Friday, July 31, 2015

The Buffalo Hollywood Connection

Written by Matt Shoen, Assistant Historian at Preservation Studios

At 885 Niagara Street sits the mostly abandoned Queen City Dairy building. Built in 1903 the dairy collected milk from across Erie County, then pasteurized, bottled, and then delivered the product throughout Buffalo. Though Queen City Dairy, like so many Buffalo companies is gone, it has left behind a sprawling complex of offices and manufacturing space. 

To a casual spectator this may appear mundane; Buffalo has plenty of abandoned brick buildings from 1900s. However any assumption of 885 Niagara’s ho-hum conformity to Buffalo’s myriad of factory structures would be seriously flawed. In truth, 885 Niagara has a unique connection to Hollywood.

Walking through the building, currently used for storage by its owner, one might assume that 885 Niagara served as a set for some gritty 70s horror movie. With its dirt floor basement, creaking boards, and murky illumination provided by dangling incandescent bulbs this assumption wouldn't be a bad one, however the reality is far more benign. In 1903, construction of the Queen City Dairy began under the oversight of Sidney Woodruff, a local architect, who in 1926 would become one of Hollywood’s principal developers. In fact, it was Sidney Woodruff that erected the iconic “Hollywood” sign.[1]
Image courtesy of Mary Mallory's Hollywoodland

Years before his emigration to the Hollywood hills Woodruff was a well-respected architect in Buffalo. He took work with various architecture firms, assisting with the design of the original Pierce-Arrow showroom, a factory for the E.R. Thomas Motor Co., The People’s Bank of Buffalo, and working with Green & Wicks on the Buffalo Savings Bank. In 1923 Woodruff moved to California where he began his development in Hollywood. Following the fabulous success of Hollywood, Woodruff began scouting a new location to sink his teeth into. Choosing Dana Point, Woodruff began development just in time for the stock market crash of 1929 to derail his endeavors, effectively ending his career as a developer.

In California Woodruff’s impact rests on the grand edifice of the Hollywood Sign and the ruins of his unfinished work at Dana Point. However, just a few blocks north of the New York State Armory sits a building which Woodruff built, which like his other developments in Buffalo, allowed him to amass the capital to head west and develop a community in the dry hills of California. Knowing that an old brick building in Buffalo, New York helped fund the construction of one of the most iconic images of American cinema brings a smile to my face, but it also creates a question. If this structure can contain such history what stories do the other landmarks of Buffalo’s bygone industrial age tell?

Image courtesy of Library of Congress, from
Palmer's Views of Buffalo Past and Present

[1] Originally the sign read “Hollywoodland” however the last four letters were taken down in 1949.

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