Eddie and the Art Deco, Architectural Tripping to Niagara

Saturday, July 22nd my partner Susan and I visited the Niagara Region, like we sometimes do to pick up mail from the USPS box we keep in New York State to partly overcome expensive Canadian shipping charges. We love Buffalo for various of reasons, the people for example. If you want to find conventional, working class and entrepreneurial Americans look no further. Susan is an NFL and Buffalo Bills fan.

Niagara Falls Main Street, USPS. Architect James Knox Taylor, 1906. “French Neoclassical style with Beaux-Arts details”

There are family ties for me. My Grandpa George Tompkins, born in Greensboro, NC relocated to Buffalo at six years of age with mother Clara, née Moore, and younger brother Harry. The Tompkins were living in Wilberforce, OH where my Great-Grandfather George Sr was Professor of Engineering. Following his death in 1918 the family moved into a house next to my Great-Grandmother’s parents in Buffalo’s Matsen Park neighbourhood.

Additionally, the architecture is an attracting force. Parts can feel rural, are neglected like other northern American cities. The stretch north out of the city to Niagara Falls is in places a condemned chemical wasteland. Buffalo though, the City of Light, is a treasure of structural design. Being so close to the Falls, the area benefitted greatly when the electric era ramped up in the late 19th century. Buffalo is recognized as the first American city to be widely electrified. Area industry and architecture thrived from power’s availability.

Three of Buffalo’s most impressive architectural towers are the Art Deco City Hall and Central Terminal, currently awaiting redevelopment, and the Beaux Arts Electric Tower. The Lonely Planet wrote about the city in 2020 as one of the World’s eleven most impressive centres for Art Deco architecture.

Dr Antonia Pantoja Community School of Excellence

Aspirants will find working examples of Art Deco buildings and influence beyond the renown, if they know what to look for. Take the Antonia Pantoja charter school for example. While the entire building likely wouldn’t be referred to as a shining example of Jazz Age extravagance, two entrances to School No 18 recall the earlier era.

Then there’s Cosuma Auto. We met and chatted with Eddie (sp), originally from the Dominican Republic, about his approximate 30 years repairing all makes and models of automobiles in the city. Cosuma has two locations in the Upper West Side where we were visiting.

Cosuma Auto and Eddie, repairing all brands of cars

There’s a unique centre of activity, roughly at the corner of East and Amherst Streets, that is a locus of formerly functional buildings in a once independent municipality known as Black Rock. There is the abandoned TRAN’S DELI that caught Susan’s eye, being originally from Vietnam. TRAN’S was closed but, according to advertising, was serving cold Labbat’s and Molson’s in addition to packs of Newport not too long ago.

The original location of Fire Engine No 15, built in the Arts and Crafts style with an Italianate tower to dry the hoses after fighting blazes.

Beside the fire hall, was a peaceful and lush looking garden. Susan pointed out the irony of the metal escape stairs leading from the station into the garden. Who you gonna to call? Really?

Black Rock is home to Buffalo’s Religious Arts Center. The gallery “was established in 2008 to collect and preserve fine art from the many houses of worship that were forced to close their doors.” Entrance is only by appointment. The Arts Center also welcomes weddings to the former St. Francis Xavier Church. The neighbourhood reminded us of earlier simpler times missed by many.

That said, Buffalo’s new single family homes are often also welcome additions that inspire Upper West Side living and harken a new cosmopolitan scene. The sense that good design can be for everybody is felt more so than in North York, for example. Industrial and residential, the Queen City is home to an exciting architectural catalogue.

Visitors to the area will find that many remaining buildings have a new function. Like with Toronto, often this is dining. We ate some tasty and plentiful mixed tortillas at the recently opened Taqueria Ranchos on the Empire State Trail before heading for the Peace Bridge and Canada.

Then, just prior to crossing the border and returning to our home and native land, for an increased fee of $10.75CAD if traveling in a standard automobile ($4USD with transponder), we happened on to a building still associated with its original function.

Freedom isn’t free. Buffalo’s Connecticut Street Armory was constructed by Architect Isaac G. Perry with Captain Williams Lansing from 1869 to 1899, then rebuilt in 1982. The fortified castle remains the headquarters for the 153rd Detachment Troop Command Brigade, the 427th Brigade of the Support Battalion, 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion and 152nd Engineer Support Company. The United States appears prepared for any riverine attack launched from Fort Erie.