“I’m the other Arthur.” Those were the awkward words I expressed to a standing room only crowd on the evening of May 12, 2015.
There I stood – a graying, 65-year-old Italian American lawyer – in the daunting position of being a last-minute replacement for the legendary George K. Arthur. The occasion was a town hall meeting, sponsored by the Fruit Belt/McCarley Gardens Housing Task Force, at the Moot Senior Center on High Street on Buffalo’s east side. The topic of the evening was “Gentrification With Justice.”
The hundred or so attendees were mostly people of color and residents of the Fruit Belt neighborhood and nearby McCarley Gardens. They came out that evening to hear what former City Council President George K. Arthur, Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, and activist John Washington (then an organizer with PUSH Buffalo) had to say about the impact of Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus expansion on the Fruit Belt area. They wanted to hear whether neighborhood change could be based on respect, cooperation, and fairness. Few of the assembled knew of Art Giacalone (who, frankly, had never been mistaken for either an imposing physical presence, or a spellbinding speaker).
As a friend and one of the town hall organizers recently reminded me, in response to my maladroit opening line, “the audience laughed with the kind of acceptance that represented George.” I returned the favor by sharing with those in attendance a number of quotes from the Hon. George K. Here are two that still resonate:
First, in response to a question by Buffalo News reporter Susan Schulman, during a February 15, 2013 video, regarding the impact of gentrification on existing residents, the elder statesman did not hesitate to describe what he had observed for more than a half-century:
“Look at the history – The 1960s, Roswell Park lied to the community saying they were going to do certain things. Never honored their promises. . Today, the medical corridor – UB, Kaleida are playing the same game. The object is to move people out. … The problem: It’s too black. They’re misusing the people living there.”
Second, when asked by ArtVoice’s Buck Quigley in April 2010 what he would like to see happen in the Fruit Belt, George replied:
“I know what the Fruit Belt was, and I know what it can be. People have to pull together to make the Fruit Belt what it should be. And that means everybody working together, not just one or two.”
It had only been a week or so prior to the May 12, 2015 meeting that I had first met George, sitting around a small table at the original Jefferson Avenue location of Golden Cup Coffee. As a person interested in politics and the activities at Buffalo City Hall since moving to Buffalo in 1976, I was well aware of his reputation and the elected offices he had held. What I had not realized until then was how warm and self-effacing GKA was. But I was reminded of his thoughtful and kind personality every time our paths crossed from that day on. You would have thought that this man – 16 years my senior –had known me since our high school days.
Whether it was behind the stage at a jazz or blues festival, with a camera around his neck, or at a rally to preserve the character of his beloved Fruit Belt neighborhood, George would warmly greet and embrace me as a long-lost friend. We always promised each other that we would get together soon thereafter for a cup of coffee or lunch.
And, George was so generous with his encouragement and praise whenever I would send him a collection of photographs I had taken, whether of the Erie Basin Marina, Cazenovia Park, the Buffalo Erie County botanical gardens, or Rochester’s lilac festival . He may have been the talented master photographer, but he did not hesitate to inspire this amateur to keep on capturing beauty wherever observed. Little did he know how much he boosted my confidence when he kindly told me: “I want to follow you around Cazenovia Park to learn how you see the world.”
As with many Buffalonians, the December 25, 2020 passing of George K. Arthur leaves me wanting just one more cup of coffee, one more warm, embracing greeting, one more piece of practical insight, one more supportive word from this multifaceted, one-of-a-kind human being.
** Knowing that I can still make my 94-year-old mother – who resides in an independent senior community 75 miles away – laugh during a phone call.
** Watching my bright, handsome, 20-year-old son talk – from the far-end of my socially-distanced dining room table – and realizing that we share an empathetic perspective on life and a quirky sense of humor.
** Being reminded almost every day – through emails and occasional phone calls – that my identical twin brother, David (“the smarter of the Giacalone boys”) – is a kindred spirit who loves and accepts me despite my flaws.
** Seeing the resilience and pride of the “essential workers” who continue keeping the wheels of everyday life turning.
** Having downstate New York friends who don’t complain when I send them one-too-many photos of ducks congregating along Cazenovia Creek while I’m on an early morning walk.
** Having Buffalo friends and allies who remind me that, as exasperating as it may be, fighting to make Buffalo City Hall comply with the letter and spirit of zoning, development and environmental laws is a worthwhile and essential endeavor.
Dec. 26 – “If you saw him, he was a person to behold.” – Sharon Holley, a key official and educator at the Nash House Museum, at the death at 87 of George Arthur, a civil rights groundbreaker, former president of the Common Council and extraordinary champion of Buffalo.
I am posting below my op-ed published in the Buffalo News’ Another Voice column – online on 12/29/20, and in print 12/30/20 – under the headline, “Common Council needs to apply common sense to Gates Circle.” I greatly appreciate its publication. This posting will add some links and images not possible in the Another Voice column.
Another Voice: Common Council needs to apply common sense to Gates Circle –
By Arthur J. Giacalone
For the second time in just over a year, State Supreme Court Justice Mark A. Montour has told Buffalo’s Common Council that it acted contrary to law, and in an arbitrary and capricious manner, when it voted to create a special economic zone – the “Linwood Lafayette Urban Development Action Area” [LLUDAA] – at the former Millard Fillmore Hospital’s Gates Circle site.
The goal of Buffalo’s legislative body is to provide enhanced tax abatements and financial assistance to TM Montante Development LLC, so the Tonawanda company can proceed with its long-stalled plans to develop the former hospital site. But the judge twice has made it clear, in November 2019 and on Dec. 17, 2020, that the obscure state law the City Hall officials are attempting to use, General Municipal Law Section 691, has a narrow purpose: to provide an extra incentive to private developers to correct or prevent blight and deterioration of city-owned property that is “appropriate for urban development.” It is not meant as a handout to a private developer in over its head. [Click here for Justice Montour’s Nov. 16, 2019 Decision; and the Court’s ORDER granted 12-17-2020.]
The News’ editorial board called Montour’s 2019 decision “a victory for common sense.” To designate the Gates Circle site an “Urban Development Action Area,” the Common Council had to declare that the Gates Circle location is at significant risk of deterioration and blight and will continue to be substandard, unsanitary, deteriorated or deteriorating without the UDAA.
Montour exercised judicial restraint when characterizing as “curious” the legislators’ branding of this prominent area a slum. This newspaper’s editorial was equally understated when suggesting that “it takes a vivid imagination to see devastation in that corner of the city,” which sits in the midst of such a vibrant and affluent neighborhood.
Equally “creative” were the gymnastics used by Buffalo’s elected officials to meet the state law’s requirement that 60% of the land included within the special district be deteriorated city-owned property appropriate for redevelopment. To reach the 60% threshold, the legislators placed portions of Delaware and Lafayette avenues and Gates Circle itself in the UDAA, treating the public rights of way as land that could be appropriately redeveloped for non-public use.
LLUDAA Map – Pink area is land owned by City of Buffalo; Blue area land owned by TM Montante
The city and developer have now had two opportunities to convince the court that the LLUDAA is legal. They have failed. Before making its decision to appeal the recent ruling (and, it is their decision, not the mayor’s or department of law’s), the Common Council must objectively reassess the legality – and common sense – of pursuing the UDAA designation.
Admittedly, there are two potential barriers to the Common Council taking the sensible path. The default mode for human beings is to avoid admitting when a mistake has been made. It may also be difficult to receive an objective assessment from the city’s law department. The city’s lawyers serve at the pleasure of a mayor who wants TM Montante to receive the enhanced assistance.
Nonetheless, the integrity of our legislative body is at stake.
Arthur J. Giacalone is the attorney who represented the resident who challenged the LLUDAA designation, Daniel R. Sack.
**Please contact your Common Council member and ask him to not appeal Justice Montour’s December 17, 2020 annulment of the LLUDAA resolution.**
[UPDATE: Here’s an excerpt from a January 6, 2021 email I received from David C. Rotterdam, Chief Content Officer at WNED, in response to the letter printed below:
“Your suggestions on the Our Town Oshawa program were insightful. It’s part of an occasional series of programs we’ve done featuring different communities in Western New York and Southern Ontario. The program is entirely driven by the community volunteers who sign up and agree to participate in the program as one of our producers. We work with the community media to recruit volunteers and then at a series of meetings we brainstorm topics that they all vote on and select the topics they will cover. So while we do get a good range of stories and storytellers – in the case of the Oshawa program the First Nations aspect of the program was very limited. It’s a point well taken as we produce programs in the future that share our culture and history.” ]
A letter recently arrived in my mailbox reminding me that I have been a supporter of WNED/PBS since 1984. I mention this fact only to underscore my admiration and reliance on your fine organization for more than half of my 70-year life span.
November, as you know, is “Native American Heritage Month” at WNED/PBS. The lineup of documentaries and videos has been outstanding, from Lake of Betrayal and The Medicine Game, to The Warrior Tradition and Native Americans: Nature to Nations.
However, to borrow a phrase from the film that motivates this correspondence, “Our Town: Oshawa,” WNED/PBS’ approach to Native American history and culture, no matter how admirable, remains “flawed in some aspects,” leaving room for self-reflection and improvement.
Allow me a moment to digress. In 2015, I moved to a quiet, one-block long street off Indian Church Road in the City of Buffalo named Oschawa (not a typo, at least not on my part) Avenue. I discovered a short time later that my sliver of a parcel was once part of the Buffalo Creek Reservation, and that title to the land had been held by the Seneca Nation of Indians until the misnamed “treaty” of 1842.
I couldn’t help but be curious about the origins of the word “Oschawa”, and soon was reminded of the existence of the City of Oshawa in Canada’s Ontario province, located on Lake Ontario 52 km (about 31 miles) east of Toronto. Thanks to the Canadian Encyclopedia, I learned that the name “Oshawa” is an Ojibwa term describing “that point of the crossing of the stream where the canoe was exchanged for the trail.”
Given my interest in the name “Oshawa” – no matter how it is spelled – I was grateful to receive an email from PBS Passport that brought to my attention the WNED-sponsored film, Our Town: Oshawa. The 2019 piece was described in the following fashion: “Through the lens of these community filmmakers, explore Oshawa’s art and culture, regional landmarks and history, parks and recreation and hidden gems.” Aware of the ongoing November celebration of Native American heritage, I assumed that the 57-minute, 25-second feature would be a fount of information regarding the history and culture – past and present – of the indigenous peoples gracing the Oshawa, ON area. Well, you know what they say about assuming something.
In fact, the hour-long film sheds no meaningful light on the people who lived along the Lake Ontario shore prior to the arrival of the European colonizers.
The word “indigenous” (or, its equivalent) is heard only twice. At the minute and 54 seconds mark, a representative of the Oshawa Museum praises her institution as the only museum that tells “the entire history” of the city, looking at “the earliest indigenous inhabitants all the way to present day.” Regrettably, she then makes only one passing reference to the area’s earliest peoples (at 3:16) when, in describing the second floor of Lakeview Park’s Robinson House, she remarks, “The upper story is completely dedicated to an indigenous gallery.” The camera lingers for less than two seconds on the static exhibit.
The remainder of the film never once utters the term “indigenous” or provides an image reflecting the heritage of Oshawa’s earliest non-European inhabitants. The closest the array of filmmakers/narrators comes to acknowledging the plight of Canada’s First Nation tribes is this above-quoted phrase, expressed by the Oshawa Museum’s representative when characterizing Oshawa’s history: “It’s varied, it’s diverse, it’s flawed in some aspects, but so wonderful in so many ways.”
I had hoped, when the segment of the film focusing on Oshawa’s “Fiesta Week” – touted as “Oshawa’s Multicultural Festival” – began, that information, visually or otherwise, of the indigenous inhabitants’ history or culture would follow. Instead, while “celebrating the different nationalities that make our community our community,” only images of French Canadian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Caribbean, and Ukrainian groups are shown. Absent are the Native American members of the Oshawa community.
I am confident that WNED/PBS can and will do better in the future. Every effort must be made to ensure that the heritage of Ontario’s indigenous peoples is recognized, honored, and respected – not only during Native American Heritage Month – but whenever contributions from members of WNED-TV are used to support local films and documentaries.
I lack the verbal dexterity needed to adequately describe the beauty and peacefulness I experienced at Buffalo’s Erie Basin Marina on the afternoon of November 10, 2020.
The results of the 2020 Presidential election announced a few days earlier had already brought a sense of relief to my political- and pandemic-pummeled psyche. The string of 70-plus degree November days was forecast to come to an end, so a final “summery” visit to the lakeshore seemed like the perfect outing. But the pervasive quiet that awaited me – the result, apparently, of a windless day, and the absence of the cacophony of sounds normally accompanying boating activities on a warm, sunny day – brought a palpable calm I hadn’t been expecting.
I’ll let the following images recapture some of what I experienced.
I actually was optimistic on September 19 when I emailed the letter inserted below to the “Everybody’s Column” at the Buffalo News – the publication’s letter-to-the-editor (LTE) section. Despite expression of pessimism by a number of friends and fellow advocates, I believed that the editorial staff would publish my concerns about the chilling effect the newspaper’s approach to reporting zoning matters has on citizen’s willingness to voice their opinions at public hearings. My friends were correct.
So the only way “the world” will get to read my LTE is by publishing it on this humble platform. Here it is:
“September 19, 2020
Re: Chilling effect on public’s expression of concerns
Dear Everybody’s Column,
The Buffalo News is a staunch advocate of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of the press. For that I am grateful. I only wish they were as vigilant in protecting and encouraging two other freedoms assured in the same constitutional provision: freedom of speech and the right of the people to petition their government.
When business reporter Jonathan Epstein writes about proposed development projects at Buffalo city hall, he never tells the public that the developers’ attorneys – such as Marc Romanowski, Adam Walters, and Sean Hopkins – are repeatedly asking the zoning board for variances from the zoning code to allow their clients to build projects significantly out-of-scale and character from the structures allowed under the Green Code. Their constant repetition of the same one note goes unmentioned.
In sharp contrast, Mr. Epstein finds it noteworthy to advise this newspaper’s readers that members of the public – such as Dan Sack, Lorna Peterson, and myself – who appear at public hearings and raise concerns about the proposals before the zoning or planning board, or Common Council, are “frequent critics” of development projects. Those words are not meant as a compliment.
And it’s not just a reporter using this characterization.
The Buffalo News editorial board published an opinion piece two years ago in support of plans by a Buffum Street charter school to construct a high school building and gymnasium on land considered sacred by Native American tribes. That editorial attempted to disparage the concerns that I was raising on behalf of two neighbors by describing me as “a frequent critic of development projects.”
This newspaper’s approach has a chilling effect on the willingness of residents and taxpayers to stand up in public to voice their opinions to their government officials. It should be championing such action.
Sincerely, Arthur Giacalone“
It has been an exhausting week or two, so I’ll keep the remainder of this post short (at least, for me), hoping that a picture or two really is better than a thousand words.
Here’s the first picture:
And here’s a short version of the story.
On June 17, 2020, the Zoning Board of the City of Buffalo [ZBA] – despite strong opposition voiced by the three “frequent critics” mentioned in my unpublished LTE – approved 14 variances for “The Lawrence.” That development – proposed by Symphony Property Management LLC and Michigan Re-Dev LL – is a 133-unit, 4- to 5-story tall, 254-foot long, 129,072-square foot apartment “building” (I’m using quotation marks because it doesn’t look like a single building to my weary eyes).
Plans are to cram the The Lawrence onto what had been 15 parcels of land straddling Michigan Avenue (across the road from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus) and Maple Street, a small-scale residential street in the predominantly low-income, African American “Fruit Belt” neighborhood.
Too lazy (or, perhaps, too embarrassed) to vote for each deviation from the “Green Code” separately, the variances – many of them indisputably substantial – were adopted on one motion. A majority of the ZBA [kudos to the two dissenting members, Bernice Radle and Thomas Dearing] convinced themselves that the project was not out-of-scale or character with the adjoining residential neighborhood, and that any potential harm had been mitigated by changes by the developer’s architectural team to the Maple Street facade. Here’s the developer’s rendering of what I think of as “lipstick” being applied to the proverbial “hog”:
I happen to think that the ZBA should pay more attention to the concerns of the “frequent critics.” Do you agree?
The U.S. Supreme Court has historically denied Native Americans the respect owed every human being.
“An ignorant and dependent race.” “Wards of the nation.” “Remnants of a race once powerful, now weak and diminished in numbers.” “Pupils.” “Communities dependent on the United States largely for their daily food, and for their political rights.” Such characterizations of “Indian tribes” – ranging from paternalistic, disrespectful, and disparaging, to outright repugnant – can be found repeatedly in nineteenth- and twentieth-century opinions issued by our nation’s highest court.
This condescension towards North America’s Indigenous peoples has been mirrored in the high court’s rulings. An oft-cited 1885 opinion asserts: “The power of the general government over these remnants of a race once powerful, now weak and diminished in numbers, is necessary to their protection, as well as to the safety of those among whom they dwell.” Adding injury to its many insults, the Supreme Court presumes that the federal government acts in good faith when it breaches the promises it has made in Native treaties, or totally terminates a reservation: “It is to be presumed that in this matter the United States would be governed by such considerations of justice as would control a Christian people in their treatment of an ignorant and dependent race.”
If that statement weren’t repugnant enough, our nation’s top jurists uttered what I consider the ultimate expression of “White Privilege.” Finding itself unable to identify a specific provision in the U.S. Constitution granting Congress, even implicitly, “paramount authority” over Native tribes, the Supreme Court justifies the federal government’s absolute power over the Indigenous population by referring to “the policy of the European nations and the United States in asserting dominion over all the country discovered by them.” In other words, the USA has the power over, and ownership of, the entire country – including Native American tribes – because that’s what White colonizers do, leaving “the Indians” with, at best, a “possessory right to the soil over which they roamed and hunted and established occasional villages.”
In the eyes of the U. S. Supreme Court, Native tribes are not nations, not states, and not sovereigns, but “unique aggregations possessing attributes of sovereignty”. Although an 1823 decision had described Indian tribes as “wholly distinct nations” within whose boundaries “the laws of a State can have no force,” the high court soon departed from the “conceptual clarity” of that view, and “acknowledged certain limitations on tribal sovereignty.”
By 1886, the Supreme Court proclaimed that there exists only two entities with the right of sovereignty, “the government of the United States” and “the states of the Union.” Indian tribes were relegated to a “semi-independent position … not as states, not as nations,not as possessed of the full attributes of sovereignty, but as a separate people, with the power of regulating their internal and social relations.” As recently as 1983, a unanimous decision (delivered by Justice Thurgood Marshall) included the following statement: “[W]e have acknowledged that Indian tribes have been implicitly divested of their sovereignty in certain respects by virtue of their dependent status, that under certain circumstances a State may validly assert authority over activities of nonmembers on a reservation, and that in exceptional circumstances a State may assert jurisdiction over the on-reservation activities of tribal members.“
Despite this less-than-stellar record, our nation’s preeminent court has congratulated itself for “hav[ing] consistently guarded the authority of Indian governments over their reservations.” What it has done, for certain, is consistently remind Native Americans that Congress possesses the power to take that authority away.
Given the historical context, it was not surprising to see the jubilation among Native Americans and Indigenous rights activists on July 9, 2020, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision – written by Trump-appointee Justice Neil M. Gorsuch – in McGirt v. Oklahoma. The McGirt ruling – described below – came at a time when the U.S. was experiencing (and, continues to experience) nationwide demands to eliminate systemic racism and discrimination, and Native American communities were being (and, continue to be) disproportionately impacted by covid-19.
An Overview of McGirt
At the heart of the case is the relevance today of a series of mid-1800s treaties between the federal government and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. As with countless other Native treaties, the USA had promised the Creeks (the term the English used to reference the Muscogee people) the proverbial moon.
In exchange for ceding all their land east of the Mississippi river, the U.S. government agreed in an 1832 treaty that “the Creek country west of the Mississippi (located in what is now Oklahoma) shall be solemnly guarantied to the Creek Indians,” that the lands would become the “permanent home to the Creek Indians,” and that “no State or Territory shall ever have a right to pass laws for the government of such Indians, but they shall be allowed to govern themselves.” In the Treaty of 1856, Congress promised that within their lands, with exceptions, the Creek Indians were to be “secured in the unrestricted right of self-government,” with “full jurisdiction” over enrolled tribe members and their property.” Similar promises were made in an 1866 treaty, but the original territory set aside as the “permanent home to Creek Indians” was reduced in size, with the federal government paying 30 cents per acre as compensation.
The question before the court in McGirt was a narrow one. The criminal defendant, Jimcy McGirt – a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma – argued that the sexual crimes for which he had been convicted by the State had been committed within an existing reservation, and, for that reason, under the federal Major Crime Act (MCA), the federal government alone, and not the State of Oklahoma, had the authority to prosecute him. No one disputed the fact that Mr. McGirt’s crimes were committed on lands in northeastern Oklahoma located within the boundaries of the reduced Creek reservation as described in the 1866 Treaty. But Oklahoma argued that the land once given to the Creek Indians is no longer a reservation today, emphasizing, among other issues, that tribe members make up less than 10%-15% of the population of their former domain, and the area, which includes most of the city of Tulsa, had lost its Indian character.
By a 5 to 4 vote, the Supreme Court rejected Oklahoma’s arguments, and concluded that the lands remained “Indian country,” and, for that reason, the State had no right to prosecute Mr. McGirt for his crimes. As explained by Justice Gorsuch, while Congress has the constitutional authority “to breach its own promises and treaties,” and may have “diminished the promised reservation, and at times sometimes restricted and other times expanded the Tribe’s authority,” it has never clearly withdrawn the promised reservation. For that reason, the Supreme Court majority, over a strong dissenting opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, concluded that it would “hold the government to its words.”
Responses to the McGirt decision
The response to the July 9, 2020 opinion was overwhelmingly celebratory.
David Hill, Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, told the New York Times: “This is a historic day. This is amazing. It’s never too late to make things right.” A commentator at an influential legal blog, Prof. Ronald Mann of the Columbia law school, wrote: “The decision is a stunning reaffirmance of the nation’s obligations to Native Americans.” The Indian Law Resource Center declared: “This case is a significant victory for tribes, and a strong reaffirmation of the legal force of Indian nations’ treaty rights, land rights, and right to self-government.” A July 12, 2020 article in The Atlantic magazine, under the headline “The McGirt Case Is a Historic Win for Tribes,” proclaims, “In the long Indigenous struggle for justice, McGirt v. Oklahoma might be one of the most important Supreme Court cases of all time.” The article’s author – Julian Brave NoiseCat, a member of the Secwepemc and St’at’imc Nations – quotes the lawyer who represented the Muscogee Nation at the Supreme Court, Riyaz Kanji, as predicting that tribal attorneys “will be quoting that decision for the rest of our lives.” Social media was permeated with declarations of “Native Lives Matter.”
“But experts in Indian law said the decision’s effects would be more muted, and would change little for non-Natives who live in the three-million-acre swath of Oklahoma that the court declared to be a reservation of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.“
“Not one inch of land changed hands today,” said Jonodev Chaudhuri, ambassador for the Creek Nation. “All that happened was clarity was brought to potential prosecutions within Creek Nation.”
In mid-August, WBFO, Buffalo’s npr station, asked John Kane, a Mohawk activist who hosts a NYC radio show and resides on Seneca Nation territory in Cattaraugus County, his assessment of McGirt’s impact on New York tribes. While Kane considered the ruling historic, he shared the following view:
“[The feds] haven’t wavered at all in their view that they have control. Even as we go from a policy of extermination, to removal, to assimilation, determination, and into self-determination the federal government makes it clear, that when they say self-determination they don’t mean the international standard which is essentially consummates to statehood, they mean internal self-determination.”
Reasons to restrain one’s expectations
I admit to initially being excited on July 9th when I received the “alerts” from the New York Times and Washington Post regarding the McGirt ruling (made sweeter by Gorsuch’s role). But, I am not an expert in Native American law. Now that I have taken the time to read the opinion closely, and to review dozens of the decisions rendered by our nation’s highest court over the centuries, my jubilation has been tempered by the following realities:
First, the issue decided by the Supreme Court was a narrow one. As noted in the Gorsuch opinion, the only question before the court “concerns the statutory definition of ‘Indian country’ as it applies in federal criminal law under the MCA.”
Second, Mr. McGirt’s case is “a contest between State and Tribe,” NOT a question of the power of Congress to limit tribal sovereignty. The assertion by the five-member majority that, “we hold the government to its word,” does not result in a limitation of federal power, but only to the State of Oklahoma’s authority to prosecute crimes against Native Americans which fall within the provisions of the Major Crime Act.
Third, the McGirt opinion acknowledges, but does not directly criticize, Congress’ major broken promises to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. At one point it states, “By subjecting Indians to federal trials for crimes committed on tribal lands, Congress may (emphasis added) have breached its promises to tribes like the Creek that they would be free to govern themselves.” Likewise, it states:
“While there can be no question that Congress established a reservation for the Creek Nation, it’s equally clear that Congress has since broken more than a few of its promises to the Tribe. Not least, the land described in the parties’ treaties, once undivided and held by the Tribe, is now fractured into pieces.“
Fourth, there is nothing in McGirt that expresses a willingness to hold the federal government “to its word” regarding the multiple ways it has breached the treaty’s promise to the Muscogee (Creek) people of self-governance, or the 1832 treaty’s “solemn guaranty” that the established boundary lines “will secure a country and permanent home to the whole Creek Nation of Indians.” To the contrary, Justice Gorsuch writes, “This Court long ago held that the Legislature wields significant constitutional authority when it comes to tribal relations, possessing even the authority to breach its own promises and treaties.” Not only that, the penultimate paragraph of McGirt reminds the parties (and, the rest of us) that Congress has the authority to undo, if it so pleases, the July 9, 2020 ruling by the high court: “Congress remains free to supplement its statutory directions about the lands in question at any time. It has no shortage of tools at its disposal.“
Fifth, let’s not forget that the Supreme Court presumes the federal government acts in good faith when it deals with Native American tribes.
Bottom Line: Muscogee Creek Nation defeated Oklahoma in McGirt – but Congress still makes the rules and defines the playing field (and, that’s OK with the U.S. Supreme Court).
Many things have changed in Buffalo, NY since 1905. The Queen City was the eighth largest city in the USA at that time, with a population exceeding 350,000. We’re now ranked 87th among our nation’s cities, with nearly 100,000 fewer residents.
There was no such thing as a zoning ordinance at the beginning of the 20th century, and 70 years would pass before SEQRA (the State Environmental Quality Review Act) was enacted to help protect not only the physical environment, but also the character of existing neighborhoods.
What hasn’t changed is the curiosity that existed then and continues today regarding a certain residence in the City of Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood.
It was 1905 when the man who would later become our nation’s best known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, completed his “prairie style” masterpiece for a Buffalo industrialist, Darwin D. Martin. [Click here if you are interested in learning about the bond that was created between Mr. Wright and Mr. Martin.]
Martin House, Aug. 2020
Situated at the northwest corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, Darwin Martin’s residential complex sits on in the heart of the Parkside neighborhood. Development of this historic district – which hugs the eastern boundary of the Olmsted-designed Delaware Park– started in the 1880s and 1890s, primarily attracting upper-middle-class and professional folk desiring a less-congested form of urban living.
While the nearby residences in existence at the turn of the century varied in size and style, nothing was comparable to the original five buildings and grounds of the Martin House estate.
Directly across Jewett Parkway from the site was a formidable dwelling – half-timber and half-brick – the residence of the prominent architect, William Wicks. Boxy and dominated by vertical lines (reflecting late-18th century aesthetics), its nearly 6,000 square feet of living area – one of the largest in the neighborhood – paled when compared to the Martin’s 14,978-square-foot residence. More significantly, the Wicks house contrasted mightily with rectilinear, horizontally-oriented lines, low hip-roofs and broadly cantilevered eaves of the “prairie style” home built for Darwin and Isabelle Martin and their two children:
Wicks House, 124 Jewett Parkway, Aug. 2020
The house next door to the Martin House, 143 Jewett Parkway, was a 3-story Victorian residence constructed at the end of the 19th century on less than a third of an acre of land. Although that structure was altered substantially over the years, it has been reconstructed to reflect its original appearance, and is now serves as the administrative office for the Martin House complex:
143 Jewett Parkway, Aug. 2020
My first awareness of the Martin House complex came in 1982. I had just purchased my first house, a modest “North Buffalo double” on Florence Avenue in what is now the Parkside East Historic District. According to official records, my two-family was built in 1900.
106 Florence Avenue, Aug. 2020
Wanting a closer look at my new neighborhood, I took a walk up Parkside Avenue. On my left and across the busy street was Delaware Park – with a “tot lot” where youngsters squealed and parents (in this pre-cellphone age) actually interacted with their children, a stretch of trees, and a fully-utilized basketball court. On my side of the street were sturdy, traditional one- and two-family residences, including an arts-and-crafts charmer that I ended up calling home several years later.
121 Parkside Avenue, Aug 2020
On reaching Jewett Parkway (with the entrance to the Buffalo zoo on my left), I hung a right. My stroll and passing familiarity with Parkside had not prepared me for what I observed a block-and-a-half down the street. There stood the Martin House, run-down and clearly in need of attention, but magnificent. And, clearly, a striking contrast to the neighborhood surrounding it.
Although it would be another eight years before I began to represent residents concerned about threats to the environment and the character of their communities. I couldn’t help but wonder: How did the folks who lived here in the early 20th century respond to this sight/site?
I don’t have an answer to this question (sorry), but I do ask anyone reading this post who does to please share the information with me at AJGiacalone@twc.com. [I’ll gladly update this post.]
[UPDATE, 08/22/2020: A friend and former academic librarian and librarian science professor (who wishes to remain anonymous) provided me with the following excerpt from a 2017 issue of American Bungalow Magazine:
By Douglas J Forsyth
From Issue 78 (2017 American Bungalow Magazine)
Contemporaries were struck by how alien Wright’s buildings were to the existing cityscape. The Illustrated Buffalo Express wrote on 9 October 1904, about the Martin House, then under construction: “Jules Verne might well be the designer of a house that is being built at the northwestern corner of Jewett and Summit avenues in this city. It may be destined to be termed the freak house of Buffalo when it is finished.”vi There is no doubt that Wright intended his buildings as a provocation. The structures in the Martin House Complex are all on rigid axes, oriented to the cardinal points, ignoring Olmsted’s curving streets. (The Church of the Good Shepherd, across Jewett Parkway, is oriented to the curve on Summit Avenue, in contrast, as are the nearby houses.) Wright built the back end of the Barton House so close to the neighboring structure as to inconvenience its owners. When Wright published a version of the Gardener’s Cottage he designed for Darwin Martin in the Ladies Home Journal, in April 1907, he took what Buffalonians would have recognized as a swipe at a similarly sized cottage designed in 1900 by the Green and Wicks partnership, directly across the street from the Martin House Complex, by describing his own design as: “the result of a process of elimination… what remains seems sufficiently complete and the ensemble an improvement over the usual cut-up, overtrimmed boxes doing duty in this class, wherein architecture is a matter of ‘millwork’ and the ‘features’ are apt to peel.”vii
vi. Quoted in Quinan, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, p. 107.
vii. . Frank Lloyd Wright, “A Fireproof House for $5000: Estimated to Cost That Amount in Chicago, and Designed Especially for the Journal,” Ladies Home Journal, 24 (1907) no. 5, p. 24.]
Today, the Martin House, a National Historic Landmark, has been restored to its glorious zenith of 1907. The museum consists of six buildings, grounds and gardens, and guest amenities including an interpretive visitor center, museum store, and cafe.
As you view the photos that follow, keep the following in mind:
Only two of the original five structures comprising the Martin House estate remain, the incomparable main house built for Darwin and Isabelle Martin, and the very first building designed and constructed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Darwin Martin (completed in 1903), the Barton House, for Darwin’s sister and brother-in-law, Delta and George Barton. [This house served as a test to see whether Darwin Martin could trust FLW enough to proceed to the much larger and more extravagant primary residence.]
The original Pergola, Conservatory, and Carriage House/Stable – demolished around 1960 to make way for an incongruous apartment complex – have been reconstructed in recent years, along with the original landscaping plan.
The “Gardener’s Cottage” – built in 1905 (but not part of the original estate), representing FLW’s approach to affordable housing – was recently purchased and added to the Darwin Martin Complex.
A visitor center -the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion – is a totally new creation.
According to the Martin House official site, “The total approximate cost of this ambitious restoration project was $50 million, which included design and construction of our visitor center, the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion.”
From 1996 through 2015, my family lived on Knox Road in the Village of East Aurora. Our modest home was only a few hundred feet from the wooded, eastern boundary of the 600-acre country estate of the Knox family. The expanse of meadows, pastures, woodlands, wetlands and ponds, which had served for generations as both an active farm and a place where the wealthy rode horses, played polo, and conducted fox hunts, is now the Knox Farm State Park.
The treed rear of our acre-and-a-half lot – which I affectionately called “the hard Knox estate” – was, ecologically, an extension of the nearby estate. It’s wildlife – including deer, wild turkey, and an occasional red fox – casually shared our backyard.
For nearly two decades, on foot or a bicycle, I traversed or circumnavigated the expansive Knox property. The red barns were a striking part of the landscape, and pleasantly contrasted with the rolling meadows and tree-lined paths. To this city-boy, the weather-worn and peeling facades of the farm buildings added to their charm and authenticity.
An August 7, 2020 headline in the Buffalo News, “Iconic barns at Knox Farm State Park will get makeover,” caught my eye. As reported by Jane Kwiatkowski, a $100,000 barn rehabilitation project – intended to return the barns “to their former glory” and “make a great first impression of the park for people coming in” – has been approved by the state. But there is a hitch. The Friends of Knox Park, a not-for-profit group whose 300 members work to preserve and protect the park, needs $25,000 matching funds before the rehabilitation can proceed.
The idea of reversing decades of neglect and stemming further deterioration makes sense. Priming and painting seven aging barns, and replacing and repairing the siding, windows and foundation of a particularly weathered building – the heifer barn – are worthwhile tasks.
But, I do have a suggestion. If, as noted in the August 7th article, a major purpose for spending $100K is to make “a great first impression” on people coming to the park, beautifying and enhancing the park’s primary entrance on Buffalo Road (Routes 16 and 20A) might be more effective.
Here is a picture of the state park’s rather generic entrance (meant for use by the general public), followed by the gracious gateway to the Knox mansion several hundred yards down the road (restricted for use by guests attending events at the mansion):
Back to the barns. Thankfully, for those of us who did not grow up immersed in 4-H Club activities, the various barns and farm buildings at the Knox Farm State Park come with nameplates: Dairy Barn, Bull Shed, Heifer Barn, Milk House, Ice House, Sheep Barn and Show Barn. Here they are:
And, here’s the view from the passenger side of the Park’s department pickup truck pictured above:
And, the field you pass as you head to the “stable” mentioned in the title of this posting:
THE STABLE (rear, front)
If you have the sense that time stands still at the old Knox estate – and swear you hear a voice shouting “tally-ho” across the meadow – you could be right.
Well, at least that’s what the Village of Lewiston claims. But, it’s not my purpose to prove or disprove such municipal boasting.
I traveled north from South Buffalo on the I-190 to Lewiston, on a perfect summer’s day, to experience a two or three hour “vacation” in a tourist town (as you can tell, my demands these days are quite modest). And, I succeeded.
Here are some photos from that “historic square mile.” I’ll insert a few informative signs in the P.S., for the historically curious readers, so as not to disrupt the flow of the images.
I started my leisurely stroll on the village’s main thoroughfare, Center Street, in what is aptly named the “opera hall district”:
If I hadn’t just begun my walk, I might have sat down on an inviting bench near an attractive outdoor eatery:
But I continued a short distance and noticed a spot – apparently created in 2012 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 – that I had never noticed before, the Bicentennial Peace Garden:
I got the impression that the pensive (confused?) figure above is wondering how the powers-that-be allowed the following “work of art” to be visible from the quietude of the peace garden:
The Peace Garden is tucked behind one of the oldest structures in Lewiston, the Little Yellow House, standing proud(ly) since 1816:
While the next picture breaks my promise to keep photos of informative signs until the end of this array, I must say that nothing says more about a chamber-of-commerce campaign to resonate “historic” than adding an unnecessary consonant to the end of a word:
Here’s the controversial Frontier House, once, shockingly, the home of a McDonald’s restaurant, and now vacant:
I took a detour off the main street to get a glimpse of the Lewiston Village Hall (and, somehow, never thought about taking a photo or two). I then headed away from the “urban” setting and walked down a steep hill to get a glimpse of the Niagara River and water’s edge:
I wasn’t certain whether these stairs were meant for the public, so I just took a couple photos from above:
Of course, no touristy waterfront would be complete without a popular eatery, The Silo, and a caboose-turned-ice-cream-stand (note: I was “bearly” able to control my urge for an ice cream cone):
Geography being what it is, my return to the historic village entailed a walk back up a steep hill. By the time I reached the summit, I was no longer in a mood for dawdling. I am feeling in a similar frame of mind as I find myself running out of steam composing this post, so here are several photos left to speak for themselves:
[Please, you feline lovers out there, don’t hate me for proclaiming: I will never, voluntarily, have coffee and dessert at an establishment with the above name.]
With All Due Respect (for the most historic square mile in America),
P.S. Here are a few of those informative signs I promised the curious among you:
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