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Explore Buffalo: 100 Years of Hertel History

Explore Buffalo docent and board member Gary Szakmary takes us on a colorful tour of historic Hertel Avenue!  Our tours of Hertel will return in Spring of 2021. Be sure to check out our offerings of winter tours and online presentations at ExploreBuffalo.org. This holiday season, check out the Hertel Business Association’s Shop Local, Shop Hertel promotion at hertel-ave.com

Although Hertel Avenue began its life in the mid-19th Century, most of the neighborhood we see today was built roughly 100 years ago – between 1915 and 1925.  This includes most of the commercial buildings along Hertel, as well as nearly all the houses on Hertel’s side streets.

As we look around, it’s easy to see evidence of this construction boom.  Numerous commercial structures prominently boast their construction dates.

Many other buildings, though lacking posted dates of construction, also trace their origin to this time period, including the North Park Theater (1920), the former St. Margaret’s Church and School (1918), and the Saranac Synagogue (1918) – to name just a few. 

One of Michael Shea’s many WNY Theaters, the North Park opened in 1920.  Its interior, lobby and marquee were recently restored.

The Cornelius, originally built in 1918 as St. Margaret’s R. C. Church and School, was recently converted into upscale apartments and shops.  Its name pays homage to Cornelius Creek Road – the predecessor to Hertel Avenue.

Originally built as a Methodist Church in 1918, the Saranac Synagogue has served its members since 1931.

Most of the houses in the Hertel neighborhood are doubles and bungalows – two very popular and affordable styles in those days.  A hundred years ago, being able to purchase one of these must have seemed like an American Dream come true.

These charming bungalows date to 1915-1920.

Life in the Hertel neighborhood reached a zenith between the 1920s and the 1960s, when Hertel was home to many Jewish and Italian-American families and businesses.  When those moved on, the neighborhood lost some of its vitality.  However, in recent years the area has become a “hot” place to live and work.  Many new and interesting shops and restaurants have appeared, and housing has become much sought-after.

For a tangible sign of Hertel’s renaissance, we need look no further than the abundance of fascinating murals that have popped up in the area.


Photo credits: Gary Szakmary

You can discover more local architecture and history by joining an Explore Buffalo tour (tickets can be purchased here), signing up for the weekly email newsletter, which is filled with local history content every Monday, and by following Explore Buffalo on Facebook. In a typical year, more than 80% of Explore Buffalo’s revenue comes from tours, events, and other public programs, all of which were suspended until July 2020. You can help Explore Buffalo to continue its mission of promoting Buffalo architecture and history during this time by:

  • Donating online at explorebuffalo.org/donate
  • Buying a gift certificate at explorebuffalo.org/gift-shop (Be sure to take advantage of our Gift Certificate Holiday Sale beginning on December 17 with a 21% discount off of gift certificates!)
  • Purchasing an annual Explorer Pass at explorebuffalo.org/explorer-pass (Be sure to take advantage of our Explorer Pass Holiday Sale beginning on December 9 with a 21% discount off of passes!)

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Written by Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo is a nonprofit organization with a mission of promoting Buffalo and Western New York history, architecture, and neighborhoods through quality education to learners of all ages. Explore Buffalo's volunteer docents lead a wide range of guided tours by foot, bike, bus, kayak, and boat to explore our city's history and architecture; in 2019, more than 25,000 people participated in an Explore Buffalo tour or program. Learn more at explorebuffalo.org

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