We continue the series on walking Buffalo, from the intrepid couple who walked every day—no matter the weather—in the first 30 months of Covid. They think (without being systematic) they walked every street in Buffalo, and many in other cities and towns, taking some 20,000 photos, some of which are shared in this series. While not itineraries, we hope to encourage others to “walk the walk,” to see, observe and appreciate Buffalo—and beyond. William Graebner and Dianne Bennett are also 5 Cent Cine’s film critics, here.
Today’s Photo-Essay: Garages Are the First to Go
Garages get no respect—least of all from this walking duo, whose focus was, altogether reasonably, on the city’s impressive houses. When we did begin to give garages their due, we were shocked to discover that many of them were in terrible condition—unusable, beyond repair, ready for the wrecker’s ball. One would think that Buffalo’s “substantial” winters would have led homeowners to prize these structures, and to preserve them at all costs. Not so. Of the two buildings on residential properties (and on commercial properties, too), garages, we found, “are the first to go.”
For a crash course in garage decay, we suggest a tour through the alleys of near-downtown Niagara Falls. The older streets of the Falls (though not, as a rule, in Buffalo) were constructed with rear alleys, where the cars were parked. Here’s an example:
The Buffalo equivalent is Wilson Street, a north/south street one block west of Fillmore Avenue. It has some of that alley feel, because it appears as if its original purpose was to serve as a working roadway for Fillmore businesses and homes. Some of its garages were once barns (distinguishable by the center door above the ground floor), where the animals and their feed, and carriages, were kept. Today, most of them are in bad shape.
This former barn, in the Fruit Belt, is being renovated, likely with living quarters on the second floor, and parking on the first:
A small was-a-barn in Riverside has a newish metal door. The side of the building is in poor condition. The garage to the left is also damaged.
This brick building on Fern Alley at Virginia (West Side) may have served as a barn, or perhaps housed a business that required materials to be hauled to the second floor. Given the grass in front of the doors, it doesn’t appear to be used for parking.
The cross-supported, wooden garage doors that we thought of on our walks as barn doors are today (and were) known as “carriage-house doors,” a term from the pre-automobile days (roughly before 1910), when horse-drawn carriages were an important mode of transport. The first garages designed for cars were built in the 1910s and were essentially sheds with double doors (not necessarily cross-supported) that opened outwards. Upward-lifting doors, known as “float-over” doors, were (according to internet lore rather than scholars, who have been lax in studying the history of garages) invented by C.J. Johnson in 1921.
Although one associates carriage houses (and carriage-house doors) with the Elmwood District, the carriage house below is located on the near East Side (west of the “33”). It sits behind a substantial, once elegant, corner residence. Whether or not it’s used for parking is not clear.
Old carriage-house doors on an ordinary garage, not a carriage house, in the Delavan/Genesee area, and another, partly boarded up, west of Fillmore:
One wonders what’s in this Broadway/Fillmore garage, with all its warnings. It might be hard to get the door up to find out. The massive blue-paneled door on the garage off Bailey Avenue is beyond lifting.
Now and then proprietors will construct a new garage and abandon the old one. Known as replacement theory, the concept is controversial in Florida. Here’s an example, on a side street off Doat:
At first glance, this seems to be another case of abandon and replace. On closer examination, it’s likely that these two garages in the Hydraulic District, one beyond repair, the other a recent build, are on separate properties.
The “first to go” in our title suggests that often the house stands solid, the garage unusable. Both these garages are on the West Side:
A collection of garages, unusable with the doors in their present condition, at Seymour and Bond Streets, close to the city center. The roofs are in good shape, and some siding has been added.
It’s not just the city. This residence, and the garage with a hole in the roof, are in Snyder:
Commercial garages have suffered too. This string of defunct garages is on East Balcom Street, just east of Main.
These decaying, forlorn garages have another aspect, easier to miss: their beauty. Near the corner of Sycamore and Grey Streets, on the East Side, a study in greens:
In North Buffalo, as seen from the enormous vacant space that was once M. Wile, another work of “accidental” art, fashioned in rust.
And, in the rear of an East Side building that once housed the Goodwill, a garage-door canvas in hues of blue.
© William Graebner
To view more of this series, click here.
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