Starr Gazing

Dr. Dan Starr
Retired Director of Athletics and Professor Emeritus of American History at Canisius College.


Buffalo Loft Life- Who Actually Lives in Them?

My old pal Zuke arrived back in town. He bailed out of our area following the Blizzard of ’77 and now lives in Philadelphia, but he has kept in touch.

He was here for the NCAA basketball tournament. We met at the 24/7 and proceeded on a tour of the city: Harbor Place, out Delaware Ave., back on Elmwood, up and down Main St., and elsewhere.

Zuke was amazed at the changes in Buffalo. He was especially impressed with all the old, dilapidated buildings now being renovated for condos, apartments, lofts, or restaurants and businesses (mixed use space as it’s called).

Zuke wanted to know who is buying those places and who is living there. Excellent question! I would like to know too. Is it millennials, baby boomers, plutocrats, second home people, transients, or Bills fans who want to be near the new stadium when it gets built in 2030? Who lives there? We need those Buffalo News reporters to do a story or two on the subject.

I mentioned that I knew a few who had moved downtown. Jim Burke was a pioneer; he has lived in a condo across from the former Studio One Theater at Main and Tupper for 30 years. Not long ago, Del Denby sold his pub on Hertel and took up permanent residence in the Sidway Building, located kitty corner from St. Louis church.

In the old days, the only people who lived in apartments in the city were the wealthy and they lived out swanky Delaware Ave., in the Campanile, the Park Lane Apartments, or the high rise at 800 West Ferry, not downtown. No old warehouses for those people!

We drove out Main past the huge Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (that would have to wait another day). At Main and Ferry, I pointed out an old four-story building that had housed a pizzeria and was now restored with pleasant, nice condos. Nearby on Ferry in the old Deco Coffee headquarters, more restoration had been accomplished.

We drove further out Main to Bennett High school. Next to Bennett sits a large four-story factory with no particular curb appeal whatsoever. It formerly housed the Buffalo Meter company. Now, it houses high end condos. Yes, people actually live there. Who? I don’t know.

Zuke’s disbelief continued. We drove over to Elmwood, a “hot” area as the real estate people boast. Fifty years ago, it was just plain Elmwood Ave. with an assortment of saloons and used book stores. Cole’s, of course, has been there for generations. I told Zuke that the area was upgraded in people’s minds to the Elwood strip and in recent years, has fancied itself as the Elmwood Village. Look for the local boosters to declare it “The Duchy of Elmwood” one of these days.

Next, it was show time as back downtown we traveled to Lower Main St. and the harbor area. At one time, this area was Buffalo’s answer to the Bowery in NYC. Zuke now thought he was on a different planet. Zuke said, “All I remember of the area was Denny Brinkworth’s saloon where we went after Canisius basketball games in the Aud. Also, the old Seamens’ home where “Shoes” Bewick once went into the hallway, grabbed a spare tire, and rolled it all the way down Main St. until it splashed right into the harbor. It simply merged with other trash and junk floating on the oil and grease in the water.”

And now before us, like photos out of a high class travel magazine, we saw new hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and places of interest for visitors (e.g., the Naval Park, auto museum, monuments, etc.) and a picturesque harbor. Zuke recalled that a half century ago, the venerable crusading environmentalist, Stan Spisiak, accompanied President Lyndon Johnson out into the harbor where they dredged up the polluted water to dramatize the need for a Clean Water Act. It worked, too. The harbor and Lake Erie were transformed. Now, the harbor is a rather pleasant place for kayakers and boaters of all types. Huge lake freighters and their attendant tug boats are rather scarce (credit of course to the St. Lawrence Seaway).

Even the Seneca Creek Casino looks pretty good today. It will never rival Caesar’s Palace but it looks much better than when it was in a shabby Quonset hut a few years back. Zuke looked around and nearby and, “like a bolt out of the blue,” he spotted the old Fairmount Creamery. “Didn’t you work there?” Zuke asked. “I did,” I replied, “Just before you and I were drafted in the Army by Uncle Sam, probably around 1953.”

I worked on the top floors of the eight-story building. Sometimes late at night I would push palates loaded with frozen vegetables into the large frozen food lockers. It was kind of scary. I occasionally had visions of seeing a body, a cadaver, hanging inside. I worked with a WWII vet, Clem, who told me all about the hobos living in the Boondocks nearby (I think he lived there too).

Now the Fairmont Building is upscale housing with a restaurant on the first floor, Pegula sports offices on the second, and condos above. What a change!

Zuke said, “How come you know so much about all this?” I told him I don’t, but my good friends Frank Eberl, Jacek Wysocki, and Ed Patton are authorities on the old and the new Buffalo. They are very helpful. Indeed, the Eberls at their Iron Works shops on Sycamore Street put their money where their mouth is and rejuvenated their thriving business there. However, there is no truth to the rumor that one of those three suggested that the formidable Central Terminal become a Trump Tower Hotel.

Zuke summed up his Buffalo tour by observing that “it looks like no stone, no decaying edifice, has been left untouched.” I told him, not quite-- there is still the rundown Wildroot Cream Oil building on Bailey, a neglected eyesore. On that note Zuke broke into song:

“You better get Wildroot Cream Oil Charlie

Start usin’ it today

You will find that you will have a tough time,

Charlie, keeping all those gals away.”

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