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Places Buffalo's Central Park Plaza: they built a shopping center WHERE?

Dan

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There. At the bottom center of the aerial below. Far from any streets that could be considered major, minor, or otherwise.

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You're probably asking yourself "What the hell were they thinking?" Even being familiar with some of the backstory, I still ask myself this.

In the not-too-distant past, large rock quarries punctured much of Buffalo's East Side. The largest was the 200 acre Bennett Quarry, just east of Main Street towards the northern end of the city. Here's how a large part of it looked in 1925.

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In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the city's last remaining quarries stopped mining operations; they were completely surrounded by a dense city that was, for all practical purposes, built out. The quarry sites were reclaimed, mainly by functioning as massive garbage dumps for a few years. Throughout the city, the former quarry sites were developed for public housing, factories, and in the case of Bennett Quarry, a mixed use development called Bennett Village.

Bennett Village brought some flavor of the growing suburbs into the City of Buffalo. It included a mix of suburban-style single family houses, townhouses and two-story apartment buildings. A missing portion of Amherst Street that was severed by the Bennett Quarry was reestablished, turning the road into a much-needed crosstown street. Here's the site in 1951.

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With Buffalo being built out, and urban renewal still several years away, there was little room for the same kind of newfangled supermarkets and discount department stores that were drawing the city's shoppers away from downtown and neighborhood centers, and into the suburbs. Northeast Buffalo was considered a vibrant area; east of Bennett Village was Kensington, a desirable lower middle class neighborhood comprised of thousands upon thousands of bungalows. To the south was Highland Park, now called Fillmore-Leroy, an established lower middle class, predominantly German-American community. A few blocks to the west, across Main Street, was the wealthy Central Park neighborhood; beyond was upper middle class Parkside and North Buffalo. Bennett Village was considered prime real estate, and it provided the only location in Northeast Buffalo where new retail development, with plenty of parking for the city's growing number of car-owning households, could be built.

The answer: Central Park Plaza. For reasons unknown, though, Central Park wasn't built on the busy new extension of Amherst Street. Instead, it was tucked away on the side streets extending from the established grid in Fillmore-Leroy. Despite the out-of-the-way location, the plaza prospered as a shopping destination from the time it was built in 1958, through the 1960s, and 1970s. At its peak in the mid-1970s, Central Park Plaza included a large discount department store (Twin Fair), three large supermarkets (Tops, Super Duper, Bells), two five-and-dime stores (SS Kresge and G.C. Murphy), Western Auto, several bank branches, and locations of several local retail chains.

In the 1970s, the Fillmore-Leroy neighborhood experienced rapid change, with an influx of lower income black households. Through the 1980s, many of the chains with branches in Central Park Plaza folded. The retail spaces left behind were filled with independent businesses, thrift stores, and social service agencies. Most national retailers demanded locations on major streets with high traffic counts, which Central Park Plaza didn't have. The exception: discount shoe and sneaker stores. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kensington experienced the same kind of transition that Fillmore-Leroy experienced 20 years earlier. Turnover in Central Park Plaza increased, as did vacancies, until it eventually emptied out.

In April 2010 I visited Central Park Plaza to see what remained.

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(I'll eventually upload these to the Cyburbia Gallery.)
 

GButler

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I assume that big hole in the ground at Amherst and Parkridge (just east of the aerial photos you posted) is part of the former quarry. I wonder why that part was never filled in.
 

Maister

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I like how the photographer managed to capture the essence of abandonment, desolation, and decay through so many different ways: the bus no longer stops here, bars on the windows, vast expanse of empty parking lot, liquidator business nearby, presence of a 'feelgood' mural, shabby/unmaintained facilities, etc.
 

mendelman

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If that SC was in a economically viable location/muni, developers would be fighting to redevelop it.

Truly, the thread title gets to the meat of it. Current shopping center developers would never put this size development blocks from the main road. I guess the explanation is that the developer could build and sell the residential faster (due to pent up demand in the immediate vicinity) and that part of the quarry was more readily filled than the center where the shopping center was built.

Now the neighborhood has a giant white (gray) elephant that should just be demolished and converted to a park.
 

Dan

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I assume that big hole in the ground at Amherst and Parkridge (just east of the aerial photos you posted) is part of the former quarry. I wonder why that part was never filled in.

That quarry was incorporated into Buffalo's stormwater system, from what I always heard. A lot of it was filed in during the 1960s, becoming McCarthy Park.

I grew up in the area, and could never find a way down into what remains of the Bennett Quarry. Supposedly it's a prime location for fossil hunting.

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From Report of the State Geologist, 1895
 

Linda_D

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I definitely think that CPP's location away from main thoroughfares is its biggest negative. I remember shopping at Central Park Plaza whenever we came to visit relatives in Buffalo in the 1960s, and later, as a college student, wondering why it was built behind houses (Bennett Village) rather than right on Amherst Street.

Buffalonians have and retain a strong sense of neighborhood, so they like to shop near their "turf". This probably explains the great success of the redevelopment of the old commercial/industrial area north of Amherst Street between Elmwood and Delaware (further west of CPP) into a retail/dining/entertainment area. Everybody in Buffalo who lives north of downtown as well as in the western part of Kenmore and Tonawanda seems to shop there regularly, which makes the area a madhouse on weekends.

Another retail shopping area in the Main/Amherst area (about where CPP is but on two major streets) would prosper too, I think, especially if it had some different retailers than found in the Elmwood/Delaware area. There's been some significant redevelopment in the so-called Medical Corridor which is further south, closer to downtown on the east side of Main Street as well as in/near downtown itself, and both include housing. These residents would be a ready market for a Main/Amherst retail district.

Unfortunately, CPP probably won't be redeveloped unless/until successful redevelopment takes place on Main or Amherst Street and then extends into the existing plaza area.
 

Dan

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Truly, the thread title gets to the meat of it. Current shopping center developers would never put this size development blocks from the main road. I guess the explanation is that the developer could build and sell the residential faster (due to pent up demand in the immediate vicinity) and that part of the quarry was more readily filled than the center where the shopping center was built.

I can't say it was a trend of some kind during the 1950s, but I've noticed many other shopping plazas from the same era that were also built off the beaten path, on side streets rather than major/minor arterial roads. There's one at the north end of the city where I live. I remember an old plaza tucked away on some side street in Denver's Park Hill neighborhood.
 
R

ruthevans41

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It is a great that central park plaza is getting redeveloped, it’s exciting.
 

mike gurnee

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I never thought about it until this thread, the first auto oriented strip mall in my home town was not even visable from an arterial street. Late 50s.
 

Maister

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Central Park Plaza has been completely demolished now. There's a new owner that is redeveloping it. http://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2012/05/25/new-owner-redevelopment-for-central.html?page=all

Here's some more history on the area: http://buffalostreets.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/central-park/

It is a great that central park plaza is getting redeveloped, it’s exciting.

I guess my question is what has changed to make redevelopment viable in this location, so that the next incarnation doesn't suffer a similar fate?
 

Dan

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There's talk of redevelopment, but no plans. Redevelopment for retail will be a big fail, because the problem of its out-of-the-way location won't be solved.

My armchair planner-esque fantasy plan is to clear the remaining abandoned and underused semi-industrial uses (closed Kauffman's Bakery, etc) between CPP and Main Street to create a linkage between the Amherst Street Metro Rail station and the site, Medaille College, rapidly growing but constrained on a very small campus a couple miles away, would eventually be moved to the former CPP site. Canisius College, also constrained, could then expand onto the former Medaille campus.

Knowing Buffalo, what will probably happen is infill with vinyl clad tract homes, at suburban densities. Of course, built at double the cost per square foot than what's actually being built in the 'burbs, and subsidized for low/mod income first time homebuyers. Maybe some senior housing and assisted living in the mix. The project will have some feelgood name like "H.O.P.E. Village" or "Dignity Heights".
 

Linda_D

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I guess my question is what has changed to make redevelopment viable in this location, so that the next incarnation doesn't suffer a similar fate?

My take:
I think that there's been some significant changes in housing and shopping patterns in and around the City of Buffalo, but the biggest change has been in attitude. When I lived in Buffalo in the late 1970s and 1980s, people who lived west of Main Street, especially those who lived west of Elmwood, never ventured to the East Side except twice a year (around Christmas and Easter) to shop at the Broadway Market. That meant that they stopped shopping at the places they had patronized in the 1950s and 1960s: Central Park Plaza, at the other stores around the Broadway Market, at the Sears between Jefferson and Main, etc. It was the era of "the Malls" in WNY, and the shoppers all wanted to shop in 'burbs. It was also an era marked by racial tensions and drug violence, especially in the CPP area.

There had always been some retail in the Elmwood/Hertel/Delaware area of northwest Buffalo (along with industrial uses and residential), and that survived but it struggled. I think that soaring gas prices, heavy traffic, and crowded suburban venues as well as the expansion of petty crime into the suburban shopping areas created a market for retail in the city. The redevelopment of the Elmwood/Hertel/Delaware area into a regional shopping area has been a tremendous success. Buffalonians no longer have to drive to the 'burbs to shop at whatever big box they want. This area could probably support more retail but it's running out of easily developed space.

For several years, the COB has been pushing for redeveloped housing in downtown, on the Inner Harbor waterfront, and elsewhere on the East Side. There has also been the development of the "Medical Campus", which includes a string of hospitals and some biotech firms just east of Main Street, pretty much from just north of downtown and stretching northward. This has drawn a number of younger, middle class professionals into the area for work -- and to move into renovated housing in the area. A lot of these younger people are either from the suburbs or from outside of the area, so they don't share the "seige mentality" that tended to afflict so many life-long Buffalo residents. A lot of the older housing, meanwhile, has been abandoned, and either demo'd legitimately or demo'd by arson, so the threat of crime has lessened in the area, meaning that even people who might not be willing to live near Central Park Plaza are probably not opposed to shopping there if they can find the retailers they want.

Central Park Plaza is just east of Main Street. It would draw in shoppers who live in and around downtown, Allentown, Parkside, University Heights, Central Park, etc, a mix of all income levels, which is similar to the kind of market the Elmwood/Hertel/Delaware area on the other side of the city depends upon. It would also draw in college students who live in/around the UB South Campus, especially since it is quite close to the MetroRail station at Main and Amherst.

A few years ago, the Tops Markets grocery chain opened a new supermarket on Jefferson Avenue in a predominantly low-income African American area of the city. By all accounts, that supermarket is doing well, which has probably encouraged developers to take a good look at the opportunities for retail at Central Park Plaza since it is further south but not too far distant from CPP.
 

Linda_D

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Did they finish the casino in the inner harbor area?

No, it's still the same little building. The "Buffalo is Too Good to Have a Casino" (AKA "Only Our Crowd is Allowed to Make Money in Buffalo") crowd stalled it with lawsuilts long enough for the credit freeze in 2008-2009 to derail it, and now the Senecas are peeved at the govie, Cuomo the Younger, who NOT only wants to tax Seneca cigarette and gasoline sales but now wants non-Indian casinos in the state. They aren't building anything.
 

hilldweller

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^I like the Niagara Falls (NY) casino but it doesn't seem to have done much for that city. The location they picked in Buffalo seemed pretty good though with the hockey arena nearby
 

Masswich

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Dan, these photos are great. Thanks for posting them. I can think of many strip malls like it.

For some reason, malls of any sort generally depress me, but these photos more than most.
 

Dan

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One thing I remember from when I was taking the photos: two young kids who were walking across the parking lot, each about 10 or 12 years old, yelled:

"Get out, whitey! This place is for black people!"

Seriously? This wasteland is your Chocolate City? Really?

Ironically, my first job as a teenager was in Central Park Plaza, stocking shelves at Super Duper.
 

meyertkg

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Good old times

My mother and I grew up on Rodney Ave, at the top of the "plaza, quarry" I watched the transformation from Quarry to dump to Plaza.
To keep on subject, It did close all the small stores on Filmore, but Acme moved into a larger store in the plaza.
And I see its in for its next transformation.
Dan, the storm water retentision basen had six foot pipes that we would walk under the Baily ave. area in.
 

Dan

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Knowing Buffalo, what will probably happen is infill with vinyl clad tract homes, at suburban densities. Of course, built at double the cost per square foot than what's actually being built in the 'burbs, and subsidized for low/mod income first time homebuyers. Maybe some senior housing and assisted living in the mix. The project will have some feelgood name like "H.O.P.E. Village" or "Dignity Heights".

I'm glad I'm wrong.

http://www.buffalonews.com/city-reg...ment-envisions-livable-highland-park-20150421

Construction firm LPCiminelli now plans to redevelop the 27-acre former Central Park Plaza over three phases of work into about 800 apartments, walk-ups and townhomes in a neighborhood transformation that officials hope will also encourage further investment by the city and private sector in local infrastructure and accompanying retail businesses.

The vast project, dubbed Highland Park, represents an effort to turn the near East Side land into more of a “walkable” and “transit-oriented” community, taking advantage of its proximity to Main Street bus routes and the nearby Metro Rail station at Amherst Street.

It also would restore the area near Fillmore Avenue to the kind of neighborhood that existed a century ago, before a quarry and then the retail plaza occupied the sprawling site and broke up the streetscape and residential living. Highland Park was the neighborhood’s original name, research showed.
 

John Grek

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I assume that big hole in the ground at Amherst and Parkridge (just east of the aerial photos you posted) is part of the former quarry. I wonder why that part was never filled in.
It's mainly used for water runoff. It can get pretty filled during a big rainstorm.
 

The Terminator

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Wow Dan, those pics from 2010 are HOOD AF. If you grew up in Central Park neighborhood, that means you are from the same hood as FLYGOD himself, Westside Gunn! Thats legit.

The Highland Park Plaza development has no business in that neighborhood. It should be a Community Land Trust with 100% affordable housing, financed by NYSHCR, HUD, City of Buffalo, Erie County, LIHTC equity, foundation grants etc. and managed by competent community non-profits like PUSH Buffalo and the Queen City Workers Center. It would be mixed use to include community amenities and commercial spaces for local BLACK OWNED businesses. But that would be a complete pipedream in our reality......sigh. one can dream.

In this track, Gunn shouts out all of the Hoods in Buffalo in the intro, Central Park being first among them.

 

jsk1983

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Wow Dan, those pics from 2010 are HOOD AF. If you grew up in Central Park neighborhood, that means you are from the same hood as FLYGOD himself, Westside Gunn! Thats legit.

The Highland Park Plaza development has no business in that neighborhood. It should be a Community Land Trust with 100% affordable housing, financed by NYSHCR, HUD, City of Buffalo, Erie County, LIHTC equity, foundation grants etc. and managed by competent community non-profits like PUSH Buffalo and the Queen City Workers Center. It would be mixed use to include community amenities and commercial spaces for local BLACK OWNED businesses. But that would be a complete pipedream in our reality......sigh. one can dream.

In this track, Gunn shouts out all of the Hoods in Buffalo in the intro, Central Park being first among them.

Is that neighborhood where the plaza actually called Central Park? I always considered Central Park to be the other side of main street and comprised of large single family homes.
 

The Terminator

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Is that neighborhood where the plaza actually called Central Park? I always considered Central Park to be the other side of main street and comprised of large single family homes.
I stand corrected, Google Maps considers Central Park to be West of Main to Parkside, between Amherst and Hertel.

The neighborhood of the former plaza is mapped as "Leroy" but I imagine allot of residents would call it Central Park due to proximity, or just "East Side".
 

jsk1983

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I stand corrected, Google Maps considers Central Park to be West of Main to Parkside, between Amherst and Hertel.

The neighborhood of the former plaza is mapped as "Leroy" but I imagine allot of residents would call it Central Park due to proximity, or just "East Side".
I feel like a lot of neighborhoods in Buffalo are just East Side or West Side, North Buffalo or South Buffalo. A few areas seem to have more distinct names like Black Rock and Riverside...
 

ExRocketSci

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I stand corrected, Google Maps considers Central Park to be West of Main to Parkside, between Amherst and Hertel.

The neighborhood of the former plaza is mapped as "Leroy" but I imagine allot of residents would call it Central Park due to proximity, or just "East Side".
There are a few nicer streets east of Main that are sort-of feel like extensions of Central Park, but with apartments, smaller homes, and smaller lots. Streets like East Depew and East Morris, for example.

The area is changing in fits and starts.

Portions of the Highland Park Phase 1 were completed over a year ago, with 3 apartment buildings, and a separate completion of around 30 townhomes developed for the Elim Fellowship. No more work was done this past year, however. A 5-story apartment building to replace the adjacent vacant and crumbling Amherst Bowling Center was approved by the City in mid 2019, but nothing has been done as of yet.
 

Dan

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Neighborhood names in Buffalo are ... weird.

There's a planning district name map that was made during the 1970s by the city's planning department, but it doesn't correspond with historic names, or what residents use. Same thing with the UB map library neighborhood name map that a lot of bloggers seem to use. A big problem with both of those maps -- they use major streets as boundaries between neighborhoods, when in reality major streets serve as the focal point of the majority of city neighborhoods. (The exception -- Main Street south of the former Delaware Lackwanna & Western / Erie Railroad outer belt line ROW, where it serves as a dividing line between the West Side and East Side.)

On top of that, a local booster blog seems intent on making up its own neighborhood names, typically using the "[whatever] District" scheme that was popular in the 1980s and 1990s. From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, Black Rock moved from the Front Park area to the far western reaches of Amherst Street.

I'll eventually post a REAL neighborhood name map, based on historic and resident usage. Until then, consider that a lot of neighborhood names you might come across are BS.

Outside of downtown, Buffalo is divided into five major quadrants: North Buffalo, South Buffalo, East Side, West Side.

North Buffalo = north of Delaware Park / Buff State / Forest Lawn, west of Main Street.
West Side = south of Delaware Park / Buff State / Forest Lawn, west of Main Street.
East Side = east of Main Street, north of the Buffalo River (historically not including the First Ward and Valley neighborhoods).
South Buffalo - everything south of the Buffalo River, including the First Ward and Valley.

Each of those quadrants includes a number of distinct neighborhoods, the majority of which have their own names.

About 25-30 years ago, geographic extent of Buffalo's majority black neighborhoods reached the eastern city line. Since then, the term "East Side" is becoming less of a geographic designation, and more of a cultural label -- what our grandparents called "the colored section". There are white ethnic enclaves on the East Side -- Kaisertown, Lovejoy, and an area surrounded by heavy industry around Babcock Street. Increasingly, Kaisertown residents place the neighborhood in "South Buffalo". (There's a vestigial white/European population in Broadway-Fillmore, St. John Kanty, Kensington, Delavan-Bailey, and Schiller Park.)

Rule of thumb: neighborhoods named after street intersections are usually rough. Highland Park became Fillmore-Leroy. As my childhood neighborhood changed, folks stopped calling it "Kensington" and started calling it "Kensington-Bailey".

What neighborhood is Central Park Plaza in? Not Central Park, which is generally the area west of Main Street, south of Hertel Avenue, and east of Parkside Avenue that Lewis Bennett developed. Bennett also owned land east of Main, thag was part of a huge quarry complex. South of the quarry is the Fillmore-Leroy neighborhood, which was once called Highland Park. Lots on the streets north of the quarry and what would become East Amherst Stret, east of Main, were marketed as "Central Park Annex" starting in the late 1920s. Central Park Plaza is on part of the old quarry site.

Where's Kensington Pool? Not Kensington! It's on Kensington Avenue, though, in Fillmore-Leroy, formerly Highland Park. (Kensington itself had Roosevelt Pool. I don't know if it's still there or not.) Up until the 1910s, the area southwest of Kensington Pool had the most badass neighborhood name the city has known before or since -- Jammerthal, German for "valley of sorrow."
 

jkeenan

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Does anyone remember a movie theater operating in Central Park Plaza during the early 1970s?

In the few months in which I both lived in Buffalo and owned a car (approximately February through August 1973), I remember driving to a movie theater located in Central Park Plaza. I seem to remember it as being an "indie" or "art house." Cinema Treasures (cinematreasures.org/theaters/united-states/new-york/buffalo) does not have any record of a theater at this location, but I can remember going to the movies there once or twice.
 

ExRocketSci

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Does anyone remember a movie theater operating in Central Park Plaza during the early 1970s?

In the few months in which I both lived in Buffalo and owned a car (approximately February through August 1973), I remember driving to a movie theater located in Central Park Plaza. I seem to remember it as being an "indie" or "art house." Cinema Treasures (cinematreasures.org/theaters/united-states/new-york/buffalo) does not have any record of a theater at this location, but I can remember going to the movies there once or twice.
We would shop at the plaza weekly, but I don't recall any movie theater at the plaza. Closest theater was the Grenada on Main near UB (where they featured midnight Rocky Horror, now gone), but I think it was a second-run house not an art house. The nearest "art" theater (that became a porn theater) was the Capri Art Theater on Bailey, down the road from Central Park Plaza at Bailey and Amherst Street.
 

Doohickie

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(Kensington itself had Roosevelt Pool. I don't know if it's still there or not.)
The park in my current neighorhood had a pool as recently as 2014 (per historicaerials). We moved in in 2018. I wouldn't mind a public pool.
 

jsk1983

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The park in my current neighorhood had a pool as recently as 2014 (per historicaerials). We moved in in 2018. I wouldn't mind a public pool.
I always assume public pools are either overrun with children or are used by serious swimmers of which I am neither.
 

Doohickie

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Prolly so, but it wouldn't be bad to dip in once in a while.

This wasn't a fancy neighborhood, ever. In fact the end of the neighborhood where the pool was was built with wood frame homes less then 1000 sq ft. The "fancy" homes at the other end were typically built with 1500-1700 sq ft. But besides the pool, we also have our own elementary school, and next to it used to be a shopping center with a grocery, a five and dime, a 7-11, and the smaller shops like barber, hair salon, etc. That closed in the 1980s which is when the area was in serious decline (which it has since largely pulled out of). As built, though, this neighborhood had some pretty nice features and to a large extent was self contained, even walkable.

The shopping center was turned into a private school focusing on autistic kids; the elementary school still sits next to it.

I never lived here when it had all that, but I miss it anyway.
 
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Dan

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Does anyone remember a movie theater operating in Central Park Plaza during the early 1970s?

In the few months in which I both lived in Buffalo and owned a car (approximately February through August 1973), I remember driving to a movie theater located in Central Park Plaza. I seem to remember it as being an "indie" or "art house." Cinema Treasures (cinematreasures.org/theaters/united-states/new-york/buffalo) does not have any record of a theater at this location, but I can remember going to the movies there once or twice.
Now that I think of it, I vaguely remember there being something in the building at the far eastern end of the plaza, past Western Auto. The building that Bells was in? Let me do a bit of research, to make sure it's not the Gap store on Elmwood Avenue effect ...

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"Art", huh ... ;D
 
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