Black Rock in black and white
A view of Grant and Amherst Streets.
Images courtesy of Grant/Amherst Business Association’s Historic Photo Project.
“Dad’s Car in Buffalo,” 1942.
A parade in the 1950s.
A new store opening in November, 1935.
A storefront on Amherst Street, circa 1950.
The “Seabreeze,” Buffalo.
How much do you know about Black Rock, the oldest section of greater metropolitan Buffalo? Here’s a quick history lesson:
• The Americans resisted three separate British attacks there during the War of 1812.
• In 1813 the village of Black Rock was officially founded—months before the Village of Buffalo was incorporated.
• Prior to the Civil War, it served as a station of the Underground Railroad.
• It was annexed by the City of Buffalo in 1853, thus becoming one of the West Side villages.
That much is part of the public record—but what about the private lives of the people who lived and worked in Black Rock in the intervening century and a half? About five years ago a group of business owners in the Grant/Amherst area realized that stories about their home turf were seriously lacking. They put out a call to their neighbors for photos that might help tell those untold tales, and they were not disappointed.
Doreen DeBoth, owner of Artsphere and chairperson of the Grant/Amherst Business Association’s Historic Photo Project, says the collection began with a request printed in the Riverside Review. People began bringing in pictures consistently, and soon it became clear that something had to be done with the treasure chest of rediscovered images. That’s when Robert Niemiec, owner of Niemiec Building Supply, suggested that a book ultimately be created. His idea led to the formation of the committee; its first task became a series of postcards reproducing some of the photos. The original plan to produce a book compiling only the cards was revised because too many other worthy contributions would have been left out.
DeBoth says looking at snapshots of bygone days always has a way of shaking up her perception, because it gives her a doorway into a bygone world: “They tell the story of our past history, where we came from, and how things used to be. It helps to compile the historical documentation of how great this neighborhood was and how active and prosperous the area became.”
DeBoth remembers the specific photo that piqued her interest in what Black Rock used to be like: “Right after we bought [Artsphere’s current location], my daughter and I were downstairs and we found a photo that had six nail holes in it. The edges on it weren’t in good shape. This building was always a funeral parlor, and the picture showed the parlor. The photo was taken across the street, and there are all these old cars lined up from the 1920s with chauffeurs standing in front of them. It’s really just amazing to me, because the front part and the hallway where my gallery is were all added on later, so [the building looks] totally different. No one would even be able to recognize what this place was.”
Bogdan Fundalinski, another member of the committee and a master photographer who owns Fundalinski Studio, says these images from the past are important to the area’s future. “When you want to revitalize a community, the community needs to know who they are,” he notes. Fundalinski has a desire to see the residents of Black Rock come together and rebuild the prosperity the area once knew. He sees signs of that rebirth already: “If you look at the buildings around here, there were a lot of lumber places and furniture-making businesses. They closed up, but now what’s happening is those businesses are reopening under different names. It’s really fantastic—they have some beautiful things they are presenting. Down the street there is a bookbinding place, a music place, a bar and grill, and next door to me a small studio opened up that does stained glass windows. All of these things didn’t exist when I started my business. A lot of things have been lost, but a lot of things have moved in and really made a big change.”
The canal, circa 1900.
The project postcards premiered at last year’s Rediscover Amherst Street Festival and are now available for sale at many of the small businesses in the Grant/Amherst area. Now the committee is working to produce their Pictorial History of Black Rock book in time for this year’s festival.
The canal, circa 1900.
“Our business allegiance is very strong. We are all working together to see this area prosper,” DeBoth says of the group. “It is our hope that this book will also help [promote] the area.”
“These old photos are just so important,” she adds. “They are preserving our historic past.”
Stephanie Berberick is a 2010 Spree editorial intern and a senior at Buffalo State College.