The Big Picture: A Plan for Buffalo

Big Picture cover mailbox
The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture is calling on the NY State Department of Transportation, with other state agencies, to restore reclaimed land from Skyway removal to conditions established by founder Joseph Ellicott in 1800 and Erie Canal builder DeWitt Clinton in 1825. The aim is to reclaim Buffalo's heritage, economic advancement, and a measure of social equity.

That includes restoration of Buffalo's first public park—The Terrace— as well as the run of the original Erie Canal between Pearl Street and Erie Street and the parallel famed Canal Street, and the Prime Slip, another historic canal which is possibly an archaeological motherlode.The Campaign is urging DOT to embrace the Big Picture—and to fund it with money from the Skyway project—to repair the damage caused to Buffalo's historic core by highway construction. Indeed, The Campaign is calling its proposal just that: The Big Picture Download Big Picture folio 40pp

The DOT is currently working on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Skyway removal.

The Big Picture incorporates a number of opportunities that could change the prospects of the city. Canyon Research Southwest, a real estate analytics firm, estimates that development on the reclaimed land as proposed (mostly 3-4 story residential) in the Big Picture would yield over $82,630,000 in real estate and sales taxes over a 20-year period. Spin-off benefits beyond the Skyway reclamation area were not calculated. This suggests the enormous lost opportunity cost since the Skyway opened in 1955, and the ongoing lost revenues if the Skyway is not removed.

Among the infrastructure and rehabilitation works proposed:
• The long-overdue reconstruction of the Union Block, site of Dug's Dive, the documented stop on the Underground Railroad once operated by William "Uncle Dug" Douglass. The Union Block in its last days was also an Italian tenement (so called on maps of the day).
• The systematic archaeological excavation, preservation, and rewatering of the main section of the Prime Slip, a private canal filled in by the Civil War and in which sits a pier of the Skyway.
• The restoration of the Canal District streets to their exact historic locations, with historically accurate paving.
• The restoration of Canal Street and the Erie Canal between Pearl and Erie Streets.
• The retention and adaptation of all of the Skyway from the north bank of the Buffalo River to Tifft Street as the Cloudwalk (detailed in an earlier proposal of February)
• The restoration of the DL&W train shed and a multi-use viaduct to connect it with the Cloudwalk ,Central Wharf, and the Cobblestone Historic District (also detailed in February)
• The reconstruction of Terrace Park, including Terrace Station.
• Construction of a local bus hub on The Terrace and under the Thruway viaduct between Pearl and Washington streets
• Re-platting all state lands into much smaller lots than typically planned in Urban Renewal projects and closer in spirit to those of Joseph Ellicott’s survey of 1803-4, with a goal of individual ownership.


The scope of the Big Picture may seem vast, but it is small compared to what Buffalo lost in the 1950s and 1960s," says Tim Tielman, Executive Director of the Campaign.

“The Big Picture plan would reclaim 12 acres of the 292 acres that were totally destroyed in combined highway and urban renewal projects along the waterfront. Buffalo has been in an induced coma since. We now have the knowledge, means, and motivation to correct this massive historic, social, and economic injustice. We cannot defer justice any longer. The times call upon us to act.”

Richard Berger, a Campaign boardmember and lead attorney in the federal case which resulted in the 2000 lawsuit that reversed an earlier state project and a later attempt to put a Bass Pro megastore, says “We must restore our heritage sites to restore our economy and social equity. That begins with insuring that the Environmental Impact Statement is thorough and unbiased.”


Joseph Ellicott's original Buffalo street plan can be restored if Skyway goes

20_0622_Station Park - 40
The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is proposing that The Terrace, a blocks-long public park and promenade linking several squares, be reconstructed as part of the state and federal project to remove all or parts of the Skyway.
The Campaign released proposals for the DL&W train shed and the Cloudwalk in January (see Cloudwalk: Skyway recycled), as part of the overall process to reinvigorate historic sites and re-establish the historic street patterns of Joseph Ellicott’s New Amsterdam plan, and the neighborhoods destroyed by highway construction and Urban Renewal. The Canal District streets and Central Wharf were the first fruits of that effort.

Until Frederick Law Olmsted's Park and Parkway system was laid out in the 1870's, Terrace Park was Buffalo's primary outdoor recreation and social space. You want a balloon ascension? The square at The Terrace and Church Street was the place. You want to build a market or raise a liberty pole? The square at The Terrace, Main & Lloyd was the spot.

The implementation of the Olmsted plan ironically led to the piecemeal destruction of the Terrace; The Terrace was largely forgotten as a civic space for the larger population. Its northern reaches between Court and Church streets became known mostly as neighborhood parks, its center section appropriated by the New York Central for its principal Belt Line and International station, and the southern section cut in half by a NY Central trench into the slope between Main and Evans streets.

Ellicott New Amsterdam proposed plan 1800
Joseph Ellicott’s first sketch of plan of Village of New Amsterdam, October 1800.
The steep slope—represented by black shading— fronting the lakeshore is the topographical feature which determined the orientation of streets. The slope between Seneca street and Court was set aside as a public park, Buffalo’s first, in Ellicott’s survey of 1803-4.

Terrace Park goes back to Joseph Ellicott’s very first sketch of his proposed Village of New Amsterdam. As Ellicott explained to his employers at the Holland Land Company in October 1800, New Amsterdam had lowlands at the western end of Lake Erie and along Buffalo Creek which, being flat and just four feet above the surface of the lake, could readily be laced with a network of canals and used for marine commerce. His canal at the foot of the Terrace and terminating at Little Buffalo Creek near Main Street so logically fit the natural geography that state engineers placed the Erie Canal along this path 25 years later. The lowlands ended at a steep slope, above which residential streets could be laid out from the upper terrace of land and eastward.

The determining factor in his orientation of the entire future city was the disposition of the edge of the slope virtually parallel with the lake shore. He sketched lanes along the flat land at both the top of the slope and the bottom. Thus, Upper Terrace, Lower Terrace, and the sloping Terrace Park, set aside for public recreation. From the Upper Terrace, fine views of the Lake could be had, while the Lower Terrace could act as the interface between maritime commercial enterprises and the upper town.

20_0622_Station Park - 38
In addition to re-establishing Terrace Park, Campaign for Greater Buffalo proposes that economical housing be built to replace that taken for Skyway and the Waterfront Urban Renewal Area. This view, with stylized railroad crossing arms signifying a former use, to northwest from Erie Street. The roadway is a lane meant for access, not speed, flanked by broad sidewalks, bicycle paths, and a “logistics strip” for deliveries and drop-offs. On the right is a new mixed-use building that recalls St. Stephen’s Hall, where Grover Cleveland was nominated for mayor in 1871. It was demolished during the Depression.

Then, starting in the 1950s, the Skyway and Thruway set in train the events which would reduce the Terrace to a short stretch of stone wall between Genesee and Church streets. Everything else—parks, schools, apartment houses, commercial buildings, restaurants, corner stores, train station, civic gathering spots—was destroyed.

In the early 1880s, the city permitted the New York Central to build tracks across Main Street (these would shortly be routed through a tunnel) in exchange for establishing a passenger service on a belt line. The trench was cut across the slope to create a gradient to Church Street, where the tracks turned west to run along the Erie Canal. A Stick Style station with landscaped approaches was built between Swan and Church streets. Several footbridges were built to cross the trench and keep the Canal District connected with downtown. A four-block stretch of Terrace Park was thus abandoned to casual recreation (although the railroad carefully landscaped its section and erected an ornamental station, it was perceived as railroad property. The city even built what could have been its first public parking lot in the arc of greenery between Lower Terrace and the tracks).

The block south of the station grounds became the site of a new and imposing Buffalo Police Headquarters in 1884. With the building frontages on lower Pearl and Lock Street, a de facto square was created. 

Buffalo balloon ascension
Samuel Archer King, pioneering aeronaut, prepares to launch his Buffalo from Terrace Park at Church Street, 1873. Building at left is St. Joseph’s Academy, forerunner of St. Joe’s Collegiate Institute.

Another square was created where The Terrace met Church Street. This was the closest open space to the civic heart of the city, the interface between the commercial-industrial waterfront and emerging office and government precincts. This square was where perhaps the most famous aeronaut of the 19th century, Samuel Archer King, launched his hot-air balloon Buffalo, on September 16, 1873. The balloon was manufactured on an upper floor of the Aetna Building on Prime and Lloyd streets in the Canal District, and its ascension warranted a story in the New York Times. King called it the largest balloon in the world; it contained over 94,000 cubic feet, and the airship’s name was spelled out in letters seven feet high. King took the Buffalo all across the country. In 1877, it delivered the first airmail-stamped letters on a flight from Nashville to Gallatin, TN.

The Little Station That Could

Historically, the modest Terrace Station played an outsized role in the history of transportation in the city for several reasons. First, it was the chief station on Buffalo’s commuter rail network, include the Belt Line. Demand was so great it soon became, by the testimony of the NY Central itself, the third-busiest station in the entire NY Central system at a time when the Central was the second-largest transportation enterprise on the planet. (Grand Central Depot in New York was first, Buffalo’s Exchange Street Station, second).

Second, it was the station through which the NY Central ran its chartered excursion trains. Right through to the 1950s, Rochester travel agencies were running promotions to the Terrace Station for the Ice Capades and sporting events at Memorial Auditorium. Third, it was the Central’s station for trains to Niagara Falls and points north and west, thus many Canadians and Michiganders stepped onto its platform.

Train at Lower Terrace and Church St.
Until the early 1950s, New York Central commuter, excursion, and International trains used tracks laid in Terrace Park and Church Street. Terrace Station was for a time the thrird-busiest in the Central’s system. Train turning from Church Street onto The Terrace.

The Terrace Station was a stealth stop for very important people. In September 1901, for example, Theodore Roosevelt made his first-ever public appearance as President on the platform of the Terrace Station when he alighted from a special express train from North Creek, NY after the assassination of President William McKinley.

Roosevelt became president at the moment of McKinley’s death early in the morning of September 14th (he had been shot on September 6th) while hurtling down from Mt. Marcy after receiving a message that McKinley would likely die; when he boarded the train in the morning darkness at North Creek, he was told that McKinley had, indeed died. That afternoon, thousands gathered around the Exchange Street Station waiting for Roosevelt’s train to arrive at the Central’s main Buffalo Station. Unknown to the general public, plans were in place to have the train pass the station and stop several blocks away at The Terrace, where a detachment of soldiers and other security personnel cleared his path across the platform to a waiting carriage, which took the new president directly up Delaware Avenue to the Wilcox house near North Street for the Oath of Office.

(A week earlier, McKinley’s assassin had been taken to police headquarters on The Terrace immediately after the shooting. The NY Central tracks to the Terrace Station passed directly behind the building, and the two buildings were easily seen from each other.)

It was standard fare for newspaper reporters to be sent to stake out train stations for arriving celebrities and politicos, and the Terrace Station had its share, from entertainers to six-day-bicycle racers arriving for competitions at the Broadway Auditorium. Exclusive platform interviews were the stuff of reputations and circulation. None could possibly be bigger than the King and Queen of Britain, and one newspaper reporter, Courier-Express police beat writer Manuel Bernstein, was on hand for the unscheduled stop on the night of June 7, 1939. It wasn’t by accident.

Station
Reconstructed Terrace station would act as a stage, picnic shelter, and cafe for re-established Terrace Park, occupied since 1954 by the Skyway. Theodore Roosevelt and the King and Queen of Britain were among unscheduled transients to the site.

Bernsein had a long career as a police reporter and—making up for the penury of a writer’s wage—a pharmacist. Reporters would lounge around the front desk at police headquarters waiting for stories to come across the transom as perps were dragged in or calls went out. With multiple dailies, police reporting was more voluminous than today (yes, hard to believe), ranging from bloody mayhem to incompetent capers of juveniles and pick-pocketing around train stations. A New York Central railroad cop stopped by Bernstein’s desk one day, as recollected in a story for the Buffalo News over 50 years later, and complained that Bernstein never wrote up his collars. Bernstein told him the next time he made an arrest and could take him to the thieve’s lair, he’d write up the story. Within a week the cop had an arrest, Bernstein had an exclusive, and the cop a measure of crime-fighting fame. This earned Bernstein a favor from the cop that got the reporter an exclusive with the Queen, a $200 bonus, and a two-tiered Page One headline.

The railroad cop let Bernstein in on a little secret. The Royal train would be sitting at the Terrace Station, hard by police headquarters, while track work went on ahead. King George IV and his wife Queen Elizabeth (not the present Queen, but her mother. The Queen Mother). King and Queen were on the first-ever visit to the dominion of Canada of a British monarch. They would make a trip to St. Catherines to dedicate a highway named after the Queen, and see Niagara Falls (the monument she and the King unveiled that day is still to be seen, whizzing by on the QEW over a small bridge). That night they would cross into the US directly to Washington to meet with President Franklin Roosevelt (thence to Hyde Park for hot dogs), becoming the first King and Queen to set foot in the U.S.

They would have to switch tracks in Buffalo, from the NY Central to the Pennsylvania Railroad. The switchover would occur along Seneca Street near Hamburg Street. It was a complicated maneuver that would take teams of men working in coordinated fashion in the dark (the Central and the Pennsylvania were bitter rivals and did not share track; a temporary link would have to be engineered in a busy train yard and Pennsylvania engines attached to both the Royal train and a press pilot train). This time, they would be viewed by thousands, despite the best efforts of police to keep people from the overlooking viaducts. Time for stealth.

Terrace station
Detail of the south end of the Terrace Station highlights the Stick Style architecture with decorated brackets, panels of drop siding, and contrasting framing sticks. The tracks were about five feet below Upper Terrace (rear) and the buildings of St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

Despite the late hour, thousands of people gathered at crossings and viaducts to witness the Royal Train. Cross-streets were closed off. Mobs of people were gathering at the Pennsylvania yards. The plan: The Royal train, rather than parking on a Pennsy siding, would stop at The Terrace, the press in the pilot train would sit on the siding near Hamburg Street until all work, except for the switching of engines, was over. That was Bernstein’s tip. He didn’t tell anyone else, not even an editor. When the train arrived, he was the only civilian in the station.

Bernstein, as quoted in the News: “It was at night, and City Hall was all lit up,” Bernstein recalled. “The queen stepped out on the back platform of the caboose and asked, ‘What's that beautiful building?’ I told her, ‘Your majesty, that’s our new City Hall.’ Then, I said, ‘I hope you enjoy your visit here with the president.’”

Nice chap. The Queen decided to chat. She told Bernstein (it is not clear he identified himself as a reporter) that she had important business in Washington

Bernstein, coy: “What’s so important, your majesty?”

Elizabeth spoke of war clouds and the need for British allies against Hitler’s Germany. That was no secret, but a royal saying it, that was news (British royalty are forbidden to engage in overtly political or diplomatic discussions). Scoop.

Screen Shot 2019-11-06 at 6.32.32 PM
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Canada during their 1939 grand tour


“But out walks King George onto the platform. I can see he’s mad as hell. He whispers something in the queen’s ear and really roughly pulls her inside the caboose.” That didn’t make the story, but everything else did. Queen Elizabeth and King George set foot in America at Terrace Station, the Queen had an eye for architecture, and war was all but declared.

This somewhat foreshortened view shows the run of The Terrace between Main and Court streets as it appeared in 1932. Terrace Park once extended from police headquarters to Court St. Buffalo History Museum Collection.

The Little Station That Could almost did not survive its first decade. The Central wanted to build a much grander station of stone with another platform to handle the traffic and symbolize the line’s third-busiest depot. It sat on land the city owned, and the agreement hammered out permitting the Central to build the Belt Line gave the city the upper hand in negotiations. Despite two concerted attempts to obtain demolition permits, the Central was unable to overcome the resistance of Lower Terrace bar owners, whose establishments directly overlooked the wooden station and its platform. Thirsty commuters, travelers, and horseplayers going to Fort Erie, could, and did, walk directly across the tracks to the bars. The new station would have presented a solid stone wall facing them.

Terrace 1932 annotated 2
The Terrace in 1932. Buffalo History Museum Collection.


By 1952, when the station faced its imminent demise to make way for the Skyway, it had progressed from the calumny heaped upon it by its owner to become a source of civic recollection, fond newspaper stories, and pleadings for its preservation, even moved offsite for restoration and display. It was not to be. The station closed at noon on August 1, 1952.

That needn’t be the end of the story. The state’s ongoing environmental review of the Skyway’s closure must take into account the possibility—and the funding—of the restoration of Terrace Park, both as a recreational, cultural, and historic piece of topography, but also as an arrow that points straight to the Canal District and the Cloudwalk.

20_0623_Terrace & City Hall toward SE
Buffalo’s birthplace, re-established. Joseph Ellicott established the Village of New Amsterdam to take advantage of two geographic features at the eastern end of lake Erie: Buffalo Creek and The Terrace. Removing downtown section of Skyway would open opportunities to reconstruct historic parks, canals, neighborhoods, and redress 60 years of social and environmental injustice. Over 12 acres of land would be freed by Skyway removal alone. An Urban Renewal superblock behind City Hall that has been mostly parking lot since St. Anthony’s Park and the surrounding buildings were destroyed, is envisioned as an “urban hamlet.”

Upcoming posts will look at The Campaign’s proposals for the northern sections of the former Terrace Park, the so-called Two-Park and St. Anthony’s Park, lost to highway building and Urban Renewal. In the meantime, the status quo isn’t working. It should become clear that removing the downtown section of the Skyway and replacing lost public amenities is a tremendous opportunity that should not be frittered away.

Want to help realize the vision of rebuilding The Terrace and Canal District, extending the Erie Canal, restoring the DL&W train shed, and do the Cloudwalk? Contact the Campaign for Greater Buffalo at [email protected]


Cloudwalk: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle the Skyway. It's good for Canal District, Cobblestone District, and DL&W

Cloudwalk one-minute
The Cloudwalk would transform the lives of bike riders and walkers. For bike riders, getting to the Outer Harbor becomes a scenic one-minute ride across the Buffalo River and City Ship Canal. A walker could traverse the distance in five minutes. What happens when you deliver such a radical improvement to a transportation mode? You induce traffic. In this case, the virtuous kind, for urban vitality as well as personal vitality.


The New York State Department of Transportation’s Skyway environmental review process is being steered to a pre-determined outcome featuring a new inland limited-access highway with three interchanges, a de facto additional two lanes of the Thruway, and a total scraping away of 3.3-miles auto-free infrastructure, whether that is necessary or desired. What started as a good idea by Governor Cuomo in 2018—how to undo the urban damage inflicted on Buffalo by an obsolete state highway —has morphed into a $600,000,000 Trojan Horse.

Download Cloudwalk - DL&W folio

We need a reset while it can still happen, as the environmental review process moves from scoping to draft stage. For starters, if a decision is made to abandon the Skyway for vehicular use and to deconstruct the damaging parts (the 3,300-foot viaduct north of the Buffalo River and its massive Thruway interchange), there is no legitimacy in removal of the urbanistically useful parts of it (14,000 feet, from the north bank of the river to Buffalo Harbor State Park). Parts that were just rebuilt at a cost of almost $90,000,000 in 2010.

The poster child of that reset—a reset of the very idea of expressways in the hearts of our cities— must be the conversion of the former Skyway, after deconstruction of the north viaduct, to a Cloudwalk connecting the historic DL&W train shed and Central Wharf to the Outer Harbor.

Cloudwalk top view to lake 2
The Cloudwalk would be active transport link (walking, pedaling, wheelchair) and observation deck. It transforms noisy, blighting piece of infrastructure into civic and mobility asset. It provides close-ups of General Mills grain elevator, which architectural historian Reyner Banham called “the most influential structure ever put up in North America,” as well as unparalleled, unhurried, and otherwise unattainable views of Buffalo’s grain elevators, a globally unique cultural landscape. Once Cloudwalk is built to Buffalo Harbor State Park, it should become part of the park.


This public-works project can continue to do public work by serving other transportation modes
, i.e., walking, bicycling, even skiing in winter. And, oh, there is that 50-mile view across the lake. And the views of the city. And the views of the unique cultural landscape of the grain elevators along the Buffalo River and City Ship Canal. And a direct, safe route for potentially millions of users per year from downtown to the Outer Harbor.

The Campaign contends that, once abandoned to vehicular traffic, removing the entire complex serves no transportation function and therefore there is no legitimacy for that action. Rather, removing the crossings and viaduct over the river and to Buffalo Harbor State Park prevents this expensive public work from serving other transportation modes, i.e., walking, bicycling, even skiing in winter.

“It is inexplicable from a transportation perspective that the primary goal of the DOT project is not transportation, but to ‘disappear’ all parts of the Skyway,” says Tim Tielman, Executive Director of The Campaign. “While there may be reasons to abandon it for vehiclular use, there is no argument to remove all the urbanistically useful parts of it along with the urbanistically damaging parts of it.”

Removing the northern approach, which prevents rebuilding the Canal District and whose massive interchange with the Thruway has cast a pall on all links between downton and the water for decades, is a good thing. It would free up over 12 acres of valuable land that could be restored to its historic purpose.

The crossing over the Buffalo River itself, however, and the southern approach (a viaduct and mile-long earthen embankment), can play a vital role in transportation and economic development and do it in a way that gives the city a new icon. Deconstructing the northern section while adapting the southern section for pedestrians and bikers would be a transportation and recreational asset for the millions of people who, even now, visit that area.

The Campaign fears that, if DOT gets its way, Buffalo will end up with a Trojan Horse, bringing ever more traffic, ever faster, to new and expanded limited-access highways, at a cost of $600,000,000, when the project could create new attractions, opportunities, and leverage other state projects instead.

Richard Lippes, attorney and Campaign Board member, says "This is a reasonable alternative to simply scraping away three miles of potentially transformational infrastructure built and rebuilt at great public expense. All reasonable alternatives must be considered under State and National environmental law, and we certainly will take whatever action necessary to assure that DOT and the public has this alternative to consider"

DOT owes a lot more to Buffalo than merely removing damaging pieces of infrastructure. It also must help rebuild the neighborhoods its highway policies destroyed, and their capacity for sustaining urban life. That’s something the Campaign will take up soon. Right now, Priority One is to save the infrastructure for a Cloudwalk.

“We should be thinking of Universal Access, and of ways to reduce traffic on the Thruway by looking at other modes and routes. We should be redistributing some of it along the local business routes that played such an important role in the Old First Ward,” says Tielman.

DLW elevated shed p9 9
The historic DL&W trainshed is an evocative industrial shelter directly under the current Skyway. Connected to the Cloudwalk, it would work spectacularly well as an open-air platform for all kinds of civic, recreational, social, and commercial uses. It even has an outdoor deck of enormous proportions on the Buffalo River overlooking the Michigan Avenue bridge. A pedestrian bridge linking it to the existing parking garage and the Cobblestone Historic District at Illinois street would be an obvious enhancement. A key to rejuvenating the DL&W is emphasize its historic character, not to waste time and treasure trying to make it into something it isn’t and should not be: a de-natured 365-day-a-year indoor shopping mall in an environment that, experience shows, is only optimally active during fair weather months. To be a success, the DL&W must have ramped access at multiple, visible points to advertise accessibility in easily understood ways. The most visible is Cloudwalk.

Saving Buffalo Central Terminal, Serving Neighborhood Starts With the Land.

The Central Terminal Restoration Corporation, working with a $5,000,000 state grant and a report by the Urban Land Institute, has been working on urgent building-envelope and utility needs, as well as developing long- and short-term strategies for its property, which includes the iconic office tower, concourse, and a five-story baggage wing, in addition to the elevated plaza that forms the terminus of Paderewski Street and open land between Memorial Drive and  Curtiss Street. It has spent much of the year on public outreach and discussion of community priorities.

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo  has long felt that the entire historic complex, including land and buildings owned by the City of Buffalo, should be consolidated. It is the only way to proceed in a sustainable, comprehensive way. (Executive Director Tim Tielman was a founder of the Restoration Corporation and part-owner of the Terminal) The concept that The Campaign has shared with the Restoration Corp. and state officials is briefly laid out in the two pages attached below.

The concept implies treating the consolidated site as a kind of fairgrounds, with a mix of permanent buildings and designated areas for temporary ones, whether for one weekend, a season, or several years. The backdrop will always be the terminal tower, a branding device and symbol that is without equal, and would confer value and advantage to every enterprise in its domain.

 

Donation banner2 1

 


Saved at the Bell: How an Illegal Demolition was Stopped, a Buffalo Landmark Saved, and What Remains to be Done

 

St. John's
Quick, decisive action by The Campaign for Greater Buffalo stopped the destruction of St. John's iconic tower. The church, opened in 1927, is a masterpiece by architects Oakley & Schallmo.

Out-of-the-way but not out of mind, the greatest piece of architecture in Black Rock was being taken apart. But fate was about to intervene. Shortly after 7:00pm on Tuesday October 6, Campaign for Greater Buffalo Executive Director Tim Tielman was driving by the former St. John the Baptist R.C. Church on Hertel Avenue and East Street in Black Rock, and noticed a rental lift on the lawn next to the church. Tielman stopped to investigate and discovered that the church's emblematic Lombard Romanesque tower, or campanile, along the East Street side of the building, was being demolished. No one knew about it because there were no permits and no permission to do any work, let alone demolition. Click the link for the story as published in Greater Buffalo #29.0.
 Download Greater Buffalo St. John's hi-res 

Signs on the property proclaimed tenancy by North Gate, a Clarence-based evangelical group; the owners are RiverRock Church LLC and Buffalo Myanmar Indigenous Christian Fellowship. The last Catholic service was held in the church in 2005.

Donation banner2 1
Since then, a succession of entities owned it. The three-tiered campanile (pronounced camp-a-knee-lay), was offset from the nave of church, toward the rear. The campanile of St. John’s played a particularly prominent role in its architectural composition, almost acting as a second front. The east wall of the nave is held in place by a range of massive buttresses, of which the tower can be said to be the largest and last, as it visually supports the entire church by means of lateral bridging which is almost as stout as the tower itself. When Tielman got there, the uppermost lantern and cross of the iconic campanile were gone, and the lower octagon was partially gone. Wood and wire shored the tower, allowing for what appeared to be demolition by hand. A pile of bricks lay at the base of the tower, and a large dumpster contained what appeared to be the rest of the bricks of the demolished tower. A smaller dump-trailer contained interior demolition debris.

Tielman called Buffalo Commissioner of Inspections and Permits James Comerford immediately, looking for a stop-work order. Comerford confirmed that no permits—demolition- or asbestos-related— had been requested or issued, and said he would dispatch an inspector that night.

Demo Work Halted

The next morning, shortly after 7:00AM, Tielman was on-site. Seeing a group of contract workers from Cambar Contracting assembling, Tielman again called Comerford, who dispatched inspector Tracy Krug. Tielman informed the workers that no permit had been issued for the work, no review by the Preservation Board had occurred, and that they would be advised to stop work. The foreman refused, pending arrival of City officials and Buffalo Police, but no further demo occurred in the time it took the City inspector to arrive and shut the job down. Comerford confirmed that a written stop-work order would be delivered that afternoon.

IMG_5397
The campanile of St. John's on the morning of October 7.

 Shortly before the inspector's arrival, a Cambar supervisor arrived on-site and brandished a letter to Tielman from Siracuse Engineers, which allegedly summarized hazardous conditions in the tower. Tielman also called Preservation Board chair Gwen Howard and shortly met her at the site. She was emphatic with representatives of NorthGate, and evangelical organization that was overseeing the work, that plans must be submitted to the Preservation Board before any work could be approved.

 

Who made the decision to demolish?

The decision to demolish without permission, rather than mitigate the hazard in some other fashion pending resolution through proper channels, was apparently made North Gate, an evangelical organization that is partnering with the owners of record, RiverRock Church. RiverRock Church split the property in two pieces, selling the parish house to an entity known as 60 Hertel LLC. North Gate is expanding into the city with this project. A North Gate staffer on-site revealed, had established a deadline of November 1 for the work. That was driving the pace of the work. When Tielman offered that arbitrary deadlines shouldn't drive improprieties, he was told by the North Gate representative that "It is God's deadline." The North Gate representative claimed ignorance of the need for permits. Evidently, in Clarence people are allowed to undertake potential asbestos removal and disposal, demolition of historic structures, and excavation work related to the public water supply without permits. On top of all this, major masonry repointing has occurred without review. New copper flashing is in evidence as well, but again, without review. A pair of unique glazed terra cotta urns is missing from were the flashing was installed, and has been reportedly destroyed. The Campaign’s goals at Hertel and East were be to immediately stop further deterioration and see that plans for the full restoration of the tower were undertaken. These were accomplished. This will take more money and time than it should have.

Law is clear

 

IMG_0106
The St. John campanile serves as a second front on East Street, balancing the nave and apse

The Preservation Board at its October 15 meeting followed the legal directives of New York State and insisted that the tower be rebuilt. North Gate apologized for its neglect in asking for permits and undertaking demolition and modification. It agreed to come back with plans and descriptions of stabilization and reconstruction of the tower. Legal enforcement of proper civic conduct is the burden of the Preservation Board and the Department of Inspections and Permit Services. On the preservation side, the rules for designated historic structures are clear. New York State law mandates that localities adhere to the standards. They are issued by the Secretary of the Interior and are embodied in the New York State standards and the City of Buffalo standards for local landmarks. The very first piece of guidance in the entire corpus of preservation law is "identifying, retaining, and preserving character-defining features." The tower is obviously character-defining. The upper part of the tower and decorative terra cotta urns formerly capping the portal are dismantled, but the historic materials are still on site. There they must remain until they can be used to reassemble the tower.

A Mea Culpa and Promise to Rebuild

North Gate returned to the Preservation Board on October 30 with plans in hand. The Board approved an initial phase of work, including temporarily removing the top of the tower for stabilization and the construction of a platform on which the rebuilt upper tiers will rest. All materials from the campanile are to be sympathetically dismantled, documented, and stored on the site. In addition, periodic progress reports must be submitted no less than quarterly. The vote to approve was 8-0, contingent on the tower being fully restored. There was one recusal. Anthony James, an architect and Preservation Buffalo Niagara’s representative on the Board, was forced to recuse himself when it was revealed through his Facebook comments that had been asked “to look at” North Gate’s options last summer, had informed Preservation Buffalo Niagara at the time, knew of the owner’s Donation banner2 1decision to demolish, and was aware of ongoing work. It became known, in addition, that James was a member of North Gate, a fact which he did not divulge to the Preservation Board. James did not inform the Preservation Board of the threat to a landmarked structure, and insisted that St. John’s was not an official landmark. In fact, St. John’s was among the earliest designations, in the first year of its eligibility. The process of rebuilding the tower will take time, patience, diligence and more money than it should have. That is time and money well spent to preserve the first building in Black Rock to be awarded city landmark designation. Stopping the destruction was only the first step.

Architects Albert Schallmo and Chester Oakley

The former St John the Baptist Church is one of four masterpieces designed by the firm of Oakley and Schallmo in the 1920's. St. John’s, in a group with Blessed Trinity, St. Luke, and St. Casimir. They display the highest level of craftsmanship in brick architecture in the city. Recent research suggests Albert Schallmo, a German Catholic raised in the Fruit Belt, did the drawings. A talented draftsman and architect, Schallmo is credited with designing the recently demolished Franks House at 184 West Utica Street in Buffalo. That demolition, by companies affiliated with developer Nick Sinatra, was opposed by block clubs and the Preservation Board, which had voted to landmark the house based on the association with Schallmo and the evident craftsmanship. The Franks House was completed in 1907. It is unclear whether Schallmo was moonlighting, but in any case, he was back at the drafting board full-time from 1908 through 1918, working successively for Lansing & Beierl, Williams Lansing, and finally, Lansing, Bley & Lyman.

IMG_0835
Blessed Trinity, though last of Oakley & Schallmo churches too be completed, was designed first and caused the St. John parish and two others to commission the firm

Lansing & Beierl was one of the top firms in the city in the first decade of the 20th century. In the first three years Schallmo is known to have worked for them (1908-1910), the firm designed over 20 buildings or additions, including 219 Bryant Street for Children’s Hospital and a house for masonry contractor Ballard Crocker at 114 Chapin Parkway, of, naturally, finely detailed brick. Schallmo stayed with Lansing when the latter split with Beierl in 1910. Lansing’s work address is then listed with Bley and Lyman, with some work credited to him alone, and others to Lansing, Bley & Lyman.

In August 1913, the same month parishioner Schallmo was married in Our Lady of Lourdes church, Lansing, Bley & Lyman were designing the Lourdes school. With Lansing, two exceptional houses came off the drafting boards: 68 Penhurst Park and 180 Chapin Parkway, both Arts & Crafts temples of domesticity. In 1913, another draftsman is hired, Chester Oakley. Like Schallmo, he had East Side working class roots, living in the Fruit Belt with his peripatetic parents. Unlike Schallmo, who had five siblings, Oakley was an only child. It seems, from later events, that the two hit it off.

Thriving, Schallmo designed and built his own stuccoed Arts & Crafts cottage in 1915 on the banks of Ellicott Creek in Williamsville, where he grew up. Art glass, terra cotta, and oaken detailing in the Schallmo house are a warm embrace of the Arts & Crafts ethos, and a steppingstone between the Franks house of eight years prior and Blessed Trinity eight years after. By 1916, there was no question the United States was going to join the allies in the Great War. This put a damper on architectural work, and plan filings at Lansing, Bley & Lyman virtually dissappear. In late 1917 the U.S. is at war against Germany, and Schallmo does not appear to be employed in the City of Buffalo.

Sometime in 1918 Schallmo is back at work in Buffalo, as an architect and engineer with Sizer Forge, an essential wartime industry. After the war, back at Lansing, Bley & Lyman, the latter two decide to set up their own firm in 1919. Draftsman Oakley stayed with Lansing, becoming a partner in Lansing & Oakley. A short year later, Lansing dropped dead over dinner at home.

Oakley reached out to Schallmo, busy designing houses in Williamsville for his neighbors and fellow parishioners at SS Peter and Paul R.C. Church (for which he designed a school). Schallmo agreed to a partnership. Oakley & Schallmo set up shop in 1921. The first structure to which Schallmo’s name is attached from this office is the craft-forward rectory of Annunciation Church, completed in 1922. Schallmo was the motive force in the firm, with his connections in the German Catholic East Side paying dividends almost immediately.

Schallmo’s expressive talent in brick architecture, begun at 184 West Utica, honed at the elbows of Williams Lansing and Max Beierl, and reaching maturity at the Annunciation rectory, would come to fullest flower in four ecclesiastical masterpieces over five years.

When Schallmo moved out of the family house in the Fruit Belt upon marriage, the rest of the Schallmo clan joined eldest brother William in a classic shophouse at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Holden Street. It was in the largely German neighborhood that grew up around quarries in the northeast section of the city known as the Yammerthal (“Vale of Tears”). The Buffalo Diocese had just established Blessed Trinity parish, and laid the cornerstone of a its combination church-school-social hall in 1907. The Schallmos were there at the start. When John Schallmo died in 1915, his funeral service was presided over by the founding priest of Blessed Trinity, John Pfluger. In 1916, Pfluger was assigned to another German parish, and Albert Fritton, a Canisius College graduate, took over. Like Pfluger, Fritton was a graduate of the famous Canisianum Jesuitical institute in Innsbruck, Austria. While there, Fritton traveled to neighboring Italy, where he was deeply impressed by the religious architecture of Lombardy.

At the fast-growing Blessed Trinity, Fritton had the opportunity to plan for a new, permanent church, agreed upon by the parish in 1922. When thinking of who might design the structure, Albert Schallmo must have crossed Fritton’s mind immediately. In late 1922 Oakley & Schallmo filed plans. The larger-than-life figure of Thomas Plassman, new president of St. Bonaventure College, chose the hundreds of iconographic castings which adorn the exterior. The polymathic Plassman, yet another German native, would have been known to all involved. Schallmo supervised construction, which started in 1923.

 

DSC_0620
St. Casimir in Kaisertown is one of four brick masterpieces by Oakley & Schallmo

One look at Blessed Trinity’s plans, and other parishes rapidly enlisted Oakley & Schallmo: St. John the Baptist (the first of the four completed, in 1927), St. Casimir, and St. Luke. Each was in an outlying working-class neighborhood. One imagines the two young architects seizing the chance to bequeath people like themselves architectural objects of great beauty generally reserved for downtown. In addition, President Plassman of St. Bonaventure followed up with commissions for a dormitory and oratory at his growing college, with the promise for more work.

 

The future looked bright, but disaster struck. In January 1928, after St. John’s had opened the previous summer, ground been broken for St. Luke in the fall, and as finishing touches were being applied to Blessed Trinity and St. Casimir, Schallmo died suddenly. He was 43. No cause of death was made public. With the talented Joseph Fronczyk also having just left for his own practice, the firm withered under the reclusive Oakley. The practice lived largely off relationships established by the socially active and hands-on Schallmo.

Donation banner2 1

 


Law is Clear: St. John's Tower Must Rise Again

B13A87C2-B928-4779-8681-E8995730DF1F_1_105_c
Drawing by Lawrence McIntyre from the book "Designated Landmarks of the Niagara Frontier," shows significance of recently destroyed tower of St. John the Baptist Church to overall composition of building
 
IMG_5406 2
Condition of tower, with temporary shoring, after an illegal attempt by owner to remove it was stopped by The Campaign for Greater Buffalo. Owner intent was to leave only bottom tier of tower.

 

IMG_0266
2007 photo shows glazed terra cotta ornament on stone or cast stone plinths on either side of entrance have been removed, and the plinths capped with copper.


It remains unclear who funded or directed the illegal destruction of the character-defining tower of the former St. John the Baptist Church, a brick-and-terra-cotta masterpiece by architects Oakley and Schallmo. Completed in 1927,  it has long been a designated City of Buffalo historic landmark. Its dismantlement became public knowledge when Campaign for Greater Buffalo Executive Director Tim Tielman drove by the site on Tuesday night.  It is clear, however, that the Preservation Board must follow legal directives from New York State and insist that the tower be rebuilt (it next meets on Thursday, October 15), and Mayor Byron Brown must back up the Preservation Board's resolve through enforcement actions of the Department of Permit and Inspection Services. North Gate, an evangelical organization that has now badged the property with its banners, must take moral ownership of its lapse and fund the reconstruction. Legal enforcement of proper civic conduct is the burden of the Preservation Board and the Department of Inspections and Permit Services.
 

The money to fix the tower must be prioritized. A lot of money is being spent around the complex by North Gate. The religious organizations involved—North Gate is partnering with RiverRock Church and another organization— will claim they didn't have the money to preserve the tower, so they certainly would not have the money to rebuild it. But a religious organization's financial books are, uniquely, closed to all. So the public is left to trust organizations whose supervisor on the site claimed ignorance of the need to get asbestos surveys and permits, demolition permits, and Preservation Board review.

On the preservation side, the rules for preservation of historic structures are clear, and New York State law mandates that localities adhere to the standards.  They are issued by the Secretary of the Interior and are embodied in the New York State  standards and the the City of Buffalo standards for local landmarks. The very first piece of guidance in the entire corpus of preservation law is  "identifying, retaining, and preserving  character-defining features." The tower is obviously character-defining. The upper part of the tower (and decorative terra cotta ornaments formerly on the front wall of the church) is dismantled, but the historic materials are still on site. There they must remain until they can be used to reassemble the tower. Preservation Board Chair Gwen Howard arrived on site Wednesday morning and was emphatic with representatives of NorthGate, and evangelical organization that was overseeing the work, that plans must be submitted to the Preservation Board before any work could be approved.

On the City side, Commissioner James Comerford, upon being informed of the situation Tuesday night, immediately confirmed that no permits—demolition- or asbestos-related— had been requested or issued, and dispatched an inspector that night. On Wednesday morning shortly after 7:00AM, when notified by Tim Tielman of The Campaign for Greater Buffalo that workmen were on site and preparing to continue the dismantlement, again dispatched an inspector who stopped work upon arrival, and was to issue a written stop work order that day. No work may proceed without Preservation Board review and approval. The Board next meets (remotely) on Thursday October 15.

The process of rebuilding the tower will take time, patience, diligence and more money than it should have. That is time and money well spent to preserve the first building in Black Rock to be awarded city landmark designation. Stopping the destruction was only the first step.

[This article has been updated to correct ownership information]


Demo work halted at St. John's in Black Rock; other violations come to light.

IMG_5376
The tower of the former St. John the Baptist on the morning of Oct. 7, after demolition work had been stopped. Emergency water-shedding measures have been approved by the City. The ornamental ventilator of the historic school is visible through the tower's arch.


The demolition work at the former St. John the Baptist Church in Black Rock has been halted, thanks to the timely intervention of The Campaign for Greater Buffalo. Buffalo Commissioner of Permits and Inspection Services James Comerford dispatched inspector Tracy Krug to the site at 62 Hertel Avenue shortly after 7:00 AM upon receiving a call from Tim Tielman of  The Campaign for Greater Buffalo, who was on-site.  Tielman approached a group of contract workers from Cambar Contracting and informed them that no permit had been issued for the work on the landmark, no review by the Preservation Board had occurred, and that they would be advised to stop work. The foreman refused, pending arrival of City officials and Buffalo Police, but no further demo occurred in the time it took the City inspector to arrive and shut the job down. Comerford confirmed that a written stop-work order will be delivered this afternoon.

DSC_7690
A trailer filled with interior demolition debris, some of it friable, and none of it tested for asbestos, sits behind the former St. John the Baptist Church

Shortly before the inspector's arrival, a Cambar supervisor arrived on-site and brandished a letter to Tielman from Siracuse Engineers, which allegedly summarized hazardous conditions in the tower. The decision to demolish without permission, rather than mitigate the hazard in some other fashion pending resolution through proper channels, was apparently made North Gate, an evangelical organization that is is partnering with the owners of record, RiverRock Church. RiverRock Church split the property in two pieces, selling the parish house to 60 Hertel LLC to the Mosaic 659 Foundation. Mark Herskind, a trustee of Mosaic 659, which is registered at the same  address as his residence, is a significant supporter of local evangelical Christian enterprises, including Jericho Road Community Center, which River Road also claims as a "partner." 

North Gate, a Clarence-based evangelical group that is expanding into the city with this project. North Gate is funding a large project there with a deadline of November 1st, an organization staffer on-site revealed. That is driving the pace of the work. When Tielman offered that arbitrary deadlines shouldn't drive improprieties, he was told by the North Gate representative that "It is God's deadline."

 

NorthGate logo
North Gate, a Clarence-based evangelical group, is funding the unpermitted demolition and plumbing work as part of its expansion into Buffalo. It is advertising a Nov. 1 grand opening 

The North Gate representative feigned ignorance of the need for permits. Evidently, in Clarence people are allowed to undertake potential asbestos removal and disposal, demolition of historic structures, and excavation work related to the public water supply without permits.

On top of all this, major masonry repointing has occurred without review. It is unknown if the mortar mix used matches the original specifications of architects Oakley & Schallmo, who are perhaps the greatest masters of brick architecture the city has produced. New copper flashing is in evidence as well, but again, without review, the public has no knowledge of whether this or any other work was properly done.

The goal at Hertel and East must be to immediately stop further deterioration and issue plans for the full restoration of the tower. This will now take more money and time than it would have, but North Gate must commit to it, and commit to following the laws of the City of Buffalo henceforth.

[This post has been updated to correct ownership information.]


Campaign Moves to Stop Illegal Demo at St. John the Baptist in Black Rock

IMG_0261 2
The East Street elevation of St. John the Baptist shows the tower as it existed last month


An illegal demolition at the former St. John the Baptist church at 60 Hertel Avenue in Buffalo's Black Rock neighborhood has been uncovered. The church is one of four masterpieces designed by the firm of Oakley and Schallmo in the 1920's. St. John, in a group with Blessed Trinity, St. Luke, and St. Casimir, displays the highest level of craftsmanship in brick architecture  in the city. Shortly after 7:00pm on Tuesday October 6, Campaign for Greater Buffalo Executive Director Tim Tielman was driving by on Hertel Avenue and noticed a rental lift on the lawn next to the church. Not recalling any action before the city's Preservation Board, Tielman stopped to investigate and discovered that the church's emblematic Italian Renaissance tower, along the East Street side of the building, was being demolished.

IMG_0266
St. John the Baptist was opened in 1927, a masterpiece of brick by Oakley and Schallmo


The tower was designed as a three-stepped structure terminating in an arcaded octagonal lantern with a tiled roof. Atop all was a cross. Below, the tower is supported by a square shaft with a monumental battered base. Architecturally, the tower forms a necessary counter balance to the extravagantly ornamented elevation, which features a heroic rose window over a Spanish Baroque portal. The east wall of the nave is held in place by a range of massive buttresses, of which the tower can be said to be the largest, as it supports the entire church by means of lateral bridging which is almost as stout as the tower itself.

It is this tower which is in a state of demolition. The uppermost lantern and cross are gone, and the lower octagon is partially gone. Wood and wire bracing wraps the tower, allowing for what appears to be demolition by hand. A pile of bricks lies at the base of the tower, and a large dumpster contains what appears to be the rest of the bricks of the demolished tower. A smaller dump-trailer contains interior demolition debris.

The last Catholic service was held in the church in 2005. Since then, a succession of entities owned it. Records show the the current owners are River Rock Church LLC and the Buffalo Myanmar Indigenous Christian Fellowship.

Tielman called Buffalo Commissioner of Inspections and Permits Jim Comerford immediately, looking for a stop-work order. Comerford reported that no permits had been issued for the work, and that he would send an inspector and the police in the morning. The Campaign will be there as well, bright and early.

IMG_5355
The partially demolished tower on the night of October 6. The demolition is illegal.
IMG_5366
Confirmation of demo, rather than repair: bricks from the tower in a dumpster in back of the church

 


Cornell, UB teams working on Campaign concept of high-speed "Road Train"  

Road Train cover 2 Road Train head 1The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture is sponsoring a series of design studios this fall and next spring with Cornell University and the University of Buffalo

Two studios, one at Cornell and one at UB, are researching a concept of The Campaign for an intercity public transit system utilizing high-speed articulated vehicles in the median of the Thruway at average speeds above 100mph. The UB studio, led by professor Jeffrey Rehler and consisting of Environmental Design and Architecture students, will evaluate mobility systems and explore the design of the new road bed, stations, and the station areas. 

The Cornell studio, led by professor Sirietta Simoncini and consisting of Masters students in Systems Engineering, as well as City and Regional Planning students, will utilize  a process of "systems design thinking" to investigate how such a sustainable mobility system could be set up, implemented, and operate. 

The studios  are under the auspices of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at UB and the College of Engineering at Cornell. 

"We are excited to be sponsoring studios that address urgent needs in Buffalo and Upstate cities as a whole," said Tim Tielman, Executive Director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo.

"The Road Train studios spring from the observation that the railroad era gave us cities with very strong centering effects," continued Tielman. "After 60 years, it is evident that frequent, fast public intercity train service, like that available to downstate residents, is not in the cards for upstate, and it is time to explore whether center cities can be revitalized, and citizens helped, by a transit system that duplicates the success of trains but at much less time and money."

Download Greater Buffalo #28.1 Road Train


DOT scoping doc dismisses all Skyway adaptations; wants new inland highway

Greater Buffalo Skyway factsheet 11x17 1 Download Greater Buffalo Skyway fact sheet 11x17

The New York State Department of Transportation has released a preliminary scoping document that rejects the first-, second-, and third-place prizewinners in Governor Cuomo's "Aim for the Sky" competition to develop new plans for the Skyway corridor. In fact, DOT rejected all 16 of the contest's finalists, and every single concept in its public comment phase that called for retaining any part of the Skyway between Tifft Street, south of the Buffalo River, and Church Street in downtown Buffalo. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo had submitted comments in favor of its "Skywalk" proposal.

Not only did DOT refused to even consider anything that did not reduce the 3-mile length of the Skyway complex to bare earth, thereby washing its hands of any expense of actively remedying the damage its road has inflicted on Buffalo for 60 years or leaving the region with the makings of a spectacular bike-and-walkway, it also made matching or enhancing automobile speed, comfort, and convenience above all else non-negotiable. It therefore was left with two alternatives which it conceived itself outside of the public competition and public comments.

This cannot stand. At a cost of at least $600,000,000, DOT would build at least three new interchanges, a new two-mile elevated roadway through South Buffalo, three bridges, and expansions of four existing Thruway interchanges, including lengthening merge lanes to 2,000 feet—effectively adding another lane to the Thruway between Clinton Street and Elm Street. Time to contact Governor Cuomo. Download the attached pdf for his contact info. SHARE THIS POST FAR AND WIDE, RIGHT NOW.


Watching Indian Falls Locals Jump Off the Cliff

 
Log Cabin  Indian Falls
On hot holidays, like July 3, 2020, locals head to The Log Cabin and the Falls. You either spectate from a perch on the porch, patio, or the rocky bed of Tonawanda Creek, or you jump right in. This ritualistic frivolity occasionally raises concerns or hackles, and the authorities are called. Like every week. The sheriff’s department, so we are informed by the indefatigable staff of The Batavian, has a special rig and rope team at the ready (for dispatches like this: “Man down in Indian Falls, bleeding from the head, water rescuers called.”). On July 3, before your correspondent arrived at the scene for a beer and fish fry, the ever-watchful Batavian reported the 911: “A caller to dispatch reports 20 people ("two-zero") are jumping in the falls by the Indian Falls Log Cabin Restaurant. The dispatcher relayed this complaint to a Sheriff's deputy who asked: "I thought were weren't responding to those (calls) anymore?"
 
Log Cabin  Indian Falls
The Log Cabin Restaurant and Bar is a log cabin restaurant and bar in the Genesee County hamlet of Indian Falls. You’ll miss it if you are speeding northward from the Pembroke Thruway exit to the micropolis of Medina (part of the Albion-Medina Microplex). Turn left at the dip in the road. It is on the eastern fringe of Buffaloland. The food is typical bar food, but you are going for the folksy ambience, the wood-smoke curling up from the stone fireplace (in winter), and the view, which in summer includes local youth diving into the base of the falls. The spirit of Seneca sachem Ely Parker, who was born on the spot, pervades the place.


Ely Parker marker

Log Cabin  Indian Falls
The area around Indian Falls was once part of the Tonawanda Indian Reservation. Ely Parker, Seneca sachem, was born in a log cabin overlooking the falls (not the one currently on the site). A marker on the Akron Road explains it all.

Paleo-Urbanism wasn't Buffalo's Problem. It is The Solution.

Main St c 1907 BuffaloThis is another in our occasional series of decoding Buffalo postcards. Today, in honor of the Independence Day holiday, a detail of a colorized postcard c. 1906 showing Buffalo on the eve of, likely, July 4th, and at its peak in the hierarchy of American cities. It is one of our favorite views of the city. The artist Childe Hassam made his living painting similar scenes of New York City 10 years later. Based on a photograph, the image is unusual for its elevated perspective in the middle of a busy street, and rich in information. To wit:

  • Ellicott Square, in the left foreground (Daniel Burnham & Co., 1895-6) has its cornice intact and awnings shading store windows and office windows, and has its original light gray terra cotta. The cornice was removed and tinted windows installed in the 1970s, under the management of Carl Paladino (the developers first project, and the birth of Ellicott Development). Not only did this result in banishing real awnings, it made it difficult for passersby to see what merchants had on offer. So rigid-framed advertising canopies meant to evoke ye olde clothing awnings have been installed, as in Ellicott Developments convenience store on the Washington Street side. Paladino also had the entire building repainted in a mousy brown a couple years ago. Thanks, Carl.
  • There is a line of streetcars headed up Main Street. The number 8 Main Street line itself had departures every two minutes during working hours. Many other lines shared this track, and others crossed it just behind the photographer at Shelton Square. It was the public transit hub of Buffalo, which explains why Ellicott Square was built there.
  • Mobility is free-range; there are sidewalks, but pedestrians are crossing at will and standing at various points, as are horses and carriages, and bicycles—at least six of them in this scene. There are no automobiles, moving or parked, although there were a good number already registered in the city. Soon, to benefit cars, pedestrians would be confined to certain crossing points, and drivers would simply leave their cars willy-nilly at the curb for hours at a time.
  • The second White Building, on the right, has just opened. The first burned down in 1904. This one advertises that it is fireproof (non-combustible supports, floors, and walls), like Ellicott Square and the nearby Guaranty Building. A great fear, as buildings began be built taller, was to be caught on an upper floor when fire broke out below.
  • Next to the White Building to the south is the Weed Block, which housed a hardware emporium on the ground floor and offices and living quarters above, among them those of Grover Cleveland. He conducted most of his life quite efficiently, happily, and consequentially, within three blocks of his Main & Swan base.
  • Across Swan Street, south of the Weed Block is a small brick structure that was home to what was to become M&T Bank.
  • Looming over the corner bank is the Barnes, Bancroft & Hengerer Department Store. Soon, following the migration of retail northward along Main Street, successor Hengerer's would build a giant store north of Lafayette Square. The 1888 Barnes & Bancroft building still stands.
  • The same cannot be said for the stout and varied brick building directly opposite, on the east side of Main, south of Swan. They were, save one, acquired by Marine Midland Bank in the mid-1960's and demolished for a new headquarters. The only survivor was the building housing Bernstone's Cigar Store, which was decapitated that decade and stood in rump form until several years ago. It survived only became Marine, in mid-project, was persuaded by Mayor Frank Sedita's administration to abandon that site, already cleared, for a Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency project that would become the Marine Midland Center. The site remains a parking lot today.
  • This entire section of Main Street (disappearing into the mists of the engraver's airbrush), a vital commercial corridor, was separated from the rest of Main Street to the south by the Marine Midland Center and directly to the north by the construction of a mammoth  automobile processional—the Church Street Extension Mall— which destroyed Shelton Square, as well as four blocks of buildings extending eastward to the Elm-Oak arterial. This is why the modern preservation movement came into being. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo exists to preserve buildings like these, and to restore environments like this.

Campaign for Greater Buffalo Documenting all Green Book Sites in City

Seven Reasons c.1959
"Seven Reasons," (c.1959) a slide image taken by an employee of the Buffalo Department of Planning documenting pre-Urban Renewal conditions. The photograph in all probability is on the Lower East Side. The pencilled title, on the slide's paper frame, is indicative of the notion, at least among some bureaucrats, that, in order to give these children a better life, their homes and neighborhood had to be destroyed. Besides the enormous social toll, that cost Buffalo thousands of historic structures and businesses, including those listed in various editions of the Green Book, which The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is documenting.


The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is in the midst of a project to document all the Green Book sites in the city of Buffalo. The Green Book is the most well-known of various directories published during the Jim Crow era to assist citizen-travelers of color find services and accommodations that welcomed them. Simple intercity travel was a the Green Books between 1947 and 1967, only a dozen have extant buildings. The rest fell victim directly or indirectly, to the federal and state bulldozers of the Urban Renewal era, funding clearance plans drawn up in City Hall. Ostensibly, the work was being done to benefit the very residents whose homes were being destroyed and their lives upended. Now, building on the work of Fredonia State intern Cameron Flynn, The Campaign hopes to mark every site with long-lasting sidewalk stickers or other markers, and to encourage rehabilitation of the extant structures.

Green books
The past months have seen two outstanding books published on the Green Book: Driving While Black, African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin, and  Overground Railroad, The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candace Taylor. The two books compliment each other in many ways, and those interested will want to read both, as well as any of several facsimile editions of The Green Book. All have helped inform the Campaign's Green Book Project.


Lorna Peterson, Gail Wells, and Tim Tielman are on the Campaign's Green Code committee, with an assist from Chris Hawley at City Hall, who helps coordinate interns' research in city records. Fredonia State's news service published a nice piece on the Green Book and Cameron Flynn's work earlier this year.

The past months have seen two outstanding books published on the Green Book: Driving While Black, African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin, and  Overground Railroad, The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candace Taylor. The two books compliment each other in many ways, and those interested will want to read both, as well as any of several facsimile editions of The Green Book. All have helped inform the Campaign's Green Book Project.

Ellicott_URA aerial_sdiv 2
Thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses were destroyed with city and federal funds—including dozens of Green Book sites—in the Ellicott Urban Renewal District, bounded by Swan Street (left) Michigan Avenue, William Street, and Jefferson Avenue. The consequences reverberate to the present day.


This is written while demonstrations are occurring in Buffalo and across America—and the world— almost daily since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd through asphyxiation by kneeing him in the neck for almost nine minutes while the victim lay unresisting on the ground. One can't help but look back at the state-sponsored destabilization and dislocation of thousands of Ellicott District residents in Buffalo in the 1950's and 1960's and the demonstrations and riots they helped unleash and wonder how much society and the city would have been better served if those thousands of homes and businesses could have been preserved and rehabilitated. We cannot let the remaining Green Book buildings—symbols of struggle, survival, and triumph—be lost.

The Campaign is seeking donations and grants to complete its Green Book project. Donations can be made online on the Campaign's blog homepage sidebar, Greater Buffalo, or by mail at 403 Main Street, Suite 705, Buffalo, NY 14203.


Urban Renewal Redux: A Wall Rises in Buffalo

Buffalo, like so many American cities, still has wounds and physical defects dating from the Urban Renewal era. Massive demolition programs claimed thousands of irreplaceable buildings. Many sites are vacant to this day (camouflaged, if you will, by parking lots). When new structures were built, they were often built with ignorance and disregard for how humans behaved and cities succeed. Thus, in Buffalo, we erected buildings with long stretches of blank walls, which suppressed sidewalk activity and destroyed the contiguity which made walking useful and pleasant. Jane Jacobs, in Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) pointed this out. That did not stop us from constructing the Central Library (1962) with solid walls on Clinton, Oak, William and Broadway; Main Place Mall (1969) with a 900-foot blank wall on Pearl Street, the convention center (1978) which killed everything around it on Franklin, Genesee, and Mohawk streets with hundreds of feet of implacable brutality, and just about every parking garage you want to mention. That is a lot of dead zone to overcome.

Cities the world over are tearing out expressways, replacing Brutalist compounds with engaging structures opening onto public sidewalks, even "daylighting" lost rivers and canals. Buffalo's first big opportunity to correct the mistakes of 1960s urbanism in Buffalo is the old Marine Midland Center (1972). We are on the verge of blowing it.

The Buffalo Planning Department, the Planning Board, and the Zoning Board of Appeals all approved a massive wall of concrete panels that is 12 feet high on the corner of Seneca and Pearl streets, and over 20 feet high on Washington Street. The wall, and related structures at Main and Seneca streets, are almost finished. And it is a horror to behold. Should we let this mistake last for the next 50 years?

 


Selling Urban Renewal to Children of All Ages



IMG_2052
First page of architect-author-illustrator Yen Liang's 1958 book The Skyscraper. Jane Jacobs saw this as the very picture of urban health, equity, and functionality. Author Yen Liang saw it as a menace to health and property values that had to be destroyed in order to build a new, clean, and ordered city


Trigger warning: this article contains soul-crushing depictions of the American City.

Look at images of street scenes any American City around 1900.

Look at that city today, and you are likely to see a selection of glorious masonry architecture intermixed with glammy office buildings (in larger cities) and gray crusted-over wounds inflicted 60 years ago, during the Urban Renewal era of the late 1950s and 1960s. Swaths of open-air automobile storage, wide, smooth roads with speeding cars, narrowed unkempt sidewalks, scattered blank-walled drugstores and drive-thru fast food joints (here's looking at you, Tonawanda, Newark (NY), and Rome), and plain-old infertile precincts where the bomb craters have been filled in and ill-conceived Brutalist replacement retail and concrete nooses of loop roads render suicide redundant (sorry, Ogdensburg, Amsterdam, and um...)

How could something so bad, that seems to us so pre-destined to failure and infertility have happened? Did our leaders lose their minds? Where was the resistance? Why didn't Jane Jacobs (Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961) prevail?

 

IMG_2051
The cover of Yen Liang's The Skyscraper was an austere abstraction. The dust jacket was more family friendly.
 


Some answers can be found in The Skyscraper, a forgotten children's book published in 1958. To come across it 60 years after it made its way through the bookstores, school libraries, and the minds of "children of all ages (Saturday Review)," is to understand what it is to be led, with certitude and conviction, by blinded acolytes of the urban-industrial complex. Consider the case of Yen Liang (1908-2000) architect, author/illustrator. Ivy League education (Penn, Cornell, MIT, and Harvard) . One of the original six Taleisin Fellows of Frank Lloyd Wright. Employed by Harrison and Abramowitz, masters of Corporate Modernism, from 1946 through retirement a quarter-century later. Liang gulped down the Kool-Aid by the galvanized tubload.

IMG_2054
Today, even while the novel coronavirus is among us, this image could depict a healthy, vacation-worthy urban area anywhere on the globe. The book's caption describes Amsterdam, Venice, Barcelona, Rome, and countless other places. To Modernists like Wallace Harrison and Yen Liang, this depicted an urban slum ripe for clearance
IMG_2055
Contrary to Skyscraper's message, children did have a place to play to a public place, albeit under the watchful eyes of a basement-dwelling victim/perp. Some of America's most desired residential real estate is in rehabilitated neighborhoods like this in Brooklyn today, appreciated by preservationists like Clem Labine, who founded Old House Journal in a Brooklyn brownstone
 
IMG_2058
The Urban-Industrial Complex gets down to business: White men with calculators and t-squares planning the city of tomorrow while a lone woman takes notes.
IMG_2059
The simplistic insight of Le Corbusier's Ville Radieuse (1922) and Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City (1934) that stacking human habitations in vertical towers would free up land for open space became blinding, and planners, architects, and civic leaders blinded, to the social and economic consequences.
 
IMG_2060
To make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs: Demolition was sold as necessary precondition of "cleaning up" cities. In truth, it was an epic of squandering human capital and public treasure. The new laws which made all this possible remain today, suppressing the re-appearence of the traditional city.
IMG_2061
The vision of towers in parks and plazas, according to architectural historian Vincent Scully, "came to ream out the traditional density of the town and destroy its streets." No humans are visible, nor are the highways, cars, strip malls, and parking lots which the vision also required. Author Yin Liang was soon hard at work on the South Mall in Albany, a project which forced over 9,000 people from their homes and destroyed hundreds of small businesses and thousands of housing units, and replaced them with towers on platforms over a parking connected to interstate highways
 
The Skyscraper is evidence of the dangers of public intoxication with Corbu’s Ville Radieuse, Wright’s Broadacre City, and Wallace Harrison’s UN and X-City proposal of 1946 (years later served up refried as Albany's South Mall, which author Yen Liang worked on). To achieve the proper setting for the simple sculptural masses of the modern office tower and residential tower, whole sections of cities were torn down. A reporter in 1960's Buffalo writing about the transformation was so overwhelmed by the number of buildings coming down that he could not enumerate them—everywhere he turned downtown, blocks were coming down, were down, or were being condemned. Between them, the Ellicott and Waterfront urban renewal areas alone ground down the homes of almost 10,000 people. In their place, towers and highways and parking lots. It is a legacy which hobbles Buffalo still.

You can Blame Us: Frank Lloyd Wright Houses Now Official Buffalo Landmarks

Heath House
Frank Lloyd Wright's Heath House, viewed from Soldiers' Circle.

The Buffalo Common Council withstood many attempts to landmark Frank Lloyd Wright's Heath House and Davidson House over the last 20 years, but on March 17, 2020, faced with a court order won by The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture, it quietly approved designating both prairie-style houses as City of Buffalo landmarks. They had long been on the National Register of Historic Places—as long as their lack of local recognition was a civic embarrassment.

The Campaign mounted several attempts to get them landmarked, but each was thwarted by the evident political power of one of the owners, a host and donor to political and non-profit fundraisers. In the meantime, the houses suffered from uninformed "improvements," including, at the Davidson, hammering textured asphalt shingles through the original slate roof, and discoloring Wright's iconic white stucco walls, first with a "Harvest Gold" color last seen on 1970's refrigerators and now with a gray-brown tone popular at strip malls and investment properties. The Campaign has noted before that these erosions of character are particularly felt due to the northern orientation of both houses, which requires architectural detailing to overcome shadowing and silhouetting effects against a brighter sky. 

The Campaign's latest effort began early in 2019, when it took action against the Council for yet again attempting to kill the landmark nominations by receiving and filing them. State Supreme Court Judge Paul Wojtaszek found for The Campaign in July, and handed down the decision and order voiding the Council's action to receive and file the applications on October 11. The Buffalo Corporation Council simply sat on the information and did not forward it to the Council. Finally, on March 3, 2020, Campaign Vice President Dan Sack formally requested that the City Clerk place the matter on the next Council meeting agenda, which was on March 17. 

The Council approved both nominations at its March 17th meeting. A brass band was not hired to spread the news. Sack found out about it, amidst the tsunami of Coronavirus news and the discontinuation  of City Hall public meetings, through a follow-up email request.

"I am glad the anti-social distancing from landmark designation on these spectacular Buffalo cultural inheritances is over," said Campaign Executive Director Tim Tielman. "Now we have to get the Brown Administration to see the light: Remember the Franks House!," referencing the Administration's end-run around the Preservation Board and Common Council to demolish a rare Flemish Revival house on West Utica Street in February.

Richard Lippes, a Campaign board member, filed the lawsuit on behalf of The Campaign in January. "It is good to see our lawsuit come to fruition," said Lippes. "It removes a significant impediment to preserving deserving buildings and giving citizens the protections they thought they had all along."