Save Willert Park Courts/AD Price Courts

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Preservation Buffalo Niagara has been working hard with our community partners, including the Michigan Street Preservation Corporation, for nearly a decade to preserve this important part of Buffalo’s past. It has been announced that Willert Park/AD Price Courts will be receiving Docomomo US 2020 Modernism in American Advocacy Award

We are thrilled to share this news, Docomomo’s press release and our press release.

1. Send an email to the BMHA

2. Become a member of PBN to ensure we have the resources necessary to fight this fight!

3. Share photos or memories of Willert Park/A.D. Price Courts – are you a former resident? Contact Tabitha to share your story and make it part of our research and archives.

 

 

 

To read more about
Preservation Buffalo Niagara’s advocacy
for Willert Park/AD Price Courts click here.

Click here to read the letter from the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH)
opposing the proposed demolition of the Willert Park Courts / Alfred D. Price Courts, Buffalo, NY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gay Places with Dr. Jeff – 140 North Street

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Welcome to Gay Places with Dr. Jeffry Iovannone. PBN’s newest blog series is dedicated to celebrating and learning more about the historic LGBTQ landmarks of Western New York. With this space we will highlight the work of Dr. Iovannone and other guest writers to provide insight to the LGBTQ history associated with our existing historic built environment- narratives which are frequently forgotten, ignored, or purposely left out.

 

140 North Street, Buffalo, New York
By Dr. Jeffry Iovannone

140 North Street, located in the historic Allentown neighborhood, just west of Delaware Avenue, is the site of the Lenox Hotel. The Lenox, originally known as the Lenox Apartment House, was designed by architects Loverin & Whelan and constructed in 1896 as a 24-apartment building. In 1901, the property was transformed into a 48-room luxury hotel for women and men of economic means who came to visit Buffalo’s Pan-American Exposition. The exposition coincided with Buffalo’s economic height, and the style and function of the Lenox reflected this with its elaborate and ornamental detailing.

At the time, Loverin & Whelan described the Lenox Apartment House as “Venetian Gothic.” From a twenty-first-century architectural perspective, the building contains elements of what we now call Chateauesque style. Chateauesque was briefly popular in the United States between 1880 and 1910. The style is based on the grand sixteenth-century chateaus of France and contain a mixture of both Gothic and Renaissance details. Chateauesque was popularized in the United States by Richard Morris Hunt, the first American architect to study at France’s prestigious Ėcole des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts). Hunt was influenced by the nineteenth-century revival of Chateauesque architecture and, upon returning to the United States, created similar buildings for his wealthy clients. Chateauesque has several identifying features, including steeply pitched hipped roofs; busy roof lines that contain elements such as spires, turrets, or gables; dormer windows; metal cresting on the roof ridges; and arched windows and doors.

An illustration of the original Lenox Apartment House from the Buffalo Courier (May 10, 1896).

The first two stories of the Lenox are constructed of washed brick and terra cotta and the upper stories of buff brick and terra cotta. The building is divided into two wings with a recessed courtyard in between. In its original condition, the Lenox featured an entrance portico with terra cotta ogee arches (an arch with two serpentine curves that meet at an apex), Renaissance detailing, and a balustrade with finials. The building also featured arched windows and doors with ogee hoods and Renaissance detailing, molded cornices, and metal cresting along the roof line. Many of these character-defining features were removed upon subsequent remodelings of the Lenox, particularly during the 1940s and in 2005 when the building was sold to new ownership.

Robert Uplinger, who went by “Bob” or “Bobby,” moved to Allentown in the early 1970s to be near his own kind: Buffalo’s gay community. He took up residence in the Somerset apartment building located at 228 Summer Street, one block north of the Lenox. Bob, an out gay man, grew up on Buffalo’s West Side and was secure in his sexuality from a young age. “I didn’t see anything wrong since it was my natural orientation,” he later explained. “It was a fact, and I couldn’t help it if others were unable to understand it.” Beginning in the late 1960s, Allentown became associated with Buffalo’s gay commuity, in addition to artists, musicians, and other bohemians. Racial tensions on the East Side caused white-owned gay bars to relocate west of Main Street, and anti-vice campaigns centered around Chippewa and Washington streets forced gays and sex workers to move their nightly operations northward. 

Portrait of Bob Uplinger by Marc Krygier that accompanied George Sax’s profile in the February 1984 issue of Christopher Street.

Standing at five feet three inches tall, Bobby Uplinger was short in stature but had personality in abundance. After receiving his M.A. in Elementary Education, Uplinger took a Civil Service job teaching troubled youth within the Buffalo schools. He was out to his family, friends, and co-workers and was highly respected by gay and straight memebers of the community. Uplinger also participated in the local gay organizations Gay Professionals and the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier and was a practitioner of Eastern philosophy and meditation. 

Bob was a popular and well-known fixture of the gay Allentown crowd. On the hot, muggy night of August 7th of 1981, the then 30-year-old Uplinger, clad in a tank top to both stave off the mid-summer humidity and increase his chances of finding a companion, went to a local gay bar (most likely Mean Alice’s/City Lights or the Villa Capri). Later, as he walked home along North Street around 3 A.M., Uplinger noticed a handsome young man sitting on the steps of the Lenox Hotel (the steps have now been replaced by a semi-circular driveway). The section of North Street between Delaware Avenue and Irving Street, where the hotel was located, was a popular “cruising” area for gay men and male and female sex workers.

“Hi, how are you?” the ever-personable Uplinger asked as he walked over to the young man. The two struck up a conversation, and Bob even introduced the young man to a few of his friends who passed by. Their casual banter continued until a police car drove up and the officer told the group to “move on.” As Uplinger and the young man walked toward the corner of North and Irving Street, Uplinger asked if he wanted to go back to his apartment. “Why?” the young man asked, to which Uplinger countered, “Well, do you just want to come over?” “No, I’m scared with the police. I’m going to leave,” the young man responded. Uplinger, growing impatient, made the following offer: “If you drive me over to my place,” he said, “I’ll blow you.” 

These were the exact words the young man wanted to hear—but not because he was hoping to make a sexual connection with Uplinger. The young man was, in fact, Buffalo Police Department undercover vice officer Steven Nicosia. Nicosia was part of an undercover campaign to scare gay men away from cruising in the residential areas of Allentown. The campaign was initiated by Erie County District Attorney Richard J. Arcara, who claimed that police received frequent complaints about the sexual cruising activities of gay men in Allentown. Given the neighborhood’s historic status, Arcara worried gay men were sullying Allentown’s reputation and terrorizing its heterosexual residents by flaunting their homosexuality in public. 

Chosen for his boyish good looks, Nicosia, as a rookie vice cop, was eager to prove himself. He arrested Uplinger on the spot at the corner of North and Irving streets. Uplinger hadn’t recognized Nicosia as an Allentown regular and had, earlier in their conversation, asked if he was a police officer, which Nicosia denied. As he was taken to the police car—the same one that drove by earlier—Uplinger realized the design of the BPD’s undercover campaign. He was booked for violating a section of the New York Penal Code, which prohibited “loitering in a public place for the purpose to engage in deviate sexual intercourse or other sexual behavior of a deviate nature.” Uplinger remained calm and collected as he was put into the police car, asking Nicosia and his superior officer what the charges against him were, and why. Uplinger felt they acted fairly towards him, but when they arrived at headquarters, the officer who took his mugshot said, “Because of people like you, we have to make extra fingerprints and send them to the FBI.” He presumably meant “deviates,” like Uplinger and his kind, forced the BPD to do extra work.

The night of August 7th of 1981 was not Bob Uplinger’s first run-in with an undercover police officer, however. When he was 18, Uplinger had been kicked out of a private Catholic high school in Buffalo after the principal discovered he had been picked up by an undercover officer downtown in a former gay cruising area. This was in 1969 when gay bars in Buffalo were few and far between, so gays would meet on Washington Street. Uplinger, who had been “out” since age 15, was senior class president, a four year letterman in track, and a member of the debate, drama, and glee clubs. Despite being an upstanding and engaged student, Uplinger’s principal called him “sick and depraved.” A priest at the school, whom Uplinger had confided in about his arrest, broke his code of ethics and informed the principal. Uplinger was forced out four months prior to his graduation, but received his diploma anyway. The judge placed a gag order on the case due to Uplinger’s age, and his attorney, who had him plead to a lesser charge, assured him he wouldn’t have a record. This was actually untrue, and following his second arrest, Uplinger learned that he did, indeed, have a criminal record.  

Bob Uplinger’s mugshots and fingerprints, taken on August 7th of 1981. Image courtesy of the Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State.

A friend of Uplinger’s came down to the station and paid his $100 bail. He had already decided he would fight the charges. “What really angered me,” Uplinger later explained in an interview, “was the fact that here I was, a tax-paying citizen who has a responsible job, walking home from a nearby gay bar in a predominantly gay neighboorhood I’d moved into 10 years ago, and because I asked an attractive man to go home with me in a casual, non-threatening conversation, I was arrested… I wasn’t being obnoxious or pushy, just talking in a normal way.”

Uplinger called Buffalo attorney William H. Gardner. Bill, as Gardner was more colloquially known, had made a reputation for himself representing gay men who were targeted by the BPD for sodomy or loitering charges. He had, in fact, helped a friend of Uplinger’s who was arrested previously. Gardner graduated from the University at Buffalo School of Law with his Juris Doctorate degree in 1959 and was a senior partner at the law firm Hodgson Russ. As a young lawyer, he observed how gays and lesbians were routinely harassed by the Buffalo police. The instruments used to carry out their campaign of persecution were sections of the New York Penal Code that outlawed consensual sodomy and loitering. As Gardner explains:

“Given my responsive horror to the attitudes of the authorities against the gay population in Buffalo, the only way I figured we could overcome that was to mount a crusade to overrule the laws that they were enforcing so vigorously.

I let various folks and gay organizations know that if they brought me people, I would represent them for free. If they wanted to make a case and fight the system, I was ready to do that. I was confident that sooner or later someone would show up who wanted to fight and not be a victim.”

Gardner received permission from his firm to take some of these cases pro bono, and throughout the 1960s, he routinely represented those charged under the consensual sodomy and loitering statutes. In 1970, Gardner also represented Buffalo restaurant-owner James F. Garrow when his attempts to open a gay bar and community center on Delaware Avenue were thwarted by the BPD. 

Gardner’s willingness to challenge the police stemmed from more than a personal commitment to those in need of defense and his belief that the statutes used to target gays were unconstitutional. Bill Gardner was struggling with his own sexuality. He had lived the life he thought he was supposed to. After serving in the United States Army and attending law school in the 1950s, Gardner got married and had children. It was not until the 1980s that he acknowledged his own homosexuality. By then, he had become the bane of the Buffalo Vice Squad. Gardner himself had been arrested for “cruising” in LaSalle Park, but was spared from the media and further maltreatment because of his reputation.

“Do you want to fight this?” Gardner asked Uplinger. “We can go as far as we have to take it.” Bob was certainly ready to brawl, though he was not the first to take Bill Gardner up on his offer. One of the first successful attempts to overturn a state sodomy statute was People v. Onofre, a 1980 case in which a consensual relationship between two adult males became the subject of a criminal prosecution in Syracuse, New York. Ronald Onofre initiated a consensual sexual relationship with a 17-year-old male, unnamed in the court records. The relationship deteriorated and the young man, in anger, went to the police seeking revenge, alleging he had been coerced into the relationship. Onofre and his attorney provided evidence the relationship was, in fact, consensual, but the District Attorney proceeded to charge him under New York’s misdemeanor consensual sodomy statute. First adopted in New York State in 1965, the statute made it a misdemeanor for anyone to engage in “deviate sexual intercourse.”

As Onofre’s case worked its way to the court of appeals, Bill Gardner was busy defending one of several sodomy prosecutions in the Buffalo city courts. Gardner’s clients were found guilty in the city courts, and their convictions were upheld in the Erie County Court. He thus saw the Onofre case as a vehicle for getting his clients’ convictions, and the consensual sodomy statute, overturned. Gardner filed an amicus brief on behalf of the National Committee for Sexual Civil Liberties to lend his expertise to the court of appeals consideration of Onofre’s case. 

The opinion in Onofre’s appeal, issued on January 24th of 1980, found that the consensual sodomy law violated due process and equal protection under both the federal and New York State constitutions. Thus, the statute was struck down. The court of appeals’ decision in Onofre was a landmark in sodomy litigation for several reasons. First, the court equated heterosexual and homosexual sodomy and examined the issue through the concept of sexual privacy. Second, the ruling extended the concept of privacy to behavior formerly criminalized. Finally, in striking down the sodomy statute of one of the largest states in the country, hope was given to those struggling to decriminalize gay sexuality throughout the United States. Bill Gardner had issued his first major blow to the Buffalo police.

Guided by the momentum of this victory, Gardner moved to dismiss the charges against Uplinger on the grounds that New York’s anti-loitering statute was rendered unconstitutional as a result of the Onofre ruling. His rationale was that if it was now legal to have oral sex with a consenting adult in the privacy of one’s own home, then it was surely legal to inoffensively ask one to come to one’s home for that very purpose. Straight men, furthermore, often sexually propositioned women in an aggressive manner, yet were rarely, if ever, arrested for doing so. 

Uplinger’s first trial was held on November 9th of 1981 in the city courts. Of those called to testify during the proceedings, Uplinger thought only Kenneth P. Kennedy, Captain of the Bureau of Vice Enforcement, was outwardly anti-gay. In his testimony, Kennedy asserted that connections between gay sexuality and child molestation were part of the reason for the crackdown in Allentown. The vice captain further claimed to be in possession of an informal book in which he logged complaints made to police regarding gay “cruising.” The BPD received at least four complaints per week, alleged Kennedy. However, when Gardner asked him to produce the book, Kennedy was unable to do so. Gardner’s questioning revealed what he long knew to be true: an atmosphere of systemic homophobia within the Buffalo Police Department. In the end, Judge Timothy Drury, who expressed fears the Allentown neighborhood was deteriorating, found Uplinger guilty. The case then went to the Erie County Court where Judge Joseph P. McCarthy upheld Judge Drury’s decision. 

Uplinger’s win before the NYS Court of Appeals makes the front page of the Fifth Freedom’s March 1983 issue. The Fifth Freedom was the free newspaper of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier. Image courtesy of the Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State.Front page news

People v. Uplinger next made its way to the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany where a panel of seven judges voted 6-to-1 in Uplinger’s favor. “I argued that you couldn’t have a situation where consensual sodomy was OK, but inviting someone home to have consensual sodomy was illegal,” Gardner later recounted. The judges ruled that the loitering statute was both unconstitutional and improperly used. Gardner landed yet another blow, but District Attorney Arcara filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, who agreed to review the case. When it became known that Bob Uplinger was headed to Washington, he was fired from his job within the Buffalo school system. Unemployed from mid-June of 1982 until October, he was forced to rely on support from his two sisters and brother. But Gardner, again, went to bat for Uplinger, and the impassioned educator was reinstated with seniority and back pay. 

As Uplinger waited for the Supreme Court to hear his case, now restyled as New York v. Uplinger, he received a series of harassing phone calls from people he perceived as unhappy and maladjusted gays. “Why are you rocking the boat? You deserve to be arrested for being out at that time in the morning. Everything was fine until you upset the apple cart,” they would say before hanging up. Uplinger was further distressed that the leaders of Buffalo’s various gay organizations (approximately 12 at the time) were slow to reach out and hear his story. He attributed this to the prevailing notion that gays living in mid-sized, blue-collar cities such as Buffalo should remain closeted. Uplinger began to observe a change within the community, however, and saw his case as a way to buck Buffalo’s status quo. 

As Gardner prepared for the Supreme Court, his nerves were rattled by a phone called he received from a representative of a national gay-rights group. “You’re out of your league,” the rep told him. “You should give up the case to a nationally-known constitutional lawyer.” Gardner felt he had just been chided by his high school principal. He presented this option to his client, but Uplinger remained unwavering in his support of Gardner. On January 18th of 1984, Gardner made his arguments before the nation’s highest court. He worried he would make a major blunder due to a combination of inexperience, tension, and fear—but he didn’t. The court, who issued their ruling on May 30th of 1984, ultimately dismissed the case. While the justices declined to rule on the merits in Uplinger, they did leave intact the ruling by New York’s Supreme Court that people could not be prosecuted for asking others to have “deviate sex” in the privacy of their own homes. While a landmark case, it is important to note that this Supreme Court decision, however, was not necessarily an affirmation of gay rights on the federal level. Just two years later, in  Bowers v. Hardwick, the court, in a 5-to-4 ruling, upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia sodomy law, which criminalized private consenting sexualconduct involving same-sex copules. 

Gardner had, from a legal perspective, solved the problems of sodomy and loitering within New York State. The BPD’s publicity-grabbing arrests ceased, and he turned his focus to his regular caseload. He also became more publicly involved in the gay community as a member of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier and the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus. “When you came out, you came out with a bang,” Gardner’s friend Jim Haynes told him, reflecting on the gravity of his legal victories.

Uplinger, too, re-immersed himself in his work with troubled youth, and helped to found Gay & Lesbian Youth of Buffalo (now Gay & Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York). Bob had a knack with young people, and despite being “an adult,” he easily earned their trust. Kate Gallivan, today the Senior Director of Grants Management at Evergreen Health Services, met Bob in 1984 when she started volunteering for GLYB. Volunteers would often co-facilitate Saturday discussion groups, and Kate often found herself paired with Bob, whom she liked immediately:

“He was firm but compassionate and a very good listener. He was down to earth and very empathetic. I remember him often taking one of our youth aside who was going through a hard time so that they could talk privately. It was a different time being gay then, and most of our youth lived in fear of someone finding out. Many were homeless and many were living double lives–“straight” during the week and gay when they were at GLYB. Bob spent a lot of time reassuring and empowering them, and letting them know they were ‘normal.’ They looked up to him, and I think he gave them hope because he was such a positive adult role model.”

In 1986, GLYB’s director, Mark Boser, informed the volunteers that Bob was moving to sunnier climes in Florida. It wasn’t long after that they learned he was sick, and just as quickly, GLYB received news that Bob had died from an AIDS-related illness. He was just 35 years old. Kate Gallivan, and many other members of the GLYB family, never had the chance to say goodbye. By then, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was ravaging gay communities across the country, Buffalo included. 

To honor Bob’s memory, several members of GLYB came together to create a quilt panel for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Envisioned by San Francisco gay activist Cleve Jones, the Quilt drew upon the medium of folk art to commemorate the lives of those who had died of AIDS. The idea was born in 1985 during a candlelight march to commemorate the assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Jones asked marchers to write the names of deceased loved ones on squares of cardboard that were then taped to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building. Jones and his friends began making 4-by-6-foot quilt panels in their backyards with the intention to unveil their creation on the National Mall at the October 1987 Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The march that year drew around 500,000 people, and the NAMES Project unfolded a 1,920-panel quilt that represented more than 20,000 Americans who had lost their lives to AIDS or related causes.

Bob Uplinger’s panel for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, created by Mark Boser, Robert Frank, Kate Gallivan, Jim Haynes, and Don Licht.

While Jones and his comrades labored in San Francisco, in December of 1988, Bob Uplinger’s friends gathered at the home of Jim Haynes and Don Licht on 69 Johnson Park to create their panel. The design was a tree with multi-colored, heart-shaped leaves set against a pale blue background. Bill Gardner, of course, made a heart with the scales of justice. Jim Haynes’s heart included the initialism “MSNF” to symbolize Bob’s involvement in the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier. Don Licht, Jim’s partner, made a heart that read “Love Grandma”Bob’s nickname for him. Mark Boser contributed a heart with the GLYB logo. Kate Gallivan’s heart, finally, depicted Bob with the young people from GLYB gathered around him. He was the first friend she lost to AIDS. When the group assessed their work, they noticed the “n” in “Uplinger” was sewn on backwards. The imperfection lent character to the otherwise impeccable composition. “That was just Bob having the last word,” Jim Haynes commented.

Because of Bobby Uplinger, gay people could walk the early-morning streets of Allentown unharassed, though most did not know the story of the man upon whose shoulders they now stood. Bob, however, never really saw himself as a hero. He knew there was still much work to do:

“I’ve learned that you can lull yourself into a sense of false security, thinking that something like this only happens to somebody else. I did. I thought I lived in a pretty liberal neighborhood, never realizing that a few public officials could have such legal power to adversely affect people’s lives. I’ve matured no doubt… Fortunately, I’ve always had a gay consciousness that never needed raising.”

 

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Dr. Jeff Iovannone is an historian, writer, educator, and third-generation Buffalonian who holds a Ph.D. in American Studies, specializing in gender and LGBTQ studies. He is currently at work on a book about Buffalo’s gay liberation movement from the late 1960s to the early 1980s and is an avid collector of LGBTQ historical materials. He is the coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at SUNY Fredonia and a board member of the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project. You can find more of his writing on Medium and other platforms at https://linktr.ee/drjeffgenderprof

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Bibliography

Ball, Carlos A. From the Closet to the Courtroom. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2011.

Birman, David. “Supreme Court Lets Pro-Gay Ruling Stand.” New York Native, Jun. 18, 1984.

“Court Upholds Sodomy Ruling.” The Post-Star (Glens Falls, NY), May 21, 1981.

Eskridge Jr., William N. Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003. New York, NY: Viking, 2008.

Faderman, Lillian. The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

Gardner, William H. “Living the Gay Life Style… Staying Out of Jail.” 5th Freedom (Buffalo, NY), Mar. 1983.

“Gays Challenge Law On Loitering.” Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), Aug. 14, 1981.

“Historic Lenox Hotel.” Lenox Hotel, 2020. https://lenoxhotelandsuites.com/history/

“Homosexuals Challenge State Loitering Law.” The Ithaca Journal (Ithaca, NY), Aug. 15, 1981.

Jackman, Frank. “N.Y. Sex Law Splits Top Court.” Daily News (New York, NY), May 31, 1984.

Jarzab, Sally. “Fighting the Good Fight: This gay-rights champion took his struggle all the way to the Supreme Court.” AtBuffalo, Fall 2018. http://www.buffalo.edu/atbuffalo/article-page-spring-2017.host.html/content/shared/www/atbuffalo/articles/Spring-2017/class-notes/fighting-the-good-fight.detail.html

Jones, Cleve. When We Rise: My Life in the Movement. New York, NY: Hachette Books, 2017.

Kaufman, Sarah. “Remember Our Names: Piece by piece, an AIDS memorial comes together.” Buffalo Magazine, May 4, 1989.

“Lenox Hotel, 140 North Street.” Western New York Heritage. https://www.wnyheritage.org/content/lenox_hotel_140_north_street/index.html

Leonard, Arthur S. Sexuality and the Law: An Encyclopedia of Major Legal Cases. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 1993.

Loliger, Samuel E. “Discriminatory State Law Struck Down.” 5th Freedom (Buffalo, NY), Mar. 1983.

“Loitering Statute To Be Challenged Again.” 5th Freedom (Buffalo, NY), Dec. 1981.

“MacArthur Out; Mean Alice’s Makes Changes.” 5th Freedom (Buffalo, NY), May 1981.

“Mattachine Challenges NY Loitering Law.” The Advocate, Oct. 29, 1981.

McAlester, Virginia Savage. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York, NY: Knopf, 1984, 2013.

“Meet the Press.” The Advocate, Feb. 21, 1984.

“A Model Building: The Lenox Apartment House for North Street.” Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, NY), May 10, 1986.

Monaghan, Nancy. “High Court Rejects N.Y. Sodomy Case.” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), May 19, 1981.

Murdoch, Joyce and Deb Price. Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2002.

“OUTLaw Dinner Honors a Fighter for Gay Dignity.” The Buffalo Law Experience, Apr. 2016. https://www.law.buffalo.edu/features/experience/outlaw-apr16.html

Robert Uplinger Collection, Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State.

Sax, George. “CS People: Robert Uplinger.” Christopher Street, Vol. 8 Issue 1, Feb. 1984.

Searl Jr., Hanford. “The People vs. Uplinger: The First National Test of a Gay Issue.” Connection, Vol. 3 Number 1, Nov. 9-30, 1983.

Vaid, Urvashi. “U.S. Supreme Court Reviews Gay Case.” Gay Community News (Boston, MA), Jan. 1984.

Williams, Deborah. “S-E-X… and the Law.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Dec. 26, 1980.

Interviews

“Interview with Bill Gardner.” The Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York. Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State. https://digitalcommons.buffalostate.edu/lgbtq_interviews/14

Jesse Strash, personal correspondence with author, May 15-16, 2019.

Kate Gallivan, personal correspondence with author, July 10, 2020.

 

Gay Places with Dr. Jeff – 330 Franklin Street

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Welcome to Gay Places with Dr. Jeffry Iovannone. PBN’s newest blog series is dedicated to celebrating and learning more about the historic LGBTQ landmarks of Western New York. With this space we will highlight the work of Dr. Iovannone and other guest writers to provide insight to the LGBTQ history associated with our existing historic built environment- narratives which are frequently forgotten, ignored, or purposely left out.

 

330 Franklin Street, Buffalo, New York
By Dr. Jeffry Iovannone

330 Franklin Street was formerly located on the southwest corner of Franklin and West Tupper Streets at the southern edge of the historic Allentown neighborhood. An example of late Federal townhouse style, a type of Colonial architecture, the building was a double and housed both 330 and 332 Franklin. The building was constructed of brick and, representative of Federal style, featured a low-pitched hipped roof, molded cornices emphasized by decorative brackets, and stepped gable walls. Federal buildings are additionally characterized by their symmetrical fenestration pattern, meaning the windows are aligned in horizontal and vertical rows. As with 330 Franklin, these windows are typically five-ranked on the building’s front facade. 

Photo of 330 and 332 Franklin St. dating from the 1920s. 330 is the portion of the building with the awning. Courtesy of The Buffalo History Museum.

Federal was the dominant architectural style of the newly-minted United States from approximately 1780 to 1820 as the population of the northeast grew from 3 million to 10 million. The style reached the height of its popularity in port cities along the eastern seaboard such as Boston, Providence, Newark, and Philadelphia. Federal was regarded as a refinement of the previous Georgian architectural style, and was first established by wealthy merchants in New England. In comparison to box-like Georgians, Federal buildings are typically more ornamented and have a lightness and delicacy that Georgians lack. Federal drew inspiration from contemporary European architectural trends, such as the work of the Adams brothers, who had the largest architectural firm in Britain at the time. As Buffalo was expanding at the tail end of Federal style’s popularity, many downtown examples, like 330 Franklin, often exhibited more of a vernacular feel or influence from the emerging Greek Revival style.

While the exact construction date is still to be confirmed, 330 and 332 Franklin Street was completed by 1854. The building can be found on the Quackenboss & Kennedy map of the city, identified as a second-class brick dwelling and part store. Over its lifespan, the building was home to many individuals and businesses including Boyle Brothers Plumbing Company and Tutton Battery Service in the 1920s, The Radio Doctor —a radio repair shop —in the mid-to-late 1940s, and O’Neill’s Grill from the late 1940s to the mid 1960s. The upper floors were primarily rented as apartments. 

Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Dec. 6th, 1968.

In 1968, James F. Garrow opened the Tiki Restaurant at 330 Franklin. Garrow, who was originally from Tampa, Florida, and his business played a foundational role in the beginnings of a movement for gay and lesbian civil rights in Buffalo. The Tiki opened at a time in Buffalo’s history when gay bars were routinely targeted by the Buffalo Police Department Bureau of Vice Enforcement (BVE), and few existed for an extended period of time. The closure of gay bars accelerated when Kenneth P. Kennedy became captain of the BVE in 1967. A devout Irish Catholic who saw homosexuality as both criminal and amoral, Kennedy used the authority of his position to target establishments associated with the gay community.

The Tiki, however, was not a bar —Garrow was, in fact, unable to obtain a liquor license due to prior criminal convictions, some related to homosexuality. Before the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, homosexuality was criminalized in most states in addition to being regarded as sinful and a mental illness. The Tiki, despite not serving alcohol, became a popular space for gays in the late 1960s. Though he had a girlfriend for public pretenses, Jim Garrow was unquestionably queer. Then in his late 40s, he was a big, burly man with an affable and gregarious demeanor that attracted gay Buffalonians to his establishment. Among those patrons were newly-out lesbian Mernie Kern and her then girlfriend, Leslie Feinberg. The pair met during the summer of 1969 at a gathering at the house of a mutual gay friend on a Sunday afternoon. Kern has vivid memories of Garrow and the Tiki:

“We had a period of time where there were no bars. That is when all of a sudden the Tiki Club showed up and I don’t remember how I heard about it but ya know we have quite a network of whatever. So the Tiki was on Franklin and Tupper… It had two rooms and they both had tables… Jim wouldit was just a coffee house there was no boozemake a turkey every day, so he started getting a lunch bunch every day from downtown. He would either have a hot roast, with bread and gravy or cold turkey sandwiches and he would serve that until he ran out of turkey and that was it. So there was many a night I went down there for dinner at around 5-6 o’clock and had turkey and that was it. He only made turkey that was the only thing on his menuand he made damn good coffee. And once in a while, he would have a folk singer come in… We weren’t real happy about itthere were straight people who would come in for that. If you didn’t have a folk singer it would be a Friday or Saturday night with like a jukebox and we would be dancing all the time. I am pretty sure that the place was open like 24 hours a day. As a matter of fact, I remember drinking coffee there all night and then going to work. I got to work and I remember telling everybody that I hadn’t slept all night, you know, and it was like wow, if you drink enough coffee you never have to waste time sleeping. You can stay out all night and party as long as you get enough coffee. Yeah, try that two nights in a row and you start falling asleep at work standing up, it was not a good idea.”

Garrow befriended Kern and Feinberg, who became regulars. The two often came in to chat and drink coffee. Leslie’s younger sister, Linda, often tagged along in the afternoon before business really got going, or they would hang out with their friend, Bobby Uplinger, and his boyfriend. Garrow regaled them with stories of the Jewel Box Revue from his days in Florida. 

Storme DeLarverie program for “The Jewel Box Revue,” 1950s; Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Founded in Miami in 1939 by entrepreneurs Doc Brenner and Danny Brown, the Jewel Box Revue was a variety show similar to those of the Vaudeville era. Brenner and Brown, however, structured their traveling show around one key difference: the artform of female impersonation. The Revue featured singing acts, comedy skits, burlesque stripteases, and ensemble dance numbers, primarily staged by queer men who performed and presented themselves as women. The lone exception was black lesbian drag king Stormie DeLarvarie. DeLarvarie was later credited as one of the first to resist police during the Stonewall Uprising and inspired a new generation of young, rebellious queers to fight for gay liberation. 

Beginning in the 1940s, the Jewel Box Revue became highly successful and toured the country for over three decades. The cast was racially integrated, as were the audiences the show attracted. Cultural scholar Mara Dauphin argues that the Jewel Box Revue was “highly instrumental in creating queer communities and carving out queer niches of urban landscape in post-war America that would flourish into the sexual revolution of the sixties.” Jim Garrow’s nostalgic recountings of the Jewel Box Revue are indicative of his desire to create a similar community and carve out a queer niche in blue-collar Buffalo. He often lamented to Kern and Feinberg that things had just been more open in Tampa of the 1940s and ‘50s. 

But Captain Kennedy, emboldened by Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s statewide anti-vice campaign, made it difficult for Garrow to do so. In 1963, Rockefeller empaneled a Moreland Act commission —a law that allows the governor to examine the affairs of any state department or agency —to investigate New York’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Law. The commission revealed widespread corruption within the state’s distribution and sale of alcohol. As a result, businesses that sold liquor, particularly bars, came under increased scrutiny by state and local law enforcement. Bars catering to Buffalonian lesbians and gays seemed to vanish as soon as they appeared. Under State Liquor Authority regulations, the mere presence of gays people in a bar constituted that premise as “disorderly” and therefore in violation. 

Before the Tiki, Feinberg’s and Kern’s establishment of choice had been T&T Western Paradise, located at 1239 Niagara Street. T&T first opened during the 1940s as a country western bar by husband and wife team Tony and Tanya (T&T) Puszka. The bar “went gay” around the late 1960s, as the Puszkas sought to capitalize on the lack of social spaces for gay Buffalonians. But increased scrutiny, coupled with financial and marital difficulties, caused T&T’s to go out of business. 

Niagara Falls Gazette (Niagara Falls, NY), May 4, 1951.

Given the lack of places to mingle within Buffalo proper, many gays also ventured to Niagara Falls. Their destination was most often Ninfa’s Restaurant. Owned by Italian American proprietress Mrs. Ninfa DiRocco, and managed by Anthony J. Infantino, Ninfa’s was located at 324 Main Street in Niagara Falls, New York. The lower area of Main Street, where Ninfa’s resided, was home to a host of popular bars, clubs, and entertainment venues and regarded as the vice district of the city. Lower Main, in fact, was referred to as “the Tijuana of Canada.” Ninfa’s was not an exclusively gay establishment, but was, in the words of Feinberg, “gay by percentage.” Gay patrons jokingly called the bar “Nympha’s,” a sexualized reference to the term “nymphomaniac.” Ninfa’s went out of business when, on April 9th of 1971, the bar’s liquor license was revoked for the sale of narcotics on the premises. Feinberg would later fictionalize the T&T and Ninfa’s in her semi-autobiographical novel Stone Butch Blues as “Abba’s” and “Tifka’s,” respectively. The Tiki, accordingly, appears as “The Malibu.” 

Despite the lack of bars to socialize and drink in, Buffalo’s gay community made do. As Mernie Kern explains: 

“We had this bar across the street [from the Tiki], Benji’s, and it was just a neighborhood dive. So we would go over there and have a few beers and then go back to the Tiki. So it was almost like a bar. You would go over there get a buzz and then go back to the Tiki and dance so they worked out pretty good.”

Yet, Garrow’s goal was to obtain a liquor license for his establishment and to create a community space-of-sorts for gay people. In the fall of 1969, he closed 330 Franklin and rented a run-down, three-story building located at 70 Delaware Avenue, just off Niagara Square. 70 Delaware was the former home of The Avenue Grill, a straight restaurant and bar. First opened in 1938 by Leon Wyszatycki, The Avenue closed in August of 1963 after then-owner Frank B. Oddo pleaded no contest to State Liquor Authority charges of service during prohibited hours and failure to report for arrest for this violation. 

Garrow’s intentions were not to revive The Avenue and make it gay. Rather, he planned to expand the original Tiki and circumvent the Bureau of Vice Enforcement. On December 10th of 1969, Garrow filed an application for a restaurant license with the License Bureau at City Hall under “The Tiki Room.” In the meantime, he devised an ingenious, though ultimately unsuccessful, idea. 70 Delaware Avenue was Garrow’s private residence. There was no reason, therefore, he couldn’t open the ground floor as a private club for gays and lesbians who wanted a place to socialize and cut loose, even if he charged a cover or made them pay for coffee or drinks. According to Mernie Kern:

“[Jim] bought the Tiki downtown… and it was a great location because you could make a bunch of noise. That was the thing with our gay bars in Buffalo: if you made too much noise the neighbors would complain and then the cops would give you a hard time. T&T on Niagara was great because there are no houses. So when you got to the new Tiki or the Tiki 2, the only thing going was the Buffalo Athletic Club across the street. [Jim] just kept talking about all the old closeted queens… who hang out at the Buffalo Athletic club who are jealous that they couldn’t come over and party with us–so they complained about noise and told the cops to check in on that place and whatnot. He considered this his private residence, he lived upstairs.

Whether one of the old, closeted queens from the BAC tattled remains unclear, but someone did, and the BVE placed 70 Delaware Avenue under surveillance. Garrow, recognizing more drastic measures were necessary, brought noted homophile activist Frank Kameny—whom he read about in Time magazine—to help organize the gay community. Kameny held a Ph.D. in Astronomy from Harvard University and was a former federal government employee for the Army Map Service. He was expelled from his job in 1957 when his security clearance application turned up a “vagrancy and lewd and lascivious behavior” charge incurred on a visit to San Francisco. His career derailed, Kameny was radicalized and became singularly dedicated to the cause of gay rights. In 1961, along with fellow gay activist Jack Nichols, he founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. Mattachine was a pre-Stonewall gay rights organization, founded in Los Angeles in 1950. Kameny used Mattachine as a vehicle to directly challenge Washington. He organized the first protests against the federal government for gay rights, including a picket of the White House on April 17th of 1965 and an annual picket at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Kameny adopted a more militant theory and practice of gay rights than many of his contemporaries during the early years of the movement. He was therefore a natural fit to help Buffalo’s gay and lesbian community rise to the challenge of confronting the BVE. “Get together, write up a Constitution, put the Constitution in a drawer, and go out and work for gay rights!,” Kameny told those gathered at 70 Delaware on a cold December evening in 1969 in his distinctive nasal monotone. Kameny also spoke to them about Stonewall. 

During the early-morning hours of June 28th of 1969, gender nonconforming people of color, lesbians, and gay men squared off against the New York Police Department after officers raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Their act of rebellion was like lighter fluid thrown on the already simmering fire of gay rights, and the movement changed in tone and tempo. Many gay Buffalonians knew of Stonewall, but their primary motivation to organize stemmed from conditions within their own city. A local organization to protest police harassment and bar closures began to take shape with Garrow as de facto president. Yet, their fears remained. 

70 Delaware Avenue was in close proximity to City Hall and the county holding center. The BVE could easily conduct a raid if Captain Kennedy learned of their plans. These suspicions were confirmed during the early morning hours of Sunday, January 4th of 1970. Under Kennedy’s direction, the premises were raided after Acting Detective Richard Segina paid a 50-cent entry fee and was served an alcoholic beverage. Officers further claimed they saw patrons bringing in liquor in paper bags and then seating themselves at tables to drink. In a testament to the popularity of Garrow’s idea, more than 100 people were present at 70 Delaware that night. 

“Vice Unit Seizes Three in Raid on Delaware Ave.” Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, NY), Jan. 5, 1970.

Three people were arrested, including Garrow himself, who was charged with operating a criminal nuisance and allowing persons to consume alcohol in a public place without a liquor license. Garrow told reporters from The Advocate —then a gay community newsletter —that, immediately after he rented the premesis, Kenneth Kennedy paid him a visit. The vice captain, allegedly, dropped in while Garrow was cleaning up before opening. “I’m going to see that you never get any licenses,” he informed Garrow, before turning on his heel and exiting. Kennedy, perhaps fearing accusations of persecution, painted a different picture for the local press following the January 4th raid. “I want to make it clear that it is not our intention to harass this organization,” he told the Buffalo Courier-Express on January 5th. “Our surveillance revealed violations of the law. Our unit will raid any premises wherever the law is violated.”

70 Delaware — which now bore the window sign “Mattachine Society of WNY” — was again raided on April 4th. The BVE knew of the community’s attempts to organize and as a result, the raid was particularly brutal. Ten officers, led by Lieutenant John J. Breen, entered the bar at 2 AM, arrested 11 persons, and evicted 94 others from the bar and backroom after their names and addresses were taken. Two lesbians, Anita Cabrera and Patricia Nigro, were charged with harassment and resisting arrest after they fought back against the raiders. Shirley Thomas suffered a seizure after being beaten by BVE officers, who were slow to give assistance because they thought her illness was fabricated. Thomas was later treated at Meyer Memorial Hospital before being booked. Jim Garrow was not present during the raid, but later turned himself into the police. He was charged with unlawful operation of a bottle club, maintaining a public nuisance, and conspiracy. 

On April 7th, the Buffalo Courier-Express reported that, on the previous day, seven young men briefly picketed City Hall in response to the second raid of the Mattachine Club. They carried signs that bore the phrases: “Civil Rights For Homosexuals” and “End Police Harassment.” The picket was the first public protest for gay rights in Buffalo’s history. The Courier-Express, however, got one important detail wrong. The picketers were actually six young men and one young woman: Mernie Kern. Kern dressed as her typical butchy self, and reporters assumed she was a young homosexual man. Kern remembers the courage it took to protest outside City Hall at the time:

“I felt like I had to do something, and I was pissed that the cops were closing our bars and the raid and all that kinda shit. So, I was pretty pissed, and I was the only girl with 7 or 8 guys — I didn’t know who they were. And it was like, oh gee, we were expecting the cops to give us a hard time. I don’t think you had to have a permit for that. So we figured we would be out there walking around for a little while and they would show up in a paddy wagon and take us away. So I was taking a chance on that, and then it was like, what if the news people come down and take pictures of us and we were on TV? — people from my small town are gonna see me, people I work with are gonna see me, my parents are gonna see me. That was scary.” 

Due to Garrow’s mounting legal troubles and the suspicion he was using the fledgling gay organization as a vehicle to obtain a liquor license, the community distanced themselves from him. They relocated their meetings to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, located on the corner of Elmwood Avenue and West Ferry. In homage to Frank Kameny, they called themselves the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier (MSNF). MSNF adopted a constitution, official bylaws, and incorporated as a domestic not-for-profit corporation in New York State on June 9th of 1970. 

As MSNF took form, Jim Garrow’s life unraveled, and the embattled restaurant owner fled Buffalo. MSNF members assumed he skipped town in an attempt to assuage his legal woes. Garrow returned to his native Tampa where he settled in the historic Ybor City district and found work as a hospital orderly. Ybor City was also home to Tampa’s gay neighborhood, particularly along 7th Avenue where the most popular gay bars and bathhouses were located. He died on October 9th of 1984 at the age of 63. 

Garrow’s influence, however, and his intention to create a sense of queer community in Buffalo, like that which existed within the Jewel Box Revue, remained. Buffalo gays and lesbians were now unified in a common struggle for liberation and were increasingly aware of the obstacles they faced both nationally and in their hometown. Their challenge was to imagine and achieve a better future for gays in the context of a racially-divided, industrial city located on the edge of the Midwest. The plant closures that swept the Great Lakes region during the 1970s would pose additional barriers as MSNF worked to transform a city on the cusp of economic and cultural decline. 

330 Franklin Street was not immune to these changes, and by 1980, the building was torn down for a parking lot. Jim Garrow’s Tiki Restaurant survived at the corner of Franklin and West Tupper for just two years, but its legacy, and the vision of its owner, lives on.

 

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Dr. Jeff Iovannone is an historian, writer, educator, and third-generation Buffalonian who holds a Ph.D. in American Studies, specializing in gender and LGBTQ studies. He is currently at work on a book about Buffalo’s gay liberation movement from the late 1960s to the early 1980s and is an avid collector of LGBTQ historical materials. He is the coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at SUNY Fredonia and a board member of the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project. You can find more of his writing on Medium and other platforms at https://linktr.ee/drjeffgenderprof

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

“3 Persons Seized In Downtown Raid.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Jan. 5, 1970.

Anderson, Wayne. “The Jewel Box Revue: America’s First Gay Community?” Huffington Post, Dec. 4, 2012. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-jewel-box-revue-americas-first-gay-community_b_2228790

“Buffalo Throws City’s Weight Against Infant Mattachine.” The Advocate, Apr. 29, 1970.

Crain, Caleb. “Frank Kameny’s Orderly, Square Gay-Rights Activism. The New Yorker, Jun. 22, 2020. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/29/frank-kamenys-orderly-square-gay-rights-activism

Dauphin, Mara. “‘A Bit of Woman in Every Man’: Creating Queer Community in Female Impersonation.” Valley Humanities Review, Spring 2012. http://portal.lvc.edu/vhr/2012/Articles/dauphin.pdf

Faderman, Lillian. The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

“Federal Style Architecture in Buffalo, NY, 1790-1830.” Buffalo as an Architectural Museum. https://buffaloah.com/a/DCTNRY/f/fed.html

Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues, 20th anniversary ed. Self-published by author, 2014. https://www.lesliefeinberg.net/

Frederick, Catherine. “LGBT Icon Storme DeLarverie’s Personal Collection Comes to the Schomburg.” New York Public Library Blog, Jun. 23, 2017. https://www.nypl.org/blog/2017/06/23/lgbt-icon-storme

Higgs, Norma. “The ‘Golden Days’ of Music in Niagara Falls.” Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, NY), Jul. 29, 2019. https://www.niagara-gazette.com/opinion/higgs-the-golden-days-of-music-in-niagara-falls/article_2f9a6590-b5e9-519e-b123-c64903ba6866.html

Iovannone, Jeffry J., “Beyond Stonewall: The Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier and Gay Liberation.” Digital Commons @ Buffalo State, 2019. https://digitalcommons.buffalostate.edu/lgbtq_publications/1

“James Francis Garrow Obituary.” The Tampa Tribune (Tampa, FL), Oct. 9, 1984.

James Haynes and Donald Licht Papers, Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State.

“Kenneth P. Kennedy Obituary.” Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), Jan. 31, 1994.

“Looking Backward: Franklin & Tupper, 1948.” The Public, Jan. 5, 2016. http://www.dailypublic.com/articles/01052016/looking-backward-franklin-tupper-1948

Madeline Davis Papers, Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State.

Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier Records, Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State.

McAlester, Virginia Savage. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York, NY: Knopf, 1984, 2013.

“Moonshine, Wine Center Smashed, Man Arrested.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Oct. 19, 1970.

“Ninfa DiRocco Advertisement.” Niagara Falls Gazette (Niagara Falls, NY), May 4, 1951. 

“Pickets Ask Rights For Homosexuals.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Apr. 7, 1970.

“Raiders Arrest 11, Evict 94 From Mattachine Club.” Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, NY), Apr. 4, 1970.

“Six Summonses Issued in Probe of Clubrooms.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Jan. 6, 1970.

“SLA License of Ninfa’s is Revoked.” Niagara Falls Gazette (Niagara Falls, NY), Apr. 14, 1971. 

“Tiki Restaurant Advertisement.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Dec. 6th, 1968.

“Vice Unit Seizes Three in Raid on Delaware Ave.” Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, NY), Jan. 5, 1970.

 

Interviews

Bobbi Prebis, personal communication with author, October 12-13, 2018.

The Historical Development of the Gay Community in Buffalo, NY, interview by Justin Azzarella, April 11, 2002, Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State.

Madeline Davis with author, September 6, 2019.

Marilyn “Mernie” Kern with author, December 17, 2019.

 

PBN Continues to Oppose Demolition of Willert Park Courts

,

Mr. Gillian D. Brown, Esq
Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority
300 Perry Street
Buffalo, NY 14204-2299
Re: Invitation to Comment – Alternative Analysis Supplemental Update Materials

June 22, 2020

Dear Mr. Brown,

I received the Invitation to Comment – Alternative Analysis Supplemental Update Materials on Tuesday, June 16th. Please accept the comments below as our official response to that correspondence.

Thank you for providing the supplementary materials. Preservation Buffalo Niagara continues to oppose Alternative No. 3 as an acceptable solution. As you know, Willert Park has been determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A and C. Alternative 3, which destroys all of the buildings except for the Administration Building and saves the bas relief sculptures devoid of their building contexts completely destroys the historic integrity of this site, and represents a major erasure of history, and has an especially profound and irreversible impact on black history in Buffalo.

Willert Park/A.D. Price Courts is one of the single most historic places in the City of Buffalo. Its existence is critical to understanding the shape of our City, but it is also a critical site in the history of the United States. Perhaps no other site locally is capable of encapsulating the stories of how government sanctioned racism and segregation shaped the current reality of our City and of race relations in the United States. It is a story of one community’s fight for dignity and fairness against a range of forces determined to keep them down. It is a story of self-determination, and of organizing together to build political power. It is the story of what it means to be at home in the place where you live. Layer on top of that a high style design by a recognized architect, beautiful aesthetic embellishments by a famous artist, and a site plan that is specifically representative of its time and you have a space that should be protected and invested in, not destroyed.

Were Willert Park to be saved and invested in, not only could it serve its intended purpose as housing for those in need, but it could also be another important part of Buffalo’s cultural renaissance. A cultural renaissance that could finally be expanded to include more parts of our community: as architecturally important as the Darwin Martin House, but with a much more profound story to tell, connected not just to design or to a person of local importance, but connected to larger truths about our national identity and the lives of many people of local and national significance.

Criterion A

PBN wholly rejects the BMHA’s consultant’s argument that Alternative No. 3 is in any way consistent with Criterion A. By destroying every single building at the site except for one, the site would no longer be significant and would lack any and all integrity as defined by both the National Register of Historic Places (NR) criteria and the Secretary of the Interior’s (SOI) Standards. Trying to argue that the new units to be built would also be affordable and so would be consistent with Criteria A would be like tearing down Buffalo City Hall and building a new municipal building and trying to argue that the new building contributed to historic significance because it had a similar function as the old building. National Register criteria cannot be applied to non-existent or demolished or new buildings. It is only in relation to evaluating historic (existing) buildings (unless you’re reviewing archaeological sites). These arguments indicate a complete lack of understanding on the appropriate application of both the National Register of Historic Places (NR) criteria and the Secretary of the Interior’s standards. The only Alternative that meets Criterion A is Alternative No. 1.

Criterion C

Alternative 3 is wholly insufficient as a preservation alternative under Criterion C, and Alternative 1 is the best Alternative to preserve the site’s integrity under the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. While we understand the argument that the BMHA’s consultant is making when they say that changes to some of the interior layouts or changes proposed under Alternative 1 may be problematic from the SOI’s standpoint, we strongly disagree. Nowhere in the National Register Nomination are interior finishes or room layouts identified as significant components of the design. We understand that the BMHA’s consultant has not been able to design solutions that would both preserve the integrity of the site and also result in safe, livable homes for residents. Preservation Buffalo Niagara has worked with other architectural consultants who have been able to create designs which are able to accommodate both HCR standards as well as SOI standards. If the BMHA were to work with PBN to grant us designated developer status, we are confident that we can produce designs that are able to honor both the historic nature of the site, as well as the lives of the people who will live there in the future.

Section 106 Process

PBN would like to request additional information about the Section 106 process. Who is the lead Federal agency on this Section 106 Review? Please also supply a list of other recognized Consulting Parties, and the process used for soliciting those parties. Please supply information about any public or community meetings undertaken as part of the Section 106 process, and any plans for future public meetings. Finally, please supply us with a timeline for the Section 106 process, including any formal public comment periods and the process that will be used for collecting public comment.

We understand that the Buffalo Municipal Housing Agency does not prioritize historic preservation and placemaking in its work, but is focused on housing provision and in this instance, is focused on providing large multi-bedroom units. PBN would certainly not presume to know more than the BMHA about its need for these larger units. However, PBN does reject the BMHA’s assertion that the only answer to filling this community-wide need is the continued erasure of black history in Buffalo. Within a one mile radius of Willert Park are over 2,500 vacant lots, totaling nearly 300 acres of vacant land. Additionally, the BMHA has current site control of Perry Projects and its nearly 1,000 vacant units. There are many alternatives for providing new larger housing. Demolishing an important historic site is not the only way for the BMHA to meet its goals.

With this alternatives analysis, the BMHA continues to offer us a false choice: provide large five bedroom homes for people who need them, or save one of the most historic sites in the City of Buffalo. PBN rejects this false choice. We know from decades of scholarly research that living in places with strong connections to history and culture are an important part of people’s mental and physical well being. We know that building an anti-racist society means investing in the places important to telling a full and complete story of our entire community. We know that Buffalo’s future is tied up in investing in the places that make us special, not in more disposable architecture that further differentiates between the parts of Buffalo that have been able to save their history and culture and the parts of Buffalo that have been systematically denied that opportunity.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments. We would be more than happy to sit down with you at any time to discuss these matters further.

Sincerely,

Jessie Fisher

Executive Director