Found Object

At first glance this derelict gas station on the east side is just another crumbling eyesore, one among so many hundreds of others in this forlorn part of the city.  It caught my eye as I sped by.  In many ways its composition is in the typical contemporary gas station format with a big cantilevered canopy hovering over the pumps in a sea of asphalt.  But on closer inspection this one is a little bit different. It is better. It looks to be mid century /1960′s vintage, an optimistic time when structural expressionism was all the rage.  The columns and main beams are made up of elegantly tapered wide flange steel shape.  This futuristic modernist detailing represents far more architectural attention and cost than the typical gas station you will find today.  The main structural elements are really quite beautiful.  


Mid century architecture is at a crisis stage in America.  It is at the critical age when buildings tend to reach their state of least desirability, the point where the fewest people have an appreciation for their artistic and economic value.  As a result we are losing buildings from mid 20th century at a rapid rate.  Mid century modernism represents a massive turning point in architectural design. Modernism’s claim that form was less important than the pure expression of function also ironically meant that the form took precedent over the people who actually used the buildings. This often aids in the demise of mid century works of architecture.  This building was built to serve cars but its designers did give back a bit bit to the people in the cars with the extra effort given to the structural elements.  

Buffalo has precious few good examples of mid century design remaining.  I would not advocate for keeping this gas station in place just to save a mid century relic but wouldn’t it be great to find a new use and location for these structural elements?  As a fun exercise  let’s brain storm on some new possibilities.  Here are some starters:

1. Cool modern house.
2. Beach pavilion at the outer harbor.
3. Farmer’s market pavilion. 
4. ????

259590_10200358479948940_1007368881_o.jpg


About the author  ⁄ WCPerspective

Buffalo and development junkie currently exiled in California.

31 comments
Old First Ward
Old First Ward

How about a toll booth museum. When I see it I instinctively reach for the 50 cents in the cup holder.

Better yet if I scrapped the metal I might get reimbursed for all the money I threw into the basket.

Dan
Dan

> I'm guessing the tanks are still intact.

And that might be why the station remains vacant. Leaky metal tanks that are too expensive to replace, given the potential revenue of a gas station here.

Dan
Dan

Kinda of. Thing is, it's a vernacular architectural style that's really limited to Buffalo, Montreal (mainly the eastern part of Montreal Island, though there's some in the western Anglo 'burbs), and a few parts of the NYC metropolitan area where there's a large Italian-American population. It's not found in Rochester, Cleveland, Syracuse, or Binghamton, even though they have large Italian-American communities.

annette
annette

Architecture and design aside, I miss this gas station. It is unfortunate that 4-5 blocks away, tons of money is being invested in the "Larkin" district, and I do not think anyone is seeing the potential in this little parcel. Personally, I would like to see it reopen as a gas station. I'm guessing the tanks are still intact. There has been no demolition since it was boarded up and closed.

LastManIn
LastManIn

I hope someone can do something with the steel before it rots. Re use it as what it is or at least retain the original design. But what's worse than the dreaded, often heard A-word, Steel, and always goes hand in hand with a gas station? Probably the same reason for the same Recckio sign is in both the 2009 painting and your recent photo. Unfortunately, no buyer doing even the slightest amount due dilligence will want to deal with the tanks.

And it's unfortunate because I stare at that building every time I drive down Fillmore and envision some new use, too. And what will most likely happen is that this will sit here in plain view for all of us to track it's rusting and erosion because no one will want to deal with the tanks. If I have time, I will dig through some old Phase I's and see if I can find out anything about the tanks. Maybe I'm wrong and they're long gone, but I doubt it.

Black Rock Lifer
Black Rock Lifer

Buffalo has always had this conservative face that masked a progressive and liberal underbelly. Even here in working class Black Rock there is a long history of artistic, political, and cultural pursuits. I was fortunate to be a neighbor and friend of Robert Creeley, we often discussed the untapped potential and creativity that abounds in places like Buffalo.

grad94
grad94

"maggadino mediterranean." hilarious and apt!

but you realize that you're making up style names, right? how long ago was it that you pounced all over queenseyes for making up neighborhood names?

grad94
grad94

i think mark goldman would agree. read "city on the edge."

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

I like Bini's ideas. Another along those lines: How about covered bike parking--?

RaChaCha
RaChaCha

Shhh! Don't want the Lackawanna mayor to find out there's any cool architecture in his city -- the bulldozers will be on them the next day!

medea
medea

I was just fantasizing about this building the other day..after dismounting a freight train several years ago, I walked to this place to get my bearings. It reminds me of the warm and fuzzy feelings I used to get at the drive-in..I propose a bio-shelter/greenhouse

Dan
Dan

> because if there was a good concentration of it, it could form the basis of a historic district.

Some cities have preservation districts comprising mostly of postwar modernist buildings.

Denver - Arapahoe Acres: http://www.arapahoeacres.org/

Las Vegas - Beverly Green: http://veryvintagevegas.com/category/beverly-green/

Buffalo's burbs have a few clusters of fairly distinctive architecture styles, though they might not be seen as attractive by today's standards.

Shed: a lot in Amherst: Audubon New Town, Breezewood Common, some scattered around 14221/14226. It's an architectural style that's native to the Pacific Northwest.

Northtowns Neo-Mediterranean/Faux Italianate/Maggadino Mediterranean/Capozzi style: very heavy concentrations in Four Seasons in Snyder, the various Troy and Del streets in Amherst, and scattered in most move-up subdivisions built in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Amherst.

Green Acres and Green Acres North in Tonawanda: among suburban Buffalo's few postwar large-scale "production built" developments. Most houses in the area are architecturally intact on the outside, and many haven't had interior since they were built.

There's a bit of modern architecture scattered around Tonawanda. 1080 Colvin, anyone?

EricOak
EricOak

-->: "Anyhow, postwar Buffalo was a conservative city; not necessarily politically, but its collective mindset. "Staid" is a good adjective to describe the zeitgeist of Buffalo during the era."

This is partly true of the architectural mood but not true of the overall cultural mood of Buffalo from 1945 -1980. The creative Associates, the UB literature culture, the exuberance of the philharmonic in the 60s and 70s, the self-conscious Buffalo pusuit of contemporary art at the Albright...I don't see a rival to this in midsize cities.

elias
elias

uh huh...i can get with that

Dan
Dan

>The bottoming out of housing filtration and the resulting housing filtration

Meant "The bottoming out of housing filtration and the resulting urban prairie"

Dan
Dan

> a classier Airport Jewelers type retail or diner

Are you saying Airport Jewelers isn't classy?

:D

Dan
Dan

> so dan, what you're saying is people became successful in Buffalo, so much so that they could afford to move out to a better, seemingly more comfortable area,

Yes. Postwar prosperity.

> families were having less kids

Yes. Household sizes in the Buffalo area have shrunk every decade since 1950. Fewer people occupying a lot more houses.

> while the local regional economy continued to prosper.

Yes.

> that's the reason for the population decline in the first place

In the city, at least. There was also urban renewal (even in the 1930s with the clearance of The Hooks), the demolition of substandard housing units, tiny attic apartments that owners left vacant or which nobody wanted to rent, and so on. The bottoming out of housing filtration and the resulting housing filtration in some parts of Buffalo were still decades away.

> ...then, the elite who remained in the city had this artsy fartsy way of life, but in a conservative, not flashy manner.

Yes. Buffalo did have a notable counterculture scene in the 1960s, but it was seen as a liability by civic leaders. Many endorsed the idea of placing the new UB campus in Amherst, including the Buffalo News, because it would isolate what many thought were dangerous social forces.

> i'm thinking, someone recognized that Buffalo needed to modernize, maybe they felt that the economy was shifting, and they would not be able to capitalize on the new economy as the city existed at the time, so they got together and decided to build a highway through the city, in order to eliminate a good portion of what was already declining anyway.

The Kensington Expressway was planned in the late 1940s, when the Fruit Belt and Masten Park areas were still solidly German, Hamlin Park Jewish and Italian, and Fillmore-Leroy and Kensington mixed white ethnic. Buffalo's northeastern and eastern radial streets (Broadway, Genesee, Clinton, Main, Kensington) had traffic congestion on the same level as Main Street in Williamsville, and it was seen as a threat to the continued viability of downtown as a retail and office center.

Civic leaders believed that heavy industry and freight transshipment would remain the foundation of Buffalo's economy into the distant future. I've seen transcripts of speeches from the early 1930s warning of a not-so-bright future for Buffalo, pointing at the population growth of the Midwest and West, local complacency, lack of corporate headquarters, and dependence on basic industries where innovation is slow. I think this is the first time anybody ever mentioned decline.

Few thought to capitalize on emergent industries such as electronics. Aviation was thought to be up-and-coming, but most related companies in the region eventually left for areas where there was a larger agglomeration of similar industries and talent; LA, Denver, etc. Buffalo was a back office city, and although there was a lot of old money, there wasn't an entrepreneurial culture to take advantage of it. We got some great art out of the old-timers, but not a shot at future prosperity.

brownteeth
brownteeth

There are a handful of homes in the southtowns that are pretty neat mid-century style. My favorite is probably the one on Southpark in Blasdell. The address is approx. 4173 Southpark according to Google maps. It has a low hip roof and is built into the side of a small hill with a terrace. Very unique.

There's also a cool church and an office building on intersection of Ridge/Lynn/Southshore in Lackawanna. This part of Lackawanna also has some ranch homes with some neat mid century details.

elias
elias

so dan, what you're saying is people became successful in Buffalo, so much so that they could afford to move out to a better, seemingly more comfortable area, families were having less kids, while the local regional economy continued to prosper. that's the reason for the population decline in the first place...then, the elite who remained in the city had this artsy fartsy way of life, but in a conservative, not flashy manner. that created such gems such as UB, and who knows what other atrocities they may have caused (im just kidding)...

i'm thinking, someone recognized that Buffalo needed to modernize, maybe they felt that the economy was shifting, and they would not be able to capitalize on the new economy as the city existed at the time, so they got together and decided to build a highway through the city, in order to eliminate a good portion of what was already declining anyway...little did they know how much damage they'll end up doing, but thats another story...then came the new architecture, and it got seemingly worse by the build, capped by our wonderful fallout shelter, the convention center...

we all know our story, prosperity just spread out to the suburbs...why wasn't there anyone to pick up and start new businesses for so many years, or replace them, like what was happening all around the country? was it because of the tastes of the wealthy? did they influence the next generation of businessmen and innovators? did their architectural tastes inspire or discourage? for that matter did old buffalo inspire or discourage? why did the well off leave and never come back? they invested their wealth earned in Buffalo and built their own communities...no doubt Buffalo's robust economy then carried it through for generations, still does, but it seems like at some point in the fifties, it ceased to inspire new private sector growth. job decline, meant population decline...im sure people recognized it and did their best to turn it around, with it came the brutalist look, certainly lived up to its name...they may as well have rebuilt the titanic...

STEEL
STEEL

I have never seen those BRO quotes you list. It would be interesting to know their context. As For Buffalo's dislike of modernism I think your argument is weak. Buffalo has built several boldly modern buildings in recent years - the new addition to General Hospital and the new Federal building. You could argue that there are better building but no one could say they are not modern As in contemporary design) There are several more highly modern buildings being planned which will also be built in the next few years.

Dan
Dan

elias > sum it up, prosperity=great architecture decline/desperation=crappy architecture

The Buffalo region was growing through the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, although that growth was slower in relation to most of its peer cities. The population declined in the city, but much of it was due to shrinking family sizes, urban renewal, and the demolition of long-neglected and substandard units (attic apartments, rearhouses, etc), not the wholesale abandonment of neighborhoods. It was population decline due to prosperity; people could afford to upgrade.

Anyhow, postwar Buffalo was a conservative city; not necessarily politically, but its collective mindset. "Staid" is a good adjective to describe the zeitgeist of Buffalo during the era. The established nature of the city's businesses and old money WASP elite didn't lend itself to adventurous architecture. There were ambitious plans for the campus to be an architectural showplace, and it was -- for fans of brutalism, which tend to be mostly architects. Even to this day, modernism is shunned in Buffalo, probably because most of what was built was of mediocre quality, and out of context to the surrounding built environment. That conservative attitude is seen today in comments on BR: "It looks too new! It should reflect the city's golden age! Why can't they design it to look old?"

Dan
Dan

elias> the 'clockwork orange' kind or 'madmen' kind, which i find fascinating, and the 'cold war' kind...we in Buffalo have our share of the cold war kind

That's a good point. Buffalo has very few examples of exemplary mid-century architecture. There's a few great examples of the international style; One M&T Plaza by Yamasaki and Gordon Bunshaft's Knox Building at the Albright-Knox come to mind.

Modernist residential architecture is less prevalent than what might be seen in peer cities. Mid-century modern residential architecture is rare in Buffalo or its suburbs, despite the massive explosion in construction during the era. There's a sprinkling of mid-century in Tonawanda and Amherst, and some very scattered infill in the city (Coles House on Humboldt Parkway, and the little known pair of modern houses on Godfrey Street in Kensington), but not subdivisions full of it. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Buffalo region embraced a "fancy" faux-Italianate style that was very popular among Italian-American homebuilders like Maranno and Capozzi. That style was very rare outside of Buffalo, Montreal, and Staten Island.

Commercial? Googie was extremely rare in Buffalo, and what little was built has long since been destroyed or "modernized". Anyone remember the Four Seasons restaurant chain, which had several locations in Amherst? Otherwise, most 1960s/1960s-era retail architecture in the region was very utilitarian. There was some early buzz over the freestanding Hengerer's store on Main Street in Amherst/Eggertsville, but building got modernized beyond recognition when it was converted to offices.

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

I have always thought the same about this building, Steele. Good post.

NBuffguy
NBuffguy

If this was built today, I could see your point that they might be trying to make it look like the Jetsons, sort of. But considering The Jetsons aired in primetime from 1962–1963, at the same time when this style of architecture was popular, makes me sort of doubt that these building were meant to rip off an animated sitcom that ran for two years.

Jesse
Jesse

Meh. To me, mid-century style is the change from "let's spend money and make our buildings look good and last forever" to "let's just get it done quick but make it look like the Jetsons, sort of".

Blow it up.

Also: "the form took president".

Does the President know?

Fortunate4now
Fortunate4now

Steel is advocating for the preservation of steel!

Clean it up and set it at the outer harbor as a pavilion. I'll chip in $10..

grad94
grad94

travel the major east-bound avenues (ferry, delevan, genesee, sycamore, broadway) and you'll see more mid-century modern (mcm), most of it abandoned. there are just isolated examples here and there, which is too bad, because if there was a good concentration of it, it could form the basis of a historic district.

i am not sure that all of it represents decline. pretty much everything built in buffalo before, say, 1974, was built with optimism and "boldness." though architects never seem to learn that attempts to be "bold" always look cheesy and self-indulgent after a few years.

personally, i don't love mcm but i'm up for saving anything that inspires east side appreciation and investment.

biniszkiewicz
biniszkiewicz

It's always nice to be covered from the rain. Obvious transit re-uses would include taxi stand or bus stop (maybe at a mall or at a school; school buses one side, parent drop off the other?)

parking canopy for a smallish apartment building (park them perpendicularly, extending the roof if feasible).

a classier Airport Jewelers type retail or diner (enclose three sides in glass).

It's cheaper to salvage the steel and reuse than to buy new, but how much?

elias
elias

interesting to bring up mid century architecture, i've had this discussion with a number of people recently...first, this building...architectually, its rather ordinary, socially, this building was robbed almost on a daily basis, it's been rammed by a vehicle (more than once?), all kinds of abused...the neighborhood itself has much potential, but judging by lack of a growing private sector and continued population loss in the city, this neighborhood and many other neighborhoods in the east side have very little hope of coming back soon, i hope i'm wrong...

now, mid century...the problem i have had with mid century is that there are two kinds to me (im not an architect, just a poor kid from the lower west side...), the 'clockwork orange' kind or 'madmen' kind, which i find fascinating, and the 'cold war' kind...we in Buffalo have our share of the cold war kind, and it hasn't been very kind to us. only speaking for myself, this style has represented decline for us, (remember, the kensington expressway is also mid century)...for example the downtown core has a set of mid century buildings which seem to have either reached the end of their useful life (hsbc tower, main place mall/tower), or have already evolved (dulski). now you mentioned that critical stage and thats kind of where they're at now, but the part that has turned me off since i was a young boy is the bunker (cold war) look. it is very (if i can quote my favorite band rush) 'grim faced and forbidding'...i for one am glad dulski became avant, and wish the same for hsbc, mall. to me it represented an era of uncertainty in Buffalo, a desperate shot to keep up with the big boys, and it came at the expense of architecture from a prosperous Buffalo...however,

the tishmann and m&t buildings are examples of mid century builds that are worth preserving. they have a sense of prosperity to them. they have a big city charm to them. they're not imposing, actually theyre rather inviting, they're built to the curb...main place tower kind of falls into this category as well, except for the built to the curb part, therefore a bunker...a place like nyc has made mid century work probably because it never ceased being prosperous, therefore they had the ability to create a vibe with it that is nostalgic, romantic, and certainly prosperous...maybe we'll get that after the hamister group completes their project...m&t is just timeless, may it stand forever...

kleinhans has a clockwork orange feel to it...it is futuristic, in a nostalgic kind of way and certainly worthy of preservation...but then again, frank lloyd wright's style was also futuristic nostalga (if thats a phrase, if not just tell me to shut the hell up), and we love it...ok, i'm bored now...

sum it up, prosperity=great architecture decline/desperation=crappy architecture

now, for fun, 4. nortel grille franchised around the city...not picking on you, nortel, i love you, but you gotta love the wood paneling and decor, why even your prices are of a different era...

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