Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Little Italy’

Marine Drive depicted in red.  Canal District depicted in blue.

Marine Drive depicted in red. Canal District depicted in blue.

This post is the third and final park in a series on the history of Buffalo’s Canal District.  Click here to read Part One, about the early days of the Canal – the Canal Street era.  Click here to read Part Two – the Dante Place era.  Today’s post is about the Marine Drive era of the Canal District.  Marine Drive replaced Dante Place during the 1950s.  Marine Drive stretches from Main Street to Erie Street and forms a loop, intersecting upon itself after circling around the Marine Drive Apartments.  If you zoom in far enough on online maps, you’ll see that a small part of Marine Drive still holds its claim as “Dante Place”, at least according to google!

Little sliver of Dante Place (top center part of picture) still shows up in Google!

A little sliver of Dante Place (top center part of the picture) still shows up in Google!

Plans were developed to build “Fairhaven Village”, a private development for 1,078 middle-income families.   After a building explosion in 1936 and the 1936 State Law allows cities the right to condemn and remove “unsafe and unsanitary” buildings,  buildings began to be demolished.  Approximately 500 families moved out of the neighborhood in the summer of 1937.   It was to be one of the first slum clearance rehabilitation projects in the Country.  Early plans for Fairhaven Village  in 1938 called for accommodations for 962 families with a total of 2,942 rooms.  The apartments were to include a 500 car garage to be built below grade of the apartments.  The apartments were to average $17.50 a room, including hot and cold water, gas, electricity and refrigeration.  It was going to be the first project of its kind to be privately owned, managed and financed.    At the time, there was a rental shortage in Buffalo, and reports estimated that there were close to 7,000 families living doubled (or tripled) up in apartments meant for one family.   However, the effects of the Great Depression and later wartime restrictions limited the construction funds to build the development.

Evans Street Demolition 1950s.  Note City Hall in the rear background of the photo.

Evans Street Demolition 1950s. Note City Hall in the rear background of the photo.

After WWII, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority began plans for low-income housing in the Dante Place district, despite local opposition.  In 1948, 90 families were displaced by the State for construction of new housing, which began in 1950.  The Dante Place Projects were completed in 1952, residents moved in during September of that year.   The seven 12-story buildings were the first permanent state-aided housing in the City of Buffalo and consisted of 616 units.  Each building contains a mix of one, two, three, and four bedroom apartments.

Photo from the Courier Express - 1950 during demolition for construction of the Dante Place Project

Photo from the Courier Express – 1950 during demolition for construction of the Dante Place Project

When the Dante Place Project was in its planning stages, Howard Kelly of the Municipal Housing Authority stated:  “We hope that this will be the first step of a waterfront beautification program which will continue right through to Porter Ave”.

Ad for bathtubs installed in Dante Place Project

Ad for bathtubs installed in Dante Place Project

Dante Place Project tenants protesting their eviction.  Source:  Artvoice

Dante Place Project tenants protesting their eviction. Source: Artvoice

By 1960, many of the tenants of Dante Place Project were those displaced from condemned substandard housing on a the Lower East Side of Buffalo, a historically black section of the City.  The Dante Place projects had become again considered to be a slum area.  The BMHA was losing money due to unfilled apartments.  The BMHA responded by moving low-rent residents back to the Douglass Towers and the Ellicott and Talbert Mall.  This was the first attempt in the country to convert public low-cost housing into privately owned development.  The tenants formed the Dante Tenants Defense League to represent the 400 families remaining in the project and fight the evictions.  In 1960, the group went to the state housing commissioner, but they were unsuccessful fighting the conversion of the complex.   New York State Supreme Court Judge Catalano ruled in October 1960 that the conversion was not in violation of New York Public Housing Law.

1951 Aerial view of the Canal District

1951 Aerial view of the Canal District – Dante Place Project/ Marine Drive Apartments shown in center

By 1961, Dante Place resembled what had been originally been proposed as the Fairhaven Village – converting the complex from public housing to subsidized moderate income rental apartments.  A $300,000 remodel was completed and the apartments were rented out.  This project was the first time in the United States that a low-income housing project was converted into a private non-profit middle-income apartment development.  Once the new complex reached 92% occupancy, the tenant stockholders elected a board of directors and officers to manage the development.  The complex was renamed Marine Drive Apartments.

When planning for the Dante Place Projects, there was a great discussion among the City Planning Board members regarding what to name the new street.  Councilman John Ramunno argued for the new street to be named “Dante Place” to keep with the history of the neighborhood.  However, the Council President and others protested because they wanted a new name that did not have a connection to the past, the history of the neighborhood, or the Italian culture that it represented.  The Council eventually voted in favor of removing ties to the “old environment” and Marine Drive was named due to the waterfront neighborhood’s location.

As part of the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan, development of the Waterfront Village began.  The first condos opened in Waterfront Village in Summer 1972.   In 1974, the Erie Basin Marina was completed, built by slag from Bethlehem Steel.  The gardens at the Marina were developed by Stanley Swisher, supervisor of the grounds for the City’s Engineering Department.  Stanley Swisher would plant a new bed of perennials each year.

In 1979, the Buffalo Naval and Servicemen’s Park opened.  The original display included the USS Little Rock and the USS The Sullivans.  In 1988, the submarine the USS Croaker was added to the display.

Other than the Marine Drive Apartments and Waterfront Village, since the 1950s, much of the Canal District sat vacant and silent.  The Central Wharf and the Commercial Slip were buried and covered in stone and parking areas.

2002 Aerial View of the Canal District

2002 Aerial View of the Canal District

Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park

Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park

In 1999, as part of Phase I of the Erie Canal Harbor plan, the Naval Park moved as part of a $15.5 million dollar improvements to the Erie Canal Harbor.  Memorials were moved to the newly created Veteran’s Park.  The USS Little Rock, the Sullivans and the Croaker were repaired and moved to the new Naval Basin.  The existing esplanade facilities were enhanced and expanded to create a continuous walkway along the edge of the water.

Canalside

Canalside

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation was created in 2005 to help restore economic growth to Buffalo and WNY’s waterfront.  Phase II of the Erie Canal Harbor plan was completed in 2008 and included the re-watering of the Commercial Slip, a towpath/walkway on the edges of the slip, construction of a bowstring truss bridge, the reconstruction of Commercial Street, Lloyd Street, Perry Street and Hanover Street, and the uncovering and preservation of the Steamboat Hotel and Lloyd street as an archeological site.  A wooden wharf was created, along with floating docks.  This area is referred to as Canalside, a 20-acre part of the historic Canal District. Canalside has been successful in drawing people down to the waterfront – offering programming, events, festivals and other attractions.   Canalside has more than 750 events and 750,000 visitors annually.

Demolition of the Aud

Demolition of the Aud

Memorial Auditorium closed in 1996, when the Buffalo Sabres, Blizzards and Bandits moved across the street to the newly built Crossroads Arena (now First Niagara Centerclick here to learn more about the name of the Arena).  Plans to renovate and repurpose the Aud were shuffled around for years, including the reuse of the Aud as a Bass Pro site.  In 2007, the Aud was sold by the City of Buffalo to ECHDC.  Salvageable items were removed to be sold, stored or removed.  Asbestos removal and environmental remediation of the Aud site was performed in 2008 and demolition began in January 2009.  A farewell ceremony was held June 30, 2009 to open the time capsule from 1939 and say goodbye to the Aud.

The Aud Block is currently being redeveloped, which includes development parcels based on the historic street grid.  One of the parcels will be developed by the Explore and More Children’s Museum.  Additional restaurant and public spaces are anticipated to be developed as well.  Water features on the Aud Block will be interpretations of the alignment of the Erie Canal, Main and Hamburg Canal, and the Commercial Slip.  Across Main Street on the Donovan Block, south of the newly opened One Canalside, a portion of the canal water feature will be included, as well another development parcel.  These projects, along with Harbor Center, will create the next phase of the Canal District’s development.

2011 View of the Area, showing the rewatered commercial slip, recreated historic street pattern an demolished Aud site

2011 View of the Area, showing the rewatered commercial slip, recreated historic street pattern and the demolished Aud site

Buffalo’s Canal District has been a unique part of Buffalo’s story since the founding of the City of Buffalo.  The district has had several lives – from seedy underbelly, Little Italy’s crowded tenements, public housing, to sitting dormant and the recent redevelopment. As Canalside continues to be developed, the story will continue to unfold.  I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Check out the Street Index to read about other streets.

Sources:

  1. “Housing Project Rises wehre Canalers Roistered” Courier Express 10-29-1952
  2. “Lusty Canal St. Lived Hard and Fast in Heyday” Courier Express 10-26-1952
  3. “Dante Area Streets Get Single Name” Courier Express, November 11, 1960 Buffalo Streets Vol 1.
  4. America’s Crossroads:  Buffalo’s Canal Street/ Dante Place.  Buffalo NY Heritage Press, 1993.
  5. Dug’s Dive.   Buffalo Express Saturday Morning August 29,1874
  6. Hart, Mary Bronson.  Partitioning Poverty:  Zones of Influence in Social Work.  Boston Evening Transcript.  August 29, 1900.
  7. Syracuse, Buffalo Illustrate Broadened UR Concept.  The Evening News.  Newburgh, NY.  August 9, 1961.
  8. Yans-McLaughlin, Virginia.  Family and Community:  Italian Immigrants in Buffalo, 1880-1930.
  9. First Tenants to Move into Dante Project.  Buffalo Courier-Express.  August 31, 1952.  8-A.
  10. Crowbars End Lurid History of Slum Area.  Buffalo Courier Express.  July 11, 1948.
  11. Move to Clear Buffalo Slum Area Launched.  Buffalo Courier Express.  October 2, 1936.  p 7.
  12. Dante Tenants Fight Eviction.  Baltimore Afro-American.  August 30, 1960.
  13. Queen City Waterfront Plan

Read Full Post »

This post is Part Two in a series of three posts about Buffalo’s Canal District.  Click here to read Part One, discussing the early days of the Erie Canal, when the area was part of the seedy underbelly of Buffalo.  Part Three will come out next week and will discuss the most recent years of Buffalo’s Canal District.  Today’s post discusses the Italian Quarter and Dante Place, the street that replaced Canal Street.

1925 Map of the Canal District

1925 Map of the Italian Quarter

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, built in 1906 on LeCouteulx Street

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, built in 1906 on LeCouteulx Street Source: America’s Crossroads by Michael Vogel

The Canal District slowly died as trade along the canal was replaced by railroads.  Industry and immigration began to change the landscape of the area.  The sailors and canal business moved out of the area and sought work elsewhere.  The vacant buildings were taken over by immigrants.  The Canal District made way to what was called the Italian Quarter, due to the influx of Italian immigrants.  Between 1900 and 1920, the Italian population of Buffalo increased from 6,000 to 16,000 (Buffalo’s total population in 1920 was 506,775).  The Italian community separated in Buffalo based on the territories and villages of their homeland – each settling into different parts of the City of Buffalo.  The Abbruzzese moved to the upper East Side; the Campobassini moved to the Lower East Side; the Calabrians moved to South Buffalo; and the companies moved to an area near Downtown Buffalo.  The Italians who settled in the Canal District were coming mainly from Sicily to escape a famine and high taxes.

The area was also known as “The Hooks” after the cargo hooks that the dockworkers and longshoremen used.  Near the entrance to the district was “the Coop”, an Italian fruit vendor stand.  The bath house posted instructions in both English and Italian.    The name of Canal Street was changed to Dante Place in 1909.  The impact of changing the name of the street had a large impact on the neighborhood. The rule limiting the women of Canal Street from venturing north into Buffalo proper was lifted.  After the women left, the saloons and concert halls began to close.  The once notorious dance hall saloon known as the Only Theater became a “normal” tavern and politicians meeting place.

Jacob Schoellkopf, a millionaire who made his money from tanning...owner of the Revere Block

Jacob Schoellkopf, a millionaire who made his money from tanningowner of the Revere Block.  Newspaper articles of the day criticized him for the poor conditions in his buildings.

Former brothels and hotels for canal workers and travelers became tenements.  These three and four story brick buildings housing multiple families in crowded conditions. The tenements were poorly-ventilated, small rooms with little heat, frozen pipes in winter and little sunlight. Cholera and pneumonia were common in the tenements.  Many of the immigrants lived in poverty. Rooms rented for $6/month (about $100-130 in current dollars).  In 1890, one old hotel called the Revere Block, originally designed to hold 100 guests, had 1,040 residents living in crammed conditions.  Reports in other buildings included 18 families crammed into four rooms; 56 people sharing eight bedrooms.  Conditions in many of these tenements were disgusting and unsanitary. Social work organizations began working to help deal with the conditions in the district.  Charity Organization Society and Miss Maria Love began to work with the churches around 1895, working to organize efforts against poverty throughout the City of Buffalo.   Seventy-six churches, of 12 denominations, pitched in to help around the city.  Each church was responsible for a district, working for the “moral elevation of the people, and for the relief of all the needy and neglected persons of whatever religious faith within the district”.  Instead of offering direct relief, many of these societies attempted to address the cycle of poverty.

Images from Welcome Hall, one of the settlement houses in Dante Place.   Click here to see in greater detail

Images from one of the settlement houses in Dante Place.
Click here to see in greater detail

Remington Hall was located at the corner of Erie Street and Canal Street (next to the Revere Block) and was one of the settlement houses located in the canal district.  Miss Mary Remington was the head of the settlement house, working with First Presbyterian Church to reform one of the “vilest tenements in Buffalo”.

Mary Remington was born in 1859 in Connecticut and began working to help others at a young age.  At the time, social service was in its infancy and community centers were not common.  In 1894, when Miss Remington came to Buffalo, she noticed that the churches were ignoring the Canal street district, but she saw that the need there was the greatest.  Many Buffalonians did not believe that she could make a difference in that neighborhood, but she was determined to try.

Mary Remington in 1933 Source:  Buffalo Courier Express

Mary Remington in 1933
Source: Buffalo Courier Express

Remington Hall included a kitchen, sewing classes, a Sunday School, mothers’ meetings, a nursery and kindergarten, vocational education, housekeeping and cleanliness classes and recreational programs.  Miss Remington served as landlord, cook, leader of religious services, pianist, teacher and friend to the needy regardless of their race, creed, age or reputation.  She was referred to as “mea madre” by many of the Italian immigrants.  She wrote letters for the men who could not write, she delivered soup and tea to sick women, bailed neighbors out of jail and helped out her neighborhood in any way she could as part of her daily routine.  During the Pan American Exposition in 1901, she took in extra borders and raised $1,000 to do repairs to her building and open a fresh air lodge at the old International Hotel in Fort Erie for poor residents to go to experience a summer change of scenery. She helped more than 100 women who had kept brothels by showing them a different, upstanding way of life.  She sustained the Remington Hall primarily by the rents she charged her tenants.  She was named among the “Woman’s Who’s Who of America” in 1914.  In 1933, Miss Remington said, “If I could live my life over, I would again spend it among the poor”.  During the depression, Miss Remington’s health declined and she was forced to move to the country.  She still continued to provide for the needy, knitting mittens and sending vegetables from her gardens in to the city.

The Settlement House Movement was strong in Buffalo and settlement houses existed across Buffalo.  Two of the oldest – Westminster Community House (1893) and Neighborhood House Association (1894) merged to form the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers (BFNC) in the 1980s and still provide services in the Fruit Belt Neighborhood.

While settlement workers tried hard to make conditions better for the residents in poverty stricken areas, many of the early social workers were viewed as outsiders.  They were thought to undermine old world culture rather than seeing its positive value.  In Dante Place, they misunderstood many of the Italian immigrants, and the Italians misunderstood them.  The American values of sobriety, thrift, sociability, industry, cleanliness, patriotism and “properness” were foreign to the southern Italians of the district.  Many of the Sicilian men resented the settlement’s intrusions into family life. The district was described as “looking more and more like Little Italy by day, and the old-time pit of vice and iniquity by night”.  There were reports of organized crime, but for this area, this was nothing new.

Il Corriere Italiano from the day President McKinley died in 1901

Il Corriere Italiano from the day President McKinley died in 1901

Many of the Italians formed their own fraternal organizations, professional societies and cultural clubs.  There were so many of these groups that a Federation of Italian-American Societies was established in 1906.  One of the important Italian newspapers in Buffalo was known as Il Corriere Italiano (the Italian Courier).  The paper was published from 1898 until the 1950s.   The editor of the paper also published a book in 1908 called La Citta di Buffalo, NY (the City of Buffalo, NY) which was written to bring potential immigrants from Italy.

Most of Buffalo’s Italians worked as laborers.  Many of the Italians worked on construction of the Pan-American Exposition in the northern part of the City of Buffalo in 1901.  During the Pan-American Exposition, the Italians were represented by the Venice in America attraction on the Midway of the Exposition.  The attraction included mandolin and guitarist players.

Here is a view of the area from 1921:

1921 View of the Area

1921 View of the Area

During the 1920s, New York State began to fill in the Erie Canal.  At the time, the abandoned canal waters stood stagnant and polluted.  By the 1930s, the area was considered one of Buffalo’s worst slums.  Citizens living in the “proper” part of Buffalo continued to cast their eyes down on the waterfront.   City Planners began a 40-year fight to change the area to create something new on the waterfront, to create something of which the whole city could be proud.

A typical tenement in Dante Place - 42 Fly Street

A typical tenement in Dante Place – 42 Fly Street

Little Italy lingered on for a little longer; however, the neighborhood began to look old and dilapidated.  Many of the Italians from Little Italy began to integrate into the rest of the city, as their families began to earn enough to move into houses on the Lower West Side.  The paved streets, concrete sidewalks and trees of the Lower West Side was seen as an improvement from the manure filled cobblestones and wooden sidewalks of the Canal District.  In 1949, Mount Carmel Church closed, and St. Anthony’s on Court Street replaced it as the main Italian church in Buffalo.  The Italians celebrated many of the feast days with parades and large religious festivities.  Among these was the Feast of St. Anthony, when people came together for a parade and festivities.  The St. Anthony’s Festival on Connecticut Street began in 1976 as a way to bring back the days of the old traditions.  The Connecticut Street festival was moved to Hertel Avenue in the 1980s and is the annual Italian Heritage Festival, held every summer and attracting an estimated 600,000 annually.

A 1947 painting titled Dante Place by Joseph Carvana

A 1947 painting titled Dante Place by Joseph Carvana

In 1936, one of the residents of a tenement in Dante Place lit a candle and went into the basement, causing a Natural Gas explosion that lifted the entire building off its foundations.  Five people died in the blast, bringing national attention to slum areas, which spurred new legislation.   Buffalo quickly moved to raze the substandard buildings in Dante Place, and by 1937, over 160 buildings had been demolished.  In 1948, only 90 families remained in the area.  The Buffalo Courier Express noted in October 1936 that this may have been the first slum clearance rehabilitation project in the United States.  In the 13 block area, there had once been 1500 residents and by 1936, there were only 124 remaining.

City officials used Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds to construct Memorial Auditorium on the northeastern portion of Little Italy.  The Aud replaced the Broadway Auditorium.   When construction began, the Buffalo News reported:

As if overnight, the Terrace once more is coming to life.  The massive new hall will be the mainstay, but city planners also want to improve the section with a boulevard in the old canal bed, waterfront parks and relocation, if not removal of the New York Central tracks.  Visible proof of these good intentions is construction of the new hall.

Postcard of Memorial Auditorium

Postcard of Memorial Auditorium

The Aud opened in October 1940.  The Aud was host to many events, including circuses, concerts, sports and political events.  Over the years, the Aud was home to the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL, the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, the Buffalo Braves of the NBA, the Buffalo Stallions of the MSL, the Buffalo Bandits of the MILL, the Buffalo Blizzard of the NPSL, and the Buffalo Stampede of the RHI.  Additionally,  The last of the old saloons was the Peacock Grill, located at 136 Dante Place.  In 1950, Libby and Joe Guillo sold the rights to the Peacock Grill building and moved up to Main Street.  The era of the Canal District as Little Italy had ended.

Stay tuned for Part Three, which discusses the last 60 years of Buffalo’s Canal District.

Learn about other streets by checking out the Street Index.

Sources:

  1. Courier Express Dec 17, 1952 p 15
  2. Buffalo Evening News 4-15-1950 “Echoes of Revelry Have Faded out and Earth-Movers Clang Away.
  3. “Housing Project Rises where Canalers Roistered” Courier Express 10-29-1952
  4. “Lusty Canal St. Lived Hard and Fast in Heyday” Courier Express 10-26-1952
  5. “Dante Area Streets Get Single Name” Courier Express, November 11, 1960 Buffalo Streets Vol 1.
  6. America’s Crossroads:  Buffalo’s Canal Street/ Dante Place.  Buffalo NY Heritage Press, 1993.
  7. Dug’s Dive.   Buffalo Express Saturday Morning August 29,1874
  8. Hart, Mary Bronson.  Partitioning Poverty:  Zones of Influence in Social Work.  Boston Evening Transcript.  August 29, 1900.  http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2249&dat=19000829&id=z40-AAAAIBAJ&sjid=qFkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6968,6102881
  9. Yans-McLaughlin, Virginia.  Family and Community:  Italian Immigrants in Buffalo, 1880-1930.
  10. Maggiotto, Anthony, Sr.  LaTerra Promessa:  The Promised Land:  200 Years of WNY Italian-American Experiences.  Federation of Italian-American Societies of Western New York,  2007.
  11. Mary E. Remington Founder of Dante Place Mission.  Buffalo Courier Express, August 27, 1933.  P 4.

Read Full Post »

Sheepie Niagara

The most popular sheep in Niagara Falls

Nonprofit AF

Exploring the fun and frustrations of nonprofit work

Gather by Image

An anagram. And a reason to write... to Grieve... to Heal

Planners On Tour

People, places and planning around the world by bicycle.

Queen City Simmer

Cooking + Eating in Buffalo NY

Let's Go Ride a Bike

Adventures in city cycling

Currant Events*

Thoughts too big to tweet from @UpPastryPlate