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Then and Now: School 30 Vs M&T Bank

This older image is of Buffalo’s Elmwood School #30 which once stood on the east side of Elmwood Avenue between Ferry and Cleveland.  The image labels it as School 56 but, this must have been a very early designation.  Any students of my era would remember this dark hulking building as School #30, with School #56 being the big red brick building on Delavan Avenue,  just east or Elmwood.  Today this site is occupied by a flat one story bank building fronting a big flat parking lot. The school was torn down very quickly after the city closed it down some time in the late 1970s.  Just as quickly M&T bank erected this branch bank.

The new bank building was designed in a gleaming white finish to match its gleaming white downtown headquarters tower.  The sleek low profile and black windows were meant to give the building an image of efficient modernism.  It could not have been any different from the creaky old school building it replaced.

When I say the old school was creaky, I mean that literally.  The giant old wooden doors creaked and the finely warn narrow oak floors boards creaked. It was a big dark cavernous old building and I loved it.  It was the perfect movie image of an old inner city school with giant windows, endless stairs and an asphalt playground/parking lot. It was probably a fire trap too.  I doubt it had a sprinkler system.

When they tore down the school and built the new bank the project was heralded as a sign of great progress in Buffalo.  When I was a kid I loved that they were building something new in the neighborhood.  Even the urbanist Jane Jacobs noted in her writing that a healthy city environment needs a mix of new and old buildings.  But the mix needs to be composed of quality buildings.  This M&T branch is not a horrible building but it is a one-dimensional participant in the urban fabric.  It contributes little to the street but takes a lot. The progress they cheered back then probably eliminated the possibility of far greater and more economically valuable progress on this site.  Today, if still standing, that old school building would likely be housing 30 or so highly sought after apartments.  It likely would be paying the city far more in taxes than the bank does and would be providing local businesses with more customers.  It would have also been adding far more interest to the street as well.  The old school is gone for good.  Lamenting its loss is not an exercise in nostalgia.  It is a lesson in the pitfall of short-sighted thinking.

Also note that the Unitarian Church just to the right of the picture removed the house that used to sit between the school and the church building.  They seemingly did this just for the heck of it because now there is only a grassy lot there.  What city does not need more grassy lots on its prime neighborhood commercial street?

Image notes:  I typically ask permission to use images in these stories.  However, in this case I am not quite sure where the black and white “then” image came from.  I think I scanned it from an old  book or post card in my collection but was not able to find the original.  If this is your image I apologize for not contacting you.  If it is yours, let me know and I will add links and credits if you are OK with its use here. The “now” images is from Google.

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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