straight lines of the building.

So One M&T Plaza was designed by Minoru Yamasaki and was completed in 1966. He was finishing up this building while starting his next job, the World Trade Center (Twin Towers) in New York City. I don’t have to tell you what happened to that building. Let’s suffice it to say that I am grateful that we still have this building to show off to our grandchildren.

One M&T Plaza is the Buffalo Headquarters of M&T Bank here in Buffalo. And I gotta tell you, they have been Buffalo boosters since their inception in 1856. They’ve stayed true to Buffalo all this time. And they continue to do so. No, I do not work for M&T. I just happen to think that they’ve been good to Buffalo.

The Hotel Lafayette

As we head into Lafayette Square, Aoife points out the Hotel Lafayette and says, “I pick that castle, Nana.” I was wondering what she meant, when she went on to say, “It’s a good one! Just look!”

She’s right. Just look at it.

Completed in 1904 (with two additions to follow), it’s an awesome building. And it was designed by the first working woman architect in the country, Louise Blanchard Bethune. She was a Buffalonian! And apparently she was quite a woman. She reportedly would be shouted at in the streets for riding her bicycle, something that was considered unseemly for a woman in the 1880s and 90s. Can you imagine? No, I can’t either. I would have been in trouble all the time back then!

Read my post here for more about Louise. She was really an interesting woman.

The Hotel Lafayette is now a mix of apartments and hotel rooms, banquet halls, a coffee shop, full service restaurant, and a working brewery. That’s a mouth full. The Lafayette is excellent, inside and out. Castle worthy.

The Rand Building

The Rand Building is, to me, a beautiful building that I don’t think gets enough respect. In fact, I wrote a post about it, where I give my humble opinion about why it doesn’t get the respect I think it deserves. Because I think this building is cool. Strong, solid, and true.

It was built for the Marine Bank and named for George F. Rand Sr., who was at one time the President of Marine Bank here in Buffalo. It was completed in 1929 and was the last commercial building to be built in Buffalo before the stock market crash and the depression began. True to its time period, it’s a decent example of Art Deco design. But you’ve got to really look at it to notice all the subtleties of the design.

I love it, and so does Aoife. Come to think of it, so does Aoife’s father, my son. All fans of the Rand. It’s a castle.

Coincidentally, the next commercial building to be built downtown post depression (1959!) was the Tishman Building, which is now the Hilton Garden Inn, pictured here, to the left of the Rand.

Buffalo Savings Bank / Goldome Bank / M&T Bank

This is probably Aoife’s least favorite Buffalo Castle. I don’t have a clue why. What child wouldn’t be impressed with that shiny gold dome atop this incredible neoclassical, Beaux-Arts style building?

Well, Aoife apparently. She told me that she likes it, but she doesn’t love it. To be fair, we didn’t go inside. That would have elevated its status, I’m sure. The inside is nothing short of magnificent. I love it.

It’s a Green & Wicks design and was completed in 1901 as the Buffalo Savings Bank. It was billed as the working man’s bank. You see, up until this point, banking was reserved for the rich. It gave regular people incentive to save their money for whatever it is they desired. Cool.

Interesting side note: the dome was not originally gold. 24-carat gold leaf was added when Goldome Bank took over the building. The cost to cover the dome with 140,000 sheets of gold leaf was $500,000. More than it cost to build the original building!

It’s a Buffalo castle! I don’t care what Aoife says!

My Impressions of Buffalo Castles

Well, I’m exhausted! Aoife wore me out ‘going walking’ looking at all the Buffalo castles. You know, there’s a reason why people have babies when they’re young! I’m just kidding. Aoife was exhausted too! But not too tired to pose with Daddy at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the center of Lafayette Square.

Photo Credit: Kristen Zelasko

Sometimes I think it’s a good idea to look at something through someone else’s eyes. And sometimes it’s great to see things through the eyes of a child. We walk, ride and drive around the streets of downtown Buffalo and totally miss the amazing architecture all around us.

These buildings that Aoife and I have deemed ‘castles’ are not by any means a complete list. These are just some of our favorites.

Take an urban hike. Look around. Really see our city. Choose your own castles. If you’ve got children or grandchildren, take them with you and look at the city through their eyes. It’ll be like seeing it for the first time. And they may surprise you with their insight and their opinions. Even Aoife, at three, offers these. The way she fell in love with the fountain, or the Hotel Lafayette. It was pretty cool to see.

Get out and enjoy your city Buffalo!

*Get the book! They make great keepsakes or gifts for friends and family.  Click here or on the photo below. They make great gifts!

*All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.

City Living – Woodward Ave.

City Living – Woodward Ave.

On Monday as I sipped my morning tea planning out my week, I decided to get back into Parkside for a hike. And I thought of Woodward Ave and how enchanted I was with the street several years back when friends of ours from Indiannapolis visited. We had a wonderful visit, and while they were here, they stayed at the Parkside House Bed & Breakfast at number 462 Woodward. Before that, I didn’t even know it existed. But what a gorgeous place it turned out to be. I wanted to go see it again.

I called the owner, Chris Lavey, and he agreed to meet with me. So Woodward Ave it is this week.

Parkside B & B

We might as well start with Chris at the Parkside House Bed & Breakfast, because it’s where I started. What a pleasant, engaging person Chris is. I can picture him making friends with most of the people who stay at his house. And speaking of the house, it was built in 1898 as a duplex for two sisters. Which makes it perfect for a B & B. Chris lives on one side and operates the B & B on the other.

He has painstakingly restored this home over the course of a dozen years, pulling down drop ceilings, restoring woodwork. Blending old world Victorian charm with all the creature comforts we are used to today. Everything you’d want in a B & B. And he did it beautifully.

The front porch and second floor back patio alone are a good reason to stay at this place, they’re just lovely! I could easily see myself enjoying these outdoor spaces. Especially when traveling, those quiet moments in the morning, or at the end of the day. Just the kind of outdoor spaces you need, cool in the summer, comfy and cozy in the spring and fall.

When we spoke on the phone, Chris mentioned that Covid-19 has affected his business exponentially. But he is grateful to have had the visitors he did have this summer. Like everyone in the hospitality business in 2020, he is hopeful for the return of travel and tourism in 2021. I for one, would much rather stay at a small, intimate place like the Parkside House than a large, chain hotel.

What Else is on Woodward?

A lot. A real lot. Let’s check it out. The homes are amazing, but the people are friendly too. I walked up one side of the block between Crescent Avenue and Jewett Parkway, and back down the other, beginning and ending at the Parkside House. I passed what I would call many people. Some walking, some on bikes. Others sitting on their porches, some working on their homes. Everyone said hello. All of them.

Look, you know I walk all over the city. I say hello to everyone I meet. Everyone. Some say hello back, but some don’t. For whatever reason, some just don’t feel comfortable responding. That’s okay. I get it. But on Woodward, every single person I said hello to, responded. Every single one. I love that about a neighborhood.

So we’ve established that Woodward has friendly neighbors. But the homes! These houses are what attracts people to a street like Woodward. The friendly neighbors keep them here. The two together is what city living is all about!

The homes are a nice mix of architectural styles. Queen Anne, Victorian, Shingle, Romanesque Revival, Bungalow and Colonial Revival styles are all represented, with the occasional Tudor thrown in. The paint colors can be described as everything from traditional to eclectic. I never would have been able to dream up some of the color combinations, but almost all of them work. Take a look.

Check this Little Guy Out

Then I reached this house where I asked the woman on the second floor patio if I could take photos of the house, she said yes immediately. Note the tie rod and anchor holding the chimney secure to the roof. It’s a nice one. I like the windows here too.

It was then that I realized that her cat was watching me from the picture window. He then looked to her. Cutest photo bomb ever! We laughed and chatted for a few minutes before I moved on down the street.

After that, I was meeting people left and right. Like these two guys – very willing to mug for the camera. Thanks guys!

This would be a good time to mention that I saw several homes along Woodward getting some sort of work done. That’s also another good sign in a neighborhood. People are taking care of their homes. Love the tripartite windows on the third floor of this one, and that wide entryway on the second floor. It’s not often you see that. This home is lovely.

And these. Love the way these homes are being cared for.

Then I Met Mike

A bit further down the road, I met Mike. Unlike the Mike I met last week at Colonial Circle, Mike is his real name. His house is not technically on Woodward, it’s on Jewett. But the bulk of the land is on Woodward. Plus it’s spectacular, so I’m including it.

When I met him, Mike was doing what some men (my husband included) do best. He was puttering. And I mean that in the most positive way possible. Literally, he told me he was playing around with some Ambrosia Maple wood he had left over from a building project (a table) he had recently completed. If that’s not puttering I don’t know what is!

But seriously, people who putter have the best looking houses. And Mike’s is right up there. Just take a look at this beautiful bungalow.

Those are habanero peppers growing in the front garden – love it!

The Home has Received Some Notoriety

Mike tells me the house was featured in American Bungalow Magazine (at least I think he said American Bungalow). Specifically, the windows. And they are spectacular. He pointed out that the porch was enclosed in the 70’s for an attorney who made it his office. Mike didn’t seem to love that part of the house, but I think considering it was done in the 1970’s, it looks pretty good.

We go into the yard and around the home looking at all the little details. It’s fantastic! The wrought iron detail in the gate is repeated in the side yard on the entryway, in a frame at a window at the back of the house, and on the front trellises. Mike tells me he got it from his brother, who was getting rid of an old wrought iron fence. Great reuse.

The brick pavers were salvaged from Ft. Niagara. Love the wear on these. Another great reuse.

It’s all these things that bring a house to the next level. This home is fabulous, and the yard is a veritable oasis. Thanks for the tour Mike, and for being so friendly.

As I leave Mike’s driveway, he goes back to his puttering. I expect to see some Ambrosia maple accents on this house soon. It’ll be perfect!

Frank Lloyd Wright on Woodward

As I cross the street, in between the houses, I see the Darwin Martin Complex on Jewett Parkway. That, my friends, is for another post. But not today.

Today, I will only mention the Gardeners Cottage. It’s part of the Martin Complex, but fronts on Woodward. It was designed along with the Darwin Martin House, as the gardeners cottage and is of the same style as the house, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School design. With much less detail, and lesser materials, but a stunner nonetheless.

Here, I have a personal story to tell. In 1962, my parents were looking to buy their first home. The Gardener’s Cottage was for sale, and they looked at it. They didn’t buy it for two reasons. One, it was $3,000 over their price range (!) and two, my father thought the wide eaves made the interior too dark.

When my Dad told me this story, oh, I would say within the last five years or so, I couldn’t believe it! I could have grown up in a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home! But it was too dark, and for a lousy three grand?! Oh the missed opportunity! Just kidding (sort of).

To be fair, three grand was a lot more money back then, and I’ve heard that Darwin Martin’s wife, Isabelle, didn’t love living in the big house because it was so dark inside. You see, she was nearly blind, and light mattered. The Martins lived there over 20 years. Wonder if she was nearly blind before, or after twenty years of living in the dark house? Mom and Dad may just have dodged a bullet there…

Moving Right Along

Here are some more beauties on Woodward. All fabulous in their own way!

St. Mark’s R.C. Church and School

You can’t walk this section of Woodward without noticing St. Mark’s Church and school complex. Honestly, I was a bit taken aback by the size of the property. I never noticed how large it is.

Roughly 850 families are registered as parishioners, and 400 children attend the school. The parish was founded in 1908, with the first Pastor being Rev. John J. McMahon (later Bishop John J. McMahon). The church building you see here was built in 1914, and the school was opened in 1921. And apparently, according to Business First, St. Mark’s school is ranked the #1 private school in Buffalo. Nice!

Just a Few More

Here are some more homes to round out my hike today. Note the use of color, flowers and landscaping. All of these make a difference in how you see a home as you pass by. Not to mention the architectural details. Take a second to look at the roofs, the windows, the entryways, the brickwork and the whole esthetic. Each of these homes is fantastic in its own right.

My Impressions

I cannot believe how difficult it was to choose which photos to include and which to leave out. So many great homes on one street. And I didn’t even walk the whole length of the street. Buffalo is full of beautiful homes! We only need to get out and walk to notice them. This street, I’ll admit, was a bit overwhelming. There were so many to choose from.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the colors of some of these homes. The orange / yellow colors especially. When I first saw them, I didn’t want to like them, but I couldn’t help it! The colors blended so well with the trees and the landscaping, and with this particular neighborhood. My newest favorite house colors!

Next time you’re looking for a walk where you want to be wow’d by the homes, check out Woodward Avenue over in Parkside. The homes are amazing, and the neighbors are friendly. I’d live here. The homes draw me in, and the people would make me stay. Plus it’s close to the zoo, the History Museum, Delaware Park, the Art Gallery. The list of advantages goes on and on.

And, keep the Parkside House B & B in mind when you have friends and family come to town to stay. It’s immaculately maintained. Your friends and family will thank you.

Take a hike Buffalo. Get to know your neighborhood, and your neighbors!

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

**All the photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.

Circle Living – Colonial Circle

Circle Living – Colonial Circle

With all the traffic circles popping up all over Western New York, it got me to thinking about circle living. Symphony Circle is an incredibly busy and friendly place, and there’s a lot of great history there, but I couldn’t help but think that there’s not very many houses. And I do love a beautiful home. That was when I decided to write about another one of Buffalo’s Circles. Colonial Circle.

Now, Colonial Circle has houses. Lots of them. And they are close together. But the circle feels spacious! Like there’s plenty of room to spread out. And the homes are large and for the most part, very well kept. In my head I picture the view out the front window of any one of these homes, with a few inches of freshly fallen snow and maybe there’s still some flakes in the air. Gorgeous! Or with all the fall colors in the trees! Gorgeous again! You get the idea.

But back to reality.

A Bit of Background about Colonial Circle

Colonial Circle was created by Frederick Law Olmsted when he designed our Parks and Parkway System. This circle serves to connect Bidwell Parkway to Richmond Ave which leads to Porter Ave and Front Park. Our Parkways, including Bidwell, were meant to be an extension of the parks, so that you could travel from one to the other, and never feel like you actually left the park. The plan is ingenius and indeed, when traveling along Bidwell Parkway, you feel like you’re in a park.

Olmsted originally called Colonial Circle ‘Bidwell Place’ after Brigadier General Daniel Davidson Bidwell. He was a very active Buffalonian, and is credited with starting the first police force in the city. He fought in the Civil War, in famous battles including Gettysburg, and was named Brigadier General in August of 1864. That was just two months before being mortally wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek, in Virginia. Bidwell Parkway is named for him. That’s him astride his horse in the center of the circle.

Residents petitioned for a name change to ‘Colonial Circle’, and in 1909 the parks department made the change official.

So, come on, let’s hike.

I approached from Richmond, and headed east onto the sidewalk. The first house I came to is a Green & Wicks design, it was built in 1900 and what a perfect Colonial Revival home. I love the side lights (windows) on either side of the front entry door. This is repeated in the window above the entry porch, and it works. But of course it does, it’s E.B. Green!

Check this one out…number 9. This was built in 1910, and I’m told still has most of the original woodwork and leaded glass. My favorite part about this house? The windows. I can’t tell if all of them are original, but there are so many. Talk about natural light. And I’m a sucker for curved glass. Just imagine the view of the circle through those front windows! I also love the overhanging eaves, and I was also told there is an in-law apartment on the third floor with a separate entrance. Not sure if it’s being used, but I like it.

And this. I don’t know about you, but I am loving the new paint job here. It used to be that country blue, and it was nice, but this is much more classic and fitting with the arts and crafts style. This home was designed by Essenwein & Johnson who are, in my book, number two in historical architectural firms in Buffalo (second to Green & Wicks). It was built for Emily Swift and stayed in the Swift family until 1959. Wish I knew what color it was to begin with. This is the kind of stuff I think about when I go on an urban hike.

My Personal Favorite

Moving right along, we come to my personal favorite on the circle. It’s not typically my style. You know I prefer an open front porch. But I just love the shape of this house! I couldn’t take my eyes off it! Although, the first thing I’d do if this were my house, is remove all the curtains in those amazing front windows (French doors?). Let the light in! In the side view, look at the windows in the dormers. Beautiful. And the transoms above all those French doors. It’s Friday, I’m in love.

Of course, those French doors don’t lead anywhere…but who cares? It’s gorgeous! I wanted to go in. But alas, it didn’t appear anyone was going to invite me in on this particular walk.

Here’s a link to some interior shots. I wouldn’t have painted all the woodwork, but what do I know?

And this. It’s fabulous. I love that center dormer on the third floor. Look at how it mimmicks the tripartite window on the second floor, which flows right down to the entry door with its side lights. I’m told this is a multi-family home with at least 4 apartments. It sure is well maintained.

And a Couple More…

Here are a couple of others I see along the way. Number 15 has a massive silver maple tree on the front lawn (visible in the photo). At some point someone put in a garden surrounding it, and it’s done very nicely. My photos of it didn’t turn out, I was battling the sun for photos this morning, as you’ve no doubt noticed.

And number 33 has so much detail! Look under the eaves, and at the details on the center second floor window with its triangular pediment. Look at the shape of the dormers, and the windows in the dormers! Yes, this one is lovely.

St. John Grace Episcopal Church

As I cross Lafayette, I come upon St. John Grace Episcopal Church. There’s something about this church that I really like. It’s……unassuming. And pretty. I love the cross atop the bell tower. It’s so delicate compared to most that you see.

The building you see here was built in 1907, but the church was first located at the southeast corner of Washington and Swan Streets. Among its founders were William Bird (Bird Avenue), William Fargo (Wells Fargo & American Express), and Joseph Masten (Buffalo Mayor and later Buffalo Superior Court Judge).

The building itself is built of Onondaga Limestone from the quarry that used to be in Delaware Park! Two later additions completed the church we know today. I love that Medina sandstone is still leading up to the main entrance. Historic!

It’s while on the sidewalk in front of the church that I meet a nice neighbor who was willing to chat. We start talking and he told me quite a bit about the circle. Openly. He was humble, unpretentious, well dressed, and seemed like a nice guy. I’ll call him Mike, because he didn’t want me to use his name. He told me a few things I didn’t know. I’ve checked, and he was right on all counts. He doesn’t live in the circle but lives nearby, and walks and bikes the circle daily.

He’s not alone. In the hour or two I spent walking around taking pictures, a lot went on. There wasn’t as much car traffic here as there was on Symphony Circle, but there were more cyclists, runners and walkers. Come to think of it, most were headed towards Bidwell Parkway and all that Elmwood Ave has to offer. And who could blame them?

Moving Right Along

Between Bidwell and Richmond is this lone house at number 77. I love the front entry door, and the ellipse windows on the second floor. Although something tells me that at least one of those windows looks different on the inside than it does on the outside. Could use some updating, but this house has great bones.

And on the Northwest Side of the Circle

As I cross Richmond, I am struck by how I’ve never noticed that there is so much foliage on this section of the circle, and by how overgrown a lot of it is. I guess your eye is drawn to the things you can see as opposed to what you have to look for. But you know me, I go looking for things. Here’s what I found on the northwest side of the circle.

Love this beautiful Tudor Revival that’s first up, and I especially love its portico. Tudors are not usually my thing, but I love this one!

Mike is Right; I am Wrong

This next one, (below) Mike told me about. It was built for the Davis family, who were owners of a general type store on Niagara Street (the building is still there at number 1888). The home stayed in the family through 1949. The current owners bought it in 2000. Love, love, love the porch!

I saw a photo of this house from 2004, and it had ivy growing on the left side and up onto the roof. Exactly where you see the damage to the shingles. Coincidence? I don’t know. Either way it looks to me like the original roof might have been slate, because the sides of the dormers appear to be slate. I always thought slate roofs lasted practically forever, but I looked it up and I’m wrong. Apparently, a soft slate roof can last as little as 50 years. So, it’s plausible that this roof used to be slate, but soft slate. Interesting.

And next up, take a look at this! That gable with the fantastic windows, fifteen panes each! Love this entryway too. It’s very wide and the side lights are wide enough to walk through. And if you can, zoom in on the front door to see the family dog who came out to greet me! Love it!

The Tree House

I had a bit of trouble getting photos of this one. So much foliage. I can tell you that I love the Sycamore tree! But I also acknowlege that it needs care. From what I can see of the house, it appears to be my style and I like it. The dentil molding on the dormers, and under the eaves. The brick foundation for the porch which matches the first floor, and appears to be in decent shape.

It looks like there may be some work being done on the house at this point. This is one to watch.

Let’s Cross the Street

Coming back around now to the southwest side of Colonial Circle and this is what I see. Guess I’m starting to like Tudors, guys. But only if they have Arts & Crafts detailing apparently. The leaded glass is spectacular! This one really caught my eye because of the porches. I can see myself on either of these having my tea in the morning or cocktails in the evening. Nice.

Here are two more pretty ones along this section.

And then I come upon this one. New Orleans style! Of course, it’s apartments. Whenever I see it, I wonder what it would be like to live on the third floor. I’d be out on that porch all the time!

And last, but certainly not least, this stunner! It’s in great shape, and it was built in 1897! I would probably choose a different color scheme but it’s done properly. Mike tells me it’s apartments, but owner occupied. So that explains why it’s kept up so well. Just beautiful!

My Impressions

So, there you have it. Colonial Circle. I can’t help but compare it to Symphony Circle. They are both part of vibrant, bustling communities. But somehow, Colonial Circle seems more affluent. Maybe it’s just the feeling I get because the circle itself is larger and so much more spacious than Symphony Circle.

I can tell you this. If I had to choose which circle to live on, it would come down to the home itself. Because Symphony Circle is walking distance to Allen Street and all it has to offer in terms of shopping, restaurants, art, and night life. Not to mention Kleinhans. And Colonial Circle is walking distance to the Elmwood strip and all it has to offer in terms of the same things. Homes aside, you could flip a coin, since they’re just a quick bike ride apart, with great homes and more to look at in between.

Take an urban hike (or bike) over to Colonial Circle and check it out. If it’s a Saturday morning, head to the Bidwell market afterwards, then on to Elmwood Ave. for a bite to eat and some shopping. Some of our best locally owned restaurants and shops are there. And if you see Mike, tell him I said hello!

What is that on General Bidwell’s heel? Oh, Buffalo…

*All the photos in this post are mine. I’m not proud of all of them, but they are, indeed, mine. 😉

Amherst State Park – A True Hidden Gem

Amherst State Park – A True Hidden Gem

Several years back now, my parents were looking in to senior housing. There were some new builds going up adjacent to Amherst State Park that they went to take a look at. A few days later my Mother and I were going somewhere, and we made a slight detour to drive through the parking lot just so I could see the place. They had already decided they didn’t want to move there, but I was (of course) curious anyway.

When we pulled into the lot, I said, “What is this place?” My Mom explained that the new, and at the time, incomplete buildings off to the right hand side, were what they had looked into. But the other, older building straight ahead is what I was interested in. She went on to say that that building used to be the Motherhouse for the Sisters of St. Francis. But that now there was a state park on most of the grounds of the convent.

A state park? What? In Amherst? Just a stone’s throw from Main Street in Williamsville? Yep.

Best kept secret, ever. At least to me.

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally made it over to the park several weeks ago for one of our quarantine hikes. Great decision, it’s a sweet find.

St. Mary of the Angels Convent

My fascination with old buildings immediately drew me to the old convent. Of which I had already done a little bit of research.

Before I knew this building was designed by Deitel & Wade, it reminded me of city hall, in that everywhere you look, you notice all these little details.

I learned that it’s Gothic Revival style is pretty common among convents, and was designed by Deitel and Wade. The same architects who designed our own city hall. At around the same time too – 1928 for this building. 1929 – 32 for City Hall. This building is impressive.

The Sisters

Most of the Franciscan Sisters who lived here were involved in health care and education throughout Western New York. They ministered at such institutions as Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Niagara Falls, local colleges, high schools and grammar schools. Including my own grammar school.

Nuns have always been the butt of many jokes told by people of all walks of life. And maybe I was at the right age for this, but the sisters who taught me were mostly very nice, and at times sweet ladies. Of course there were one or two that stood out for being ‘mean’, but there are also one or two lay teachers who stand out for the same reason. In my 30’s I had occasion to work with some Felician Sisters, and it was then that I realized for the first time, that sisters are people. (!) They each have their own personality. Some are gossipy, some are pious, some are funny, some are quiet etc. Just people though, trying to get through life just like the rest of us.

Anyway, what a beautiful contemplative place this must have been for them to retreat to, once the rigors of work brought them home in the evenings.

Amherst State Park

The Business End

Roughly 80 acres of the convent land was put up for sale in 1999. New York State and the Town of Amherst acquired the property after splitting the $5 million price tag, in 2000. The agreement states that the town maintain the property which is to be used for conservation and passive recreation only.

And that is exactly how it is being used.

The old convent building is now St. Mary’s Apartments for seniors 55 and over. Very affordable if you look them up. The apartments themselves appear small, but nice. Just think of the yard though! And you wouldn’t have to maintain any of it!

The Park that Brings on Daydreams

While hiking around the park, we came upon a set of old stone stairs. As I walked up them, I had a very clear memory of being of being here, many years ago. My grammar school class had a field trip in what used to be the convent orchard. A couple of us stole away, and when we saw some stairs, we snuck up them. The building we saw at the top was like nothing any of us had ever seen before! We stood at the top of the steps just staring at what we were sure had to be a castle! Are kids still this easily impressed nowadays?

The old orchards are evident in the still existing (apple?) trees. Ellicott Creek ambles in curving paths through the property, bringing peace as it rolls by. Water does that to us, brings peace. There are wooded areas, nature paths, and a bike path too. There are secluded areas, and wide open meadows, and even a pine forest! If this place is not the stuff of daydreams, I don’t know what is!

Graffiti Art and The Cemetery

Bet you’re not used to seeing graffiti art and cemetery used in the same sentence.

Well, while taking a bike ride on another occasion, we took the bike path to the south end of the land. There were some ruins of what appear to be outbuildings for the convent. Now, they are mostly covered in graffiti art, and no one is removing it. Love this.

But when we reached the end of the path, and indeed the property, we noticed a cool looking little chapel in the middle of a field. We, like the little kids who found those stairs years ago, kept going.

Well, it wasn’t a field. It was a cemetery. Specifically, Gethsemane Cemetery, and it appears to be for the sisters who lived and served the community here. The Sisters of St. Francis. I have to admit, it’s a beautiful, serene resting place. And just a stone’s throw to Main Street in Williamsville.

There are still Sisters on the property where we found the cemetery. And they are still serving our community in health care and education. How do I know? We ran into one of them out for an evening walk while I was taking photos of the chapel. She told us she didn’t know the age of the chapel, but she thought it was almost as old as the convent itself. It’s a beautiful little chapel.

My Impressions of Amherst State Park

We all know Glen Park. That gorgeous little park on Main Street in Williamsville with the waterfall. If you go to the parking lot on the other side of Glen Avenue, and follow the creek to the north, you’ll end up in Amherst State Park.

Come to think of it, some college friends and I used to go to that very parking lot on beautiful spring days, take off our shoes and walk the creek for what seemed like miles. It’s not miles to the state park, so I suppose we were on convent land at the time. Hmmm. Good thing the nuns didn’t know what we were up to… 😉 Or maybe they did, and just let us be. Who knows?

St. Francis of Assisi Statue in the cemetery


Anyway, Amherst State Park gives me a good feeling. It’s there for conservation and passive recreation. But really, in my book it’s for walking, hiking, biking, and for getting away from it all. It’s a real retreat from the day to day life right now. And let’s face it, we could all use a break right about now.

The main entrance is on the west side of Mill Street, about halfway between Glen Avenue and Sheridan Drive. If you haven’t been to the park, you should think about getting there this summer. It’s not crowded like a lot of our parks have been this summer. I hope you find it to be as peaceful as I do.

Chestnut Ridge Park

Chestnut Ridge Park

I think of Chestnut Ridge Park as a winter place.  Probably because that’s how I’ve used the park throughout my life.

I don’t have any memories of going there as a small child.  As a young teenager however, I regularly went there for sledding and tobogganing.  The thrill of flying down the hill while practically out of control will always stay with me.  

There was a social aspect as well. Chestnut Ridge has long been the best place to sled in the Buffalo area, and there were always kids there from other schools. Which was exciting in the expanding world of a young teen who was just starting to tug on her mother’s apron strings.  Remember, these were the days when one parent would drive several 13 year olds out to the park and drop them off. Another parent would pick them up 3 or 4 hours later.  We were on our own and testing the waters. 

We felt so free! But in reality, there were enough adults around so that we couldn’t really get into much trouble.  Basically it was good, clean fun, and the memories are indelibly imprinted in my brain.

Photo Credit to Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News

Skip ahead, ahem, several years. Now I return every fall and winter for walking, hiking and snowshoeing.  Chestnut Ridge is arguably the best place around to fully appreciate both fall and winter.  What’s not to love? With its rambling roads, picturesque hiking trails, and the colorful trees in the fall. Oh the trees! The trees in Chestnut Ridge are nothing short of spectacular.

View from the cabin in November.

History

 

That takes me to the history of Chestnut Ridge Park itself.  You know that with me it always comes down to history.

The park was named by early settlers of the area for the magnificent chestnut trees that grew on the land.  It’s located in Orchard Park, NY, twenty-five minutes southeast of Buffalo, and is a little over 1200 acres making it the largest park run by the Erie County Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.  Delaware Park in Buffalo’s city proper is 350 acres. So Chestnut Ridge covers quite a bit of area. It is in fact, one of the largest county parks in the United States. 

Erie County acquired the land for the park in 1926, a busy year for establishing what the county considers heritage parks, because in that same year, the county also established Como Park and Ellicott Creek Park. These followed Emery Park in 1925. Akron Falls Park was established in 1933. 

These parks are all treasures in their own right, but Chestnut Ridge is the one that speaks to me.  Maybe it’s the fond memories of my teenage years and the nostalgia attached. I’m an old soul and when I hike through Chestnut Ridge Park, I get a feeling of history, yes of nostalgia, and a sense of wistfulness for a simpler time.  

I find it interesting that these are the feelings this place invokes in me, when the very park itself grew up on the backs of those struggling to get through the depression.  

Photos Credited to Chestnut Ridge Conservancy Website

The New Deal

The park’s roads, buildings, shelters and landscaping were improved substantially through the Works Progress Administration during the depression.  It was an agency of Roosevelt’s New Deal and sought to provide employment for households where the main breadwinner was unemployed.  

This agency kept roughly 8.5 million men and women employed between 1935 and 1943.  That’s a lot of people. The workers were paid the prevailing wage of the area at the time. Most were hired as laborers and were put to work creating infrastructure for the nation’s current and future society. Including parks.

Most of the structures you see in Chestnut Ridge Park were built at this time.  Although the original casino seen in the vintage photo above was built in 1925, it was replaced with this stone and timber building as part of this project in 1938 (see below). It’s strategically placed to take full advantage of the views from the natural ridge.  And what views!

Photo Credit to Mark Mulville/Buffalo News
View from the Casino patio.

Present and Future

Earlier I mentioned that the park is maintained by Erie County Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.  Since 2010, they have been receiving help in this monumental task from the Chestnut Ridge Conservancy, which has helped with many, many projects that have improved park life.  Some of these include, a $40,000 restoration of the 1948 murals inside the casino (!), long range binoculars on the casino patio (that view!), various park benches, stone work restoration, among many others.  Read more about the Chestnut Ridge Conservancy here.

The park is open all year long and everyone, of all abilities, can find something to do there.  From lounging on the patio of the casino, enjoying the view from the top of the ridge to trail running and disc golf.  And from scenic driving to snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Head over to the southwest portion of the park to hike out to the eternal flame falls to see one of Western New York’s most unique attractions.  A small waterfall containing an ‘eternal flame’, created by natural gas. Or take a short walk from the casino to a picturesque lake complete with cabin and fishing pier. This park’s got it all. 

Eternal Flame Falls in Chestnut Ridge Park – Photo Credit to Wikipedia

My Impressions

In the end, I believe it’s the structures built during the depression, coupled with the incredible landscape architecture, some natural, some carefully planned, that gives me the nostalgic feeling I get when I spend time in the park.  

I wonder if those relief workers in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s could have ever imagined the thousands of people all of their hard work would touch. And will continue to touch.   

If you are a regular reader of Hello Buffalo, then you know that Chestnut Ridge is among my favorite places to beat the winter blues.  I’ll be starting those Saturday morning trips to Chestnut Ridge Park very soon.  

Fend off the winter blues this year. Make it a point to get out to Orchard Park to soak up some history, do some sledding, or just enjoy the views, either now or whenever it suits you to go.  Chestnut Ridge Park is spectacular in all four seasons.

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A Walk Through the Village of Williamsville

A Walk Through the Village of Williamsville

Last night I went for a walk with my friend Cathy.   We have this little custom of driving to different areas to walk.   Keeps it fresh, plus we both love looking at homes and generally enjoy seeing different parts of Buffalo.

This time it was my choice, and I told her I wanted her to take me on a tour of Williamsville.   Cathy’s office is in the village, and I know that as a busy small business owner she’s been taking walks through the village now and again to get out of the office, relax and meet her neighbors.   The Village of Williamsville is probably one of the best spots around to do just that.

We started at Island Park, her office being only steps away.   Just inside the park, we came upon the Williamsville South High School Band, playing a summer concert in the park.   What a lovely surprise, and what a superb way to spend a summer evening!   They are a talented group of musicians to be sure.  

We allowed ourselves just a few minutes of enjoying the music.   These walks are for fitness as well as fun!   We walked to the tip of the park and if you go there you’ll see that the park is indeed an island on Ellicott Creek and it comes to a point at the end.   When I was a kid, I imagined the tip of the park was the bow of a boat.   I guess I was a daydreamer even back then.

Walking around the park taking in the views of the creek and the surrounding greenery, it occurs to me that it felt as though we had walked into an oasis, very much like walking into the residential parks in the city.   It’s very serene, natural and calming.   Especially with the music playing softly in the background. What a great place to de-stress after a busy day!   Bring the kids too. There’s a playground for them to enjoy as well.   Very family friendly.    

We moved on to Main Street and zig zagged through a few of the streets just south of Main.   Along the way, we saw plenty of gorgeous homes, felt a very ‘village’ vibe.   Next, we wound our way to over to Garrison Road, and another quaint little park, Garrison Park.   This one is smaller, is all about kids, and is every bit as lovely as Island Park.   Again it’s just one block over from Main Street and all that’s going on there.

We swung back around to Main Street where, by the way, local businesses absolutely abound!   This is a perfect place to support local businesses.   We had a conversation about the new brewery coming to Main Street.   There are so many new breweries all over Buffalo.  Do people really drink that much beer?   We decided that this is Buffalo so yes, yes they do.   And this brewery is perched at the edge of Ellicott Creek and promises very pretty views.   Welcome Britesmith Brewing.   We’ll sample your brews and your views soon!

We walked past the library where we came upon this little walkway that always draws me in.   I love the arrow sign telling me what I already know, that the Village of Williamsville is a walkable community, giving the minutes to each spot instead of miles.   Sweet.

     

Really, really enjoyed getting to know Williamsville again.

By the way, the friend I’m walking with is Cathy Lanzalaco, owner of Inspire Careers. She is in her third year as a small business owner located in this historic and thriving community.   Cathy says of Williamsville, “I love working in the village!   I have been here for almost three years and I love the people, the energy, and the vibe.”   Inspire Careers offers career advisement, resume writing, and job search strategy coaching.   Her most recent addition is a Student Professional Launch Program.   Check out her website here.   Alright, that’s the end of my shameless plug for a great friend…

Neither of us had a lot of time that night so this was a short walk.   Maybe I’ll continue this little tour another day, I’ve enjoyed getting to know Williamsville again.   It’s good to get out in your community and walk.   Explore a little.   Talk to people. Get to know your neighbors.   Become a tourist in your own city!    

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