Forgotten Buffalo: Historic & Hip...An Urban Explorer's Guide to the Buffalo-Niagara Region: Unique Landmarks, Historic Gin Mills, Old World Neighborhoods, History, Nickel City Oddities, Tours and More!
"The East Side the way I remember it" - Polka Legend Larry Trojak
Coit & Peckham Streets looking towards St. Stans. 1935 Click on picture to visit my St. Stan's website.
I was recently asked why I became so interested in Buffalo’s Polonia. The answer is simple.... my family. At an early age my parents, Patrick and Joann Biniasz and maternal grandparents Roman and Mary Lipinski exposed me to the uniqueness of the sites, personalities and customs that defined our community. Waking up at in the morning to visit the Broadway Market on Good Friday, sitting next to my Grandmother Mary in the choir loft at St. Stan’s, attending events at the Corpus Christi Athletic Club with my grandfather Roman. Simple exposure to Polonia as a child had a lasting effect.
As an adult I reacquainted myself with Polonia and the Eastside. Although great change has taken place over the decades, I tried looked past the blight and neglect. The Polonia I envisioned was that of former homes of hard working families, churches built through great sacrifice by poor immigrants and the sites of legendary business that continue to evoke positive memories.
Sattlers, Transfiguration, The Broadway Grill, and Xavier’s Meats are all things of the past, but there is currently a historic renaissance taking place as people rediscover the Eastside Polonia. The monumental work to stabilize Central Terminal, the beautification and modernization of St. Stanislaus, the continued efforts of the Broadway Market to reinvent itself and the building of a strong faith based community at Corpus Christi. On a weekend night is not uncommon to see the Adam Mickiewicz Hall filled with young professionals sampling a Zywiec or toasting a taste of krupnik. At night Polonia has been turned into a “City of Light” as the illuminated towers draw the attention of downtown visitors.
50 new families at Corpus Christi this year, over 20,000 people have become reacquainted with Central Terminal through public open house and tours. This is proof that the Eastside’s poor reputation can be overcome and people will support events and institutions that provide unique, authentic experiences.
As we continue to unite a Polonia that has experienced a great diaspora from its roots at Broadway Fillmore. I ask that individuals and organizations consider investing their time and efforts where it all began. It is important for current and future generations that there is a Historic Polonia to call home. Take part in clean up days, hold a meeting at one of the many halls or drive the extra 20 minutes to attend your ancestral parish. Experience the architectural and spiritual beauty that you can only find on the Eastside. You will not regret it.
Just as we cherish Polish literature, music, art and beloved old world holiday traditions, so to is it important to preserve Polish-American landmarks and tradition that evolved on the Eastside for the last 100 years.
Buffalo Courier Express 1970s
"Polonia" was the term used to refer to the colony of Polish immigrants who settled primarily on Buffalo's East Side during the last few decades of the 19th Century. While this was not the neighborhood where all Poles settled—there were pockets of Polish families throughout the city, including Black Rock, parts of the West Side and in North Buffalo—it was the area with the heaviest concentration of Polish settlers, most of whom were arriving from the rural and agricultural sections of what was then a divided Poland. While many were trying to escape a homeland ruled by three foreign powers—Prussia, Austria and Russia—it is more likely they were looking for opportunity that they lacked in the stagnant socially stratified peasant life in the "old world." Click on images to enlarge.
Jan 1, 1954, Mayor Pankow takes the oath of office at City Hall. Picture from the collection of Ed Kantowski.
Polonia comes alive with Easter activities By TOM BUCKHAM Buffalo News Staff Reporter 3/27/2005
The Broadway Market bustled, baskets were blessed in Corpus Christi Catholic Church, and polka music filled the crisp, sunlit afternoon air on Gibson and Sienkiewicz streets as Easter weekend took on a decidedly ethnic flavor Saturday in the heart of Polonia. In the vast East Side market, where shoppers spring up like crocuses this time of year, customers stood elbow-to-elbow waiting to buy ham, pork, beef, chicken, duck, bread and dessert for Easter Sunday dinner.
At Malczewski's Poultry Shoppe, a refrigerated case that had been well-stocked before the Good Friday rush was bare except for a hand-printed sign: "Sold out of butter lambs, cheese and potato pierogi."
The shelves were nearly barren at the Al Cohen bakery stall. "We were probably out of bread by 10 o'clock," said a worker behind the counter, which was down to its last few pastries.
On the other hand, chocolate did not seem in short supply. The line was five deep at Strawberry Island, where parents and children waited patiently to buy berries or sections of banana, pineapple and orange hand-dipped in milk chocolate.
On the roof of the market's parking ramp, about two dozen people with an appetite for local history joined preservationist Timothy Tielman for the start of a walking tour of the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, once the heart of Buffalo's Polish community.
From that vantage point could be seen the entire square-mile area where, from the early 1870s through World War I, 80,000 immigrants settled, fleeing a homeland that had been partitioned by its neighbors and an agrarian economy that was undergoing forced industrialization.
Many of the 15,000 "Polish cottages" built to accommodate the new arrivals remain standing, pointed out Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture.
Characteristically very narrow and very long - telescoping as much as 100 feet from front to back - these distinctive 11/2-story clapboard structures often sheltered several families at once. People slept in shifts and went out to the street for entertainment.
The neighborhood's dense population in the late 19th century explains the profusion of Catholic churches, whose towers and spires extend into the sky in every direction from the market.
St. Stanislaus on Peckham Street, built in 1973, remains Polonia's mother church. But once the influx of immigrants became a torrent, it could not serve the 20,000 people who flocked to Mass. Corpus Christi, St. Mary of Sorrows, Transfiguration, St. John Kanty and others soon rose up nearby.
Construction bred competition among the parishes, Tielman said as he led the group to Corpus Christi, a Romanesque basilica on Clark Street where the Rev. Sebastian Hanks stood in the middle of the huge sanctuary, blessing Easter baskets brought in by parishioners.
"Corpus Christi wanted its towers to be higher than St. Stan's," he said, "but no one knows whose are actually higher."
As second- and third-generation Polish-Americans moved to neighborhoods farther from downtown, and from there to the suburbs, churches emptied, and blight moved in.
Volunteer groups have stepped in to save Corpus Christi and similar architectural marvels in recent years, and the towers of Corpus Christi, St. Stanislaus and the nearby Central Terminal are now floodlit at night, "which shows the power of these things in the neighborhood," Tielman told the tour group.
Now preservationists are turning their attention to the cottages, which, Tielman argued, are as vital to the city's architectural history as Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House and Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building.
Pointing to a row of houses in the shadow of Corpus Christi's imposing stone towers, he said: "This type of landscape has value, too. We're trying to figure out a way to rescue the Polish cottages."
St. Stanislaus B & M Parish. Visit www.St.StansBuffalo.com for more info.
Corpus Christi Parish
Buffalo's nickname the "City of Light" has never been more true than in Buffalo's Historic Polonia. Both St. Stan's and Christi's have set the neighborhood a glow with new outdoor lights. Following the lighting of Central Terminal in the 90s, the parishes have made great attempts at beautifying thier historic structures. Corpus Christi was first on the block with illumination. Not to be outdone, St. Stan's stepped up the "watts race" with a dazzling display that can be scene for miles. Next time you drive downtown on the 190, look over and see the show in full effect.
My grandparents home located at 124 Coit Street is typical of the thousands of wood framed dwellings built by German developer Joseph Bork. It was Bork who donated the land for St. Stanislaus Parish. This picture was take in the early 1940s. In addition to Bork, ownership of the property can be traced back to Charles Townsend (Townsend St.), Guilford Wilson (Wilson St.) and George Coit for whom the street is named after. The lot size is 30 feet (Front) by 108 feet (Deep). The barn in the rear of the picture was built by the Broadway Brewing & Malting Company and still stands today (2004).
124 Coit Street 1941
Coit Street 2001
A "Polonia Cottage" on Broadway. This photo was taken during the summer of 2001. Just recently were the long windows and architectural moldings removed. First Germans, then Poles will call these structures home.
Well kept homes on Sobieski Street in 2002. Most commom modifications made during the 50s and 60s were new windows and the addition of front porches.
The structure at 42 Wilson Street is one of the best-preserved “Bork Cottages” in Polonia. Having had some remodeling in the 20s, it still retains much of its original architectural integrity. The home has been in the Zielinski Family for over 125 years. Current owner Henry Zielinski has taken great pride in maintaining this example of East Side architecture that was once a common sight on the Eastside. (Picture taken 10/04)
This view of St. Stans taken from the roof of the Broadway Market shows the unique landscape of Polonia. Hundreds of wood framed homes huddled around towering churches. Each day Buffalo loses more and more of these "Polish Flats" or "Bork Cottages" that dramatically change the "feel" of the Eastside.
East side of Coit Street, 1940s
Typically one of the WORST snow plowed streets in the city. It is common to encounter "ruts" the size of the Grand Canyon. Another shot of Coit Street a few days after a 1980s snowstorm.
Newton & Hilton Street. Delicatessens, taverns, bakeries, etc were no more than a few houses away. Hundreds of small business owners catered to the needs of Polonia. This view was taken during the summer of 2004.
Newton and Hilton Street are in the shadow of Central Terminal. The street represents one of the best preserved blocks of traditional Eastside residential and retail structures.
By the time Buffalo celebrated the turn of the century, the Poles who arrived in the 1870 had already adjusted to life in the United States. Many prospered in business, banking, etc building large homes on Fillmore Ave.
Fillmore Ave became the "Delaware Ave." of Polonia. It was the place to be seen even if you did not live in one of the grand mansion. My Grandmother recalls dressing in her finest on Sunday afternoons and strolling down the boulevard with her family to Humbolt Park.
Peckham and Gibson Streets 2001
Peckham St between Gibson and Lombard 2001
Home with well preserved barn. Fillmore Ave at Paderewski Drive. 2001
60 Ashly Street. This was taken about Dec 1946. Dolores' grandmother, Katarzyna (WENCKOWSKA)SZALASNA, NASIOLOWSKI, WOZNIAK lived in the upper back apartment and for a time Dolores' parents (Walter & Bronislawa (PRZYBYSZ) SZALASNY ran the grocery store there until they moved back to the property Dolores' mother owned after the death of her first husband, Wojciech WALAS at 23 Mills St Buffalo NY.
Lindbergh Drive near Filmore 1934
Lindbergh Drive was renamed Memorial Drive. The steeple of St. Stans can be seen towards the rear of the home to the right.
Joseph Jankowski's Tobacco Store
Jankowski's as seen during the Spring of 2005. Filmore at Paderewski Drive. Who will save the landscape of Polonia?
To serve the growing immigrant population of the Eastside, hundreds of business took up shop in and around the intersection of Broadway and Fillmore Avenues. With the founding of the Broadway Market 1888, the Broadway Fillmore Shopping District soon rivaled Downtown's Main Street as Buffalo's retail hub.