1967-2007:
Forty years, forty events


What follows is a very subjective list—a Top Forty, if you will—of highlights and lowlights from the last four decades of WNY history. Although we’re sure there are things we left out, we’ve tried to include landmark events from the realms of culture, business, sports, politics, and that less easily-defined category known as “life,” all of which left their mark on the community.

40 years
Images of the riots courtesy of the Buffalo Courier Express archive, Butler Library, Buffalo State College.
1967

Riots rock the East Side
On the West Coast, the summer of love was in full swing, but in Buffalo, we experienced a riot that virtually shut down the city from June 26 through July 1. In a single night of violence, over forty people were injured, fourteen with gunshot wounds. Buffalo’s African-American population had grown over the previous decade by at least 50,000 new residents, while only 200 new units of housing had been built. A long period of frustration and discontent, filled with empty promises and ghetto-like conditions, sparked the riots, which began with small groups of black teenagers cruising the neighborhood of William and Jefferson Streets, breaking car and storefront windows. That night, over 100 police were summoned to help manage the riot. Although the crowds were controlled that same night, violence began again the next afternoon with fires set, cars overturned, and stores looted. This time, over 400 police were summoned, resulting in many injuries for rioters as well as police and firefighters.

Forty years after the riots, Buffalo still contains a rich ethnic mix; it’s part of what makes it a great city. Byron Brown, Buffalo’s first black mayor, was elected in November 2005. He was recently quoted in a WBEN radio interview as saying “Are there problems with discrimination in this country, and can those problems be found everywhere? Absolutely. But is Buffalo a racist city? I would say no.”
—Jennifer Wutz-Lopes
40 years

M&T Plaza opens
Minoru Yamasaki’s masterpiece is still one of the best modern buildings in Buffalo, to be compared—perhaps—only with the Hauptmann-Woodward building, which came almost forty years later. M&T’s artistically finished structural steel columns, majestic arching windows, and white and green marble expanses are just as dazzling today as they were when the building was unveiled to the Buffalo public. The accompanying plaza was and is an essential part of the complex: forty years later it still hosts popular concerts and performances.
—Elizabeth Licata


1968

40 years
Images of artists from Festival of the Arts supplied to Buffalo Spree in 1968.
The city hosts the Second Buffalo Festival of the Arts Today
In 1965, Time magazine called the first Buffalo Festival of the Arts “the most all-encompassing, hip, with-it, avant-garde presentation in the U.S. to date,” and Life termed Buffalo “the acropolis of the avant garde.” Organized by the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, the University at Buffalo, and the Buffalo Philharmonic (and generously underwritten by Seymour Knox III), the 1965 series of events and exhibitions was attended by nearly 200,000 people, encouragement enough to hold another festival in 1968. One of the first art events covered by Buffalo Spree, the Second Festival of the Arts Today featured artists John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Naum Gabo, Jonas Mekas, Cecil Taylor, John Barth, and Edward Albee. Among the attendees was Marcel Duchamp. Time called its review of the second festival “Where the Militants Roam,” but they meant it in a good way.
—Elizabeth Licata

40 years
Images of UB groundbreaking courtesy of the Buffalo Courier Express archive, Butler Library, Buffalo State College.
UB breaks ground on the Amherst campus
In 1967, the trustees of the University of NY voted unanimously in favor of Amherst as the location for the expansion of SUNY at Buffalo, which had outgrown its 178-acre campus in the city. While UB was founded in 1846, Halloween 1968 marks the day that ground was first broken for UB’s North Campus, with then-New York State Governor Nelson B. Rockefeller presiding.

With over 300 academic programs, UB has become New York’s leading and most comprehensive public research university. Offering a top-rate, relatively affordable education to undergraduate, graduate, and advanced degree students, the school lures students from all over the world to our city, where they live, play, and contribute to the economy. The university has an impressive goal of expanding by as much as forty percent by the year 2020, increasing its ability to attract impressive faculty and student talent. (By coincidence, 2020 is also the year in which I expect my husband’s UB loans for his MBA to be paid off, giving us one more goal to look forward to.)
—Jennifer Wutz-Lopes


1970

40 years
Image courtesy of the Courier Express.
Buffalo gets an NHL team
Can you imagine Buffalo without the Sabres? It’s like an episode of Three’s Company without a wacky misunderstanding, or a Dave Barry column that’s actually funny. Even before the recent wave of frothing-at-the-mouth, I’ll-buy-whatever-crap-you-spit-out-that-has-a-Sabres-logo-on-it insanity, it’s been pretty clear that Buffalonians worship their hockey team. For several months this spring, it seemed like our whole city was alive with a certain kind of energy, frolicking up and down the streets like a young Old Yeller, pinning our hopes and dreams on the successes of the blue and gold. Then we became a little too rabid and had to be taken out back to get our heads blown off. But I’d venture to guess that most Sabres fans still wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Our sports teams have always been a reflection of our city’s resilience, and our hockey club has been one of Buffalo’s most beloved mirrors since 1970.
—Joe Sweeney


1971

40 years
Photo by J.P.Thimot.
Talking Leaves Books opens its doors
Everywhere you look, there are signs that people don’t read anymore: Kids playing handheld video games. Abandoned libraries. DVD players in cars. USA Today. Larry the Cable Guy. That is, unless you’re looking at 3158 Main Street or 951 Elmwood Avenue, the two locations of Buffalo’s pre-eminent independent bookstore, Talking Leaves. When the store first opened its doors in 1971, it was just another local company trying to make ends meet, pinning its hopes on Buffalonians’ hunger for literature they couldn’t find at the supermarket. It was impressive enough that Talking Leaves soldiered through the ’70s and ’80s, but it’s straight-up miraculous that they’ve flourished during the age of the big-box bookseller, even opening their second location after the Borders and Barnes & Noble invasion. The store has become a support center for local authors, and one of our city’s true cultural gems. So after seeing Ron Howard’s film version of East Of Eden, think twice before committing suicide. Because as long as Talking Leaves is in town, the novel is far from dead.
—Joe Sweeney

1974

40 years
Area artists establish Hallwalls
and CEPA Gallery.

The Reader’s Digest version of the story has become the stuff of international legend: future
art stars Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman start hanging their work on the walls of the halls
(get it?) between their Essex Street apartments, and post-modernism is born. The longer version is a lot more complicated, features a lot more characters, and is a lot more interesting—but the truly fascinating part of the saga is the fact that both of these landmark organizations have managed to weather the same funding cuts and political controversies that devastated countless similar not-for-profit culturals around the country long ago. Any American city would be lucky to boast the likes of either the photography-focused CEPA or the multi-arts center Hallwalls, but here in Buffalo they’re joined by Just Buffalo (literature), Big Orbit/Soundlab (visual art/music), Squeaky Wheel (media), a thriving theater scene, and a seemingly endless number of shorter-lived startups—all of them artist-run, and all testimonials to the power of creating art because you have to, not because you’re seeking fame or fortune.
—Ron Ehmke

40 years
Artpark image courtesy of the
Courier Express archive.
Artpark opens in Lewiston
In retrospect, it was probably too good to be true: an entire park devoted to the arts, a place where your mom (or at least mine) could watch glassblowers and jewelers in action, small children could learn to make masks or hear storytellers in the woods, music fans could see Wagner’s Ring cycle or the world premiere of a new Philip Glass opera, local artists could work alongside Vito Acconci on a brand-new site-specific project, and hikers could explore trails alongside the Niagara Gorge—often all in one day. Hell, even the parking lot was a work of art! The glory years didn’t last forever; the nadir was surely the 1990 cancellation of a performance by California artists Survival Research Labs and the subsequent arrest of eighteen Buffalo protestors. But after a dormant phase, the park has remade itself as a more modest, less risk-taking but still-vibrant hotbed of both regional and national theater, a home away from home for the BPO, and the site of one of the best free summer music series around.
—Ron Ehmke

c.1975

40 years
Photo by Ed Sobala.
Ed Lawson launches the Tralf
When Ed and Bob Lawson were figuring out what to name their brand-new basement jazz club back in ’70s, they probably just wanted to give props to one of their favorite books. The name they decided on, the Tralfamadore Café, ended up being much more than a hip Kurt Vonnegut reference—it became synonymous with the spontaneity, integrity, and immediacy of live music in Buffalo. And long after Ed Lawson moved his legendary establishment from a Main and Fillmore basement to the downtown location that still bears its name, the Tralf was still known as the joint that understood musicians the most. After Bobby Militello took the reins in 1997, he made sure it had the best sound system in town, offering a stage experience that was extremely musician-friendly. (All of this is deliciously ironic, seeing that Tralfamadore is the name of a planet in Slaughterhouse-Five where human beings are treated like zoo animals.) As a result, the club could always be counted on for high-quality shows, whether you’d heard of the artist or not. Even though the only shows I’ve seen are from the Militello era, they’ve been an eclectic mix of everybody from John Hammond to Prince. After a few very dark years (let’s just forget about ex-owner Rahit Kapoor, just like we forgot about Gary Sharone fronting Van Halen), the Tralf is up and running again, and primed for a comeback. If it happens, the Buffalo music scene will once again be more attractive to many artists who would otherwise drive straight through to Toronto.
—Joe Sweeney


1976

40 years
Judge Curtin image from City on a Lake, by Mark Goldman, Prometheus, 1990.
Photo by Joe Trauer.
Buffalo schools are
ordered to desegregate

On April 30, Judge John Curtin rendered his opinion that the Buffalo Board of Education was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that Buffalo public schools must be desegregated. This decision led to a long and tortuous process of creating some semblance of racial balance in the Buffalo schools. Then someone came up with the idea that anyone, of any race, would be willing to travel across neighborhood boundaries to a public school that offered excellence, and the concept of magnet schools—specialized schools that excelled in certain programs—was born. While some of the best original magnet schools remain (City Honors is one), that system has gradually devolved over the years and new trends—charter schools and the resurgence of neighborhood schools—have taken its place in the public education system. After all these years, are our public schools racially balanced? No. Does inequity of educational opportunity still exist? Yes. But we’re still working on it. The recent physical renovation of many of our public schools (detailed in Spree’s 2006 Architecture Issue) is a good sign of the will for improvement.
—Elizabeth Licata

40 years
Image courtesy of the
Courier Express archive.
Shea’s is saved and reopens
Built in 1926, Shea’s Buffalo started out as a movie palace and grand stage for live performances. When it was bought by the Loew’s chain in 1948, it switched to films only, and in 1975 ceased operations altogether. By this time, however, a group of volunteer preservationists called the Friends of Shea’s Buffalo had started an organization to save the theater from the wrecking ball, the fate of such nearby old-style movie houses as the Century and the Teck. They got the building declared a national landmark, and brought back live entertainment. A group called the Shea’s-O’Connell Preservation Guild continues their work, and over the years many of the theater’s most magnificent features have been restored, such as the original 1926 pediment and sign, the ticket office, ceiling medallions, other plaster ornamentation, chandeliers, and other light fixtures. Equally as significant, major renovations have allowed traveling Broadway blockbusters to visit the Shea’s stage. Shea’s has become the symbol of the vitality of Buffalo’s Theater District, largely thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers back in the seventies who inspired others to continue their work.
—Elizabeth Licata


1977

40 years
Image courtesy of the Courier Express archive.
The Blizzard of ’77 hits
Other cities routinely get more annual snowfall than Buffalo (we’re looking at you, Syracuse), but Western New York still has a reputation for being one of the country’s snowiest spots. The deadly Blizzard of ’77 is probably to blame.

Unlike the lake-effect storms of November 2000 and December 2001, the disaster didn’t result in record amounts of snowfall. Instead, it was blowing and drifting snow caused by winds up to 70 mph that buried Buffalo and surrounding areas under tightly-packed snow. The storm claimed twenty-nine lives in the region, and a federal state of emergency was declared.
—Erin Nappe


1978

40 years
Image courtesy of the Courier Express archive.
The Buffalo Braves move to Los Angeles
Having been born in 1980, I completely missed the birth, life, and death of the Buffalo Braves professional basketball team, and maybe that’s a good thing, as I can imagine it must have been pretty devastating to see the way a once-promising team—star Bob McAdoo snagged the MVP award in 1974-75, the year the Braves made the second of three straight playoff appearances—was decimated on the road to the sale. It all culminated in a move to San Diego in 1978. (Ultimately, the San Diego Clippers morphed into the long-suffering Los Angeles Clippers.) It is undeniably true that the Braves never endeared themselves to the area the way the Sabres or Bills did. Yet I can’t help but feel that in many ways, we wuz robbed. Buffalo never had the chance to see Michael Jordan, or Larry Bird, or Magic Johnson on the hardwood of the Aud. It is unlikely that the area could have continued to support an NBA franchise for much longer than 1978 anyway, but that doesn’t mean we sports fans can’t grieve about what could have been. In a strange footnote to the Braves story, the NBA held a celebrity exhibition game during all-star weekend in 2004, featuring the “Buffalo Braves” versus the “Minneapolis Lakers.” The P. Diddy-coached Braves were victorious thanks to the roundball smarts of assistant coach Paris Hilton, who was decked out head-to-toe in Braves black-and-orange. Yup, even Paris misses the Braves.
—Christopher Schobert


40 years
Images courtesy of the
Courier Express archive.
An environmental disaster makes international headlines
The area known as Love Canal in Niagara Falls was first used by Hooker Chemical as a landfill for chemical waste in the 1920s. The site was sealed off and covered over in 1952, and the land was sold to the Niagara Falls Board of Education. An elementary school was built in 1955 and homes grew up around it. (Hooker claimed they warned the city and the school board about the toxins.) Residents began to complain about noxious odors and black sludge, but it wasn’t until the ’70s that the complaints got official attention. By 1978, Love Canal was in the national media. President Carter declared a federal emergency, and many families were relocated. Evidence of cancer and other health problems persisted, causing Carter to declared a state of emergency in May 1980 and resulting in the temporary relocation of over 700 families.

Love Canal made U.S. environmental history, helping to create the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). The real heroine of the Love Canal story is homeowner/housewife Lois Gibbs, who rallied her neighbors and didn’t stop her activism until New York State and the federal government paid attention. Gibbs is now a fulltime environmental activist.
—Erin Nappe


40 years
Image courtesy of the Courier Express archive.
Metro Rail is built
When the Buffalo Metro Rail was constructed in 1978, it was to be the first line in a system that would extend throughout the city and suburbs. Due to low ridership, the NFTA never found funding to continue the project.

Main Street was closed to traffic when the line was built, a fact largely blamed for the death of downtown retail. Whether or not that is the case, we can’t deny that the city’s center has struggled ever since.

Many people believe a healthy, efficient public transportation system would lead to a healthier Buffalo. Is it time to reevaluate the Metro Rail’s purpose in the city?
—Erin Nappe


1979

40 years
Image courtesy of Buffalo and
Erie County Historical Society.
Last train leaves Central Terminal
Built in 1929, this Art Deco landmark was bustling throughout the thirties and forties, but train use began to decline in the late fifties, and parts of the seventeen-acre complex began to be demolished in the sixties. Successively owned and/or used by New York Central Railroad, Penn Central, Amtrak, and Conrail over the years, Amtrak finally abandoned the station in favor of the Dick Road and Exchange stations and the last train left the vast complex on October 28. Twenty years of neglect began, during which many of the station’s most distinctive architectural features were removed—although it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. In 1997, the non-profit Central Terminal Restoration Corporation bought the terminal and began restoration efforts. Largely thanks to the diligence of this group, the Central Terminal is regularly used for special events, most of which benefit the landmark’s eventual restoration and fulltime reuse. Notably, the Terminal was recently used by artist Spencer Tunick for a massive installation, in which thousands of nude Buffalonians posed motionless in the cavernous space.
—Elizabeth Licata

1982

40 years
Image of the Courier’s last issue
courtesy of the Courier Express archive.
The Courier-Express closes
Buffalonians are still lamenting the loss of the Buffalo Courier-Express, the morning paper formed by the 1926 merger of the Buffalo Courier and the Buffalo Express.

For many years, the Courier-Express and the Buffalo News coexisted peacefully, with the C-E publishing in the morning and the News publishing in the evening. A Minneapolis publishing company bought the former in 1979, and it decided to shut down the paper just three years later.

The Courier-Express closed its doors in September 1982, making Buffalo a one-newspaper town. Many believe the lack of competition and divergent political viewpoints have had a negative effect on the city.
—Erin Nappe


40 years
Image courtesy of BECHS.
Buffalo turns 150
There must be some reason I have absolutely no recollection of this event and its surrounding festivities, though I was a UB student living in the city at the time. Newspaper images from the celebration include Mayor Jimmy Griffin cutting a giant cake. There is also a granite time capsule carved with the city seal (located on the City Court building), and—perhaps most significant for us today—excess funds from the sesquicentennial made it possible to light up City Hall during evening hours.
—Elizabeth Licata


1983

40 years
Images courtesy of the Courier Express archive.
Bethlehem Steel closes its Buffalo plant
At its height, Bethlehem Steel’s Lackawanna plant (founded from an earlier plant in 1922) was the largest steelmaking operation in the United States, employing 20,000 people in 1965. In spite of huge profits, however, the parent company began reducing operations drastically at the Buffalo plant in the seventies and thousands were laid off. Finally, all but tangential operations were shut down, as Bethlehem Steel suffered major losses due largely to steel imports. The economic impact of losing this major industrial employer gives Buffalo its status as a Rust Belt city.
—Elizabeth Licata


1984

40 years
Photo courtesy of BECHS.
The Natural is filmed in Buffalo
Buffalo has certainly had its share of silver screen-time, as the locale for everything from Bruce Almighty to, more recently, John Dahl’s You Kill Me. Yet films taking place in Buffalo and actually shot here have been much harder to come by. (Buffalo 66 and the Burt-and-Goldie vehicle Best Friends being two notable exceptions.) The unquestioned daddy of them all remains Barry Levinson’s baseball masterpiece The Natural. War Memorial Stadium, a.k.a. the Rockpile, was the site for the film’s baseball scenes, and fit the part of the old-time-y ballpark perfectly. (A little too perfectly, actually—the stadium was demolished a few years later.) Among several other recognizable locations, Parkside Candy Shoppe played a memorable role, with stars Robert Redford and Glenn Close paying a visit. It is almost impossible to be a Buffalo resident and not feel an overwhelming sense of love and nostalgia for the film, from Randy Newman’s majestic score to the iconic names—“the Whammer,” Memo Paris, Wonderboy—to the Knights logo that still pops up on shirts and caps across the country, to the umpteen locals who claim to have been a part of the cast. And say what you will about the impact of author Bernard Malamud’s original ending, in which Hobbs strikes out, but there is simply no greater goosebump-inducing sports cinema finale than Hobbs’s mammoth shot to the lights. Realistic? Probably not. The fantasy of every athlete who’s ever held a Louisville Slugger? Absolutely.
—Chris Schobert


1986

Thursday at the Square plugs in
Until something is referenced as an acronym, it “ain’t nothing.” Case in point: in 1986, a free outdoor music festival was launched in downtown Buffalo, titled “Thursday in the Park.” After two successful seasons, the event was moved to Lafayette Square and re-titled “Thursday at Buffalo Place.” But it wasn’t until the concert series got its current name that it exploded into something synonymous with Buffalo summers. At its best, a Thursday at the Square show is one hell of a party, backed by some killer live performers (Moxy Fruvous and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones being my personal favorites over the years). As evidence of its overwhelming popularity, the event is now commonly referred to as TATS. If you prefer to call it Thursday in the Square, you’d best get in touch with a Freud scholar, pronto.
—Joe Sweeney

1987

40 years
Rendering of Dunn Tire Park from
the Courier Express archive.
The Bisons get a
downtown ballpark

Perhaps the least interesting aspect of the Pilot Field story is that the Buffalo Bisons minor league baseball team calls it home. The team’s games then and now, at what has come to be named Dunn Tire Park, are a blast, but the background of how the ballpark came to be, what it almost brought to Buffalo, and how it was designed, is utterly fascinating. The stadium can be seen as one of the undeniable achievements of the Jimmy Griffin era; as mayor, he helped spearhead the creation and construction. HOK Sport was the architectural firm, and created an ever-so-retro downtown ballpark that proved an ideal trial run for its later, greater success—Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. But Pilot Field came first, and remains a well-aged facility. There is, however, a tinge of sadness to the story, since in 1990 the National League Expansion Committee visited Buffalo, then one of six teams contending for a Major League Baseball franchise. It was not to be, and with that decision went any reason for further major expansion of the ballpark, which had already extended its seating capacity. In any event, a game at Dunn Tire Park is still the most affordable way to see professional sports in Buffalo, and the stadium is the only locale in Western New York that can claim to have hosted appearances by Joe DiMaggio, Sgt. Slaughter, the Mike Love-and-several-scrubs version of the Beach Boys, and the Famous Chicken.
—Chris Schobert

1989

The Walden Galleria Mall opens its doors
Can you imagine life in Western New York without the Walden Galleria Mall? Today, eighteen years after the Cheektowaga behemoth first appeared in our lives, such a thought is hard to contemplate. It is the local mall, “the Galleria,” home to the Apple Store, Lord & Taylor, and one of the hardest places to find a good parking spot in WNY. (Don’t even think about the day after Thanksgiving.) The structure has not been without controversy—the tragic death of seventeen-year-old Cynthia Wiggins, the crackdown on teenage visitors on Friday and Saturday nights—yet these events have not dulled its growth. Recent months have seen the fruits of a $60 million expansion plan that has brought in several well-known restaurants, including the Cheesecake Factory and Bravo! Cucina Italiana, and will also see a new stadium-style movie complex, a Barnes & Noble, and yet another parking ramp. This is in addition to all the satellite stores and restaurants that sit nearby—Borders, Krispy Kreme, even Wal-Mart. Yes, it’s almost its own little fiefdom, and frankly, I don’t have a problem with that. (Clearly, neither do Cheektowaga town officials.) Why, there’s even a Sephora store now, and that alone should ensure the Galleria never joins the Thruway and Seneca malls in shopping mall heaven.
—Chris Schobert

c.1990s

40 years
Image by Kim Miers.
Chippewa is reborn
Until the last decade or so, Chippewa Street was known for something different than the bustling strip of bars, clubs, and restaurants that dominates Buffalo nightlife. Before the street became a Mecca for lonely singles looking for meaningless liaisons, it was a magnet for something completely different—prostitution. How could an area of such ill repute turn into something of slightly better repute? If you’ve seen Pretty Woman, the answer’s obvious. All the hookers met handsome, rich bachelors, who fell in love with their spunky dispositions and whisked them away to mansions in Spaulding Lake. With all those lucky prostitutes gone, Chippewa was ready to support an influx of bars that hate the letter S—after a few drinkz at Big Shotz, you can head over to McMonkeez and zip on a few zeven and zevenz.
—Joe Sweeney


1991/1999

40 years
Image courtesy of the Buffalo Bills.
Buffalonians learn to hate two simple phrases
For Buffalo sports fans, the words “wide right” and “no goal” sum up years of heartbreak. No Buffalo sports team has won a championship game since 1965.

The Bills lost Super Bowl XXV 20-19, when Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal attempt. Buffalo fans’ hopes for a Big Win were almost (but not quite) realized in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals, when the controversial “no goal” call was made.

It’s possible that a winning sports season could help Buffalo shed its “loser” image. It’s undeniable that Buffalonians are happier and more positive when the home teams are winning. Ah, well … maybe next year.
—Erin Nappe


1994

40 years
Forever Elmwood is formed
The birth of such organizations as the Allentown Association (in 1963) and Forever Elmwood (now the Elmwood Village Association) indicate the importance of neighborhood residents and businesses playing a role in maintaining the integrity of their communities—and improving them. Forever Elmwood was the brainchild of businessman Michael Attardo and a group of his neighbors, who literally started to clean up their neighborhood, taking brooms to the sidewalks, removing graffiti, and installing holiday lighting. The group incorporated in early November, and is now going strong under its new name of Elmwood Village Association, with a hard-working board and a minimal staff of paid employees. It is largely known for its sponsorship of the popular Bidwell Farmer’s Market, a summer concert series, and other events, but most of its work is done behind the scenes, fostering appropriate development, neighborhood revitalization, and beautification.
—Elizabeth Licata

1995

40 years
Photo by Don Zinteck.
GardenWalk Buffalo
takes root

Given the origins of this outrageously successful community-based project, the temptation to make some pun about “grassroots” organizations is strong, so I’ll fight it—and besides, GardenWalk is not about turf so much as the many other things inventive city dwellers establish in its place, from annuals and perennials to koi ponds to outdoor sculpture. For hardcore gardeners, of course, this second-largest event of its kind in the country (what is it with Buffalo and the “second-largest” designation, anyway?) is an invaluable opportunity to compare notes with fellow plant geeks—but you don’t attract swarms of 40,000 to your neighborhood without some additional incentives for the less dedicated, and GardenWalk offers plenty to those who don’t know their Astilbe simplicifolia from a hole in the ground. It’s an informal architectural tour! It’s a five-mile floating party! It’s a chance to peek into your neighbor’s backyard without getting arrested! It’s a summer outing that doesn’t involve fried dough! More importantly, it’s also emblematic of a phenomenon that distinguishes so many homegrown Bright Ideas that have sprung to life in the last decade or so: its impact spreads far beyond the final weekend of July every year, since each time a new block joins the Walk, property values tend to increase and the quality of life tends to improve throughout the neighborhood. Now that’s the kind of growth (OK, I can’t resist after all) anyone can dig.
—Ron Ehmke


1997

The new airport is built
The Buffalo-Niagara International Airport was completed in 1997, and it was about darn time. After all, the Greater Buffalo International Airport, which preceded it, was an ugly, depressing place, way too small and way too outdated. (It had been built in 1938 and was renovated and added on to several times over the years.) After a lengthy analysis and design process, the New York based architectural firm Kohn Pederson Fox Associates won the job, with a Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced design. The airport’s website says, “When looked at from the air, the terminal itself looks like a giant aircraft poised for flight.” I admit I’ve never noticed that, but I have admired the explosion of low-fare airlines—JetBlue, Southwest, AirTran—that have been added as carriers since the opening. The airport surely looks a bit chintzy to travelers from Paris or Tokyo, but I think that is part of its charm. Perhaps it is simply osmosis, but every time I land there from, say, LaGuardia or O’Hare, I find the tiny kids play area, the handful of restaurants, and the shoeshine-and-a-shave room to be downright comforting.
—Chris Schobert


1998

The Peace Bridge controversy catches fire
It’s not easy to assign a start date to the Mother of All Local Wars; a 1999 New York Times article notes that the Peace Bridge Authority began considering options for a new way to get from Porter Avenue to Fort Erie in the early 90s, and opposition to their closed-door deliberation process heated up soon afterward. (The same story mentions that a bridge might take as long as six years to build—suggesting that, had construction of some sort of structure, twin, super, signature, or otherwise, begun back when Limp Bizkit was topping the charts, it would be due for repaving by now.)

We may not have a new bridge yet, but I’d argue that the brouhaha has given rise to something equally as important: a new wave of citizen activism, and widespread agreement that the city’s future is too important to be left to elected officials and their cronies. We may not be the Berkeley of the East after all (looks like Ithaca beat us to it), but it’s hard to envision the construction of a new bridge, casino, canal terminus, sporting-goods store, drug store, chain coffeehouse, restaurant parking lot, hotel, or art museum without at least three online petitions, five town meetings, ninety-seven blog comments, and a thousand pre-printed lawn signs. Whether you label it preservation or obstruction, it’s democracy in action, and the longterm health of our community depends on it.
—Ron Ehmke


2001

The Elmwood Festival of the Arts kicks off
Rather than chronicle what the Elmwood Festival has to offer—something I first did in Spree back in 2001, when it was the New Kid on the Festival Block—I think I’ll offer you a list of what you (probably) won’t find on Buffalo’s busiest street on the last weekend of August:

1. The same traveling artist-vendors you see at every craft fair in WNY all summer long.

2. The same traveling food vendors you see at every outdoor festival in WNY all summer long.

3. Gigantic inflatable cell phones and/or malt liquor products intended to sell you smaller non-inflatable versions of the same.

4. Bored kids. (The children’s programming for the fest always looks cool enough that I am tempted to borrow my neighbor’s grandchildren for the day just so I can chaperone them.)

5. Packs of baseball-bat-wielding drunks. (It’s more of a lone shooter’s event—ah, but I jest.)

6. Strict regulations preventing area businesses from cashing in on the increased street traffic brought in for the weekend.

7. Overly lit trucks peddling cotton candy and/or candied apples.

8. Decrepit-looking carnival rides operated by young men who may or may not be on heroin.

9. Cover bands performing selections from the Marshall Tucker songbook.

10. Underpaid recent high-school graduates forced to wear costumes resembling animals and/or cartoon characters.

You get the picture.
—Ron Ehmke

40 years
Exterior and interior photos of restored mansion by Jessica Kourkounis. Older image by Jim Bush.
The Mansion gets renovated
Once one of several dilapidated structures in Buffalo on the verge of demolition, the Mansion on Delaware Avenue is now a four-diamond AAA hotel and one of Zagat’s top five hotels, the place where such visitors as Hillary Clinton, Faith Hill, and Laura Linney rest their heads when they happen to be in Buffalo. Its twenty-eight rooms boast various degrees of luxury, but all have carved walnut moldings, granite bathroom counters and twenty-four-hour butler service. The former Victor Hugo’s, a classic old-style Buffalo restaurant, closed in the mid-seventies and the site had gone downhill from there. Its renovation and spectacular rebirth echoes similar transformations of Righteous Babe Record’s the Church, the Bellasara on Delaware and Allen, and the Graniteworks on Main and Virginia, all buildings slated for demolition at one time or another. These gorgeous landmarks are living proof that historic restoration equals economic development.
—Elizabeth Licata

2002-present

40 years
Model of the Martin House
complex courtesy of the MHRC.
The Darwin Martin House renovation leaps forward
This past June, the Martin House Restoration Corporation unveiled something that acts as a perfect symbol of its efforts over the last fifteen years—a statue of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. The replica of the famous piece, known as “Winged Victory,” marks the completion of an important stage in the ongoing restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s legendary Darwin D. Martin House Complex: the complete reconstruction of the Martin Conservatory, Carriage House, and Pergola (which is a shaded garden walkway, not a dumpling stuffed with potatoes). The complex has been a jewel of Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood since it was officially completed 100 years ago, and was in serious danger of fading away forever when the MHRC formed in 1992. Now the place is back as a serious attraction, even though the renovation project is far from completed. As a cornucopia of history, art, natural beauty, and structural ingenuity, it’s tough to think of a place that does a better job of encapsulating the unique upsides of our city.
—Joe Sweeney


2002

The “Lackawanna 6” are arrested
Early in September 2002, one year after the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., five Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna were arrested for suspected involvement with al-Qaeda. A sixth suspect escaped and is still at large.

The arrests were the first major terrorism arrests since 9-11. The FBI held a press conference on September 14, and the six young men became a highly visible symbol of President Bush’s War on Terror.

Some argue that these men posed no real threat and were used for political purposes. Whether or not that is the case, the highly-publicized arrests certainly didn’t help Buffalo’s image in the eyes of the country.
—Erin Nappe


2005

40 years
The blogsplosion gathers steam
This phenomenon is by no means exclusive to WNY, but in a one-newspaper town, the ability to create an arena of personal journalism is vital to making sure that alternative viewpoints are heard. Over the past two years, blogs and forums have become ground zero for community-wide discussions of such topics as waterfront development, preservation, neighborhood issues, the casino, the Peace Bridge, and much more. It’s not all just flame wars, either. Blogs have also stepped up to lead volunteer efforts, celebrate the many positive aspects of life here, and keep the public informed about fun stuff they’ll want to attend. A selective roll call of some of the most influential blogs, websites, and forums would include BuffaloRising.com, WNYmedia.net (hosting many individual blogs, such as Buffalo Pundit and Buffalo Geek), and speakupwny.com. Finally, a few months ago, the Buffalo News website started its own blog section. We’re all talking—and sometimes it’s not pretty—but overall it’s a positive addition to a conversation that has often been too exclusive.
—Elizabeth Licata


40 years
Photo by J.P. Thimot.
Righteous Babe Records
moves to the Church

When talking about the legacy of Righteous Babe Records, the internationally influential, furiously humble indie imprint that has called Buffalo home since 1990, visions of a diminutive singer in Doc Martens (with or without dreadlocks, depending on your preferred incarnation) is sure to be the first thing that pops into your head. But what the company has done with the former Asbury church (341 Delaware Ave.) just might end up being its most important contribution to our city. From preventing the long-abandoned landmark’s seemingly inevitable demolition, to completely restoring the structure inside and out, and installing a state-of-the-art geo-thermal heating system that makes Leonardo DiCaprio’s “going green” efforts look as hackneyed as his death scene in Titanic (“You’re going to have lots of babies?” Yeah, that’s what a woman wants to hear when she’s freezing to death), the Church is a microcosm of what should (and could?) happen in all corners of the Queen City. At the very least, it’s proof that successful renovations of dilapidated structures don’t just happen in eighties movie montages.
—Joe Sweeney


2005-present

40 years
Photo by J.P. Thimot.
Main Street gets a facelift
For what seems like a dog’s age, the section of Main between Kenmore and Hertel was a place to avoid like the plague, as construction teams worked to expand the street to four lanes, with a median down the center. And now that the project is finally complete, this cluster of blocks by UB South Campus has clearly benefited. Traffic is less congested, everything looks cleaner and friendlier, and it’s an inviting area to dine and window shop—especially if you’re a nerd. With Queen City Bookstore (3184 Main St.) providing bagged and boarded gems for the comic junkie, Talking Leaves Books (3158 Main St.) well-stocked with Dune and The Children of Hurin, and Iron Crown (3077 Main St.) selling all the gaming collectibles and miniatures on your Dungeon Master’s wish list, the renovated Main Street may be the best excuse for Buffalo to get out of its mom’s basement and experience some natural sunlight.
—Joe Sweeney


2005

40 years
Photo by Jim Bush.
The Hauptman-Woodward Research Complex opens; the Medical Campus gains momentum
Sure, the architecture by Mehrdad Yazdani of Cannon is inspiring, but this is about much more than a building. Since 2001, planners have been trying to create synergy at what was once a handful of dreary institutions just east of Main Street between North and Goodell Streets. Now there are new structures, new, exciting additions to the older structure, and—best of all—new medical businesses joining the hospitals, doctors’ offices, and research centers already on the campus. It’s finally beginning to look like a campus, and the surrounding residential neighborhoods—as well as the entire region—are already seeing the benefit.
—Elizabeth Licata


2006

40 years
Renderings of BPAC courtesy of the architects.
New Burchfield-Penney Art Center breaks ground
The opening of the original Burchfield-Penney Art Center and the death of American watercolorist and Buffalonian Charles Ephraim Burchfield marked the beginning of this forty-year cycle, so it is fitting that the birth of a beautiful new museum (designed by internationally-known architects Gwathmey-Siegel) right across from the Albright-Knox should mark the end of it. The new BPAC will host more expansive installations and programming than it ever could before—squeezed as it has been into a few classroom spaces on the third floor of Rockwell Hall—and it will be surrounded by public art. A huge collection of Burchfield’s drawing and notes has been given to the Center just in time to enhance its 2008 grand opening.
—Elizabeth Licata

2006

40 years
Photo by Jim Bush.
Lackawanna gets a Wind Farm
If Don Quixote ever visited Buffalo’s waterfront, he’d find eight serious threats to his knighthood. Because as of June 4, the Steel Winds wind farm has been up and running at the old Bethlehem Steel plant. It’s said that the octet of windmill-like turbines could potentially power up to 6,000 households, providing a tiny pinpoint of light at the end of a fossil-fuel-clogged tunnel (although what the farm is powering now is a bit of a mystery). And all inconvenient truths aside, these suckers just look cool. Driving south down the skyway, they spring into your line of vision like a flock of monstrous, elegant seagulls, adding a sense of majesty to an area that’s been in dire need of it for many, many years. Like most of our city’s upsides, the wind farm offers nothing beyond some serious potential. But even if it doesn’t pan out, and the failure of yet another waterfront project makes you lose your mind, at least you’ll have a great excuse to throw a washbasin on your head and fancy yourself a giant-killer.
—Joe Sweeney


2006-2007

40 years
New Era photo by J.P. Thimot. Renderings of BPAC and Health Now courtesy of the architects.
New Era and Blue Cross/Blue Shield move downtown
When a city has deep-seated economical, social, and political problems like ours has, it’s awfully tempting to dream of the quick fix. And for the first time in recent memory, downtown Buffalo has tangible things to hang its hopes on (although that domed water park sounded wicked awesome). The recent downtown relocations of companies like New Era Cap and Blue Cross/Blue Shield might not be instant solutions to decades-old difficulties, but they very well could have the effect of Merry and Pippin stumbling into Fangorn Forest (“like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains,” to quote Gandalf the White). Plus, being cautiously optimistic is for Negative Nancies. Let’s dare to dream, Buffalo. Let’s be Idealistic Iphigenias.
—Joe Sweeney



SUBSCRIBE NOW

Back to the Table of Contents

Back to Top