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Evoking the Ferry Street corridor

Several people stood near the intersection of East Ferry Street and Michigan Avenue on Tuesday afternoon, looking at an image of Humboldt Parkway when it was elm-lined and extended all the way to Delaware Park, before Route 33 was built.

How they loved that parkway, they recalled.

“We spent our whole childhood there, walking from the science museum to the art museum because it was all one pathway,” Dawn Berry-Walker recalled.

“It was a glorious boulevard. We spent so much time in those museums we could do tours,” said Ellen Lucas, Berry-Walker’s cousin.

That long-ago photograph is one of 21 digital images that have been printed on black-and-white vinyl banners and mounted on a concrete wall across from Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. Most of the photos depict that area of the East Side as it existed between 1920 and 1965.

The images are part of the Ferry Street Corridor Project, which is being unveiled Wednesday. The project was organized by Friends of the Buffalo Story, a group that uses personal and neighborhood stories, photography, theater and art to promote community knowledge and understanding.

Captions under many of the photographs intentionally ask as many questions as they answer, capturing the spirit of the continuing project. “Where are the porches that people sat on when Luke Easter hit that famous bomb out of the park, and onto Woodlawn Avenue?” reads one caption under a photograph of Offermann Stadium, evoking memories of the legendary Buffalo Bisons power-hitter.

“Who lived upstairs above Bingo Fruit Market?” asks another. “Where on Grant Street might it have been?”

A third caption, under a photo of nicely dressed women who belonged to the Ferry Street Bridge Club, wonders: “Wouldn’t it be fascinating to identify these women? Who are they? When did they leave? Where are they now?”

Many photos came from the Buffalo History Museum, and local residents also provided some. Berry-Walker, for example, supplied an image of jazz musician Elvin J. “Shep” Shepherd, an accomplished saxophone player who lived on Laurel Avenue and taught Grover Washington Jr. to play. Playing the bass in the photo is Pappy Martin, Berry-Walker’s father, she said with pride.

Anthony Wiggins, who grew up in the Fruit Belt and now lives on Humboldt Parkway, took his time poring over the images, which include pictures of someone dressed like a sharecropper and gripping a guitar, as well as one of uniformed drivers for the Brown Bombers Taxi Cab Co. “It’s very interesting. I think most people are drawn to history, especially photographs with that history,” Wiggins said.

Arthur E. “Juini” Booth, a bass player who lived at East Ferry and Chester streets, looked up at a poster from the 1960s promoting a jazz concert at Offermann Stadium. He recalled playing decades ago with Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderley among the advertised luminaries, adding that there were several musicians on the bill who – reputations aside – he hadn’t wanted to play with.

The Ferry Street Corridor Project includes 15 color images of contemporary portraits at East Ferry and Main streets, and an illustration of what Cold Spring – which a nearby neighborhood was named for – may have looked like.

The Friends of the Buffalo Story set up shop last summer in a tent at Canalside, telling the history of the Erie Canal through materials, talks and theater. It also used a $100,000 grant, acquired with the City of Buffalo’s help, to present an intensive yearlong history project that included performances at Lafayette and Performing Arts high schools.

Mark Goldman, a member of the group, said the Ferry Street Corridor Project could ultimately be extended from Niagara Street to Bailey Avenue and beyond.

“We hope this is a catalyst for more engagement,” Goldman said. “We want to continue this, and take it all over the city.”