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Finding Buffalo

I love books and I love bookstores. Forget the bars and nightclubs. A good Friday night out for me is a trip to the bookstore, especially if it is a used bookstore. Used bookstores offer the possibility of adventure down every aisle. You never know what you will find on a shelf of used books, as any part of printing history could be within reach. Of course one of the subjects I am always on the lookout for is Buffalo. The number of new Buffalo centric publications has grown substantially in recent years many focusing on architecture, economy, and politics. I have a moderate sized Buffalo collection with older publications dating back into the 1800’s, along with an extensive postcard collection.
Older publications on Buffalo can be very rare. The relative number of titles is small and they were often printed in small lots. I feel like I have seen everything printed on Buffalo because I tend to find the same titles over and over again. Long ago I found the ultimate prize in Buffalo books, “Beautiful Homes of Buffalo” which comes in two editions, one from the 1910’s and one from the 1930’s. These beautiful and extremely rare books are filled with pictures of Buffalo’s many mansions along with brief mention of their owners and images of local landmarks. One of the volumes was recently for sale at Old Editions Books for about $600. Just when you think that there is nothing left to find you come across a real treasure such as these three treasures. Two of them I knew about but never saw in used bookstores before.

“Buffalo Your City” by Alice Ennis Glazier and Edwin F. Rundell is the small blue book used for years in Buffalo Public Schools to teach 7th graders about the history of their city. I remember using this book in school. It may well have been the spark that ignited my Buffalo passion. The book I recently found was copyrighted in 1947 (I hope the copy I was issued while at school 56 in the 70’s was a bit newer). It is filled with images and descriptions of regional geography, ‘boosterish’ history, the political structure of Buffalo and Erie County, institutions and landmarks, along with chapter quizzes. Can you answer this question? “The first Jewish Orthodox Synagogue in Buffalo was established in ……………..”
“A City is People, A collection of poems and photographs form the works of Joseph Manch”. Joseph Manch was highly regarded long time superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools. I remember seeing this book in stores when it was new. It was originally published in 1972. The copy I found was from the 4th printing in 1984 and is signed by the author with a greeting to “Dot and Rog”. The thing I find most interesting is the cover, which shows the Marine Midland Center (HSBC) under construction on the skyline. It is a snapshot in time as Buffalo strived to flex its muscle one last time.
The third find was not a book, but a Chamber of Commerce piece put out by Bethlehem Steel called “The Buffalo Story, Industrial Advantages of Buffalo and Suburban Areas”. It is packed with great images depicting Buffalo’s industrial and civic might. It was published in 1950 and is very poignant, knowing that the bottom was about to fall out on that industrial might. The most interesting image in the publication is this aerial view of the Thruway under construction in the Cheektowaga area. The giant clover leafs being formed on virgin farm look like massive earth sculptures from ancient civilizations. This farmland would soon be filled with new houses, factories and shopping centers. Notice the airport with its single runway at the top right. Images and books like these provide a great insight into today’s Buffalo. A little look back can be very revealing as to how we got to the place we are at and help guide a course for the future.

Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

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