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Norb’s Corner: Buffalo in the 1950s

In the fifties, my father had a Lightning class sailboat named Claire. We were moored at a dock at a small private marina called the Motor Boat Club of Buffalo. The irony of this didn’t escape me. We would sail out to the breakwall where he would tie up so we could go swimming. It wasn’t really swimming per say as we would have life jackets on and were tied to a “line” so they could haul us in if needed. We would also sail past the grain elevators and on to Lake Erie.

After a day of sailing we might go to the clubhouse where I would have a basket of salty, hot, French fries for dinner. I remember the jukebox they had in the bar area, it was a Wurlitzer Bubbler. My parents would give us money and we would feed it. We were able to play three songs for a quarter. If we didn’t go to the clubhouse, then we would go to Ted’s hot dog stand at the foot of Massachusetts Avenue under the Peace Bridge.

On the way home we might fall asleep in the “way back” behind the rear seat of my father’s 1956 Ford Ranch Wagon. This was long before seat belt laws or even seat belts. Occasionally we would stop at Freddies Doughnuts which was the Northern answer to Krispy Kreme, serving up sinkers hot from the fryer and dripping with warm, sweet glaze. They also had these scrumptious peanut sticks that were just to die for. We used to watch the process thru a large window in the side of the building. I recall watching the bug zapper by the front door electrocuting the sand flies that were attracted by its blue light. Freddie’s sold their last doughnut in 1989 and the building was razed 20 years later.

Photo courtesy WNY Heritage

We used to drive to Ja Fa Fa Hots on Harlem Rd. Cheektowaga. Ja Fa Fa Hots was a hot dog stand with a special “secret sauce.” I guess the secret’s safe now, since the restaurant closed quite a few years ago.

In the 1950s, Buffalo watched as two grocery giants did battle for their shopping patronage. Both Loblaws and A&P were having a price war.

Buffalo’s population actually peaked in 1950, when it was the nation’s 15th-largest city. Ever since then, its numbers have been dropping dramatically, so much so that Buffalo’s now down to the same population it had back in the 1890s.

I had a 7 transistor radio back then and listened to a lot of Buffalo radio. Trying to attract the increasing teenage population, Bob Wells’ “Hi-Teen” show was on WEBR and was the model for Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.” George “Hound Dog” Lorenz was one of the first white deejays in the country to play music from black bands on a daily basis. This music soon became rock ‘n’ roll. In 1955 WWOL’s Guy King climbed atop a Shelton Square billboard and played “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley until police arrested him.

In 1957, WBNY then started broadcasting a “TOP 40” format that was quickly duplicated by WKBW in 1958. With the heavy promotion and hiring of many of the most memorable DJ’s in Buffalo’s history, the 50,000-watt “KB” led the way for rock ‘n’ roll through the 1960s.

At “KB” and at WBNY, the rock-jock rosters were filled with the exceptional talents of Dan Neaverth, Tom Shannon, Joey Reynolds, Sandy Beach, and Fred Klestine.

Sports play-by-play turn out to be a huge audience builder. The most popular program through the 1950s was Buffalo Bisons Baseball on WGR, with the renowned Bill Mazer at the mic. Buffalo flourished with other top notch sports broadcast personalities that included Chuck Healy, Rick Azar, Dick Rifenburg, and Stan Barron.

Every fall my parents would take us to Robert Hall where I got two pairs of dark blue, polyester pants for the school year. This was my school allotment and if I out grew them, my mom would just let down the cuff. Heaven forbid that I ripped them or spilled something on them. I had to change out of them as soon as I got home from school and put on jeans.

Visniak was the brand name of soft drinks produced by the “Saturn-Visniak Beverage Co.” in Sloan. The name of the brand was derived from the Polish word “wiśnia” for “cherry.” These were “pure, healthful, refreshing beverages” that were said to be “made in a modern, sanitary, daylight plant.” You couldn’t go into a VFW Hall, bingo parlor or bowling alley without finding Visniak soft drinks. These were delivered in wooden crates that held 24 splits of this delicious thirst quencher.

My uncle Bill used to be a Queen-O salesman. During the summer I would ride shotgun on his delivery truck and help him drop off this sugary drink at stores, bars and restaurants. Because we both lived in the Bailey-Kensington section of Buffalo, at the end of the day, we would stop to eat at “The Best Yet” a small dive bar located on Bailey Avenue with a bowling alley on the second floor.

Norb has many many more memories of growing up in Buffalo but those are for another time.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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