Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Buffalo and Milwaukee: Same City, Different Lake

by Marcella Kearns

Spending a long autumn weekend in Buffalo, New York, I was looking forward to vanishing into a city I’d known as a college student — checking out old stomping grounds, covering new ground as Buffalo has been reinventing itself, and, most importantly, catching up with dear friends. Getting away from Milwaukee for a few to refresh myself after a few packed months. Saturday morning’s agenda with my hosts: farmer’s market, stroll, coffee shop.

Who knew "Smallwaukee" stretched
all the way to Buffalo?
Of course the manager at Tipico Coffee was from Bay View.

While good friends Alex and Jess did the WSJ crossword puzzle and sipped a cup of coffee roasted by Ruby Coffee Roasters (which happens to be based half an hour from Stevens Point), I found myself seeing double.

When I first moved to Milwaukee a few years after graduating from college, I joked to someone that Buffalo and Milwaukee were actually the same city — just on the other side of a different lake. My words had come back to haunt me. This getaway was turning into a step through a mirror.

While Sadie from Bay View served me coffee, I started the list. Feast on it, Milwaukee. We’ve got a twin sister only a hop away.

Best Bars

In 2016, Esquire published their choice of the 18 best bars in America. Founding Fathers Pub in Buffalo made the list, primarily for its incredible devotion to presidential history. (Closing the bar back in the '90s, sometimes we’d land a free shot if we could answer five questions about Grover Cleveland or Theodore Roosevelt.)

Though the Safe House wasn’t on that list, both that local quirky bar-to-which-you-take-out-of-towners and Founding Fathers made BuzzFeed’s 2015 “19 Bars in America You Should Drink At Before You Die” as #18 and #19, respectively. Additionally, Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in Milwaukee did take Esquire’s #1 spot in 2013.

Speaking of the Presidents…

Look, we're famous!
President William McKinley was shot in Buffalo at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in to the nation’s highest executive office right up the street when McKinley passed. In 1912, while campaigning under the Bull Moose platform, Roosevelt was shot inMilwaukee. Fortunately, his eyeglass case and the thickness of a copy of his speech folded in his pocket impeded the trajectory of the bullet and spared him.


Buffalo's "Majik Man"
Milwaukee’s favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, have won four Super Bowls. While I was in college in the '90s, the Buffalo Bills went to the Superbowl four times in a row. (Okay, so they lost four times in a row. This one’s a stretch. But their fans rival Packers fans any day!)

More? Buffalo native Donald “Majik Man” Majkowski was starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers when he was injured in a game against the Bengals in 1992. Coach Mike Holmgren replaced him with a young Brett Favre, and the rest is history.

The Wright Connection

The Martin House Complex, one of seven Frank Lloyd
Wright masterworks in the Buffalo area.
Milwaukee may boast C. Michael Wright as one of its most prominent artists, but he is Buffalo born and raised!

Oh, yeah, there’s that other Wright as well… Buffalonian Darwin D. Martin invited Frank Lloyd Wright to bring his vision to Buffalo after Martin visited Oak Park, Illinois and saw Wright’s work there. Now, the Martin House Complex serves as a tour highlight of Wright’s work in Buffalo —while Milwaukee boasts the American System-Built Homes. (And has anyone seen the recently installed highway signs for the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail on I-94?)


In 2001, Milwaukee’s Coo Coo Cal topped Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles Charts with “My Projects.” This was Milwaukee’s first splash on the national scene in one of contemporary music’s hottest and richest genres. Buffalo, however, has the latest big news on that front: Conway and Westside Gunn of the duo Hall N’ Nash made Buffalo music history this year as the first local rappers to sign with a major label — Eminem’s Shady Records.

Both regions can claim plenty of names, however, in a wealth of other genres. To name just a few, Buffalo can claim Brian McKnight, the Goo Goo Dolls, Ani DiFranco, and Spyro Gyra. The Violent Femmes, Al Jarreau, Woody Herman, and the BoDeans hail from our region.

Urban Park System

Buffalo's Olmsted parks were originally designed around
one large parkand two smaller ones closer to
population centers, linked by "park ways."
Frederick Law Olmsted and partner architect Calvert Vaux created the first urban park system in Buffalo in 1868 after his success with Central Park in New York City. The Olmsted Park System in Buffalo would come to span 850 acres, 6 parks, 7 parkways, 8 circles, and 4 pocket parks and took about 30 years to complete.

Olmsted brought his concept to Milwaukee in 1893. Our own Riverside, Lake and Washington Parks were his designs (along with the idea of a shore drive which would eventually become Lincoln Memorial Drive).

The Great Lake Effect

It's sort of scary how perfect that parallel is.
Milwaukee is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, the third-largest of the Great Lakes, while Buffalo’s on the shores of the fourth, Lake Erie.

Erie does a number on Buffalo’s weather patterns, though. Their lake effect snow accounts for an average annual snowfall double that of Milwaukee’s.

Segregation and Potential
This one’s nothing to boast of, but it’s a commonality. 24/7 Wall St.’s most recent calculation of the most segregated cities in the United States (July 2017) confirmed, sadly, what we already likely knew. Both the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis area as well as the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls region fell within the top 16 (with Milwaukee at #11 and Buffalo at #7). While Buffalo fell within a statistic that includes only four cities — a city in which 80% of white people live within predominantly white neighborhoods — Wisconsin and Milwaukee specifically, as late as 2016, held the regrettable distinction of being the “worst state for black Americans” based on education and income potential.

Yet… Travel + Leisure’s 2017 list of America’s Friendliest Cities featured both Buffalo, which earned the #1 spot, and Milwaukee, which came in at #10. I wondered if this reader-contributed ranking could be read with hope: there’s a lot of work to do towards inclusion, equality, and civil rights—but, at least self-perceived, there are people in both towns with the right potential to achieve better conditions for all. Perhaps.

Actors’ Origin Stories
Buffalo Bob hosted Howdy Doody from 1947 to 1960,
not even letting a heart attack get in his way
(he just recorded in his basement until he could
go back to work at NBC Studios).

The following list is by no means comprehensive, but both cities can boast being birthplaces of a host of well-known and well-loved actors. Bob Smith (also known as Buffalo Bob Smith), host of The Howdy Doody Show, was born in Buffalo. So was voice actor Don Messick (Scooby-Doo), Jeffrey Jones, Katharine Cornell, and David Boreanaz.

On the flip side, Gene Wilder, Jane Kaczmarek, and NFL defensive lineman-turned-actor John Matuszak (Sloth in The Goonies) all hail from our region, along with Spencer Tracy and Pat O’Brien, who were classmates at Marquette University High School before they went on to major roles on the silver screen.

Smaller Bites

Speaking of the Jesuits
Marquette University, a Jesuit institution sitting just outside the heart of the downtown, has its parallel in Canisius College in Buffalo, which sits right on Main Street and the city’s subway line.

Buffalo (42.8864° N) and Milwaukee (43.0389° N) sit less than one degree apart. (Check out the map!)

From Milwaukee’s Basilica of St. Josaphat to Buffalo’s Our Lady of Victory, you can bet both cities are ready for the Pope to visit and hold mass.

I could go on. In fact, sitting at Tipico Coffee that day, I did. I even pestered Sadie from Bay View for the reason why she moved to Buffalo from Milwaukee three years ago.

“I came for adventure” was her reply. Adventure indeed — arguably one that’s merely through a looking glass.

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