City Living – Lafayette & Parkdale Avenues
I’ve been wanting to write about Lafayette High School ever since the first time I actually walked past it about a year and a half ago with a friend of mine. I, of course, had seen it before, but until you walk past a building, it’s easy to miss how incredible it can be. And the more I walk in the area, the more I notice all the spectacular homes and buildings along here too. Little did I know what I’d find once I really got into it.
When I first sat down to research the area, I remembered another friend of mine, Martha, grew up on Parkdale. I shot her a text to find out which house was hers at the time, and during a small flurry of texts, I thought that she might like to take a walk. She wanted to, our schedules happened to match up, and so we set out the next day.
Come Hike With Me
For this particular hike, Martha and I met up at the southwest corner of Grant Street, at Sweet_ness 7 Cafe. Martha tells me this was a bakery when she lived just around the block on Parkdale. More recently though, it was a beautiful little full service coffee shop, with amazing food, great service and original art. Yes, I said art. Both inside and out. But today I’ll just tell you a story of the mural on the exterior of the building.
A few years ago now, I sat down with Prish Moran, owner of the building, and talked about how Sweet_ness 7 came to be. She told me how she purchased the building and set about getting her vision for the cafe off the ground. The exterior first floor was covered with graffiti. And not the good kind. Lots of nastiness. When it proved to be much too difficult to remove, Prish painted that section of the building brown in an attempt to make it appear a bit better. Afterwards, people in the area began to ‘suggest’ she do something to brighten up the drab brown-ness of it all.
And Brighten it Up, She Did
One day Prish came across a page she had torn out of a magazine that was, basically, the mural that she ended up painting.
Wait until you hear this. Not long after painting it, Prish was sitting inside the unfinished cafe. She was going through bills, hoping she hadn’t made a huge mistake by buying the building, when someone knocked at the door. When she answered it, there was a man there with several women. He introduced himself, and told Prish he was taking the women, who were Burmese refugees, for a walk through the neighborhood. He was showing them around and when they came upon the building, the women became very excited. They began to cry tears of joy.
They explained that when they arrived in Buffalo they were uncertain about the future for their families and for themselves in a new country. Understandable. But when they saw the painting on the side of Prish’s building, they were reassured that they were exactly where they were meant to be. You see, the painting is of a Burmese Fertility Goddess.
Prish had no idea that’s what it was, she just liked it. But after meeting the women at her door that day, Prish knew that she too was exactly where she was meant to be at that time. Of course we all know the cafe turned out to be a huge success.
Sad, but True
Sweet_ness 7 is temporarily closed right now. In an email Prish tells me that both Sweet_ness 7 and the Tabernacle are currently available for rent. I’ll list Prish’s contact information at the end of this post. As for Prish, she has purchased an inn in the Adirondacks. She is, as usual, fearlessly following one of her many dreams.
We here in Buffalo are looking forward to the return of a cafe to this corner.
On With the Hike
Across Grant from Sweet_ness 7 is this little bit of sweetness, below. This home has been brought back to life in the last several years. Love it. My favorite part? The outdoor spaces. Both of the porches that face Lafayette, and the brilliant rooftop patio over the garage on Grant. That last one is perfect for this spot! Makes me want to sit up there with friends and family on a Saturday night in the summer, sipping cocktails. I’d also like to see what’s been done to the basement, I’m intrigued.
Everything here makes sense. From the commercial space in the garage to the solar panels on the roof of the house. It all just works.
Across the street is what used to be Annunciation Parish. Martha tells me that this was her church growing up. When I asked if she walked to church, she said, “We walked everywhere.” And the story began to unfold as we walked and looked at the homes along the way.
This is Our Lady of Hope Parish today, a merger of Annunciation, Our Lady of Loretto, and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s a vibrant, multicultural, West Side, Roman Catholic Church. I’m going to have to check this one out some weekend.
Moving Right Along
Back on the other side of the street we see this. I love the dormer on this house!
And this. Check this place out! The style? Second Empire, with attitude. Okay, that’s not a real thing. But those awesome colors, and that monstrous red Medina sandstone porch. Wow. And you can’t see it in any of the photos I took, but there’s an entire house in the backyard! I’m not talking about an in-law cottage. I’m talking about a full house!
And there are others with homes in the backyard right along this stretch. At least five in this square block. It’s curious, but I think it’s cool in a way too. Wonder how that ever came to be? Full homes, in behind others. Interesting.
Sisters of St. Mary of Namur
These next few buildings are the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. I feel bad saying I’ve never heard of them. They taught at Annunciation School when it was open. And they are still here, busy as ever, ministering to the people of the West Side. Excellent.
As a matter of fact, in 2019, the sisters celebrated 200 years of ministry! From their website,
“In this century, as we have become a diverse, global community, the Sisters have been attuned to the changing times, extending themselves beyond the classroom. Parish ministry, refugee work, standing against human trafficking, teaching ESL, home visiting, counseling, spiritual direction and prayer groups are among the many works the Sisters have assumed as the Spirit has led.”
I have a lot of respect for sisters. They, unlike priests, give up all their worldly possessions, take a vow of poverty and agree to serve “as the Spirit has led”. It’s really amazing when you think about it.
Annunciation School, that is. At one time it was K-12, serving the entire community. I knew there was a K-8 grammar school here, but didn’t realize it was a high school originally as well. Interesting. Martha went here for grammar school, along with many of the neighborhood children. The students used to (lovingly, I’m sure!) call the school “A Nun’s Creation”. I see what they did there! Haha. Love it!
The school is now closed, but the first floor of the building is a professional incubator office space, and the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center. There are 20 loft apartments of varying sizes above. It’s a great re-use, and if you look at the website, you can see that they’ve kept some of the old school fixtures, like chalkboards! Again, interesting!
The Discovery Trail
I should mention that throughout this hike, we came to stops on the Discovery Trail. It’s a one mile trail that starts at the West Buffalo Charter School at 113 Lafayette, and is marked on the sidewalks of Lafayette Ave between DeWitt and Baynes. The theme of this trail is ‘welcome all cultures’.
I love when a city/neighborhood has these kinds of things. It makes a child love getting out and taking an urban hike! It’s the type of thing they’ll reminisce about someday!
Seriously, if you live in the area, and you haven’t seen these, take a walk. They’re designed by school children at WBCS…and they’re inspiring!
I’ll drop photos of them in, here and there, during our hike so you can experience them just like we did…as we went along.
Back to the hike. As we round the corner on to Parkdale, and as we pass the side of the old school, these are the homes we see.
There are so many things I notice about this home, below. Let’s start at the peak with the pebbled dash. I want to say that there’s a design to the pebbling, but from this angle, I can’t say for sure. The tiles that are set into the bricks are unusual. Martha and I agreed they’ve probably always been there. Note that the bricks directly above the tiles stand out further from the rest, probably to protect the tiles.
Off to the left, you can see that the entry door is on the side of the enclosed porch. But the front of the house has another door, with large sidelights. I like that in the good weather both doors can be open to allow plenty of fresh air.
And this one below, is in great shape! It looks like the upper porch was re-done at some point. I probably wouldn’t have thought to do it, but they saved some of the wrought iron when they did the porch. Really nice touch.
Martha’s Family Home
Next is the home Martha grew up in. She lived here with her parents, three brothers and one sister. It’s a really pretty house. But to get the full effect, check out this listing from a couple of years ago.
Martha and I have to stop ourselves from going into the back yard to look around. I can see the curiosity in her face. She notices that there’s a chimney on what used to be a back porch. If you click on the link above, it’s not just a fireplace that someone’s added, it’s an oven. Maybe a pizza oven? It’s a fantastic porch and yard all around!
As we hike Parkdale Ave Martha is peppering the conversation with names of the people who lived in this house or that. So many that I could never be able to match up the house with the family names. But here’s a few. Guzzetta, LaDuca, Missana, Ciffa, Cavalieri, Lagatutta and Callari.
Some of these families may have lived on Lafayette… But you get the idea. This was a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Martha mentions that she never thought of it that way when she was a child, but telling me all the names really drives it home for her. And it sure does seem like she knew everyone!
As we approached this one, Martha says she thought it used to have an apartment out back, and sure enough, there it is… Note the details around the windows and front entry. I’d never have noticed that if I were just driving by.
At this house below, Martha tells me that when she lived across the street, there was an older couple that lived in this house that didn’t have any children. But they ‘adopted’ all the kids on the street. They must have made an impression, and quite possibly a difference in some of the children’s lives. Sweet story.
This last one is still in great shape. Or back in great shape, I can’t be sure. But it looks good.
On this section of Parkdale (between Lafayette and Auburn) I noticed that a lot of the homes are still the original clapboard. Some have been covered with vinyl siding, but I want to say that most of them are still original. I like this.
Back to the Corner of Parkdale and Lafayette
The first thing I see is this huge, gorgeous old home. Needs a bit of work, but it appears that all the original detail is still intact, most of the original windows are still there, and it could be brought back. I’d love to see it happen. Same color, with white and black trim. Yes, please.
Kitty corner from that home is the Buffalo Dream Center. These buildings are fantastic and appear to be in great shape!
Martha tells me this used to be the Lafayette Baptist Church ‘back in the day’. The Buffalo Dream Center has been headed by Pastors Eric and Michelle Johns since 1993 and now calls these buildings (above) home. The church is very involved in outreach services to Buffalo’s community, serving children, the poor and the hungry. If you are looking to get involved in any of these ministries, take a look at their website. This is one busy place!
As we continue up Lafayette, Martha starts rattling off names again. Castiglia, Battaglia, Cannizzaro, Severino, Cipolla. We stroll on, and this is some of what we see. Fantastic! The two last homes in this grouping are twins!
And this one, back in the day, was home to one of Martha’s friends, the Missana family home. Martha remembers it being beautiful inside. I’d love to see it now.
Along here, they just keep getting better.
And still, Martha is mentioning names, Palumbo, Falcone, Rubbino, Falzone. As we approach Colonial Circle at Richmond, she remembers a family on Richmond Ave named Gulino. She remembers them being very nice.
Here’s a quick story about one of the previous residents of this house, below. Born in 1881, in Italy, Anthony Carnavale came to Buffalo when he was a child. He learned to play the saxophone when he was young, which was considered a pioneering instrument at the time. He played as a member of the 74th Regiment Band, who played at the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exposition. Cool! Carnavale went on to play at many downtown theaters, including the Olympic and the Lafayette.
In 1927, he opened Carnavale’s Spaghetti House on Niagara Street. It became very popular with local politicians and members of the entertainment community in the city. He continued to be active in the music scene in Buffalo until his retirement. Interesting guy. He lived in the house with his wife, Rose, his son and two daughters.
These. Are. Awesome.
And this one is fantastic. Check out the windows in the dormer.
Lafayette High School
This is where we come to Lafayette High School. Can you imagine going to high school in this building?!
This building was completed in 1903 and designed by Esenwein & Johnson, noted Buffalo architects. Their firm designed the Temple of Music that I mentioned earlier, the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Calumet Building, the iconic Electric Tower, numerous homes, and many, many more!
For whatever reason, Martha didn’t attend Lafayette High School (or Annunciation HS for that matter). So I phoned a friend. Actually, I texted a friend, Lori. When asked what her favorite part about going to Lafayette High School, Lori immediately responded with “Teachers and friends!” I love that about Lori. When I pressed her about the building, she said she always knew how special it was, and always thought it was beautiful. Even as kids, they respected that. Cool. Thanks Lori.
The school is now Lafayette International Community High School, serving the multicultural community that the West Side has become throughout the years. I love this too.
I know a woman who came to Buffalo when she was 16, from Germany, many years ago. She didn’t speak English, and had to spend an entire year sitting in a high school classroom learning English by listening and observing. She felt awkward and, in her words ‘stupid’. It should make all of us happy that Buffalo has schools like this where children can ease into life in a new country more comfortably than in years past.
The Home Stretch
As we pass the high school, we come upon a lot of really great houses.
This one is awesome, below. Martha mentions she loves this kind of sunroom. Me too, Martha! The plaque on the front says 1877, and I daresay that most of those small windows are original! Would that column of windows to the right of the door be considered a sidelight? Either way, I like it. And sweet that there is a literal bell in the place of a traditional doorbell. I love this one.
And this one, below. Like when I hiked Woodward Ave., I’m noticing again that I’m a bit drawn to the orange color of this house. Never would have thought to choose this color, but it works. That said, I’d love it if there were a little more uniformity, maybe the first floor the darker orange, and the second floor and peak the lighter color? It’s possible the owner is working on that. Love the green too!
The entryway is perfection for this house. Goes to show, it doesn’t need to be fancy. Just right.
Guercio’s and More
When we arrived back at Grant Street, we headed over to Guercio and Sons to pick up a couple of things. Martha tells me that she walked over here every Saturday with her Mother to get groceries for the week. Her brother still comes every other week or so. I haven’t been in here in a couple of years, so I took a good look around and if I lived within walking distance, I’d be in here all the time. Great produce, staples, and gorgeous imports. Still love this place.
As Martha and I go back out onto Grant, she mentions again that Sweet_ness 7 was a bakery when she was a kid. After Guercios, she and her Mom would go to the bakery, and then to the Meating Place for, well, meat. Haha! That’s a little up Grant on the east side of the street just before Auburn. You could throw a stone at it from Sweet_ness. Martha says that if they really needed something they couldn’t get at those three places, her Mother would head over to Super Duper, which was further south on Grant.
There were other stores and shops along here as well for all their other needs. I love this.
When I first set out to write this post, I thought I’d research some of the homes along Lafayette and see what I could learn. It’s kind of how I usually start a city living post. But every post evolves in it’s own way, and when I texted Martha about her childhood home, I saw a completely different post taking shape. She was so enthusiastic about the neighborhood, I found I couldn’t wait to see it through her eyes. Sort of like when I hiked around downtown with my 3-year-old granddaughter, and wrote Castles of Buffalo. It’s always good to see things through someone else’s eyes. It gives you a whole new perspective.
Well. Now I have a whole new perspective on the West Side. I’m not a stranger to this area, but I’ve never lived here. I also understand my old friend Martha a little better. That seems to happen when you learn about where someone comes from. Martha became so animated as we turned onto Parkdale! It was pretty cool to watch. I only regret that I was enjoying her talking about the homes and the families who used to live in them so much, that I didn’t get a photo of her ‘in her element’ so to speak.
Idealistically Speaking Though
This neighborhood was a fantastic place to grow up. Martha tells me how they walked or rode bikes everywhere. They’d walk to Front Park near the Peace Bridge to ice skate. They’d walk to church, to school, to their friend’s homes. To relatives nearby. It seems like there were a lot of relatives nearby. Martha and her friends would even ride bikes over to Canada to “this little beach we called the Baby Hole.” Haha. Sweet.
To me it seems idyllic. What more could you ask for?
It’s Thought Provoking
You know, there is a lot of talk around Buffalo about creating livable spaces. Places where people will want to live. This neighborhood is the kind of thing we should want to build. But honestly, I don’t know that you can build it. You can put the infrastructure there, and hope it happens. But I think it has to happen organically. You can’t force it.
Martha and her family could get everything they needed on Grant Street. On the East Side, where my father grew up, his family got everything they needed on Fillmore Ave or the Broadway Market.
It’s a gamble every developer takes. They create from a vision of something they think will be good for the city, or a neighborhood. Then they hope other people see it too. Like when Guercio and Sons first opened their doors on Grant Street sixty some years ago. They took a chance that the people of the neighborhood would want what they had to offer. It turns out that in this case, the neighborhood wanted exactly what they had to offer.
In this little neighborhood, where Martha grew up, what do the people living here now, want (and need) next? The area is coming back, that’s for sure. But what will it take to make it a really idyllic place to live again?
There are people meeting, discussing and planning exactly that, as I write this.
Look for another post on the West Side soon to discuss. This place has got more to say.
Get the Book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!
*Special thanks to Lori Mroz, Prish Moran, and especially Martha Emiliani. Thanks for everything guys!
Interested in renting either Sweet_ness 7 or the Tablernacle spaces at 220 Grant Street, email Prish Moran at firstname.lastname@example.org.