Tonawanda News — Timing is everything, so I am told. You obtain what you need and when you realize it has overstayed its welcome, you remove it or repurpose it. Mostly remove it.
Kenmore has an old water tower, on Elmwood Avenue behind its Department of Public Works, built in 1927 to stabilize the municipal water pressure. That it did, as well as offer a convenient place on its lid to paint a big red arrow to direct flyboys to Cheektowaga’s Buffalo airport instead of the tiny existent airfields of Kenmore and Tonawanda. Now hovering over the wading pool at Mang Park like a giant praying mantis from outer space, and with no one’s attention turned to water pressure these days, it stands empty, rusting and awaiting its downfall, although the “Village of Kenmore” painted on its flaking side accomplishes its purpose.
It’s the same a little north, east of the I-290 near Niagara Falls Boulevard, where a turquoise pillbox of a water tank, its side extolling what a great place Tonawanda is for one thing or another, remains empty and ready to drop. Built in 1960 and now hollow, the Town’s exploding population found other ways to draw water. We needed it then, but that was then and this is now.
Repurpose things if you cannot afford to erase them, the way a public library on Brighton Road, again, built to fulfill that need of a growing populace, became a clubhouse and private library. An elementary school becomes an office park, another elementary school becomes a warehouse and theater, another becomes a senior center catering to those who remember the place as a school, and Kenmore Middle School, once a high school, sits with its future in doubt.
I grew up in North Buffalo, just over the line marking the border with Kenmore, and the elementary school I attended now has a flashy new addition (Buffalo apparently needs elementary school space) obliterating the parking lot where I played a game I thought my friends and I invented called “Strikeout.” (It involved two players, a baseball bat, a tennis ball, a brick wall with a strike zone delineated on it, and no, I repeat, no involvement of adults, and when the ball went over the fence onto the street, drivers would stop, leave their cars to retrieve the ball, and toss it back into play. Imagine that.)
These days you can rent a college for a conference, a wedding reception or a karate tournament. Colleges public and private overbuilt as the post-war boomers passed through society like a swallowed mouse inside a snake, and now need to turn a few bucks wherever they can. So do teachers trained to lead kindergartens; ask them about plying their skills inside factories to employees in need of retraining, they’ll tell you it’s something of a surprise but they’re OK with it.
The turnover in people, places and things can be so swift it’s hard to remember what was going on, even a few years ago. Just about the time movie theaters became multi-screen multiplexes on former farmland in the deep suburbs, the elegant doll house on Kenmore Avenue known as the Colvin Theater fell to accommodate a seniors’ tower. Some of those who remember that the movie experience came with red velvet curtains, ushers in uniforms straight out of operettas and sweeping staircases leading to graceful balconies, now can compare it all to the modern experience, a shiny disc falling out of a red envelope in the mailbox marked “Netflix.”
We need senior housing more than a night at the movies, evidently. The elderly know how to order movies.
The comfort in all of this is that, here, derelict buildings tend not to last long. The unnecessary is promptly wrecked to build the next thing the community thinks it needs. Those sagging, paint missing old structures can be picturesque but are for municipalities on their way to becoming ghost towns, and citizen, that’s not us.
At Eggert Road and Sheridan Drive, an airport in the Lindbergh days, a barrel-vaulted building stands in a strip mall from the late 1950s, more or less. It was a supermarket, then a church, then an Office Max and is now vacant, ready for whatever comes next. Designed as a place to sell groceries to the aforementioned exploding population of Tonawanda, its builders probably never imagined a need for a suburban church that large (with plenty of free parking), and why on earth would people not in business require all those office supplies?
I do not know which is more exciting to observe, a building coming down or one going up. Each appeals differently to my sense of change and of necessity. Each has its satisfactions.
Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.