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.

 

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