20 Prospect has not always been the ancestral home for the clan. As I mentioned in a previous post, I come from a long line of immigrant gypsies that have drifted the U.S. on economic tides. Mom & Dad only moved us here in the early 60’s in search of a place “to raise a family”. They were lucky, Dad’s union job with the Power Company allowed him to post out to our small Upstate town, and with the money they had been saving they were able to buy a small house on Vine, before later moving into our palacial 20P.
So despite my grounding in this place, it was not the place that formed my parents. Their formation took place on the Northside of Buffalo in the 30’s and 40’s. In Riverside & Black Rock.
Black Rock, was part of the Industrial north side of Buffalo, and home to Poles, Germans, and other Eastern European immigrants. The development of Riverside began in 1890, it was less industrial than Black Rock, and being located along the Niagara River offered a taste of suburbia while still being just a trolley ride from town. Our families relocated to the area from Pittsburgh, and Syracuse, during the Depression in search of work.
Mom grew up in her Grandmothers house, on Tonawanda Street. It was a rental that at various times was home to several of Mom’s aunts and uncles. Mom had 12 aunts and uncles, and countless cousins, and despite only having one sibling, she grew up in a family so large I have never quite been able to keep the relations straight in my head. (Note to self, get Sis to write it down someday). The home was on the corner of Roswell, where the parking lot for the Serb Hall now stands.
Growing up she went to school around the corner at Warren G. Harding Elementary School on Riverdale. (Yes, just like Ralphie in A Christmas Story). The school is closed now, but the building still stands, and is home to the Town Boys & Girls Club,. Dad was 7 years older than Mom, and was a kid when his family moved to Black Rock. They seemed to bounce around a lot before he dropped out of High School and joined the Air Force in the early 50’s.
They met when Mom was 19. Dad was back from the service, and living with his parents around the corner on Edgar street. Mom was living with her mother & little brother in an apartment on Tonadwanda at the time. She used to see him walking thorugh the neighborhood, and thought he was handsome and asked her Mother who he was. Now Granny was working as a barmaid at Dick’s Bar, and knew just about everyone in the neighborhood. She introduced them one evening, and the courtship began. They were married within the year, and moved into the apartment above Dad’s parents on Edgar Street. (Edgar Street is technically in Tonawanda, just a few blocks over the border from Buffalo.)
Three kids quickly followed, and by 1963 they began to look to leave Riverside. Dad was working days for the at the Huntley Power Plant, and tending bar at night to bring in extra cash. The house on Edgar street backed up to the Chevy Engine plant. Chevy was expanding their parking lot, and buying up the houses on the North Side of Edgar, which became the push they needed to leave for Batavia. Riverside had been on the downturn since the early 50’s, when the construction of the Niagara section of the NY thruway cut the neighborhood off from the river.
My first memories of Riverside are from the early 70’s. Granny was living in an apartment above Dick’s Bar, and we would go visit. I remember sitting at the bar, eating pretzels, and going for a walk in the buggy down to Riverside Park to see a parade, and ride the rides at a carnival there. Riverside was a little ragged around the edges, but had escaped the steep decline of places like the East Side. It still maintained a business district at Vulcan and Tonawanda, and despite the influx of new ethnic groups, the old Eastern European roots held on.
After Granny got cancer, and had to move in with us our trips to Riverside were reduced to the occasional weddings, funerals, and anniversary parties at the Serb Hall. My Dad’s folks (Ma & Pa) had moved out to the suburbs of Tonawanda in the early 60’s, and there was little reason to go into the city. I remember once Dad took me for a drive down to the old neighborhood, and we stopped in to the Dalamatia Hotel for a visit. I felt like a grown up sitting at the bar with my 7-up, and the locals made a fuss about me. God bless it, but it still stands there today.I give you the Dalmatia Hotel.
From the looks of it though, Dick’s is now a Duplex. Oh well. I guess they couldn’t rely on the lunch time crowd from the Chevy plant pouring in to get a quick buzz on anymore.
Next time I am back in B-town, I just might have to bore my kids by driving them up to the “old neighborhood” and give them a glimpse back into our family’s past. I’m not sure Mrs. 20 Prospect would approve of a visit to the Dalmatia Hotel though…
For a much more elegiac remembrance of the way things used to be in Buffalo, before the depression of the 70’s from which it still is struggling to recover, check out Verlyn Klinkeborg’s novel, “The Last Fine Time”. It does a better job explaining the sense of place (Buffalo’s East Side) than I could ever do.