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A guide to the best of the East Side

As a wake-up call and a cry for help in a violent summer, I recently laid out a personal tour of blighted sites on the East Side -- the toughest part of America's third-poorest city.

Today, we balance the scale.

The East Side is a collection of neighborhoods, some better than others. The nice streets, points of light and decent folks who keep things together get overshadowed by headlines of shootings and mayhem. Here, then, is one man's guide to the underrated, underappreciated East Side.

Start on Main Street, a few blocks south of Canisius College. Turn left on Northland and head to 183, better known as the Luke Easter House. The former home of the late, great ex-Buffalo Bison is a personal favorite. With its glacier-white walls, pink trim and double chimney, the place -- still a private residence -- looks like an oversized confection.

Turn left and cross Delavan Avenue. Enter streets of well-tended houses in Hamlin Park. Our mayor's neighborhood is a longtime haven for the city's black middle class. Activist icons such as the late Margaret Strasner fought to preserve the community's character. The historic 1850 stone house at 60 Hedley Place was built when all of this was farmland.

Turn left on Jefferson to East Utica. The 2006 Frank E. Merriweather Library -- its unified-pods design is ingeniously modeled on an African village -- and Jefferson Marketplace are signs of rebirth. The nearby Tops Market was years in coming, a full-service grocery that brought bulk-priced meat and fresh produce to the community and broke the monopoly of corner stores.

Turn left on Northampton to Wohlers and Rosa's Garden of Love. The leafy plot is named for Rosa Gibson, the late activist, force of nature and block club coalition leader. From demanding neighborhood surveillance cameras, to piling trash in the street to protest illegal dumping, Gibson -- who died this summer at 78 -- never settled for less than the neighborhood deserved.

Hang a left off Northampton onto Fillmore. At Fougeron, bear witness to the mini-empire of Lee Smith. Lee's Lounge, Lee's Car Wash and Lee's Barbeque, all on one block, are an ode to entrepreneurship in a bleak economy.

Double back down Fillmore to Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Part of Frederick Law Olmsted's visionary network, it is an urban oasis replete with spray fountains, playground, swimming pool and tennis courts. Standing sentinel are the stately houses on North Parade.

Hang a right onto Best Street and head back to Jefferson, the corner of promise. The Makowski Early Childhood Center, built in 1995 (and, befuddlingly, named for a Polish-American ex-mayor), is a gleaming reminder that education is the ticket to anywhere. Across the street is the Johnnie B. Wiley complex, former site of War Memorial Stadium. With its track, soccer and baseball fields, it could -- if the city gets its act together -- become a regional sports center.

Take a right off of Fillmore onto Genesee. At Rich Street is the spectacularly restored former St. Mary of Sorrows Church. The tall-steepled 1891 landmark now houses the King Center Charter School, emblematic of the school choice that charters brought to inner-city kids.

Heading downtown, turn left on Michigan. The dozen or so streets between Broadway and Swan look like a slice of West Seneca. The hundreds of newer houses with connected garages started as a Washington-funded, Jimmy Griffin-era project called Pratt-Willert. The neighborhood's appeal is a prime reason why much of the region's black middle class, unlike in many other places, chose to stay in the city.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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