I’ve often times thought how horrific it must have been to watch the destruction of Humboldt Parkway in person. I wonder what I would have done. Would I have stood in front of a bulldozer? Would I have packed my bags and left Buffalo? Would I have sat on my front porch and cried? Would I have screamed from the rooftops? I honestly can’t image the thought of seeing such destruction underway – those trees being cut down. The birds silenced. Frederick Law Olmsted must have rolled over in his grave.
Yesterday I received an email from Mary Ann Rombach that pretty much sums up what I would have felt had I been around at the time, although I’m sure that what I can only envision is nothing compared to being at the scene of the crime.
“I was living on 666 Riley Street pre and post the Kensington Expressway construction which destroyed my childhood playground, Humboldt Parkway,” said Mary Ann. “I would actually consider moving back to Buffalo if the Expressway was ripped out and Humboldt Parkway reconstructed like it used to be, before 1961. I am still extremely upset by the slaughter of that park and all its trees; and all of its neighborhoods. I was 12 or 13 when it happened; and I am 68 now and still full of fury for that destruction. I hope Robert Moses is rotting in hell.”
If you think that that last sentence is a bit harsh, simply remember how many lives and neighborhoods were destroyed in the process. Now think about what we can do to enrich our city by reconnecting neighborhoods that are, to this day, ripped apart by a freeway.
Now Restore Our Community Coalition (ROCC) is looking to right one of the biggest wrongs that this city has ever seen. The organization is fighting to mend the city, and the broken hearts that people still suffer from to this very day. We have a chance to undo, in our lifetime, what was so callously done before many of us were ever born.
This particular Moses parted our city. That, to me, is a real challenge – one for the ages. To say that we helped to reverse the damages that set the Humboldt Neighborhood reeling… that would be a mighty accomplishment that we should all be backing.
Receiving Mary Ann’s email was like getting punched in the gut. It’s a punch that I will never forget as long as I live. I never saw this city nearly implode upon itself. I only see the results. I can feel the pain of those who endured it – it’s a sharp pain, and one that should never be forgotten… until the day that we can walk down Humboldt Parkway and see the rows of saplings rising once again, where mighty trees once stood.
Update: Mary Ann sent a follow up email that reads:
Dad was so extremely disturbed about it, we moved out to Cheektowaga and I went to High School there. (CCHS grad 1965, we just had our 50th reunion there Aug ‘15).
People are astonished in western Canada when I tell them I had such a brilliant childhood in Buffalo on Riley Street. Our whole family misses that neighbourhood.
Humboldt Parkway was was a daily part of our lives. There were so many trees in it and on our neighbourhood streets, that you could not see the sky through the leaves. We lived under a canopy of trees where cicadas would sing through the night. I loved that sound. I used to brag that our home had the biggest (silver) maple on the whole block, and it Was the biggest tree. The city cut it down because the roots lifted up the sidewalk; and I am still very upset about that! I loved that tree. There would have been other solutions.
We’d come home from grade school at St. Mary Magdalene (Fillmore and Urban), drop our books off at home, grab our ice skates, then scurry over to the skating rink in Humboldt Park where all our classmates and the Christian Brothers were skating to the music of the fifties, pumped out over giant speakers. The rink was PACKED every day with local skaters; and at 5 pm we got kicked off the rink for the hockey teams to start playing. We also had skate races there on weekends, and I got a gold medal for the speed skating event there (in the novice class).
Then every Saturday morning we’d walk along the Parkway to the Buffalo Museum of Science, where we had International Folk Dance Classes (a complete riot), Bird Identification Classes (I can still hear the lady imitating a Chickadee’s call), and in the summer, Telescope night on Wednesdays when we watched the Moon and Saturn close up. We had summer Art Classes in the Rose Garden (where I won a gold medal for my pastel of a dolphin). I heard this Rose Garden might also have been destroyed.
Our grade school would go to the Humboldt Pool to practice running skills, track, swim in the summer, and play baseball on the fields. I’d walk my younger siblings through the great alley of Chestnut Trees in the Park; and it was our block game to play with those chestnuts. We put a shoelace through them and tried to see how many of our friends chestnuts we could crack. We’d soak them in vinegar to make them harder. If you broke 10 other’s chestnuts, you would have a 10 Kinger. I once had a 57 Kinger. I forget who was the champion.
Then in my free time, the Museum had a very aesthetically designed and furnished library where I went to read many books. They had the Arts and Crafts designed tables to read upon; and I loved them so much I bought one for our current home here in BC.
Because of Humboldt Parkway and Museum of Science, we had a very rich and cultural upbringing, a far cry from what exists there now. It’s been about 55 years since the trauma happened to so many people who had to flee the destruction, and as you can see, it has never been forgotten. Our forest was destroyed. It gave shade, oxygen, and life to the city. It quieted the sound of automobiles which I scarcely remember hearing. The sound of the freeway is ugly by comparison. I loved the rustling of the leaves; and the sound of the fog horns through our city forest when ships were coming to the Queen City of the Lakes.