Thursday, March 13, 2008

Buildings Lost and Found (Part TWELVE) Streetcars for Niagara Falls

[click on photos to enlarge]
Above: Showing the close proximity of the two railroad bridges crossing the Niagara River gorge, as seen from Niagara Falls, Ont. Canada, looking east towards Niagara Falls, N.Y., U.S.A. to the left (north) is the former Grand Trunk railway bridge, now owned by CN Rail; the tracks are still in daily use, for freight and passenger traffic. The VIA rail station, where Amtrack trains also stop, is just on the other side of this bridge after entering Canada. On the deck below is where passenger vehicles can cross the border. The bridge on the right is the old Michigan Central railroad bridge, from which once began the Canadian portion of the great Michigan Central train route from New York to Detroit, and beyond. This route also had a station right after entering Canada from the bridge - the Michigan Central station was on the south-east corner of Queen St. and Erie Ave., right across Queen St. from where the old Rosberg's department store building still stands. The line ran along a residential parkway before stopping at another station, on the corner of Clifton Hill and Victoria Ave., right in the heart of the tourist district. On the corner where this station once stood is now the Ripley's attraction. This line continued through the city till it reached what was once called the Fallsview station, which is the area right below the famous Loretto abbey. This spot, to this day, is probably the best location to view Niagara Falls from a high natural setting. It's all surrounded by high-rise hotel towers now, but the view from the rail right-of-way is still unparalleled, and it was a big bonus in the days of train travel - the Michigan Central prominently advertised this panoramic view that passengers would see looking down over the Horseshoe Falls and Upper Niagara River. It was a company policy for these normally-express (was bullet-train used back then?!) trains stop for some twenty minutes for passengers to take in the view. This unique Fallsview station, also known as Inspiration Point, was for viewing only - no passengers could board or disembark here. The turn of the century (I mean from 1999 on!) brought changes to this route - a second casino was planned for Niagara Falls, which was partially constructed on the old Michigan track right-of-way. The tracks were torn out from the bridge all the way to the old Fallsview viewing station below Loretto abbey. The city celebrated the fact that the tracks were finally removed, as the common perception was that the frequent long and ponderously slow freight trains were an ungainly eyesore running smack dab at all hours through the tourist district. The whole railway line, just over 200 miles, was decommissioned and abandoned, from the border at the Niagara Falls bridge, through the farmlands of Southern Ontario, all the way to the border again at Windsor/Detroit. The tracks that Michigan Central built throughout its South Ontario run were well-engineered straight runs, where steam locomotives used to cannonball towards Detroit setting speed records!

Above: Top photo, Apr.18, 2008 - Bridge St., (west side) between Erie St. and Zimmerman Ave. The old Hotel Trennick (on Bridge and Erie) can be seen at the right of both photos. The dark stone wall beside the sidewalk seen in both photos, bottom left, is part of the Federal building on Bridge St. The building formerly called the Empire House still stands. These hotels served travellers utilizing the railroad station which was directly across the street.
Below: Apr.18, 2008 - looking along the east side of Erie Ave., between Queen St. (which is further off to the right) and Park St. (off to the left)
Note the old Michigan Central railroad tracks still in the pavement in the forground, which once ran across Queen St. and across Erie Ave., and made their way on an odd, winding north-west course right through a residential area along the north side of Park St. towards Bridge St. and Victoria Ave., where it croseed that intersection right on the diagonal, continuing in a north-westerly direction. Several houses on Park Lane, west of Crysler Ave., actually had the train tracks right on their front lawn.

The middle photo above shows that today's restaurant building had once housed Clark's Hardware store, seen with the yellow hoarding. (In 1932, this was the G.H. Clark and Co. hardware store, located at 624 Erie ave. In 1965, the proprietor was H. Clark Pattinson) The date of this middle colour photo above photo is possibly from the 1960's -70's. To the right of the restaurant today we see an empty lot, which was also seen vacant beside Clark's as well in the middle photo.
In the black-and-white photo above (date unknown, possibly 1950's) we see that there had been two buildings to the right of Clark's, whose sign is seen in both above shots. The closest building to Clark's has a sign painted on its window, but I can't make it out. Next to the right was a Rexall drugstore with the "cameras, lunches" and Coke "button" sign on it - this was a great location no doubt for the tourist trade, being within a block between two major railroad stations! The next building, at the far right, is the corner of today's Rosberg's department store, which has been boarded up for years, siting vacant since the late 1980's, on the north-east corner of Queen St. and Erie Ave. [update: the Rosbergs burned down in Oct. 2009] Above two photos from the Niagara Falls library archive.

Above: both photos were taken standing on River Rd., looking south towards the Michigan Central bridge. Top photo taken Apr.18, 2008. Second photo shows the exact same spot with streetcars, from Niagara Falls Library archive (ca.1920's?). The building seen at the far right was on the site of the old Elgin hotel.

Below: South side of Bridge St. between River Rd. (at left) and Cataract. Ave. (at right), Apr.16, 2008. Note the large wall in the upper-left background: that is a barbed-wire-topped security barrier built on top of the bridge across the now-unused railway tracks to prevent pedestrians from crossing the U.S. -Canada border.

Above: same location as previously above, with streetcar in foreground. Note the same house chimney towards right side in both photos. Note there is a train on the Michigan Central bridge, at the rear left. (This is where the border security wall would be built years later) The barber shop is still in same location today (the second door, with the stripes, from right corner) The NS&T ticket office was through the first door (seen open) from the corner. That part is now closed up (as seen previously above) where the white siding is just to the left of the red wall. The streetcars in Niagara Falls vanished just after WWII, in the late forties. B and W photos from the Niagara Falls Library. The taller building at the upper-left was on the site of the Elgin hotel; this building could have also been known after WWII as the "Campbell apartments".
Below: Apr.7, 2008, Niagara Falls, Ont., by R. Bobak. Bridge St. looking south-east towards Cataract Ave. and River Rd. in the distance. The now-unused Michigan Central railway bridge, which spans the Niagara Gorge from the U.S. to Canada, can be seen in the background at the left. The white building with the red side houses Tony's Barber Shop (4122 Bridge St.) and Simon's Restaurant (4116 Bridge St.), both good places, respectively, for a cut and a coffee! Tony D'Annibale has barbered in his shop since 1952; it had been established in 1922, and Tony apprenticed under then-owner George Todoroff. Tony closed the barber shop in July 2013.
Next door to Tony's, Simon's says it's the oldest operating restaurant in Niagara - established 1884 - and had moved to this location at Bridge and River Rd. in the 1900's. [update: sad to hear that Simon's - run by Pat and Rosa Simon for some 50 years, and by Pat's father before that - was closed in early Dec.2012, around Dec.12. I'll miss them.]{Pat Simon died Jan.31, 2014, at the age of 83}
The restaurant and barber shop were located in the same building which was seen in the earlier photo. On the Cataract Ave. corner of the same building was once located the NS&T ticket office.
Above: same view, same spot as it was on Jun.3, 1948. The Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto (NS&T) streetcar tracks on Bridge St. are being removed. A train can be seen crossing the Michigan Central bridge in the distance.
The peaked house roof with the chimney in the mid-picture right-side can be seen in both photos (This had most recently been the Simon house, at 4538 Cataract Ave., right behind Simon's restaurant, seen more fully in green in the 2008 photo. In the 2008 view, the house is seen clearly because a building had been knocked down: the building at the far right in the 1948 photos was the Royal Inn hotel) The raised block stone wall seen from where both pictures were taken forms a grade separation, because just to the left is another railroad track (CN, still in daily use) on another bridge, the Whirlpool bridge, crossing the Niagara river to the States. These two bridges across the Niagara River are only several hundred feet apart. Right behind and to the left of the spot from where the above two pictures were taken is the Niagara Falls CN/VIA train station, still in daily use.
Also, note the building with the crenellated roofline at the centre-right of the above photo: this was the Renown Printing shop, located at 4144 Bridge St. The roofline is hidden under a bulkhead in the 2008 photo, the former print shop now being a restaurant.
Below: View looking south along Erie Ave. from Bridge St. The former Hotel Trennick to the left. [click to enlarge photos] (From Niagara Falls Library, Kiwanis Collection 252046) The gap at the left, behind the Trennick, where the angled-sidewall-building is seen, is where a railroad track (the Mary Ann spur) once ran, crossing Erie Ave. (just where the streetcar is seen) Don't know this photo's date, and can't tell if the railroad tracks are actually still there at this time. There would have been a diamond crossing here with the streetcar and railway tracks.

Above: Same view on Mar.12, 2008. The bus terminal (at right) now occupies the entire block along Erie Ave. between Bridge St. and Park St. Note at the left, the rear of the hotel has had an extension compare to the earlier photo, and the building with the angled sidewall is gone.
[The red building seen in the center-left distance (lastly known as the Sui Sun Chinese restaurant, 4566-4568 Erie Ave.) was demolished on Nov.20, 2014. Earlier that summer, in late May to June 2014, a row of four neighbouring buildings south of the Sui Sun, stretching to the corner of Erie Ave. and Park St., were torn down. This was precipitated by the partial collapse of one of the buildings on May 10, 2014, at around 1:30 pm., which ultimately led to the row of four buildings being demolished, due to their interconnected construction; the Sui Sun was the fifth and final building in that row to be razed. The restaurant was in business and working on the day the collapse occurred. Now, the old Trennick hotel on the corner (still boarded up as of Dec.2014) is the sole building left on the east side of Erie Ave. on this block.]
I envision Niagara Falls developing a streetcar line, centered at the Bridge St train/bus station, tying together a route from Great Wolf Lodge to Marineland. It would make day-trips for tourists or convention visitors who arrive by bus, VIA train, (or possibly GO Train?) easy and enjoyable.

Even visitors who arrive by car could leave their vehicles in one location and travel the main artery of Niagara Falls to almost every desired destination. The route could travel the main streets (ie Bridge, Victoria, Stanley) or it could partially use the former Michigan Central Palmer Ave. right of way.

Many U.S. cities have restored or built new streetcar lines in recent years, Portland being a notable example where a new streetcar line was the catalyst for an extremely successful urban redevelopment plan. Many transit solutions are based on ‘commuter’ models; however a streetcar line in Niagara Falls has the beneficial, practical characteristic that it can function as a ‘circulator’ for locals and the tourist-trade.

There is incredible opportunity and potential along the route for planned growth, infill, and revitalization nodes, especially within the downtown/Silvertown/railyard areas. That whole area has truly incredible potential for renewal.

Niagara Falls is no stranger to streetcars, having had them until just after WWII. Although replaced by buses, the streetcar’s underlying benefit, still valid today, is that it uses reliable electric technology and, in keeping with Niagara Falls’ tradition, renewable energy. Streetcars built today are available double-ended, meaning that they can be operated from either end, making loops unnecessary, and can be made wheelchair friendly.

Of course, there are pro and cons to be discussed. A feasibility study, shared by a business/government partnership, would quickly discover and quantify the upsides to move such a project forward. The Ontario Liberals have made funding announcements for transit, specifically mentioning streetcars. Seeing as Toronto is the only city in the province with streetcars, maybe it's time to belly-up to the bar and see what McGuinty can do for Niagara Falls.
It would be ideal, though, if such a project could occur with predominantly private funding, with as little government handout as possible; however, if a streetcar line would springboard the expected new tax-generating development, the costs would certainly turn out to be a worthy long-term capital investment for the city as well.
See the next post in this series: Erie Ave. at the Niagara Falls Bus Terminal (Part THIRTEEN)
See the first part of this series at Niagara Falls, Buildings Lost and Found, PART ONE
Thanks for visiting Right In Niagara!

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