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!
There’s a distinct buzz in the air in the Broadway/Fillmore district, the historic home of Buffalo’s Polish immigrant community—and it’s not just the sizzle of fresh pierogies in preparation for the upcoming Dyngus Day celebration.
It’s hope. Real change. Thanks to the work of a number of proud residents and dedicated members of the grassroots, nonprofit, religious, business, preservation, and political communities, this storied and once-thriving East Side neighborhood is sprouting visible and tangible examples of real progress to combat the blight and urban prairification that has threatened it for decades. There are many who believe in this neighborhood and are using its multitude of surviving architectural, cultural, and residential treasures to build the foundation for a diverse, rejuvenated, and reinvented urban community.
This movement took a major step late in 2010 when two such Polonia proponents, Marty Biniasz and Eddy Dobosiewicz—known to many as the organizers of Forgotten Buffalo Tours and Dyngus Day Buffalo—founded the nonprofit Despensata Corporation to provide a central hub for the revitalization efforts that have been building momentum over the past five years. Despensata worked with Fillmore District Common Council Member David Franczyk to obtain one of the neighborhood’s landmark structures for its headquarters, the century-old bank building at the corner of Broadway and Fillmore. Now, its first order of business is underway—to obtain a historic designation for what Biniasz and Dobosiewicz have outlined as the Historic Polonia District, a triangular portion of the neighborhood located between Broadway, Fillmore Avenue, and Memorial Drive. Representative Louise Slaughter is helping the organization bring preservation and political entities together to determine and obtain the historic designation that will best fit this community.
The authenticity of the neighborhood is attracting what Biniasz and Dobosiewicz call “urban pioneers” longing for a unique city living experience. They cite the examples of a few who recently moved into the neighborhood through creative means: one bought a Polish Veterans hall and built a loft space on the second floor for his primary residence; one rescued a mansard-roof-topped carriage house hours before scheduled demolition; another is renovating a 1910 firehouse. While prices skyrocket in the currently hipper parts of the city, homes here can be bought and fixed up for probably a quarter of that cost—providing excellent opportunities for young professionals, artists, or starting families, Dobosiewicz says: “You’ll be building equity in a cool, funky, urban environment, with lots of amenities within walking distance, and less than two miles from downtown. It’s a no-brainer.”
Other developments are breathing new life into the district. The jaw-dropping restorations of St. Stanislaus Church and Corpus Christi Church highlight the architectural assets of the area. Corpus Christi, rescued from oblivion and now run by the Polish order of the Paulines, recently recorded an actual increase in parishioners, its first in close to 100 years. The Central Terminal Restoration Corporation has a new approach to redevelopment and is attracting attention statewide. The historic Adam Mickiewicz Library & Dramatic Circle continues to host the highly regarded Torn Space Theater. Forgotten Buffalo and the annual Dyngus Day party are introducing more and more Buffalonians to the district’s many unique and quirky taverns, social clubs, and other sites.
Revitalization, however, is never an easy road. First, there’s the common perception that the area is particularly gang-infested, drug-laden, and dangerous. Not true, say Biniasz and Dobosiewicz, adding they feel it’s no more dangerous than Elmwood, Allentown, or other popular areas. Next, the “haphazard demolition” of homes needs to stop, Biniasz says: “People look at these as throwaway structures. They’re not—they tell a story of Buffalo. And they are at a size that a young urbanite can take on.”
The greatest challenge may be getting the city to make a serious commitment to development of the Broadway Market, the historic public marketplace that Biniasz says is the key to everything.
Biniasz concludes, “The positives outweigh the challenges at this point. … It’s been a successful venture so far. We have really started to see a groundswell of awareness and positive attitude.”
“It couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time,” Dobosiewicz says, “because my throat is killing me. We’ve been yelling and screaming for so many years now about the coolness and the uniqueness of this neighborhood, and all of a sudden it seems like we’ve started to reach a critical mass.”