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

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