Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Larkin Administration Building - A 'Wright' of Passage in Buffalo

Larkin Building 1930's
  The Larkin Building was designed in 1904 by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Larkin Soap Company of Buffalo, New York, at 680 Seneca Street.  The five story red brick building was noted for many innovations, including air conditioning, stained glass windows, built-in desk furniture, and suspended toilet bowls (hung from the walls, not supported by the floor). Sculptor Richard Bock provided ornamentation for the building.
    Through Martin, Wright got the job of designing the Larkin Company administration building, the first entirely air-conditioned modern office building on record….It is blocklike and extremely simple in its forms, and has very little ornamentation….the Larkin building was decisively vertical…Indeed, it was the first consciously architectural expression of the kind of American structure which Europeans were beginning to discover to their delight: the great clusters of grain silos and similar industrial monuments that men like Corbu and Gropius found so exciting in the early 1920s…” — Peter Blake. Frank Lloyd Wright: Architecture and Space.

Courier Express September 27, 1942
Interior Open Office Atrium with Skylights

  ...The man who has designed hundreds of outstanding buildings, written an autobiography and numerous magazine articles and lectured extensively to young architects in Europe and America, got his first real break in Buffalo. The Larkin Administration Building has profound significance in the history of American Architecture. Erected in 1906, it was the country's first ultra-modern office building, completely reversing the 19th century tendency to lavish ornamentality. It was the country's first air-conditioned office building and was among the first fire-proof structures built. Installed in it, and part of the architects plan, was the first metal furniture made in the United States. Magnesite as architectural material first was employed in it's construction and it boasted the first metal bound plate-glass doors and windows.
   But critics of that day were not impressed. Wright's idea's were denounced as "uncouth" and "in-human" and his innovations were declared to be "without any sympathetic alliance to culture." The leading architectural publication of the day, Architectural Record, declared: "This work may have some claim to consideration as a 'work of art' as an ocean liner, a locomotive or a battleship."....

Larkin Company Office Building Changes Hands
Representative of Pennsylvania Purchaser Says Acquisition of Building by Army 
"Is Still in The Talk Stage"
BEN May 24, 1943
Frank Lloyd Wright
   The Larkin Administration Building, 680 Seneca Street, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, noted architect, has been sold to L.B. Smith, a Harrisburg contractor. The company made no comment on reports the structure, at one time reputed to be the largest private office building in the world, would be taken over by the Army to house many War Department offices in Buffalo. A. H. Miller, comptroller of L.B. Smith, Inc. who handled the negotiations for Mr. Smith, said there is nothing definite with respect to disposition of the building and that acquisition by the Army "is still in the talk stage."
Building Erected in 1906
  It was from this building, completed in 1906, that the Larkin Company, guided by the principles of it's founder, John D. Larkin, directed its "factory to family" dealings in the heyday of a mail order enterprise that flourished long before other similar concerns.  The retail business of the Larkin Store Corporation, which has been carried on in this building for the last five or six years, will be continued at this location. The store corporation has a lease on the building which runs for about nine months., Mr. Miller said. The company also will continue to carry on it's mail order business in household supplies, furniture and soft goods.

 Organ Included In Sale
  The building has a giant Moehler Pipe Organ, said to have been at the time of construction the fifth largest in the world, and which formally was played for the Larkin employees. The organ has been purchased with the building, and Mr. Miller said the purchasers plan to get in touch with the manufacturer, ascertain it's condition, and get an estimate of it's value in the event it is offered for sale. Mr. Smith heads a group of large construction companies. He is engaged in coal-stripping and quarrying enterprises in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. (Photo courtesy of The Organ Historical Society, see OHS website for detailed info about the organ)

Organ was located on the first floor atrium with the pipes
occupying the 4th and 5th floors
City May Advertise Larkin Building On National Scale
BEN November 1, 1946
  A national newspaper advertising campaign to sell the Larkin Administration Building, 608 Seneca Street, will be recommended to the Council Finance Committee Tuesday by Comptroller George W. Wannamaker. The building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, nationally famous architect, and is said to have cost $4,000,000. The city acquired title through tax foreclosure.
  The building assessed at $240,000, has been vacant several years. Wannamaker said if the Finance Committee approves his plan, advertisements will be placed in the Buffalo Evening News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Chicago Journal of Commerce and other publications with a national circulation.  "The only offer the city has received for this magnificent building is the sum of $26,000. This is only a small fraction of it's value. By use of a national newspaper campaign Buffalo may receive much higher bids and possibly attract a new business or industry to this city."

City's White Elephant Still Puzzles Council
BEN June 4, 1947
  The city is back where it started in its efforts to sell it's "white elephant," the old Larkin Company's Administration building at 680 Seneca Street.  Late Tuesday, the Common Council's Finance Committee decided to receive and file a $500 offer for a 90 day option to buy the building for $25,000. The offer was submitted several weeks ago by Maurice Yellen, attorney for an undisclosed client. The property has an assessed valuation of $221,810.
  On the basis of the offer, the committee two weeks ago recommended to the full membership of the council that the property be re-advertised for sale, even though the committee had already spent $6,000 for advertising. The committee, however, specified that the re-advertising include the city's willingness to give the prospective purchasers a 90 day option, a condition which was not included in the previous sales efforts.  The council approved the re-advertising, but at last week's meeting, the resolution was recalled from the Mayor and re-committed to the Finance Committee.
  "The only way to dispose of this property is to sell it at public auction, just as we do with other City owned property," said Councilman-at-Large George J. Evans, Republican majority leader. "Let somebody give us a bonafied offer, with 10% of the offer in cash. That will give us something on which to conduct an auction. We already spent much money advertising it, everybody ought to know by now that we're anxious to sell it."

BEN October 15, 1947
 Disposal of the City's White Elephant, the Larkin Company's old administration building at 680 Seneca Street, remains the real-estate puzzle, with no possibility of a solution in sight. The five story brick structure, once the most modern office building in the country, gradually is approaching a state in which it will be entirely useless. Every double-paned window is shattered. The tall iron gate which graced the entrance has toppled from rusty hinges. The iron fence topping a low brick wall went into war time scrap collection.
  The Larkin building, a headache to the city since it was acquired in tax foreclosure proceedings June 15, 1945, cost $4,000,000 to build and was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a nationally famous architect.  Offers to purchase it for around $25,000, far less than it's assessed valuation of $239,000, including land, have been turned down. A national advertising campaign that cost $6,000 brought inquiries but no offers. The state rejected a suggestion that the building be converted  for emergency housing and the county took no action on a proposal to make it  headquarters of the Welfare Department.

BEN September 14, 1949
Committee Approves Larkin Building Sale

 At long last, the city Tuesday took a step toward getting rid of it's biggest real-estate headache, the 'white elephant' old Larkin Company Administration Building at 680 Seneca Street. The Council Finance Committee approved sale of the building for $5,000 to the Hunt Business Agency, acting for an undisclosed client. The agency has agreed to demolish the existing building and replace it with a taxable improvement costing not less than $100,000 within 18 months. Just what use the premises, which have an assessed valuation of $128,960, will be put to, has not been disclosed, however.
  The committee's action now goes to the full Council, which is expected to approve it Tuesday, although Councilman-at-Large George J. Young, Republican, said he was against selling the property for "only $5,000," when he claimed, "it would be used more advantageously for a playground."
   Originally the Larkin building was the most modern office structure in the U.S. It has been a municipal headache since the city acquired it for nonpayment of taxes in 1945. It originally cost around $4,000,000. The city has spent more than $6,000 in advertising for prospective purchasers.

Larkin Building Called Monument
  Buffalo Evening News New York Bureau
New York, Nov. 16 1949
Front Desk in Larkin Building
   Destruction of Buffalo's Larkin Building will be a great loss to coming generations, Architect J. Stanley Sharp contends in a letter to the New York Herald Tribune. The paper had carried remarks of Andrew C. Ritchie of the Museum of Modern Art, former director of Buffalo's Albright Art Gallery, and an editorial of it's own deploring the demolition of such monuments.
  "As an architect," writes Mr. Sharp, "I share the concern of many others over the destruction of the Frank Lloyd Wright's world famous office building in Buffalo. It is not merely a matter of sentiment; from a practical standpoint this structure can function efficiently for centuries. Modern engineering has improved upon the lighting and ventilation systems Mr. Wright used but that is hardly excuse enough to efface the work of the man who successfully pioneered in the solving of such problems. The Larkin Building set a precedent for many an office building we admire today and should be regarded not as an outmoded utilitarian structure but as a monument, if not to Mr. Wright's creative imagination, to the inventiveness of American design."

Built to last Forever, Famed Larkin 
Building is Tough on Wreckers
BEN May 16, 1950 - by Hilton Hornaday
   The Larkin office building in Seneca Street, once the princely throne of a business dynasty that sold soap and household products in 48 states, has come to the end of it's usefulness. It's steel girders will be used to shore up coal mines in West Virginia; it's brick and concrete debris will help fill the Ohio Basin (now Father Conway Park on Louisiana St.). Wreckers who took the job on tearing down the 44 year old building got more than they bargained for. It was built to stand forever.
  The floors of the seven-story structure are made of giant re-inforced concrete slabs, 10 inches thick, 17 feet wide, and 34 feet long. they are so heavy that when they are cut into sections to be removed, they are apt to crash to the floor below.  Structurally, the building is hardly without parallel. The floors are in tiers, around a deep well, and are supported by 24 inch steel girders, much larger in size than are generally used today.
  The wrecking contractors, Morris & Reimann, say the building designed by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright, would cost  $7,000,000 to $10,000,000 to duplicate at present prices. It was purchased from the city for $5,000 by the Western Trading Corporation, on the condition it would raze the building and erect a new structure to cost around $100,000. The new building planned would be a motor freight terminal.
  The depredations that took place when the Larkin office building stood idle, while in the hands of the city, were not a pretty picture. Nearly every window had been broken, and thieves stripped the building of about 20 tons of copper, including the copper roof. When the Larkin clubs were popular, money from the customers poured into the Larkin building in such volume that it had to be tossed into baskets and barrels. The Larkin office staff performed its tasks while soft music was played on a famous pipe organ.
   View below looking north shows how the razing of the Larkin building on Seneca Street near Swan, is progressing. The building designed by Frank Llyod Wright and constructed in 1906 at a cost exceeding $6,000,000, is making way for a new building. The city sold the structure in November 1949 to the Western Trading Corporation for $5,000.
Famous Larkin Building Being Razed Under Sale Agreement Between City & Purchaser.

  In the end, the Larkin Building was sold for $5,000, a fraction of the cost of earlier offers of $25,000 or more, which were refused! And as the last article relates, the promised structure which was to replace the Larkin, was never built on the site. The end result was the city lost $1,000 on the deal and wound up with a PARKING LOT! As most people in the Buffalo area know, this is a scenario which has repeated itself many times over the past six decades. Buffalo is now graced with many 'historically significant' parking lots that tourists from around the world flock here to see! 
   Most of the Larkin Building itself never left Buffalo. Much of it is now located under Father Conway Park, the old Ohio Basin on Louisiana St., in the Old First Ward. This story is basically the 'rite of passage' most historically or architecturally significant buildings go through in Buffalo. Sometimes the outcome is good, sometimes not, just a roll of the dice, some arguments, lawsuits and if it's lucky it survives. Cultural Tourism is the Buzz Word around WNY this month. But in reality City Hall fights it on a daily basis although it won't admit it. 
   Hopefully, when the National Conference on Historic Preservation leaves here later this month (Oct. 2011), many of the Common Council members and other local representatives will have actually attended the workshops, lectures and tours, and not just use them as photo-ops. They need more than just a photograph taken, they need an education on the advantages and opportunities historic preservation provides for the region. It is Buffalo who needs to learn something from this convention, and start on a new course of understanding of it's heritage and what it means to this city and take advantage of the opportunities it presents for the future.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fix-ing the Volstead Act on Grand Island

C.E. Oct. 27, 1925
The Clarence Fix Ferry
They were reputed Rum Barons of the Niagara Frontier;  one time fish pirates; owners of a score of boats, including two submarine chasers, a speedy motor craft and a $65,000 steel ferry; hated and feared; admired and liked--that's the Fix Brothers as they were known to thousands of Buffalonians and everyone along the Niagara from the Lake to the Falls.
     A strange manner of men are these brothers, Frank and Charles, and interesting and romantic are their careers of forty years on the river during the course of which they arose from poor boys to undisputed power and reputed wealth. And they act just the same and talk just the same according to river veterans who have known them all their lives.
Grand Island's History Theirs Also 
    Interwoven into the story of the Fixes, is the story of Grand Island, one time the pleasure ground for the wealthy and the scenes of thousands of picnics, clam bakes and old fashioned parties which ceased with the advent of Volstead. Just as the act of Volstead killed these convivial parties on the river, so did it make this isle of about sixty square miles, and 650 inhabitants a veritable treasure island for hundreds of rum-runners who started to give relief to thirsty persons a few days after the now-famous law took effect and have successfully given such relief, with intermittent interruptions, ever since.    
The Seabreeze, launched in 1907 in a Niagara Street shipyard, & owned by Charles and  Frank Fix, had an original capacity for 600 passengers, later lowered to 300, due to stricter  maritime safety codes. The Seabreeze ran for several years between the foot of Ferry Street and  the Bedell House, ending its career on regularly scheduled trips around Grand Island. The Fix Brothers sold it in 1946.
 The Seabreeze, launched in 1907 in a Niagara Street shipyard, & owned by Charles and 
Frank Fix, had an original capacity for 600 passengers, later lowered to 300, due to stricter 
maritime safety codes. The Seabreeze ran for several years between the foot of Ferry Street 
and the Bedell House, ending its career on regularly scheduled trips around Grand Island. 
The Fix Brothers sold it in 1946.
    The interruptions have been caused by activities of federal officers just as much despised by the veteran river men as "revenoo men" are by the denizens of Tennessee and Kentucky. While Federal enforcement officers have succeeded in decreasing the flow of Canadian liquor, the knowledge of the river and the island, possessed by the nervy runners, gives them a great advantage over the officers.    Of all the men who have lived around the river or on the island, the Fix brothers probably know it best. Either Frank or Charlie could literally pilot any sort of craft blindfolded along this treacherous stream and land it any one of hundreds of coves along Grand Island or the American shore.   
Edgewater Hotel, Grand Island
    The Fix brothers are about fifty-five years old, Frank being about two years older than his brother. Frank is about five feet seven in height, is slender and wirey. Charles weighs well over 200 pounds and is not as active as his brother. Neither cares a whole lot for conventions in dress and both cling to ancient black river captain's hats. The fixes were born on Grand Island on the site where the Edgewater Hotel now stands. The family moved to Black rock when Frank and Charles were boys and have lived there ever since. In all their years neither has been away from the river for more than a few weeks at a time. Both boys started working on the river as helpers on excursion boats when they were in their teens.
    They were not twenty when they bought their first boat, the "Silver King", with the money they saved. In those days of two decades ago any one with an excursion boat was certain to make money during the summer months and the Fixes started to prosper. Nearly every stag organization held a picnic at which the now forbidden fluids flowed un-checked. Hotels on the Island were the mecca for thousands of pleasure seekers, and the wealthy started to build summer homes.
   As far as can be learned the Fixes never took part in the smuggling of Chinese so prevalent and profitable years ago. They devoted their entire attention to their boats, and as they made money, acquired other boats. In time they gradually had so many boats that nearly every excursion party that circled the island traveled on a Fix owned and Fix piloted craft.  As the brothers gained boats and money so did they gain power along the river. Even a decade ago they made many enemies, among these hardy river men of strong likes and dis-likes.   As they made enemies so did they make friends along the river, on the island and in the city. In time they acquired the Grand Island Ferry running from the Bedell House dock to a dock about a mile and a half from the city line off the River road.  

Bedell House Annex and Dock
  The Bedell House, surrounding docks and property, was another profitable purchase made by the brothers. This spot was a rendezvous for many excursion parties and everyone using the ferry boat passed it. So before prohibition it can be readily seen why the Fixes can be regarded along the river "as being pretty well off" and why they were gaining power. But it was not until the advent of prohibition that these unusual brothers startled even those who knew them intimately by their ingenuity and fearlessness. Veterans along the river said the Fixes started running liquor shortly after the law went into effect. Nearly every other river man did too for that matter. They are said to have been buying fast motor boats from wealthy residents of this city and utilized them in their operations.

The operations of the Fixes became so large, so it is said, that every time one of the petty runners became enmeshed through the activity of federal officers, he blamed his fall onto the greediness of the Fix brothers. However nothing could be learned through talks with runners and veterans to confirm these accusations. During these extensive operations never a day did either brother miss as pilot of his boat. Either Frank or Charles took the ferry across. If Frank was piloting the Ferry then Charles would be guiding one of the excursion boats around the island. To all outward appearances they were the same hard-working brothers the river always knew.  Also they were working just as hard in the wee small hours, guiding boats without lights and successfully landing large cargos on the American side.
Seized Liquor
  Bootleggers Paradise
  While these operations were at their height, prohibition enforcement work was just in the organization stage and their extensive operations were virtually unhampered. The Brothers are said to have loaded most of their cargoes on the Canadian shore,  transported across the west river to Grand Island, and then across the island in trucks. The island is replete with fine state roads which in the morning hours are deserted. It was a bootleggers paradise in every sense of the word.
  If conditions along the river were right, the cargoe would be loaded onto another fast boat or onto a steamer, if it were an exceptionally large shipment, then  transported to the American side where the Buffalo distributers were waiting for it. Of course this program of transportation was varied. The Fix Brothers are said to have carried their contraband direct from the Canadian to the American side when the night was propitious. They also made trips to Port Colborne for shipments and on several occasions they are accredited with having sent their own boats as far as Windsor Ontario, a distance of 200 miles, to pick up cargoes.
  As invariably along the River, when the operations of one clique becomes exstensive and that clique gains considerable power, talk about the Fixes became general and this chatter finally reached the ears of former United States Attorney General William J. Donovan. Previous to this the Fixes had suffered only one encounter with the Federal Officers. Agents under Chief Walters raided the Bedell House, in July of 1920 and arrested the Fix Brothers and their bartender. In an upper room of the holstery, Waters found a good size trunk crammed with bills of all denominations. The Fixes were charged with maintaining a nuisance, but were discharged when tried in Federal Court.
District Att. William Donovan
Col. Donovan made no such hasty raid. He detailed Michael H. Stapleton, chief of the enforcement officers, and a number of agents to work up a case against the Fixes. Just how long it took them to gather evidence against the river kings and how extensive their operations becomes apparent upon pursuing the indictments.
  Finally Rounded Up
  The two brothers, Clarence, son of Frank, Herbert Guess, August A. Boeck, Winthrop Moliere, Michael Guzzi and Edward Smith were all rounded up a few days after they had been indicted. Ten counts were contained in the indictments. They covered some of the operations of the Fix gang from January 23, 1923 to March 1st, 1924.
   On June 7, 1923, Frank and Charles transported 1,100 cartons of Canadian ale and fifty one barrels of beer from Canada to the American shore on the Steamer "Charlotte". Six hundred and five cases of ale and fifty barrels of beer were carried to the American distributor on June 15th, while sixty 1/2 barrels of beer and 800 cartons of ale were carried over on the same boat July 6. On July 16 the brothers helped the thirsty by hustling over 350 cases of whiskey. Clarence Fix, Herbert Guess and August Boeck, were charged with carrying 250 cases of ale in the sub-chaser "Stumble-Inn 1" on January 31 1924. 
The "Welcome" Purchased by Frank Fix in 1914
  The Fixes and their henchmen were all arrested on charges of conspiracy to violate the prohibition law and the violation of the tariff act of 1922. The brothers were released on $15,000 bail, while others were released on smaller bail. The specifications in the indictments were sweeping. They charged that the Fix Brothers purchase and used boats, ferries, trucks and other vehicles to transport liquor and ale from Canada to Grand Island. They also charged that the brothers maintained warehouses, barns, docks and buildings along the Niagara frontier as part of their extensive operations and furthermore that they had purchased a resort at the Grand Island ferry landing, near the River road, which they named Stumble Inn, for the sale and distribution of their contraband liquor.
  Another specification charges that the brothers purchased a sub-chaser from the government and named it "Stumble Inn 1". This sub-chaser was used exclusively as a rum-runner, according to the indictment.   It was registered under the name of Clarence Fix. Smith was a bartender at the Bedell House, while Boeck was the manager of the same resort. Moliere and Guess were the crew of the rum-running submarine-chaser.
"Get Away Lucky"    
  The government was prepared to present a powerful case against the Fixs and their henchmen, but the brothers shattered this plan by pleading guilty September 15, 1924. In federal court in Canandaigua, September 20, 1924, Judge Hazel sentenced Charles Fix to three months in the Erie County penitentiary and ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine. Frank got off with a $2,000 fine while Clarence was given a three months sentence and fined $1,000. Moliere was fined $250, Guzzi $50, and Smith $250. Guess and Boeck were discharged. There were rumors at the time that one of the gang members had talked. After the case had been disposed of, it was generally agreed around the river "that the Fixs had got away pretty lucky".
   After commenting on the plea of guilty entered by the brothers, Thomas Penny, Jr. who succeeded Col. Donovan as acting general district attorney, declared he was convinced the most powerful ring of liquor smugglers along the frontier had been smashed.  But they hadn't... When Captain Charlie's "bit" was completed he again appeared around his old river haunts and the Fixs started anew on a much smaller scale. They continued to buy about every boat the government offered for sale after seizure. Enemies of the brothers said they did this so no one else could get the craft to run liquor. Their enemies continued to accuse them of everything, while their friends still maintained that they were "good fellows and just disliked because they just kept on working hard and didn't throw away their money like drunken sailors".
Grand Island Ferry Confiscated by Authorities
   Although men of the river knew what the Fixs were doing from the time Capt. Charlie was released from the "pen" until their steel ferry was seized as a rum-runner December 12, their operations, if they had any, were carried on without ado. Just how the immigration inspectors happened on the ferry when it was carrying liquor is not known, but it is a safe bet that some deadly enemy furnished the information that resulted in the confiscation of a number of cases of liquor and a $65,000 boat. Now the boat is virtually under arrest and so is Frank F. Fix. He faces a charge of smuggling.
  Nothing daunted, the brothers started hustling around to get another boat to conduct their ferry service between Buffalo and Grand Island. The only means residents of the island had of reaching the city while the ferry was not running was to drive to the lower ferry dock, and thence from the lower ferry to Tonawanda. The government had put their ferry out of business, so the Fixs went to the government to get another boat.                                                                
  They purchased the tug "Parmelee" which had come into the hands of the government through the bankruptcy of the Holleway Sand Co. The tug, with a scow attached was pressed into service as a ferry last Wednesday. The Courier reporter made a trip to Grand Island on it, and Capt. Frank, as usual, was at the wheel. Enquiry among river men as to how many boats the Fixs owned brought the information "that they must own forty". The registry office shows that three barges, one scow, eight steamers and three gasoline boats are registered under the name of the Fixs. Included in this group is the "Charlotte" which is said to have carried thousands of cases of ale and whiskey since the start of prohibition, and the "Doctor," another prize of the Niagara Rum Fleet. Included in the list of gasoline boats is the "Stumble Inn 1," the former sub-chaser.
   Armed with this list, the Courier reporter again talked to several river men and was informed "that it didn't mean a thing." "They have plenty of fast speed boats registered under their names." He declared he knew of one purchase of a fast motor boat from a prominent Buffalo motor boat enthusiast. It was bought for $3,000, used as a rum-runner for some time, then sold by the Fixs to a Port Colborne smuggler at a handsome profit. It is an accepted fact that the Fixs own as many and as varied type of craft as the well press-agented rum syndicates of the Atlantic coast.
Above Subchaser was similar to the ones Purchased 
by the Fix Brothers which they named "Stumble Inn 1
"-USS S.C. 48 "Stumble Inn 2" USS S.C. 208
   In the purchase of the sub-chaser and the utilizing of it as a rum-runner the Fixs also enjoy a unique distinction. Also, Grand Island, the place they know so well, is unrivaled by Long Island or any other island as an ideal base of operations for smugglers of contraband. Although the brothers are never known to have flashed guns or tossed any of their crew overboard, according to the men who know them best, they are just as fearless as the rum kings of the coast. That's the Fixs, rum barons and river kings.
  Modern Capt. Kidds, Say Some
     When the reporter started his investigation into the careers of these colorful river men, he chose many of his enemies for information. The brothers were pictured as modern Capt. Kidds, who not only owned the river but were making strenuous efforts to control the water in it. They were termed government informers and many other things highly derogatory to kings or barons. The reporter was told of the time about 4 years ago when Capt. Frank was convicted of dynamiting fish. Incidentally this, to river men, was no crime, because it took too long to snare them with a hook. A good charge of dynamite would cause hundreds of denizens of the deep to come to the surface in a hurry, turn over on their backs and quietly give themselves up to the large nets of the fish pirates. Every fisherman knows a hook does not have any such magic effect as dynamite.  For this breach of fishing etiquette, Frank was fined $1,000. Bad fellows were these Fixs so their enemies said.
From 1931 until 1955, the "Orleans" was owned by Charles Fix. 
In 1955, while laid up at the Fix Dock in Grand Island, the vessel 
was damaged by ice. She was scrapped that same year.
  Next the reporter sought out a man who is known along the river nearly as well as the Fixs and who has known them all their lives. "They are not very well liked by you people, are they?" the reporter asked. "Liked" said this veteran, "I think they are the best fellows on the river. They talk about them trying to own everything and doing certain things to different people, but it's wrong. I know one time a certain big bootlegger came to me and said the Fixs were the cause of him losing a big cargo and getting arrested in the bargain. I told him he was wrong and afterwards he found out he was. They have never done any harm to anyone unless you can say bringing in booze is doing harm.
  "I know another time some years back when the Fixs were running their ferry down to the Wickwire, bringing the steel plant men to the foot of Amherst Street. This was a cold winter day and both brothers were on the ferry. Just at the city line they saw a row boat with two fishermen in it drifting into a treacherous ice-floe near the shore. When the ferry got abreast of the small boat, it had become fastened in the ice. It was too far from shore to throw a line and it was in a position that would make it impossible for any boat but the ferry to get at it. "Those men would have froze to death in a few hours only for Frank F. Fix. He worked nearly two hours getting his boat around in such a position that he could toss a line to them and rescue them. Real bad men don't go far out of their way to help someone else."
  Then I remember one night on the Island, when the ferry was tied up for the night, a fellow with a young girl came up and asked if the ferry had left. He knew it had and wanted to miss it because there was no other way to get to the city. Frank looked at me and said, 'she's somebody's daughter and I'm going to see that she don't stay on the Island all night.' He loosened the ropes and made the trip to the city with just two passengers. "Yes, sir, brother there are hundreds who knock them but I've been around this river all my life and I'ld walk to Lockport in my bare feet anytime for them."
  Strange manner of men, indeed, are these intrepid river captains who are liked and hated with such intensity. And stranger still is the fact that these reputed rum kings of great wealth still pilot their numerous craft, winter and summer, in the same manner they did nearly forty years ago.
Government Coast Guard fleet assembled to deal with Rum Runners on Lake Erie.
View is in the Barge Canal near Buffalo, after which the fleet was scattered to different parts 
of the Lake.  1928

TRUTH - October 2, 1926  

The "Baron of Grand Island" Comes Back  Once more, Frank Fix, "Baron of Grand Island," has fallen afoul of the Prohibition Law. Falling afoul of the prohibition law is probably one the best things Mr. Fix does, Mr. Fix and various sundry members of his family. From time to time stories have circulated regarding the liquor caches on the island and the raconteurs have insisted the liquors was the property of the Fix establishment. At one time Mr. Fix bought a submarine chaser with which he was to embark in the rum trade. Just how many trips the craft made only Mr. Fix knows but the boat now is rusting away at a Grand Island dock. 
  But, according to residents, Mr. Fix is now the happy owner of a speed boat capable of a speed of some 40 miles an hour which is fast enough to outfoot anything that Uncle Sam boasts in the pursuing line, at least in the Buffalo district. So it is safe to assume that the rum running activities in the river will go merrily on despite the efforts of the federal government to dampen the ardor of the Island natives.

Captain Frank F. Fix died of a heart attack at the helm of the Seabreeze as it left the Amherst Street pier on a Sunday afternoon for a pleasure cruise around the Island, August 26, 1945. He is buried in Whitehaven Cemetery.
Charles Fix died in 1934
Captain Clarence Fix, Franks Son, died January 5, 1961

Related Grand Island Stories: 

The Busti Avenue Light House

The Buffalo Grand Island War of 1819

Noah's Grand Island, A Refuge For His People


Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Busti Avenue Lighthouse

Range Light located at Busti & Niagara Street

Courier Express  November 17 1931
   Demolition of two old lighthouses which have outlived their usefulness has begun in Buffalo yesterday. One located at Niagara Street and Busti Avenue, is known as the Upper Range, and the other on the bird Island Pier near the foot of Massachusetts Ave., is called the Lower Range.
  The Houses were erected around 1885, and were used to expedite the passage of lumber carrying craft through what was known as the Niagara Channel in the river. They have not been employed for that purpose since the Black Rock Channel, a short cut between Tonawanda and Buffalo, was built two years ago(1929). The Strawberry Island and Grand Island lights now are used to guide navigation. The lighthouses were well known marks both to rivermen and motorists. They will be dismantled within two months.
    The 52 foot high Busti Street Range Light when dismantled, was transported by barge over to Grand Island by brothers Frank and Charles Fix. Before the completion of the Grand Island bridges in 1935, access to the island was by public ferry or private boat. The Fix brothers owned the Bedell House on Grand Island and most of the excursion and ferry boats running between the island and the mainland.
  They were reputed "rum barons" of the Niagara Frontier;  one time fish pirates; owners of a score of boats, including two submarine chasers, a speedy motor craft and a $65,000 steel ferry. 
   The Fix family later sold the Lighthouse to Mike Steffen, who used it as a trophy room adjacent to his house. The Steffen property and lighthouse were later incorporated into the grounds of The Buffalo Launch Club on Grand Island, where it stands today. Club members in the late 1990s completely refurbished its exterior. (see picture at bottom)

The Lower Range Light on the Bird Island Pier opposite the 
Old Water Intake ~ photo from the Buffalo History Gazette collection circa 1905

The Upper Range Light formally at Busti and Niagara Street,
as it looks today at the Buffalo Launch Club on Grand Island

See Related Story: 'Fix'ing the Volstead Act on Grand Island

Also See: The Niagara River Rear Range Lighthouse

Saturday, July 23, 2011

So Who Was, Hertel Avenue?

Courier Express ~ February 26 1939
   Hertel Avenue stretches from Niagara Street to Main Street across North Buffalo for four miles. It is named for John Stephen Hertel, former county supervisor from the old twelfth ward, one of three owners of the tract of land, now Riverside Park, and founder of the Black Rock Businessmen's Association, the first local organization for businessmen. 
   When John Stephen Hertel opened a hotel at Hertel Ave. (then Bird St.) and Niagara St. in the 1870's, the avenue that bears his name extended only from Niagara Street to Military Road. When the Niagara horse car line was extended to Hertel he ran out of his hotel, to ride the first horse car to pass his place.
Bird Street ~ Later Hertel Ave.
  Born in Edesheim Germany, he came to Black Rock with his parents at the age of two years. He attended the St. Francis School and learned the cooper trade. Through brewers and distillers for whom he made barrels, he became interested in the hotel business, and his first independent venture was his hotel at Hertel and Niagara Street. He made good in it, and later in partnership with John J. Esser and Frank Argus, Mr. Hertel bought what was known as Germania Park, and opened a Hotel there. That tract, bought by the City of Buffalo, became Riverside Park. After selling Germania Park, Mr. Hertel withdrew from the hotel business. With his partner John J. Esser, he entered the coal and wood business at Niagara and Farmer Streets, and also established the Tonawanda Street Planing Mill, at Tonawanda and Arthur Streets.
  Mr. Hertel's interest included directorship in the Erie County Insurance Co., one of the city's earliest insurance firms, and extensive real estate holdings. His property included most of the land now occupied by Peoria and Hartman Streets. He was instrumental in subdividing both streets, and named the latter for the family of his wife, who was before marriage Anna S. Hartman, of Rochester. 
John S. Hertel II
   A lifelong democrat, he was active in local politics and was nominated for Congress. His campaign was creditable, though unsuccessful. The large home at 362 Dearborn Street, where John S. Hertel lived for many years, is occupied by three members of his family, his son John Stephen Hertel II; his daughter, Mrs. Francis Healy, and his grandson John Hertel Healy.
   John Stephen Hertel died in 1917. Something of his initiative and self-confidence was inherited by his son and namesake John Stephen Hertel II.  After 20 years absence from Buffalo he returned to his home town in 1931, the gloomiest year of the depression, and went into business for himself.  Born on the street named for his father, he was educated at Canisius High School.  He learned the plumbers trade, and operated his own business, The John S. Hertel Plumbing Co., and had a hand in the construction of the country's largest and best known buildings, in New York, Chicago, and other principle cities of the Eastern and Midwestern states. He died in 1970.
The following added courtesy of an anonymous contributor.
     John Hertel's 'Hotel' at 2078 Niagara Street is found in old city directories as far back as 1868, It changed hands a few times, notably with Joseph and Lillian McVan around 1922. Joseph passed in 1932, Lillian continued to run the place right up to 1963 when she sold it to former mayor Pankow; he didn't hang on to it very long, selling it to Joseph Terrose in 1966 for its final couple decades as McVan's.

Hertel Avenue As It Is - 1887

Old House On Hertel Avenue, Near Colvin Street
   Buffalo Express April 3, 1887 The public-spirited citizen of Buffalo in these days finds many questions, touching the prosperity of this city, well worth careful consideration.  One of them is building a sewer through Hertel Ave.  This avenue is nearly four miles long, and runs from the Niagara River at lower Black Rock across the extreme northern side of the city, to Main Street.  For the greater part of its length it is a country road.  The land through which it runs is largely held by land associations and others who anticipate a rapid development of the section as a residence neighborhood. 
Hertel Avenue, Buffalo -- Near Cornelius Creek
  These property holders are of course eager for improvements, and claim that many would follow the construction of the desired sewer, concerning which THE EXPRESS has said: "It is difficult to present any good reason for building the proposed sewer. No truthful man in his senses will maintain that the sewer is needed now, or likely to be needed many years to come. It's only present use would be to create a demand for outlying farm lands cut up into city lots, and that is only a personal and local reason which should have no weight whatever with the Legislature. The business of the Senate and the Assembly is to legislate for the public interest--and not for individual.  The proposed law to bond the City in order to make this local  improvement, which is not even needed, would be special legislation of the most glaring character."
Hertel Avenue Looking Through the Erie Trestle
  The accompanying illustrations well show the character and scenery of the Hertel Avenue District.  The old stone house, shown in the first picture, stands at the head of Colvin Street, and is uninhabited. The lintel over the front door bears a remarkable inscription in what appears to be misspelled Dutch, as follows: 18 { MACH - TAILENA - PEOHL - W } 45  The members of the Historical Society or any local archeologist who can render this into intelligible English, and concoct a theory to go with it will deserve the renown given by Dickens to the Pickwick Club. The interpretation may be "Magdalena Pfohl", or it may not. The reader may formulate a better translation if he can. The third illustration gives a view on Hertel Avenue, looking through the Erie Trestle near Cornelius Creek.

Editors Note:  Of course we all know now what Hertel Avenue has become, one of the most vibrant and active thoroughfares in Buffalo. But in 1887 it's potential was not as easily recognized, at least not by the Editors of the BUFFALO EXPRESS anyway.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Fitch Crèche of Buffalo

The Upper Crèche and Pound
  The Fitch Crèche, nationally recognized as the first day care center for the children of working women in the United States, one which would serve as a model to be emulated by other American cities.  It was the first to implement a Froebel Kindergarten in the U.S.  
   Maria M. Love was a prominent Buffalonian and social services pioneer. In 1881, she established the Fitch Crèche, at 159 Swan Street in Buffalo, near the corner of Michigan Avenue. Ms. Love founded the Fitch Crèche, after a trip to France where she became aware of the plight of children of working mothers.  The building was a dry goods store that was owned by Benjamin Fitch, a native Buffalonian who donated this building for use by the Crèche which formally opened January 6, 1881. By 1881, Mr. Fitch was a wealthy New York City philanthropist.
   The Fitch Crèche, was formed under the auspices of the Charity Organization Society of Buffalo, the first organization of its type in the United States. Buffalo adopted the London method of organized charities in 1877. The first charity organization societies were created to re-organize the public and private charities that had proliferated during the depression of the 1870s. Many charity leaders were disturbed by what they saw as an inefficient and chaotic array of urban philanthropy. The charity organization movement broke from earlier traditions by avoiding the dispensation of direct relief.  
  Harpers New Monthly 1885 - "Think of having to take care of 20,000 babies! This is what the Fitch Crèche has done since 1879. This public cradle is the most interesting charity in Buffalo, because the most unique. Founded on the model of the London Day Nursery to care for little children whose mothers earn their support as char-women, it has so far outstripped it's progenitor as to be called the model crèche of the world."  The following descriptions of the Fitch Crèche, are excerpts taken from the "Proceedings of Charities and Correction at the thirteenth annual session held in St. Paul, Minn." July 15-22, 1886, written by Nathaniel S. Rosenau.  
        When we realize the truth of Victor Hugo's words, "All the vagabondage of the world begins in neglected childhood" we will also realize that the beginning of work for the actual prevention of pauperism lies among the children.  To Build up in them ideas of order, of cleanliness, and of thrift; to save them from the neglect of squalid homes; to keep them from the highways and the gutters; and above all, to remove from their lives the taint of beggary, the disgrace of municipal relief, which in the light of modern experience, is a moral disease, more contagious than any known to medicine,---is to build a future generation, self-reliant, cleanly, and thrifty, which will not require alms, which will not need Charity Organization Societies, which will travel the road paved for it in it's younger days,--the road to independent citizenship.   To these ends, the crèche  and the labor bureau are all important factors. We, in Buffalo, are satisfied that no other charities have helped so far toward their consummation.
    "We charge a daily fee of 5 cents for each child, which the matron is permitted to remit when she thinks circumstances warrant. The fees collected during 1885 amounted to $296.60.  This fee is asked for two reasons: first to eliminate, so far as possible, any idea that permission to leave a child at the crèche is a charity; second as a preventative measure to keep a mother from bringing her child unless she has work for the day.      The Fitch Crèche is a building of four stories. In the basement are the matron's office, kitchen,— connected by a dumb waiter with the floors above,— laundry, reception-room for children, a small dining-room for the help, closets, and store-rooms. The entire second floor is devoted to the children. On it are a large schoolroom, a play-room, dormitory, bath-room, wardrobe, dining-room, closet, and water-closets. The third floor constitutes the infants' department, and consists of a nursery, dormitory, bath-room, closet, and water-closets. The fourth floor is given up to the infirmary and sleeping-rooms for the help. 
   The dormitories are furnished with iron cribs, each provided with a hair mattress, a feather pillow, a rubber sheet, two cotton sheets, a blanket, and a counterpane. The nursery has swinging iron cradles on fixed standards, which are provided with muslin curtains in addition to the bedding of the cribs. The nursery is also provided with a pound, a portion of the floor about five by six feet, enclosed by a stout wooden railing and carpeted with a soft quilt, in which the infants are placed when awake, to roll about as much as they please, secure from harm.
Dining in The Crèch
      A price of fifteen dollars was placed on each crib and cradle; and many were taken by individual ladies and small clubs, who then furnished them. Each is named after some flower, whose representation hangs on the wall above it; and many sets of bedding are embroidered with the names or representations of the designating blossoms.  Each bath-room contains three small stationary bath-tubs, with hot and cold water faucets. A row of numbered hooks extends around the room, one belonging to each child, on each of which hang a towel, comb, and wash-rag or sponge, which are used only for the child to whom the hook belongs.
     The ventilated closets are connected with an air-shaft, through which a current of fresh air passes continually, thoroughly airing anything that may be hanging in them.  The infirmary is a cheerful room, in an isolated position, which is always ready for a child which may become ill suddenly, and whom it will not be safe to move. But thus far, fortunately, we have not been called upon to use it. The crèche is ready for the child at seven o'clock in the morning. The little one is brought into the reception room where it is taken from the mother by a kind nurse. It goes to the bath-room, where it's clothing is entirely removed and hung in a ventilated closet.  A bath follows, after which the uniform of the creche is donned; and the child finds it's way to the play-room, where there are plenty of toys for it's amusement. Breakfast is ready at 8 o'clock; and play follows until nine, when the cheerful good morning of the kindergartner calls the little one to to more serious yet very pleasant occupations.  At 11 o'clock dinner is served, and then the kindergarten again until one.  Then there is a romp in the open air, if the weather permits, and a nap, if the little head be tired.  At four o'clock, after face and hands have been washed, supper is eaten, when the little one is dressed to  wait the coming of mother, brother, or sister, to take it to it's home.
Fitch Crèche Children with Nursery Maid
     We take particular pride in the fact that, owing to scrupulous medical examinations and the great care in handling the children, though our total number of admissions now exceeds thirty thousand, we have not had a single serious epidemic of zymotic disease. The results obtained from the creche, aside from the greatest of all, ---making mothers independent of alms,---are many.   
   Cleanliness, insisted upon from the beginning, soon becomes second nature to the child, and from the child is not long spreading to the home. Good, wholesome food, and plenty of  it, has many times redeemed from ill health and apparent early death some little child, puny and weak from insufficient nourishment. Association with many children has cured morbid dispositions; and care on the part of the nurses has created good manners, orderly natures, and self-reliance, and supressed quarrelsome dispositions.  These results are apparent in a most cursory examination of the children, and they demonstrate, beyond question, the usefulness of what frequently is called " the best charity in Buffalo".  To this proud position, it has strong claims; for not only is it an important factor in suppressing pauperism, but  also preventing an appearance in future generations.
Fitch Crèche a Couple of Years Before Demolition 
to Expand a PARKING LOT! 1990's 
   The Labor Bureau:  But,  if we provide a place for the children, it is extremely necessary that the mothers, unable to find work for themselves, should be provided with employment that will enable them to earn a livelihood.  For this purpose we established our labor bureau.  Applications for washer women, house-cleaners and laundresses, are received at our offices of the society and the creche by mail, telephone or in person, and are supplied by the employees in charge with women according to their needs.  So far as the women are concerned this plan worked well.

Front of  Crèche
Editors Note:  Buffalo over the years, always clamoring for tourism and attractions, has been notorious for allowing destruction of historic structures and thus eliminating tourism dollars in the process.  Even beyond dollars, just the pride in presenting our beautiful history and architecture to those outside our local area who come here for conventions, showing them that we have respect for our heritage. The Fitch Crèche was the first day care center for the children of working women in the United States and the second in the World! It would have been incredible to be able to recreate the Fitch Crèche, a museum not only to that, but Maria M. Love and "The Charity Organization Society" of Buffalo, also the first in America! Also a place to raise money for the Maria M. Love Convalescent Fund. It was demolished to expand a parking lot by a few spaces! Thank You demolitionists of Buffalo, you scored another hit. Tourists, you can park here, and tour our beautiful historic parking lots.

   Please support the Marie M. Love Convalescent Fund.    

Donate Today at http://www.marialovefund.org/

Thank You

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