Best of WNY 2012: Eye Candy
This is year seven for Buffalo Spree’s best of WNY. Each year, we determine the area’s finest by combining the deliberations of three expert panels with the votes of our readers. Each year, the categories change, just to keep it exciting. Agree or disagree? Be sure to let us know by posting here or on any of the other Best of categories we post this week on BuffaloSpree.com.
Most promising new construction
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
641 Delaware Ave., trsite.org.
Buffalo schoolchildren are well-versed in the story of the ignonimous end of both the Pan-American Expo and the presidency of William McKinley, at the hands of an assassin’s bullet one September day in 1901. Many, like their elders before them, have toured the Wilcox Mansion, where Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the new president. It is now the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, and though the site has been meticulously restored and further enhanced with the recent addition of a replica carriage house that serves as a visitor's center, the stately house and grounds will now finally be restored to its 1901 appearance, thanks to a donation of land from the Bank of America.
The bank building next door to the Site will be torn down this summer, affording a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to complete the Site master plan by returning the historic property to its original boundaries and landscape, according to Executive Director Molly Quackenbush. “This will give us much greater visibility and access,” she says, noting that the building, set back from Delaware, is hard for visitors to locate. New space on the side and back will double the number of parking spaces and include a Delaware Avenue entry to the Franklin Street parking area, where there will be easier access for busloads of tourists and schoolchildren. The new streetscape will also look really cool, with shrubbery and trees resembling the plantings National Park landscape experts detected in vintage photos of the property. Were the old Roughrider to reappear on Delaware Avenue in downtown Buffalo, he now would have no trouble finding the home of his friend Ansley Wilcox.
Best makeover of an existing building
Hotel @ The Lafayette
It was not quite a wreck. People still lived in the as-is apartments, and the blues could still be heard in the Tap Room, until it finally closed its doors in 2010. Even so, the transformation of this building still seems miraculous; its new interior bears little or no resemblance to the Lafayette we thought we knew. Artisans were brought in to restore the original architectural details—remarkably intact under decades of modernization. Now, entering the Lafayette is like stepping back into a gorgeous combination of the Gilded Age and the Jazz Age. Kudos to developer Rocco Termini for accomplishing this restoration feat.
Best place for a family outing
Tie: Buffalo Zoo and South Park/Botanical Gardens
300 Parkside Ave., 716-837-3900, buffalozoo.com
2655 South Park Ave., 716-827-1584, buffalogardens.com
While the zoo is a slam dunk in this category, especially with the new additions of the rainforest and historic farm environments, many might not consider the possibilities in South Park. A walk around the ring road yields plenty of wildlife spotting—aquatic, winged, and four-footed—as well as good, healthy exercise and beautiful views of the pond and arboretum. Inside the glasshouses, there are plenty of fun activities for kids, including scheduled workshops and interactive displays. Mom and Dad will enjoy the romantic atmosphere and lush tropical plantings.
Most beautiful private club
The Buffalo Club
388 Delaware Ave., 716-886-6400, buffaloclub.org.
Built as a private home for industrialist Stephen Watson in 1870, with additions by E. B. Green in 1889 and 1908, after it had become the BC headquarters, this majestic Delaware Avenue landmark has long been a luxurious yet comfortable refuge for its members. There are gorgeous dining and event rooms for almost any occasion, including intimate dinners, large-scale cocktail parties, or gala banquets.
Best view of the City of Buffalo
Erie Basin Marina, Looking eastward toward the Buffalo skyline
329 Erie St., eriebasinmarina.org.
The main triumphs of Erie Basin Marina are that it is reclaimed land, draws a diverse range of citizens, and remains a year-round, public waterside park. Visitors will see runners, exer-walkers, and those who’ve parked their lawn chairs atop rocks-with-a-view facing Lake Erie to the west. Facing east, however, is one of the most intimate and gorgeous views of the city of Buffalo. Many of the landmark and historic buildings feel like you could reach out and touch them–beyond the marina and its slips, and rows of low-rise, manicured condos. The walk from parking lot to observation lighthouse at the terminus of Erie Basin Marina is approximately 1 mile roundtrip. This urban landscape is punctuated by the Art Deco City Hall, the glass-fronted Federal Courthouse, and glimmers of the 2 twinkling Lady Liberties atop Liberty Building. Looking south/right is the arc of the Skyway, and just beyond the grain elevators. Suggestion: visit Erie Basin Marina at dusk in summertime to gaze at the skyline, and turn when the time is right to view the glowing sunset. Amenities here include The Hatch for picnic-like fare, and the more upscale Templeton Landing with its own skyline view from patio or ample dining room windows.
Best looking historic building
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
1285 Elmwood Ave., 716-882-8700, albrightknox.org.
Always imposing with its columns, caryatids, and commanding position overlooking Hoyt Lake on one side and a busy Elmwood intersection on the other, we think this is an easy pick, made even easier by the fact that the AKAG is getting all dressed up with new exterior sculpture, including the fabulous Nancy Rubins canoe construction in front, and—soon—an Andy Goldsworthy project on the park side.
Most beautiful under-the-radar block
Now hemmed by the Scajaquada Expressway, this was once the grand entrance to Delaware Park and part of the Olmsted-designed Humboldt Parkway. The quiet enclave is lined with beautiful houses in a variety of early 20th century styles, and includes, of course, the Medaille College campus. According to a few sources, Cher, Greg Allman, Chastity (now Chaz) Bono, and Elijah Blue Allman lived in one of these houses during the ’70s while Greg Allman was undergoing rehab treatment.
Sight you won’t see anywhere else but here
Dyngus Day crowds
Buffalo is the Dyngus Day capital of North America, if not the world. And 2012 was the year of Dyngus. On CNN back in April, AC360 host Anderson Cooper collapsed in a fit of giggles as he was describing the celebration, during his “RidicuList” segment. Dyngus Day Buffalo, the official organization, responded with an appropriate blend of outrage plus gratitude for the national attention, issuing a challenge/invitation to Cooper to attend in 2013. The Dyngus Day (“Wet Monday”) mythology is that it’s a celebratory release after the Lenten holidays. In the old country, it centered around courtship and fertility; boys would go so far as to sneak into their sweethearts’ homes (abetted by the girl’s mother) and soak her with a bucketful of water. She could retaliate with a pussywillow branch. Here in Buffalo, on the Monday after Easter, it’s not just people of Polish descent who jam into the Central Terminal and drink beer, eat sausage, listen to polka bands, squirt each other with waterguns (or in one friend’s case, a trick camera). This year’s run on pussy willow branches got everyone scared, but the tradition continues.
Best use of your taxpayer dollars
Green Recycling Totes
What more do we need to say than “It’s about time!” Well, maybe we should add that single-stream recycling, where residents do not have sort paper from plastic from cans, and so on, may be the salvation of Western New York’s low recycling numbers. They are already significantly higher.
Best nature preserve
You’ve heard of Tifft, but have you been there? Approximately 270 different species of birds have been spotted here, while the wetland portions are loaded with cool semi-aquatic creatures like snakes and turtles. The walks are well-maintained and peaceful with great views of Buffalo’s industrial past in the distance. The Buffalo Museum of Science has been a good caretaker for this preserve.
Best spot for wedding photos
It may seem strange to think of a cemetery as the spot to commemorate such a happy day, but most Western New Yorkers tend to think of Forest Lawn as one of our most beautiful parks, a park that happens to be loaded with world-class memorial sculpture.
Thanks to Spree’s panelists and writers: Bruce Adams, William C. Altreuter, Nina Barone, Alan Bedenko, Julia Burke, Don Burtless, Bryan Calandrelli, Rachel Fix Dominguez, Bruce Eaton, Jana Eisenberg, Seamus Gallivan, Donna Hoke, Cheryl Jackson, Meg Knowles, Elizabeth Licata, Darwin McPherson, Jane Mogavero, Barry A. Muskat, Nancy J. Parisi, Kevin Purdy, Christopher Schobert, Maria Scrivani, Christa Glennie Seychew, Joe Sweeney, Margaret M. Toohey, James Walkowiak, and Ryan Weaver.