This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Greiner addresses waterfront issue

Published: November 4, 2004

Reporter Contributor

The decision to locate UB's second campus in Amherst, rather than on the Buffalo waterfront, was made almost 40 years ago. Yet, it remains a controversial one to this day, with discussion of "what could have been" continually being revived in local newspaper columns and on radio talk shows.

William R. Greiner, former UB president and a professor in the Law School, offered some insights into the decision, as well as a detailed recounting of the history of the university from its founding in 1846 until the present day, during a lecture last week entitled "All Experience is an Arch to Build Upon: Building Buffalo's University."

Greiner, who joined the UB faculty in 1967, doesn't agree with the popular opinion that locating UB on the waterfront would have resulted in a more vibrant downtown Buffalo.

"Look at Cleveland State," he said. "That didn't change Cleveland."

Greiner explained that locating the university along the waterfront would have resulted in unbelievable costs and difficulties.

"No right-thinking (SUNY) trustee would buy into all the difficulties there," he added.

He said the expansion issue was fueled by a request from SUNY that UB—now part of the state university system—increase its enrollment from 11,000 to 20,000 full-time students. SUNY looked at several options to expand the university to accommodate more students, including sites in Grand Island, Depew and Elma. A group called the Committee for an Urban University began to champion a waterfront site, with many businessmen and members of the press, particularly Douglas Turner, editor of the defunct Buffalo Courier-Express, supporting that option. SUNY only agreed to consider a waterfront site after New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller requested a study.

However, the land around the preferred waterfront site—what is now LaSalle Park—posed extreme technical difficulties, Greiner said. The Black Rock Canal would have had to have been filled in, and a major highway and railroad line also ran through the site.

The proposed 554-acre site in Amherst offered miles of open space; the waterfront site would have required the relocation of 16,000 residents.

The advantages of the Amherst site led to a quick decision by SUNY trustees in 1967 to expand UB to Amherst, Greiner said.

He noted that the Amherst-waterfront controversy has overshadowed the fact that UB in the early 1960s had attempted to expand to the Grover Cleveland Golf Course across Bailey Avenue from the South Campus. UB alumni encouraged the university to purchase the 108-acre golf course. However, the City of Buffalo, which at the time owned the land, wanted twice what it was worth, Greiner said, pointing out that the university had wanted to build a teaching hospital on the site.

He said he regards the lack of a teaching hospital as one of the university's biggest mistakes. "We suffer from not having our own hospital (like other medical schools)," he said, adding that had UB owned the golf course site, Roswell Park Cancer Institute might possibly be located there today.

Using a power-point presentation, Greiner traced the history of UB all the way back to 1836, when he said some local ministers decided to build a university at a site bounded by Allen, College and North streets and Delaware Avenue. The Panic of 1837 crushed this dream, however.

In 1846, Millard Fillmore stepped forward and founded UB as a stock company chartered in 1847. A medical school was started at Washington and Seneca streets. The early philosophy of the university was to pay as it went along, relying on tuition and contributions, as well as volunteer faculty and borrowed space, he said.

Greiner recounted the numerous moves of the medical school—first to Main and Virginia in 1849, joined by the pharmacy school in 1883. In 1893, the medical and pharmacy schools, along with a new dental school, moved to 24 High St. The law school, which had opened at Niagara University in 1881, moved to Buffalo, locating in space at the public library, which at the time was in the Ellicott Square Building. The law school later moved to a building on West Eagle Street, where it remained until moving to O'Brian Hall on the new North Campus in 1973.

Greiner noted that in the early 1900s there was a push toward establishing a College of Arts and Sciences to provide arts and humanities courses—and a more well-rounded education—for the professional students. Charles P. Norton, who Greiner pointed out was the last of the unpaid chancellors, opened the college in 1906 in a building on Niagara Square that was donated by the Women's Education and Industrial League. Grace Knox stepped forward to donate $100,000, and committed $50,000 each year for the next three years as well. Knox also left $250,000 to UB in her will and encouraged her children to donate to the university. Grace Knox's philanthropy became the basis of the Seymour H. Knox Sr. Foundation, which still exists today, Greiner said.

UB's governing board decided in 1907 that the university should have a central campus, and bought the 170-acre site of the Erie County Home and Infirmary, what is now the South Campus, for $54,000—which was a bargain, Greiner said. Development of the campus was stalled due to World War I, although council member Walter P. Cooke ran war bond drives and organized UB's first fund-raising campaign in October 1920. Within two weeks, Cooke raised $5 million from 24,000 donors—an unheard of amount in that time, Greiner noted.

Samuel P. Capen became the university's first paid chancellor in 1922 and worked diligently to build the campus. Foster Hall was the first building erected, followed by the Norton Union, Crosby Hall and Townsend Hall. In 1940, the university established Schools of Social Work, Education, Management and Engineering. By this time, World War II was coming to an end, and UB's enrollment increased dramatically due to the G.I. Bill. Dormitories were constructed in 1953 for students who had to travel to the university from great distances.

Capen retired in 1950 and Greiner noted that "some will argue all went to hell when Capen left."

Greiner, who is working on a book on the history of UB, noted that even now in 2004, the North Campus still is not finished, adding that UB has the luxury of having huge plots of undeveloped real estate.

"We are one of the more land-rich universities in the country," he said.