Wednesday, November 15, 2017

It Sounded like a Good Idea at the Time: Niagara Falls and the Utopian Impulse

Frederick Edward Church's landmark painting, Niagara Falls
Courtesy of Wikipedia
The world quivers and Niagara keeps falling. Nothing short of a cataclysm or a well-coördinated hydraulic endeavor interrupts the flow of the Niagara River over the edge of the Escarpment. Gravity’s work here is twofold: expect it to pull water toward the earth’s zero in a torrent, and with the same certainty, expect the voluminous descent to attract tens of millions of visitors from around the world.

The natural wonder straddles an amalgam of fronts. It teases the edge of the modern built environment and the autochthonous wilderness, defines the geopolitical border between two nations, and beckons an examination of the semantic boundary between beauty and sublimity. In the manner of a mirror, the cataract inspires an attitude of reflection, inviting beholders to weigh fundamental questions close to the core of their being. After this rapturous seizure, modern convenience offers onlookers the chance to enjoy an ice cream or a hot dog. Meditation, after all, can arouse quite the appetite.

Father Hennepin's Niagara Falls
Courtesy of Lehigh University Library
In a time before roadside vendors lined the banks of the Niagara River, however, the great thinkers taken by Niagara Falls were left with nothing but their thoughts to chew on. The enormity of the falls has inspired postulation of equal proportion, precipitating endeavors that range from the practical and profitable to the hypothetical and hyperbolic. This tendency dominates even the earliest firsthand records of the falls in Western discourse, beginning with Father Louis Hennepin's many descriptions of his single visit to Niagara Falls in the 1670s. Hennepin took a few liberties in his description: captured by his hyperbole, readers likely imagined a cataract almost four times the size of Niagara in a distant corner of terra incognita. Bolstered by his embellishments, Hennepin’s account cast an enduring spell on the Western world.

The natural phenomenon never shed its allure, not even after the railroad arrived in Western New York almost two centuries later. During the nineteenth century, travelers itched for a chance to stare into the falls and participate in the invention of a national symbolism. The unlimited potential of the torrent signified the beneficence of the nation’s project, manifest destiny and the acquisition of all the resources and land between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Peering into the mist at the falls and the very soul of the country inspired productive meditation, and the banks of the Niagara River soon hosted an abundance of revolutionary advances: Frederick Church of the Hudson School captured the falls in a foundational painting in the American canon, Tesla and Westinghouse wielded alternating current and transported electricity unprecedented distances, and Henry Perky manufactured his groundbreaking foodstuff, Shredded Wheat. The architecture firm McKim, Mead, and White designed an idealized factory town, called Echota, in which workers from the Adams Power Plant, which produced Tesla and Westinghouse’s electricity, raised families in the finest middle-class environment. The fin de siècle was quite the time to be alive in Niagara Falls.
The Adams Power Plant
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The modernity of the moment inspired movers and shakers who realized their aspirations, but it also gave rise to a school of dreamers who failed to launch their lofty ideas. An optimism that transcended application infected the minds of so many idealists at the height of the Victorian Epoch, and quite a few made Niagara Falls their muse. The progeny of ideas that grew like weeds in an era of manufacture and science fueled Technological Utopianism, the belief in the potential of human innovation in the employ of the righteous to put a lid on all forms of suffering, from the mundane to the existential. Utopianism assumed an air of religiosity amongst its subscribers, who coveted an alternative to the iniquitous conditions of industrial dominance in the Western World. These idealists gazed into Niagara Falls and saw an eternal source of energy, an answer to the limiting factor in the swirling equations governing the scientific revolution. The projects they drafted, though never brought to fruition, testify to the cogent symbolism of the falls and its command on the local built environment.

Before the Adams Power Plant successfully shipped electricity to Buffalo almost twenty miles away, electrical power only ensured utility for on-site endeavors. Factories clumped alongside the banks of the Niagara River, drawing power from the torrent and crowding the City of Niagara Falls. As an alternative to the perceived overgrowth of industry, entrepreneur William T. Love initiated a momentous endeavor in the 1890s. With backing from a number of investors, he drafted a plan to construct a vast canal that would redirect water from the Niagara River above the falls to a new community north of the City of Niagara Falls. In the utopia he imagined, one million people lived and worked in a garden city, free of smog and the perils of urban overcrowding. Hydroelectric power from the canal would fuel unprecedented industrial growth while proper urban planning ensured flawless living conditions. Love called this planned industrial paradise "Model City."

Circumstance interwove a tragic irony with Love’s legacy. Love had only paved the first few streets in Model City by 1895, when the development of alternating current at the Adams Plant rendered the canal obsolete: factories no longer required on-site power generation. Model City failed. Love went bankrupt after completing less than a mile of his canal, and the township itself withered in the spring of its life. As the twentieth century progressed, Love's former landholdings changed hands, and the Hooker Chemical Company disposed of many tons of their industrial byproducts by dumping them into the incomplete canal. Following a mid-century population boom in the City of Niagara Falls, the Hooker Chemical Company sealed the dumping site and sold it to the city authorities. A hamlet, known as "Love Canal" in recognition of its heritage, grew alongside the failed canal and the contaminated tonnage.

Courtesy of Newsweek
A well-known story follows. During the 1950s, the people of Love Canal built a community and founded their livelihoods in the area without a full understanding of the hazards that lay beneath the soil. The Niagara Falls School Board built two schools, the 99th St. School and the 93rd St. School, on land previously owned by the Hooker Chemical Company. Most accounts suggest that the City of Niagara Falls did not seriously consider the potential disaster awaiting the blue-collar families that
populated the neighborhood and sent their children to the schools nearby. Decades elapsed before the gravity of the situation dawned on the residents of Love Canal. By the late-1970s, studies of public health in the community reported unprecedented rates of complications with pregnancy and symptoms of serious childhood illnesses, including severe birth defects. The community banded together in protest, and in 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued an order to evacuate Love Canal and initiated the first ever Superfund program to relocate residents and palliate the environmental catastrophe. The name Love, once reminiscent of a grand vision of the ideal community, degenerated into a reminder of one of the most profound environmental tragedies in American history.

The collapse of William T. Love's utopian project set the stage for a disaster, leaving behind by far the least fortunate legacy of any contrivance of its kind. Other schemes of equal scale never made the leap from page to landscape, and the names of architects behind them do not share the same inauspicious eponymy as Love. Leonard Henkle, an entrepreneur and inventor, imagined a project that, if completed, would have represented the first step on the path to total international harmony. In 1895, decades before Wilson devised the League of Nations, Henkle proposed the construction of "the International Hall," a grand structure straddling Niagara Falls. The lower portion of the building would house a massive hydroelectric plant, while the upper hall provided a hallowed space for representatives of all the nations of the world to congregate and conduct discourse and diplomacy. In order to accommodate travelers on their way to the International Hall, Henkle devised an infrastructural scheme that included series of transcontinental railways and a flotilla of steamships connecting all the nations of the world with a central hub in Niagara Falls.

In an age of unbridled nationalism, this utopian impulse seemed contrarian: a globalist endeavor, drafted not in favor of a single nation, but with the hope of unifying people across political boundaries. Yet the sheer optimism of such a project captured the concurrent humanist sentiment. Henkle's project suggested that by wedding the momentum of the Niagara and the collective effort of a global society, humankind could overcome all petty hostilities and redefine the limits of possibility. The project itself never came to fruition; the cost of such an endeavor was enormous, and investors shied away from Henkle and his International Hall. But one draft of a more successful and well known global project alluded to Henkle's plan. When the United Nations solicited proposals for the design and location of their headquarters in 1945, a delegation posited Navy Island on the Niagara River as the future site of "the World Peace Capital." The coordinated efforts of influential New Yorkers including Robert Moses and Nelson Rockefeller overshadowed those of the advocates for Niagara Falls and ultimately secured the commission for Le Corbusier, who designed the headquarters in Manhattan that is synonymous with global enterprise today.

The imagined Headquarters of the United Nations on Navy Island
Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

A patent for King Gillette's Razor
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Historical memory has spoiled Love's name and sequestered Henkle's to its back pages, but one of the most eccentric dreamers from the golden days of the utopian impulse managed to escape both damnation and obscurity. The bold invention for which he is most well known once proliferated a new and modern regard for personal hygiene. It is unlikely to draw much attention today. With his design for a successful disposable shaving razor, King Camp Gillette revolutionized social standards for body hair. For the first time in human history, shaving was an activity that could be performed with ease within the privacy of the home. The clean-shaven face became the enduring image of the well-kempt man for most of the twentieth century. Gillette's later advertising campaigns targeted women, promoting standards of beauty for women that still pervade in contemporary society. Gillette's company, the Gillette Safety Razor Company (now owned by Procter and Gamble), created and dominated its own market during the patent period for the Gillette's model, and secured for him a fortune and a legacy. That fortune all but evaporated by the end of the Great Depression, but his name still holds a time-honored office on the labels of shaving products across the world.

Gillette was a ruthless businessman. In order to sell their groundbreaking product, the Gillette Safety Razor Company promoted the infamous "freebie" model, where a firm sells one product at a reduced price based on the guaranteed profits from a cheap and disposable accessory upon which the use of the original product depends. Yet Gillette's personal publications reveal a social philosopher in stark contrast with eager entrepreneur. Although he lined his pockets with the spoils of consumer capitalism, Gillette identified himself as a utopian socialist and devised a full-scale plan to curtail the inequality and inefficiency of the capitalist system. He published his cornerstone treatise, The Human Drift, in 1894, in which he detailed his vision for a socialist utopia. Gillette called the capital of his utopia "Metropolis" and situated it in Niagara Falls.

Gillette's imagined utopia in The Human Drift
Courtesy of Cornell Library
Gillette reimagined order in the United States altogether: most of the country's population would reside in Metropolis, living and working in support of a universally owned trust. "The United Company," as Gillette termed it, would eliminate corporate competition and centralize every facet of the economy, evenly distributing all goods and services. Technological progress would incrementally improve living conditions for everyone, and class distinctions and gender inequality would expire as the United Company curbed all social ills in Metropolis.

The city itself exceeded the fantasies of urban planners in both scope and applicability. Gillette's Metropolis consisted of a perfect rectangle in which a network of high-rise apartment complexes constructed entirely of porcelain stretched for miles. He laid out his buildings on a hexagonal grid and situated an underground transit system for the transfer of goods and energy. Hydroelectricity from Niagara Falls powered the entire city, allowing all of the country outside of Metropolis to flourish as a sylvan paradise (with exception given to the small subset allocated for farming and mining).

After publishing The Human Drift, Gillette composed several follow-ups which tweaked his plan, but his revolution failed to launch. He was met with little support for his plan. Not a single inch of Metropolis realized. Gillette left his legacy in steel, not porcelain.

Mimesis governs the built environment: designers draw upon the grandeur of the natural world when composing the plans that shape everyday life. In a cascade of hyperbole, Niagara Falls, with its improbable intensity, inspired a movement to break down the Gates of Eden. The unlikely scale of these proposed utopian projects prohibited their application, and this mode of thinking fell out of fashion almost entirely. As paradigms shifted, the probability of a single individual's capacity for palliating all social ills proved ever more unlikely in a complex world with so many interests and actors. Many feet will tread the path forward, however uncoordinated their efforts. Still, it is tempting to imagine that the answer to perfection exists, and that it awaits discovery just behind the fog.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Spoiler Alert: The Secrets of the Freemasons and the Birth of Third Party Politics

After witnessing the birth of the status quo during his presidential tenure, George Washington predicted a grave outcome for the nation based on the emerging system of political parties in his farewell address:

... they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.1

Foregoing his advice, American politicians have cast their lot with one political party or another ever since. Through many iterations, voters have almost unilaterally accepted the political party system, and the restrictied options it presents. Binaries in which two parties dominate the democracy have, for the most part, defined American elections since Washington’s unheeded warning, with a few more complex exceptions throughout the nineteenth century. The Federalist/Democratic-Republican split, the Whig/Democrat split, and most recently, the Republican/Democrat split have all offered voters a choice between “this” and “that.”

“But what if ‘this’ just doesn’t do it for me, and I really can’t get down to ‘that’?” This age old question arose again last fall as voters weighed their options for the presidential election. Americans more in line with establishment party politics criticized this inclination, citing their belief that the “spoiler effect,” or the splitting of votes between a major-party candidate and a third-party candidate with similar values, could tip the balance in favor of another major-party candidate with antithetical values. The most notorious example of the spoiler effect in recent history occurred during the presidential election of 2000, in which Green Party candidate Ralph Nader allegedly drew sympathetic votes away from Democrat Al Gore and delivered the election to Republican George W. Bush. Hoping to avoid the same fate for their candidates, major-party supporters on both sides of the aisle cautioned their less committal peers against “throwing their votes away” on third-party candidates with minimal chances of securing America’s highest elected office.

Nevertheless, estimates place the percentage of the popular vote in favor of third-party candidates in the 2016 Presidential Election somewhere between four and five percent.2 While third parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party are not necessarily leading America’s march into the future, they’re still marching to their own beat, and a few million Americans decided to dance along. Despite accusations of spoilage, these third-party voters actually participated in a long-standing tradition of dissent in American politics. It just so happens that the roots of this tradition lie here in Western New York.

The history of third-party politics in the United States stretches back to the life of a single man and his rivalry with a well-established fraternal organization. When William Morgan, a black sheep amongst the ranks of the Freemasons in Western New York, threatened to reveal the secrets of said organization’s initiation rites in 1826, he sparked a series of events with ramifications on a national scale. Morgan and his family settled in Batavia, New York sometime in the 1820s, where he worked as a bricklayer. Hoping to join the Freemason lodge in Batavia, Morgan claimed that he had belonged to lodges in several of the other places in which he had spent time throughout his life. The Freemasons of Batavia did not accept his claims and refused to allow him entrance into their chapter of the society. In an act of retribution, Morgan threatened to publish an exposé detailing the clandestine undertakings of the Freemasons.
The Assassination of William Morgan by Pierre
Méjanel. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Several conflicting accounts muddle the events that followed Morgan’s transgression: even today, different interest groups offer their own version of the story. In 1826, Morgan was arrested for an alleged failure to repay a loan and jailed in Canandaigua. Morgan made bail, but his freedom did not last him very long. The final reports of Morgan’s whereabouts placed him in Niagara County, where a group of agitated masons may have kidnapped him. The haze of history obscures the details of his life after his disappearance, which may have ended thereafter in the Niagara River, or years later in one of the many places across the world where later eyewitnesses claim to have spotted him. In Lewiston, New York, stories still persist that Morgan spent the night in the historic Frontier House on his way to his fate, and the echoes of his possible footsteps through the town still resonate in the historical memory of the area. The ambiguity of his fate encouraged the spread of rumors that often pointed to the wretchedness of the masons.

Word of the drama spread, and the sensational events fractured associations on every level of society. Incensed members of the public, already wary of the ill-understood organization, demanded retribution for the murder of Morgan, while community leaders took varying positions on Masonic activity. The ensuing uproar split social organizations in places like Lewiston, where the dissenting voices within First Presbyterian congregation delayed the construction of the community's first church building and nearly dissolved the organization entirely. Some masons from high society renounced their alignment with the Freemasons in order to wield this dissent, creating a populist movement that coalesced in the Anti-Masonic Party. It was the first established third party in the United States, and in a flurry of grassroots support, candidates who took up this anti-elitist cross won positions in the elections of 1828, including several seats in the House of Representatives. After the unexpected success of its single-issue politicking, the Anti-Masonic Party filled out its platform with nativist policies.

The political saliency of the Anti-Masonic Party culminated in the Presidential Election of 1832. The waxing of third-party politics determined the outcome of this election in more ways than one. The The Nullifier Party, a third party that formed shortly after the Anti-Masonic Party, ran John Floyd as their candidate and carried South Carolina. Meanwhile, in a show of third-party force, Vermont voted Anti-Mason, contributing to incumbent Andrew Jackson's landslide victory over Henry Clay. Irony tinged Jackson's successful reelection campaign: the President of the United States was himself a Freemason. The party's activity waned following the 1832 elections, and the newly formed Whig Party absorbed most of its members by the end of the decade.
Cartoonist Thomas Nast portrays Jacksonian Democracy
Image courtesy of Mercury Academic

The Anti-Masonic Party and their efforts to dismantle the establishment might seem dated and frivolous to the modern wit, but the pattern of third-party dissent they inaugurated still persists today. More established third parties, such as the Green Party and the Libertarian Party as mentioned above, maintain a degree of political saliency, while lesser known single-issue parties, such as the Prohibition Party (opposed to the sale and consumption of alcohol) and the Humane Party (devoted to the protection of the rights of animals), continue to endorse major-party candidates, and even on rare occasions, run their own candidates.
There’s nothing quite like a single-issue party, so get in touch with your inner blacksheep, and vote Preservation in this year’s election.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hoist a Piece of History: Louis Greenstein and the Buffalo Flag

Last December, I was at a loss for want of a great gift for my father. What to get the man who, as they say, has everything? After all, he can only use so many fountain pens before his fingers cramp up, and I didn’t want to be on the opposite end of his vindictive grin as he ripped the wrapping paper from a book and said, “too bad, I’ve already read this.” I challenge anyone to try the New York Times Bestseller List when picking out a gift for Jim Duggan. Go ahead, see what happens.

The Buffalo Flag from
After some anxiety and some failed attempts at purveying his bookshelf, I acquiesced to window shopping. Trudging along Elmwood, I resigned to getting him another old hat trinket. Yet what I found hanging in the window of a postershop piqued a recent infatuation of mine. My search ended right then, on the corner of Elmwood and Bird, where I put two and two together and bagged the Buffalo Flag for my father. I came across the design for the banner for the first time a few years ago, and I was enamored with it from the start: an instance of good design ordained with the sole purpose of representing the place where I grew up. As soon as I saw it, with a cog of thirteen white lightning bolts arranged around an image of the harbor, I knew it would look proud hanging from our flagpole at home. The holidays provided the excuse I needed to turn my own armchair historical fascination into an appreciated gift. When I handed it off to my father, I received no snarky remarks. He hung it up that afternoon.

Preservation Studios has given me the opportunity to rise from the armchair, and recently we’ve been working alongside the Faith Missionary Baptist congregation to nominate their church building on Humboldt Parkway to the National Register of Historic Places. The Beaux-Arts building testifies to the cohesive spirit of the congregation, which has thrived throughout the years of uncertainty surrounding the Parkway. It’s a monument to their society’s faith and integrity, and a mainstay in the Hamlin Park community. The building dates back to 1924, when the Temple Beth David congregation solicited a design from architect Louis Greenstein for a house of worship in the neighborhood which they then called home. After the demographics of the East Side shifted around the middle of the century, they sold the building to the Faith Missionary Baptist congregation.

Faith Missionary Church on Humboldt Parkway
Photo courtesy of the Black Churches Network
While researching the building’s history, the compelling details of the architect’s biography caught my attention. Louis Greenstein was one of the first Jewish architects in the city of Buffalo. He spent most of his life in here in Western New York, designing buildings and working to preserve the architectural legacy of the city through rehabilitation projects. He studied Beaux-Arts architecture and applied his livelihood to designing buildings such as the Bryant & Stratton building at 40 North Street and the Coplon Mansion on the Daemen College Campus. Greenstein participated in major municipal projects with other architectsas well, notably the Memorial Auditorium. The Beth David congregation solicited Greenstein's designs for multiple synagogues, including the former synagogue that the Faith Missionary Baptist congregation now calls home. He also worked as an educator, training architecture students who couldn’t afford to leave Western New York at the Buffalo Rectagon Atelier. We may have lost the old Aud, but Greenstein left his lasting imprimatur on Buffalo. The informed eye notices his legacy hiding all around the city: the Buffalo Flag, a reclaimed semiotic nod to our hometown, owes its composition to Greenstein.

The Buffalo Flag flying on West Delavan Avenue
The blue and white banner flies in front of some municipal buildings downtown, and recently I’ve stumbled across my vexillological muse in so many new and exciting places: adorning black t-shirts, hanging from flagpoles across the neighborhoods, and of course, tucked onto the label of Lockhouse and the Public’s Revolution Espresso Liqueur (mix one part with two parts chocolate cashew milk over ice: perfect for when you’re snowed in). Maybe it’s an alternative to the complications of overt nationalism, maybe it’s the result of pride for the Queen City’s recent revival, and maybe it’s the answer to an appetite for evocative locally-sourced design. Quite possibly, it’s a response to all of these urges. By brandishing Greenstein’s flag, Buffalonians clarify their belief in a powerful local tradition. Our city is thick with a history of aesthetic innovation and a legacy of local actors bent on making our corner of the world look good while building it from the ground up.

The Buffalo Flag looks good on a flagpole, for sure. But when Greenstein beat out seventy two other submissions in the 1924 competition to design the new Buffalo flag, he didn’t simply win a beauty contest. He laced his design with signifiers of Buffalo’s enterprise, from the lightning bolts, pointing to the early distribution of electricity in the city, to the image of the city harbor, representative of Buffalo’s near-forgotten office as the “gateway to the West.” The design offers onlookers a condensed mythology of the city, a mythology that now bolsters the local identity after years of flux.

A designer striving to shape our city of today from his office in the Guaranty Building gave us a banner to rally around as we carry Buffalo into the future. His legacy lives across the pages of history books and the wares of new businesses, along streets in Amherst and streets Downtown, and on cornerstones and flagpoles all across the city.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Legsweeps, Headlocks, and Bears, OH My!

By Matthew Shoen Associate Architectural Historian at Preservation Studios

In our last blog post I discussed my love of candy and how that love as intersected with a few of our projects over the last couple years. Today I wanted to bring up another of my passions, though unfortunately this has little to do with our work at Preservation Studios. Today I want to look at the history of professional wrestling in Buffalo.

Professional wrestling is a (sport, athletic display, entertainment spectacle) that dates back to the early nineteenth century with European circus troupes. Many troupes featured a strongman whose athletic feats were meant to awe the crowds. Some strongmen took things a step further, challenging audience members to knock them down for fixed sums.

In America the athletic displays presented in carnival wrestling tournaments were enlivened by carnival workers who created fictional back stories for the wrestlers often attributing great feats of strength and endurance to them. Many were also billed from exotic locals and grappling sheiks, hussars, and Cossacks toured the country after the Civil War.

In the 1920s professional wrestling underwent a major evolution with the development of the first wrestling promotions. Whereas earlier wrestling cards featured traveling carnival shows that pitted local grapplers against renowned traveling wrestlers like Frank Gotch and Martin Burns, the new promotions featured a roster of wrestlers who would stay in a territory for months and years, allowing for longer feuds between wrestlers and bigger payoffs for the fanbase.

By the 1950s the territory system was an engrained part of wrestling and the United States was divided up like fiefs by different major wrestling federations that were broadly governed under the National Wrestling Alliance (N.W.A.). The territory system thrived until the early 1980s when Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF now the WWE) started to spend heavily, drawing top wrestlers away from other promotions. In 1985 McMahon launched Wrestlemania, a massive closed circuit television extravaganza that featured a mix of nationally known wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Tito Santana and celebrities like Mr. T who wrestled with Hulk Hogan against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff and Cindi Lauper who served as a cornerwoman for Wendi Richter in her fight for the WWF Woman's Championship. The event proved to be a  major success and became a cornerstone in WWE's sustained dominance of professional wrestling.

Given professional wrestling's long history in America, of which I've only sketched a brief outline, it is unsurprising that Buffalo had an enthusiastic wrestling scene. During the 1910s and 1920s East Side residents packed the Broadway Auditorium to watch Polish grapplers like Wladek Zbyszko square off against wrestlers like George Sanders the Bavarian Tiger.
Wladek Zbyszko from

Polish wrestlers unsurprisingly drew heavy crowds in the Broadway Auditorium and ethnic champions dominated many professional wrestling territories. In one show from 1929 two-thousand people watched Wladek Zbyszko battle Nino Darnoldi who was reputed as a former Italian cavalry officer. In the thirty minute match Zbyszko twice pinned Darnoldi utilizing a pair of flying snapmares to win the bout (read the full match breakdown below).

Other matches on the card featured Cowboy Jack Rodgers of Powder River, Montana battling Ned McGuire of Ireland and Renato Gardini, Champion of Italy against Karol Zahorski of Poland. The ethnic nature of many of these names reflects the period as each wrestler's mysterious origins were masterfully hyped before the show.

Wladek Zbyszko and his brother Stanislaus were both particularly beloved in Buffalo and their appearances packed houses. In addition to the Zbyszko brothers, wrestler Ed Don George dominated Buffalo in the 1930s and 1940s, proving to be the city's most popular draw as he battled the likes of Bulgarian Don Koloff, and Joe Malcewicz.

Stanislaus Zbyszko from

The most interesting wrestling event I ran across in my search for Buffalo's professional wrestling history is a match between Gene Dubois and Terrible Ted. Gene Dubois was a French Canadian wrestler and Terrible Ted was a 600 pound black bear that Dubois had trained to wrestle. The match, as well as some useful commentary by wrestling experts Dave Meltzer and Jim Cornette is linked below and is worth watching.

The history of bears in wrestling is its own interesting topic, though wrestling bears were a sideshow attraction and never a regular part of the shows in Buffalo, the bout between Dubois and Terrible Ted shows the size of the crowds in Buffalo, though the audio is muted due to the commentary. Still you can see and hear enough to realize the popularity of professional wrestling in Buffalo.

Though professional wrestling has lost much of the mainstream appeal it had in the 1980s and late 1990s it remains a fascinating historical subject matter for me. While Buffalo doesn't have the wrestling history of cities like Detroit, Memphis, or New York City, the Queen City did have a vibrant wrestling scene dominated by Polish strongmen and the occasional hardworking bear.

If you have any wrestling stories that you'd like to share, feel free to leave a comment on our Facebook page and thanks for reading.

Account of the Match between Zbyszko and Darnoldi

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Few of our Sweeter Projects

by Matthew Shoen, Associate Architectural Historian at Preservation Studios

I love candy.

In fact, if you told me the Parkside Candy Shoppe funded its rehabilitation through my patronage I could believe it. Dark chocolate is my weakness and I'm a very weak person.

The recent press around Parkside Candy's rehab has gotten me in the mood for a deep dive into some of Preservation Studios more sugary projects as well as a quick look at the history of chocolateering.

The consumption of chocolate has been part of the human experience since Central and South American Indians like the Maya, Inca, and Aztecs discovered how to brew chocolaty beverages. After European explorers made landfall in the Americas cocoa was sent back across the ocean and became a favorite treat of the wealthy and refined. This early cocoa was extremely different from the chocolate we consume today. First, chocolate was almost exclusively served in a liquid form and was quite bitter (cacao beans  themselves are bitter, the skins hold the sweetness). In Europe, honey was added to counteract this bitterness and hot and cold chocolate drinks were popular treats for nobles.

In 1847 Joseph Fry, an English chocolateer, discovered that by mixing cacao butter back into liquid chocolate he could make the mixture solidify. Further, he could mold his chocolates into different shapes, such as turtles, doves, and turtledoves. Fry's innovation of a solid chocolate bar allowed for new chocolate forms, however it didn't counteract the bitterness of chocolate. In 1875 Daniel Peter of Switzerland discovered that by mixing condensed milk with chocolate he improved the product's flavor immensely. Milk chocolate quickly became a favorite desert and treat for members of the middle class and children as chocolate had by this time been made affordable.

In Buffalo the popularity of chocolate skyrocketed after the introduction of milk chocolate. In 1857 the city had only 10 confectioners, by 1888 136 groups were producing chocolate and confectionary goods in the city. During the Pan-American Exposition, two buildings were dedicated to the display and sale of chocolates and the confectionary goods proved a major hit at the Exposition.

In 1921 one of the city's larger chocolate producers began operations at a former malt house at 520 7th Street. Merckens Chocolates specialized in chocolate bars as well as baking chocolate and the company became a powerhouse in the American confectionary scene. From their headquarters at 520 7th Street the company branched out and opened offices in Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles among other cities. Merckens Chocolates remained in Buffalo until the 1950s, producing its much loved chocolate and employing over 100 people. Though the company closed its Buffalo offices in the late 1950s another important Buffalo based chocolate firm is still in business.

The Parkside Candy Company opened its first store in 1917; owned and operated by George, Molly, and Edward Kaiser. The company specialized in confectionary goods and serving light meals, operating in the vein of tea houses and public parlors. Ten years later the family opened a second location at the corner of Main Street and Winspear, possibly anticipating my arrival in 2015. In the meantime the University Heights neighborhood was growing quickly and this growth likely encouraged the family to build their second store. The family also added a sizable candy factory at the rear of the store wherein they produced chocolate, lollipops, sponge candy, and other confectionary treats.

In terms of its architecture the Parkside Candy Shoppe is one of my favorite buildings in Buffalo. The plastered ceiling and the walls with their beautiful reliefs always catch my eye, as does the rich dark woodwork around the doors and alcoves. Architect G. Morton Wolfe drew influence for the building from Robert Adam and the Adam Style of architecture. This style of interior design was popular in the colonial period and emphasized plasterwork and pastel color schemes like we see in the candy store. This beautiful architecture helped draw customers to the Parkside Candy Shoppe and allowed the company to thrive from 1927 when the building opened all the way to the present day.

Before the Rehab
After the Rehab
Photo from the Buffalo News

Friday, September 22, 2017

Buffalo's Historic Branch Libraries

In our last blog post we looked at the career of Isaac Perry, one of New York State's most important architects and the designer of everybody's favorite armory on Connecticut Street. Isaac Perry's buildings can be related back to important historical trends and movements. America's fear of anarchism and revolt among working class peoples encouraged the construction of the armories, and a desire to treat the mentally ill led to the construction of asylums like the St. Lawrence State Hospital.

In this week's blog we'll be focusing on a local historical building campaign undertaken by the Buffalo Public Library between 1901 and 1928. Between these years the public library created fourteen branch libraries in the city of which eight still exist. These branch libraries were critical to the Buffalo Public Library as they allowed residents in outlying neighborhoods access to library services and reduced pressure on the Central Library. Many of the libraries built during this period are still standing and a few remain active libraries. Before getting into the history of Buffalo's branch libraries it's important to take a brief look at the history of Buffalo's library system starting in 1836 when the Young Men's Association formed the Library.

The Young Men's Association was a collection of wealthy young businessmen and entrepreneurs with a similar spirit and affinity towards boosterism. The association was particularly concerned with Buffalo's meager literary scene. The organization's first act was to form a library subscription service. For fifty dollars a year members of the Young Men's Association could access the Buffalo Library's collection of 2,700 books.

The Young Men's Association controlled the Buffalo Library from 1836 until 1897, a period of sixty-one years. During this period the Association grew the library's collection to 84,000 pieces of literature and built the majestic Central Library in downtown. Despite its expanded collection, the Buffalo Library only had 2,900 subscribers by 1897. This amounted to around 1% of Buffalo's population in 1897. The Buffalo Library's reach was limited because the fifty dollar subscription fee remained prohibitive for all but the wealthiest and most literally inclined individuals. Further, the Central Library's location in downtown meant that residents on the East Side, in South Buffalo, and in certain parts of the West Side faced a long walk or trolley ride to the library. For many people the distance proved prohibitive.

By 1897 the Buffalo Library's low subscription base became untenable. The library's budget was $5,000 a year, nowhere near enough to pay for building maintenance and book purchases. Facing a slide into irrelevance the Buffalo Library made a deal with the city to transform the Buffalo Library into a tax supported public library service.

The Buffalo Public Library officially opened in September of 1897 and throngs of people soon inundated the Central Library on a daily basis. Almost from its inception, the library's Board of Managers recognized the need for branch libraries. In 1899 the library’s superintendent H. L. Elmendorf argued,

In other large cities a great proportion of the circulation is done through small libraries, located at convenient places in different parts of the city. If we had such collections of books, with commodious, well-stocked reading rooms – say, one in Black Rock, one in Cold Spring and two or three on the East side, each in charge of regular library assistants – we could, I think, double our usefulness.1 

The Buffalo Public Library set about erecting branch libraries soon after Elmendorf's proclamation. The first branch library, the William Ives Branch at 746 Broadway, was opened in 1901. Within two years the J.P Dudley Branch Library at 503 South Park Avenue and the Lafayette Branch Library inside the Lafayette High School had opened. These early branch libraries all occupied rented rooms inside commercial buildings or fraternal halls. Because of this, none of the libraries were considered up to the Buffalo Public Library's standards. The libraries were small and like the Central Library, became easily overcrowded, especially after school.  

Throughout the 1910s the Buffalo Public Library lobbied Common Council for the funds to build branch libraries. One particular focus of the public library was the former Buffalo Waterworks Building at 1936 Niagara Street. Almost from the public library's inception an agreement had been in place to allow the Buffalo Public Library to turn the waterworks building into a branch library. However Common Council continually frustrated the library's leadership, refusing to release the vital funds necessary to renovate the waterworks. Finally in 1915 the funds were released and the Jubilee Branch Library was opened.

The new library possessed two important features repeated in all future branch libraries. First, the building had a basement auditorium open to public organizations. Additionally, on the first floor the library was divided so that adults and children had separate reading rooms. The division of space between adult readers and children was considered important to the function of the branch library and future branches partitioned adult and child spaces, often employing two wings with a central librarian’s desk to do so. After the construction of the Jubilee Branch Library, branch library constriction stopped in Buffalo for nine years, though the Buffalo Public Library continued lobbying for funds. 

In 1923 the library received its much needed funds in the form of a $200,000 grant from Common Council. With the exception of the Jubilee Branch Library, all Buffalo's early branch libraries were built with money from this grant. The first libraries, the Cazenovia, Kensington, and Fairfield Branches were built in 1924. These were followed in 1927 by the Genesee Branch Library and in 1928 by the North Park Branch Library. Howard L. Beck, Buffalo's city architect, designed each building and employed popular revival styles such as Colonial, Tudor, and Renaissance Revival in his designs.

By 1930 Buffalo had fourteen branch libraries scattered throughout the city. The libraries circulated an average of 80,000 books a year and helped reduce overcrowding at the Central Library. More importantly however they gave children and adults in Buffalo access to literature and entertainment. A number of the city's branch libraries were placed in large immigrant communities where English was a second language. The branch libraries became a crucial meeting place for children and adults from Buffalo's different immigrant communities. The branches had foreign language books and newspapers catered to the demographic they served and librarians were attentive to the needs of small children as they attempted to learn English. 

Surprisingly the branch libraries erected between 1923 and 1928 are all still standing, though with the exception of the Cazenovia Branch Library, none of the branches are still active. The spaces inside these libraries have thankfully however been used since each library has closed and at least one is in the process of being rehabilitated. Though some branches sit empty, those that have been maintained, such as the Kensington Branch Library continue to provide tangible benefits to the community. One can only hope that the rest of the branches are brought back to life and put to use in the city.

Map of the Buffalo Public Library System in 1930
The Buffalo Public Library, Thirty-Fourth Annual Report of the Buffalo Public Library: 1930, (Buffalo: 1930), 26.    

[1] The Buffalo Public Library, Third Annual Report of the Buffalo Public Library: 1899 (Buffalo: 1900), 19.