My mother was born a block from Delaware Park and half a block from Humboldt Parkway. I grew up on the same street, Woodward Avenue. My yard backed up to Agassiz Circle, and my two best friends lived just a crawl-through-the-fence away on Parkside. When they were five and I was just three, they taught me to read on their front steps, overlooking the Park. Parkside was too busy for us to cross alone, but once across, we had the run of the place. And what a place it was.
There used to be what we called "the gully" between Parkside and Ring Road. Olmsted documents refer to it as "a quarry garden." I remember it as a wild, overgrown place, shadowy, quiet and beautiful. I recall water at the bottom, long, slender ponds, just right to splash in, not deep enough to swim in. It was a special treat to play in the gully.
When I finally got to go to school, I attended Campus School on the Buff State Campus. They admitted 4-year-olds into kindergarten. I was in heaven. A neighborhood carpool formed. I walked to the corner of Woodward and Humboldt Parkway each morning and waited to be picked up by whoever was driving that day.
Humboldt was the grandest of Olmsted’s parkways. The construction of the Kensington Expressway is what led to its demise. Here is how Olmsted scholar Frank Kowski described Humboldt Parkway in The Public last year:
"Humboldt Parkway extended southeast from Agassiz Circle to Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The broad, beautiful parkway was designed with a heavily planted median containing a bridal path down the middle and access roads on both sides. It was initially planted with six rows of Tulip trees which turned out to be too tender for the Buffalo climate. They were replaced with Maple trees which did somewhat better and were later infilled with Elm trees. During the 1960s Humboldt Parkway was destroyed to make way for the construction of the Kensington Expressway."
Construction began at the corner of Woodward and Humboldt Parkway when I was five and in first grade. The carpool could no longer pick up on that dusty, noisy corner, so I began taking the bus to school, transfering at either Main and Delevan or at Main and Amherst to get to Elmwood to transfer again. I had not yet turned six.
Then the gully disappeared. I don't remember it disppearing. It was just gone for the remaining years that I lived in the Parkside neighborhood. I have a vague recollection of thinking that "something bad" had happened there, that someone had been hurt and that the adults had deemed it dangerous. All that is left of the beautiful gully are the stone bridges that cross nothing.
Nearly 50 years later I learned that the gully had served as a convenient depository for the construction debris generated by the destruction of the Parkway, heaping insult upon injury.
But plans for the destruction of Delaware Park had been laid before I was born, explains Kowski:
"In 1951, engineers began making plans for the Scajaquada Creek Expressway, a freeway across the park that would form part of a fast-moving auto beltline around the city. The route they chose (going from west to east) usurped the sinuous carriage drive and pedestrian pathways along the north side of Hoyt Lake, commandeered the handsome Neo-Classical Lincoln Parkway Bridge (commonly called the Three Tribes Bridge) for an on-ramp, crossed Delaware Avenue on the 1936 viaduct (which also now became primarily a highway structure), and continued along the route of a former bicycle path that paralleled the South Meadow Drive (as this portion of the present Ring Road was known) to Agassiz Circle. Entrance and exit ramps at Delaware Avenue eliminated more parkland and picturesque lakeshore. The quiet North Bay of the lake (the area in front of the 1901 Buffalo History Museum) also suffered by the intrusion of the new roadway across it."
There was significant, well-documented community opposition to this, but Urban Renewal was in full force. Robert Moses was in charge, the 33 was plowing through the city's vibrant east side, built to speed white flight to the suburbs.
"When the new highway opened in 1961, drivers could cruise through the park at speeds undreamed of by the original park users. At 40 (and later 55 MPH), the often-surpassed speed limit was considerably higher than it was on Delaware Avenue or other city streets. The rush and whoosh of cars and trucks, so alien to Olmsted and Vaux’s concept of the tranquil country park, henceforth became an unavoidable feature of the landscape. Getting there mattered more than being there.
"Agassiz Place, a gracious residential circle that Olmsted and Vaux had laid out as part of the city’s parkway system and one of the principal entrances to the park, was also revamped to fit the needs of intensified vehicular traffic. It became a vast controlled intersection, often a stop-dead bottleneck that refunds motorists the time that engineers had touted would be gained by speeding across the park. (Likewise, congestion at the Delaware Avenue off-ramp for westbound cars frequently brings traffic to a time-consuming standstill.)"
The Scajaquada Corridor Coalition has seen NYSDOT's plan for the "Scajaquada Boulevard." It looks nothing like what we destroyed and is nothing like what the community has envisioned for this parkway. It is out of sync with Buffalo's resurgence which is building our future on the strong bones of our past. In fact, the “grand plan” for the future of the park, Agassiz Circle, and Humboldt Parkway, already exists. "It was drawn in 1870 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Buffalo has taken justifiable pride in the restoration of many historic buildings and in the urban revival that historic preservation has promoted. Why not restore an equally historic landscape and street system?" asks Mr. Kowski. Indeed, why not?
If you wish to have your voice heard on the future of the Scajaquada Corridor, sign up for the Coalition's newsletter. The rescheduled meeting will be announced in the newsletter and on the Coalition's facebook page. This an important artery that forms an integral part of the heart of Buffalo. Do not let NYSDOT and vehicles steal our parks and parkways from us.
We are no longer in the buggy era, but we still ride bicycles and we have learned that streets have historically been for pedestrians as well as for vehicles. I drive a car, and I appreciate roadways, but they must reflect their surroundings and be designed to be safe for all, as they were when Olmsted worked his magic in "the Best Designed City." And while we're at it, let's excavate the gully and restore the water features in that beautiful corner of Delaware Park.