Western New York Heritage

South Division Street - 1954

288 South Division Street and Pine Street

These images, taken by Buffalo Sewer Authority workers, are from the Ellicott District in its last years before urban renewal demolished 29 blocks of the oldest housing stock in the city. Demographically, the area was a mix of Jewish, Italian, and African-American residents at the time this photo was taken.

290 South Division Street

The housing stock was largely comprised of rental properties, owned by those who had moved to better neighborhoods or to the growing suburbs. The migration to Buffalo in the 40's and 50's of large numbers of African-Americans looking for manufacturing jobs had overcrowded the available residential space of this area and, because segregation had restricted African-Americans to this neighborhood, there was nowhere else for new arrivals to find housing. The overcrowding was serious and housing inspectors "overlooked" it.

300 South Division Street

During the 1950's, when momentum was building to demolish a large area of the Ellicott District and erect new housing with federal mortgage insurance, a 1954 survey found that in one section of the district 78% of the structures lacked central heating, 78% had extreme outside deterioration, and 45% had extreme interior deterioration.

333 South Division

Objecting to the wholesale demolition of the district were the 250 business owners (100 of them African-American) and the 1,017 homeowners. The African-American homeowners lost the most because they were prevented from purchasing a home in any other part of the city; there was almost no housing for sale in what was left of the about-to-become completely segregated Ellicott District.

Demolition began in December 1958 and was largely completed by 1961. Over 2,219 families were evicted from the area. Aside from the Towne Gardens apartments dedicated in 1966, little new construction took place for years. White residents found housing in other areas of the city; African-Americans moved to the Ellicott Mall (top) or the Douglass Towers (bottom) or sought housing in the Masten District. The red rectangle shows the area featured in these photos.

Rebuilding vacant Ellicott District land faced obstacles imposed by mayors or the Common Council or the federal government. Ironically, the wasteland created within sight of Buffalo's City Hall was its own form of urban blight. Above is the 2005 view of the corner of South Division and Pine Street.

By 2005, the area of South Division in the photos above has become the site of newly-built attached townhomes. Trees have also been planted. Once again, the demographic makeup of the district reflects the integration which was historically the Ellicott District.