This 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 developer's 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 Development's 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. The streetcars moved slowly, attested by the people walking back and forth amidst the cars.
- 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 autos, 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.