Ten WNY Landmarks:
The unofficial list
By Lisa Kane, Elizabeth Licata, and Christopher Schobert.
All landmark photos by kc kratt.

These aren’t the traditional landmarks most would choose for their architectural or historic significance. Instead, we have selected an idiosyncratic group of places and objects that we think are loaded with their own iconic meaning. See if you agree.

< Blue watertower
The big blue watertower near Route 290 (I’m sorry—THE 290) is a visual marker, the backdrop for countless rush-hour traffic snafus, and, apparently, a depository of water. (It’s easy to forget why the watertower is actually there.) Its usefulness has extended far beyond H2O; certainly, it’s one of the area’s best direction points. “Get off before the blue watertower,” or “Traffic is backed up past the blue watertower”—how many times has ol’ blue been used in a directional sentence or a radio report? It is a quintessentially WNY landmark, in that it’s not very pretty or necessarily all that practical, but extremely endearing for its sheer industrial ubiquity. It might not be the work of a Wright or Sullivan, but it’s hard to imagine our landscape without it. —C.S.

> Oldest tree
In 1960, the Buffalo Lumber Exchange proclaimed this sycamore on Franklin Street (near Virginia) the oldest in the city of Buffalo at 250-plus, and slapped a plaque on it to make it official. There is another contender—a beautiful oak in Delaware Park—but we like this homelier giant better, and you’ll see why when you get up close. It’s growing out of an impossibly tiny, gritty patch of dirt in a very urban area, where you’d think the odds of any tree surviving this long would be very slim. But the sycamore endures, sending an arching canopy of green over its historic Allentown street each summer. —E.L.

< OLV Basilica
The city of Buffalo and its surrounding suburbs are, of course, home to numerous faiths, and all have their own landmarks. But whatever your religious affiliation, or lack thereof, there are several religious landmarks in the area that demand your attention. Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, near South Buffalo, is at the top of this list. It draws a couple thousand visitors each month, and is impossible to miss when driving down South Park Avenue. Its exterior is imposing, but the inside is over the top, with glorious paintings, sculptures, and mosaics. A designated National Shrine, The Basilica simply must be seen in person. (FYI: Its wonderfully informative website is www.ourladyofvictory.org.) —C.S.

^ Grain Elevators
Can you imagine Buffalo’s waterfront without these mammoth relics of a bygone age? I must admit, I cannot. They’ve been an indelible part of the landscape since the early 1900s, when they inadvertently kickstarted modern architecture thanks to their embrace by forward-thinking Europeans. For me, a suburban kid almost a century later, they simply meant we were almost “downtown,” a moniker that carried with it a mixture of excitement and a little fear. (It also meant the smell of Cheerios wafting through the air.) As I got older and actually saw the gargantuan graffiti magnets up close, I became enamored with their important role in our local history, and a little sad, in that they seemed to represent something that has, for the most part, disappeared—a sign of Buffalo’s economic and industrial vitality. There has often been talk of demolition, but perhaps it’s time we embraced the grain elevators, and celebrated their monolithic beauty in the same way we adore City Hall and the Central Terminal. “Buffalo is often considered to be the ‘elevator capital’ of America,” reads the great book Buffalo Architecture: A Guide. They’re certainly nicer to look at than casino lights. —C.S.

> Colored Musicians Club
The battle for the crown of Buffalo’s most historic music venue wouldn’t take long to decide. Though Town Ballroom (former Town Casino), Nietzsche’s, and the Tralf all have their points, numero uno has to be the Colored Musicians Club on Broadway. Founded in 1935, the club still offers live jazz in a truly intimate venue, and there are even jam sessions open to the public on weekends. The list of artists who have played here reads like a Time-Life compilation of greats: Count Basie, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Art Blakey. This history cements its reputation as a musical hotbed of premier cultural significance. —E.L.

^ The Old Pink
The first time I entered the ballyhooed Old Pink on Allen Street, I felt like I’d just entered the greatest bar in the world, ever. It was dark and dank, lit by red lights that looked a little WWII-era—shock, clown-nose red and fallout-shelter-like. I smelled food and noticed that chicken was cooking on a fiery grill. Some guys were playing pool to the right of the front door, while a group of punk-ettes played darts. Hockey playoffs raced by quietly on the tube, but no one seemed to be paying rapt attention—this was certainly not a sports bar. I can’t particularly remember what tunes were blasting away, but it was surely some kind of indie-rock I’d never heard in a bar before—Super Furry Animals, maybe, or Teenage Fanclub. Interestingly, I don’t think anything has changed at the Pink since that first visit. Maybe a few new stickers on the wall, and another crack in the men’s room mirror. And surely, there have been additions and subtractions just out its Allentown doorway. But inside? The Pink parties like it’s 1999, 1979, or 2049—the year hardly matters, and that’s as it should be. The Old Pink is its own universe. We’re all just passing through. —C.S.

^ Blocher Monument
If local school teachers ever calculated the most-visited field trip location in Western New York, the winner of the grudge match would likely be Forest Lawn Cemetery, with vanquished foes the Buffalo Zoo and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery left licking their wounds. Yes, it’s Forest Lawn that takes the crown, the majestic, somber, yet beautiful gazebo-like landmark to the dead on Delaware Avenue. And the highlight, for many, is the Blocher Monument. Unveiled in 1888, artist Franklin Torrey’s marble masterpiece depicts John Blocher and his wife, Elizabeth, standing over their deceased son, Nelson. An angel gazes from above upon the grieving parents. It’s an unforgettable image, one with a level of detail that remains remarkable (Nelson’s moustache, John’s flowing beard, Elizabeth’s dress). The story of the Blochers adds an eerie bit of sadness to an already sorrowful tableau—take a tour for the tale. But all of this talk should not make Forest Lawn sound like a bummer. It may be a cemetery, but it is so beautiful, and so lovingly designed, that the effect on the soul is one of restrained joy. It’s inspiring to know there is such beauty in Buffalo—and visible for free, no less. —C.S.

< Voelkers
Voelkers Bowling Alley at Elmwood and Amherst is a testament to the resurgence of bowling alleys as late-night gathering places. Thirty-two lanes, a red-lit oval bar, worn pool tables, old-fashioned skee ball, and dart boards all contribute to the ambience. Even if you’re not a bowler, you’ll love the sweet tile floors, beautiful red banquettes in the back room, and all-around great vintage look. —L.K.

> Connecticut Street Armory
The architecture of this West Side giant can evoke grim fortress or enchanted castle, depending on your mood. Built by Lansing and Beierl in 1898 as the 74th Regimental Armory, the building is made of the same Medina sandstone as Richardson’s Buffalo State Hospital. But it is not really its architectural history that endears it to so many locals. Unlike the Richardson building, many of us have been inside the armory’s palatial Grand Court for festive purposes; it has hosted weddings, balls, private parties, and, perhaps most memorably, the annual hippiesque Lizard Ball. Since 9/11, security has not permitted such frivolity in the building, still run by the Army, but restrictions have been loosening and we hope there are many non-military gatherings in the Armory’s future.

^ Bidwell Parkway
On any given day, the greenspace at Bidwell Parkway—jutting diagonally into Elmwood Avenue in the EV—might be home to lounging readers, anti-war protesters, tai-chi enthusiasts, and visiting farmers (and their customers). Like the majestic Delaware Park and, to my mind, the frequently underrated South Park, Bidwell is an F. L. Olmsted design. And that’s no surprise, so fundamentally sensible is the design, and so ideal is the location. The park and its Olmsted relatives are lovely in the winter, but summertime is when they truly spring to life with events like the weekly Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market (running through October). Add to this the Elmwood Village Summer Concert Series and the GLBT Pride festivities in early June, and it becomes evident that Bidwell Parkway is actually the beating heart of Buffalo, one of the friendliest and prettiest spots in the city. —C.S.


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