You Can Help Secure Wildroot as Future Tenants are Pursued for this East Side Landmark

Mark Paradowski has always imagined the shuttered Wildroot building on Bailey Avenue being reused as an anchor of the community. Growing up just down the street, Mark has had a long time interest in the building and recently began taking care of it, when no one else would. Now he is speaking with potential tenants all over Buffalo and the country that may have an interest in taking over the complex, with several mixed use concepts.

Until the day comes where a tenant has been secured, Mark will continue to maintain the property to the best of his ability. He’s already invested a fair amount of his own funds to secure the building in the mean time, but is looking for some help for a big push.

He’s started a donation campaign with a goal of $500 for materials to seal the building and get the debris removed from the premises. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Mark helping to secure the building and can attest to his abilities to get things done. So far he’s installed a new fence, secured several openings, cleared the roof of trees and growth, and so much more. If you have an interest in contributing to his efforts, you can check out his campaign site by clicking here. Mark has the following to offer about the building’s history and his goals.

“The Wildroot Company was a major employer in Buffalo that obtained nationwide fame. Its legacy includes the WNY (Wildroot) Foundation and a building that acted as an anchor for a thriving neighborhood.  The company closed when an outside corporation gained control, leaving its headquarters building to fend for itself.

Our goal is to mothball the building, and this fundraiser would secure step one of that process. Most of the doors and windows have been secured, but there are gaps in that coverage throughout the massive 100,000 square foot complex. Combined with a volunteer effort to clean-up exterior debris, foliage, and graffiti, a proper mothballing would make the building safer for residents of the neighborhood, while also being more attractive to developers that could bring jobs back to the community

This project is being led by concerned citizens who are investing their own money and donating their labor on a property that they are not profiting from. Be sure to follow Wildroot on Facebook for updates and lots more on the history of the company and building.”

About the author  ⁄ Mike Puma

Writing for Buffalo Rising since 2009 covering development news, historic preservation, and Buffalo history. Works professionally in historic preservation.

34 comments
foreverbflo
foreverbflo

I recall - this is getting WEIRD! - the house next door now. Had to ask some friends. The old guys name was Happy. He lived like a slob and had no family. But,m he had this massive ball python back then and he would let us watch when he fed it rabbits every other week. That was the house directly next door. The house next to that was a Family - Jimersons I recall - had a slew of kids: 8,10, 12...dont recall. HAd a crush on the daughter :) 

The dad worked in a factory somewhere and every single day the mom had dinner at the table at 5pm for 12+ people - daily! 

It was an event to go there just to witness this sort of daily dinner. I remember eating there a couple of times. Mrs Jimerson made every thing from scratch. She could stretch $25 to feed the clan for a week - easy. She would let us help in the yard to tend the veggie gardens. I think that may be where I learned about veggie gardening and growing your own for the first time. 

My other friend - now lives on East side somewhere.... lived at 45 Fay. Which was 2 doors away; house still there btw. His mom worked at Wildroot for many years. I think back then she was making about $3/hr in the mid 70s. Then she got the youngest son a job there to. 


Spock1
Spock1

Great story, and great commentary from those sharing personal ties with the neighborhood.  Interesting to hear about the rich history of a building that doesn't get talked about as much as others.  

Best of luck to those fighting to keep the place viable.    Having the Wildroot building brought back to life would be a huge  win for the area. 

keetz4
keetz4

Its hard to find this kind of city/bldg love. Its how I know Buffalo will be coming back stronger than ever.

buffalorr
buffalorr

Our family always had a bottle of Wild Root Hair Tonic in the medicine cabinet. You had a choice, Wild Root Oil or Brylcream paste. My father would put a ton of it on our hair Sunday mornings after we'd had our saturday night baths. I don't think many houses in Buffalo had showers in those day, just a hose attached to the spigot of a claw foot tub, so taking a bath was a once a week saturday night ritual for the kids in our neighborhood--sounds awful I know. Once Dad combed the Wild Root through our hair, it would stay in place until the following saturday night.

chewingwax
chewingwax

For months I'd been listening to the old time radio show The Adventures of Sam Spade, which ran from the late 1940's until the early 1950's. Their main sponsor was Wildroot Cream-Oil. I had no idea it was an old Buffalo business until I Googled it recently. How about making hair tonic again? It's coming back.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJlnAugXSRk

brownteeth
brownteeth

I work a block south of here at Broadway/Bailey.  I drive by this building every day and I do like it too, especially the sign!  The building I work in is an old food terminal I think and there's a track-well inside where trains could back in to be loaded, it's pretty cool!

foreverbflo
foreverbflo

I gave. 

I grew up 1 block from here and remember when so many families depended on income from this joint. They built the "new" Bailey bridge right to the door step. That was so cool. I hope a donation helps in some way. The building is one of those old steel/concrete structures that were spared no expense. 

I remember the sounds of the compressors on the assembly lines that you could hear 2 blocks away and the smell of the plastics later on and the perfume?     

Davvid
Davvid

And what a great name. WILDROOT

Mark_P
Mark_P

@Spock1 
Yes the personal stories are invaluable.  Even the little things people can remember about Wildroot or the neighborhood help fill in the gaps.  I was able to interview a living Wildroot employee from the '50s last month, and I hope word will spread enough that I find some more before its too late, as even the youngest employees now will be in their 70s.  It was a popular company to work for, and in 1992, 30 years after its closing, they had a reunion that needed to be rescheduled due to excessive RSVP!

The history was quite a surprise to me during my research.  The warehouse began as the world's largest cake kitchen for Grennan Bakery, before Wildroot purchased and expanded the facility to the be the world's largest producer of hair tonic.  Globally, people were spending $60 million a year on the retail purchase of Wildroot products, in the 1950s!   And it all began from two barbers mixing up a dandruff shampoo for their customers at the Iroquois Hotel.

foreverbflo
foreverbflo

@chewingwax 

Anyone know who's voice that is doing the wildroot commercial? He was a character actor and is probably gone now. I KNOW his face but cannot place the name!!! Ughhh!!

biniszkiewicz
biniszkiewicz

@chewingwax 

It must have been depressing to be a Wildroot exec during the long hair hippy movement. Ultimately, that fashion change cost the company its solvency.

biniszkiewicz
biniszkiewicz

@brownteeth 

That's the old Acme bakery and food distribution center (we'd walk there to go food shopping). It always smelled like fresh baked bread when you got as far as the bridge. Great smell.

Mark_P
Mark_P

@foreverbflo  

 Thanks for the donation.  It is certain a huge lift, but as you say, the structure itself is incredibly durable - it would cost an untold fortune to build it like that today from scratch, as the warehouse portion alone was a 7 figure build back in the 1920's.

I grew up on Wood Ave on the West Shore side.  My moms family from Bailey / Holy Name, and my dad's from just over the tracks on Shepard.  From what I hear, the old bridge required a few steps up to the second floor wildroot door.  Now the bridge was raised, and it would take a few steps down to reach the same entrance.  They apparently cut some awning off the front of the building because you can see the metal beams run right to the bridge wall now, but the door is still there.

biniszkiewicz
biniszkiewicz

@foreverbflo 

I grew up on Brinkman at the corner of Rohe! i remember when the new Bailey bridge was built. I remember the activity at Wildroot, with loading docks constantly in use.

We moved just over the Cheektowaga line when I was ten (Walden near Pine Ridge). But when I lived on Brinkman, I used to go to this bridge constantly (at least when I was 7 or 8). I was captivated by the train yard. I'd stand on the bridge and watch the trains for hours.

Hey, remember when the wood shop on Brinkman right by the tracks burned?

Remember Walden @ Bailey, and how full all the storefronts were?

Hey, did you know a Steve Makowski who grew up on May?


Mark_P
Mark_P

Good, and complicated, question.  It was once purchased by a developer planning to restore it.  He performed some exterior work.  It was then transferred to an associate of his, who did some interior work over the years.  That owner recently died.  I went to City Hall and obtained some out-of-town contact info on the property.  Later I obtained some keys.  As with most empty back-taxed Buffalo properties, its too big a risk if its not securely owned, and its not owned if its an unsecured risk.  Chicken vs egg, so we're being proactive with some mothballing.  Improve its immediate standing in the neighborhood, and that will buy time for a more permanent solution.

foreverbflo
foreverbflo

@Mark_P @Spock1 

Mark - the most reliable contacts I thought I had for Wildroot - the folks that lived 2 doors away on Fay St, and worked there: mom and son, they are both deceased - as is the dad. One of the older brothers might still live in WNY. Not sure. 

I used to know and play hockey with a #@$load of guys from those few small streets near Wildroot:  Joey Onium, Bobby Blaczak, The Harzynski's, Mark Wroblewski, Tommy Stobnicki, Ronnie Dispenza, etc... All lived within about 300 feet of the building. 

Mark_P
Mark_P

@biniszkiewicz

They actually made it through that time period, because you can still buy Wildroot products today!  Like many Buffalo companies, it wasn't the market but an ownership change that cost us. 

After five decades under local ownership, new owner Colgate-Palmolive was supposed to keep the Buffalo location open.  Unfortunately, the long time CEO passed away the same year the sale was completed in 1959.  Without him, Colgate changed the plan and closed the plant within 2 years. 

It was a successful multi-million dollar operation and the largest hair tonic company in the world when the plant was shuddered. 

Colgate operated Wildroot from their NY office until 1995 when it was sold to a hair product manufacturer in Florida, which is still in operation.

foreverbflo
foreverbflo

@biniszkiewicz @brownteeth 

Anyone here remember hopping the slow moving trains and jumping off at the Thruway Plaza....? Used to go to Chess King, Your Host, Cavages, Pennys, Laux... 

That 4-way traffic bridge and Harlem/Walden was actually one of the last of it's kind in NY state or the entire NE, before coming down. Anyone else know more about that? 

foreverbflo
foreverbflo

@biniszkiewicz @brownteeth 

The ACME store manager would pay us 25 cents to return stolen shopping carts that usually ended up in the fields or the "ditch" along west shore. We always knew someone that worked at Acme through the years. Heck - a lot of people in that neighborhood worked at Acme, Wildroot, the railroad yards, etc... All of us had a family member or friend that worked at or retired from the railroad - remember? 

Crisaagain
Crisaagain

@Mark_P The owner of that building in 2000 was simply going to hold on to it and play a waiting game.  Hmm.   

What do you mean by "tenant" and that you have a prospect? 

FYI Mr. M_P:  About which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Purchase one of each on the 'Net and see which arrives first!   Ah, the young; they are sooo neat-o !

Crisaagain
Crisaagain

@foreverbflo @chewingwax Charley's first name was Wildrootcreamoil...   Wildrootcreamoil Charley! 

And I remember no-name  Brillcream, "a little dab will do ya"... 

Then there was Bringhomethebutternetbread Fred...

Meanwhile, how long before that huge metal thing on the roof, which can be seen only around back, crashes to the street the same as other parts of that dilapidated building are?

The nice picture does not do justice to the nasty facts.  See that window at the street level?  No. You can't from the nicely done picture.  But it is a [right] of passage for kids on dangerous adventures in the night... 

foreverbflo
foreverbflo

@biniszkiewicz @foreverbflo 

I grew up on Sumner - 2 blocks away from Wildroot, not 1. Four houses from Scheu Park. This was when every street had it's own deli or small family owned store to supply you all the basic needs. Beyond that - you went to the broadway market or Loblaws or Bells. 

Mr Paolini died recently - a couple years ago I recall. Was 95. 

Msgr Walker - mean old pup - from Holy Name died around the same time @ 95 yrs old. I cut out the obits to send to family. 

biniszkiewicz
biniszkiewicz

@foreverbflo @biniszkiewicz 

Paolini's was right across the street. We were diagonally across from Holy Name. Our duplex is slated for demo soon, with its 4 neighbors. 

Funny how thinking about that attic brings back the smell of it decades later. Once every few years or so I still dream I'm living in that house.

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