Where I Garden
215 Lancaster Avenue(I have a gardening blog I contribute to a couple times a week (www.ArtofGardening.org). Garden bloggers around the world all take on one topic occassionally. This is my post in response to one of them - the Garden Bloggers Geography Project.)

By Jim Charlier, 215 Lancaster Avenue

Rather than focus on the city, I’d rather focus in on my neighborhood, the Elmwood Village area, about a one-mile radius from where my garden lies.

Most already have preconceived ideas about Buffalo, NY, which probably includes the Buffalo Bills, snow, Buffalo wings (here in Buffalo, we just call ’em chicken wings), the Sabres, Lake Erie and more snow.

One of the best neighborhoods in the country

That’s not me saying that, it’s the American Planning Association (APA), the people that design, preserve and protect great American neighborhoods. My neighborhood was named one of their Ten 2007 Great Neighborhoods. According to the APA, the Elmwood Village Area has a “...broad spectrum of cultural and social assets.”

The back deck

Shopping & Eating

Across the street from my house is a community-owned co-op market with fresh produce & organic groceries; there is a farmer’s market (in season) down the street; there are gift shops, clothing stores, a book store, banks, a pet store, home decor stores, a bike shop, convenience stores, jewelry stores, an eye doctor/optometrist, drug stores, liquor stores, a Blockbuster, shoe stores, hair salons, and dozens of other shops and services, in just a few blocks, in either direction along Elmwood. And Elmwood goes on for miles beyond my section.

Food & drink?

I’ve got Greek, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Mediterranean, pizzerias, delis, a tapas bar, desert delis, bakeries, fast food, sub shops, chocolate stores, bagel shops, high-end eateries and neighborhood dives, chi-chi martini bars and a biker bar, all within walking distance. There’re multiple coffee shops and even a tea shop across the street I can see from my home office window I use as an extended conference room.

The classic French small-scale potager.

Arts & Entertainment

Within walking distance I have the Albright-Knox Art Gallery . After the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, it has the finest American collection of modern & contemporary art. Hanging on walls, just a mile from my garden, are works by Cezanne, Picasso, Miro, Rauschenberg, Van Gogh, Bacon, Monet, Manet, Daumier, Harring, deKooning, Lichtenstein, Modigliani, Nevelson, Rothko, Still and Warhol. And that’s just the “old folks.” The museum also houses works by up-to-the-minute-future-star-artists and it hosts mind-challenging exhibitions. Last year we were entertained by Elvis Costello as he performed in front of the building. The year before I sat in my garden and listened to Blondie as Debbie Harry belted out tunes of my youth, from the same place.

Right across the street from the Albright-Knox is the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Another art museum, this one dedicated to works of local and regional artists. Right now it’s housed in a Buffalo State College campus iconic collegiate building (and performance hall) inspired by Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. But they’re moving into a spankin’ new building, adjacent to it, this year, in a building designed by Gwathmy Siegel and Associates.

An exercise in steppable grasses.

Add to that the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society which is within sight of those two museums. Add to those the dozens private and independent galleries and artist’s studios in my area, and you can see why we have one of the most thriving artistic communities that is a top arts destination in the U.S. – again, that’s not me saying that, it’s the New York Times, the Washington Post, and American Style.

Walking distance, in the summer, we have Jazz at the Albright outside on the steps, each Sunday (free!); the second largest Shakespeare production in the country (free!); the Allentown Arts Festival (of the largest in the country (free!)); outdoor concerts, including our significant philharmonic orchestra (free!); each August there’s another arts festival just outside my door (free!), with dancers, story-tellers, magicians. The music performances I can enjoy without leaving my garden; and, have I mentioned we have the nation’s largest garden tour, Garden Walk Buffalo (free!)?

Architecture

The architecture in my neighborhood other cities envy. Residentially, it ranges from high-drama Stick Victorian to modest worker’s cottages to mansions built by some of the country’s wealthiest industrialists (at the time). On my street, there’s even a Sears & Roebuck mail-order craftsman-style bungalow. A few blocks over is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, still a private residence.

For commercial buildings, I’ve got H.H. Richardson’s NYS Insane Asylum (which we now refer to as the Richardson Complex, being P.C. and all); Eliel and Eero Saarinen’s  Kleinhans Music Hall, home to the Buffalo Philharmonic (the Saarinens designed the St. Louis Arch, Dulles Ariport and the TWA Terminal at JFK airport, NY).

For landscaping, our parks, parkways and traffic circles were laid out by Calvert Vaux and Fredrick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park in NYC, and the Capital Mall in Washington.

A 22-story glass tower, with million dollar condos, is in the works for the end of my street.

The apple & pear tree diamond-shaped espalier.

History

I’ve got a president, Millard Fillmore, buried in the cemetery that is just at the end of my block, and left for two blocks (punk-funk singer Rick James is buried not too far from him, if you can imagine that!) If you hung a right, instead of a left, and went up two blocks, you’d see the site of the mansion where President William McKinley ultimately died (now a private boys school parking lot). Further down the street is Teddy Roosevelt’s inaugural site (now a museum). Grover Cleveland, our past sheriff and mayor wandered these streets before becoming the only president to serve two terms non-consecutively (and the only president to marry while in office - our historical society still has some of his wedding cake!).

Writers, musicians and pop culture

On our way to church (which has windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany & John Lafarge) we pass by the street where F. Scott Fitzgerald spent part of his youth; the corner where Samuel Clemens’ (Mark Twain’s) house once stood; the building where O.J. Simpson lived for a bit during the ’70s; the Goo Goo Dolls’ recording studio; and singer Ani DiFranco’s record label and concert hall (which also houses the Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, started in the ‘70s by artists Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, among others). And MTV filmed a TV series (Fraternity Life) in the house in back of me, on the other side of my fence in 2002. Buffalo Bill Kevin Everett was treated at the hospital at the end of my street when he broke his neck during a game this past season. The record store that was down the street (it’s now closing) has hosted performances by groups such as our Natalie Merchant/Ten Thousand Maniacs and Toronto’s Barenaked Ladies. Marvin Hamlisch and Doc Severensen have both been past pops conductors for the Buffalo Philharmonic.

The hot tub/spa cabana.

Enough already

This is just the stuff in a (roughly) one-mile radius from my garden. Imagine if I went for a two mile radius! I haven’t even mentioned Niagara Falls; the Lake Erie waterfront; Niagara-on-the-Lake; the Botanical Gardens; the Naval Park (with self-guided tours of a missile cruiser, destroyer and submarine); the Canadian vineyards; the Buffalo Zoo; Ellicottville (the Aspen of the East); the Niagara Gorge hiking trails; the Pierce Arrow Museum; our Underground Railroad history; Mark Russell; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin and Graycliff houses; the Erie Canal; Dyngus Day; the James Joyce manuscripts; the Buffalo Wing Festival; the Carousel Museum; Taste of Buffalo; Old Fort Niagara; A.R. Gurney; our art deco Cty Hall; Grover Washington Jr.; Louis Sullivan’s Guarantee Building; the casinos; Tim Russert; Our Lady of Victory Basilica; Tom Fontana; the Roycroft Campus; Andrew Dan-Jumbo; or the awesome Whirlpool Rapids Jet Boat tour. I’m leaving out more than I can list here.

What it comes down to, is, despite the Buffalo Bills, snow and chicken wings, I think I live in the best neighborhood in all of America. But that’s just me saying so.

www.visitbuffaloniagara.com