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The mystery behind the Pan Am building in the History Museum archives

A look behind the scenes into the vast collection at the Buffalo History Museum Resource Center

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo History Museum holds quite a collection, but what you may not realize is that at any given time, there is less than 10 percent of the museum's overall collection on display. 

It is the figurative tip of the iceberg. 

So, where is the bulk of the berg? It is on Forest Avenue, at the Buffalo History Museum Resource Center. From muskets to memorabilia, and everything in between.  

History Museum Executive Director Melisa Brown explains, "You know, outside of our responsibility to share the collection and provide access to it, we also have to preserve it." And that is what the climate controlled resource center is focused on.

The collection here even holds an entire Pan American Exposition building. It is a little building that has lived many lives, from garden shed to playhouse. But those lives were secondary to its place in Buffalo history.

"Ann Werner from West Seneca, which was Gardenville at the time of at the Pan Am, reached out and said look, you know I have, I think I have a building from the Pan American Exposition" recalls Brown.

That phone call came into the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, as it was known then, in the spring of 1998. Brown had just been hired by the museum to work on the Pan Am 100 year commemoration. So, she was eager to find out the hidden history behind this potential donation. 

Brown first looked into the property where the building had spent the better part of a century, 3348 Clinton Street. She found that there was a connection to one of the biggest Pan Am sponsors, the Simon Brewery. "They knew that the Simon family lived in that home. It was their summer home. So I knew the Simons had a display of the exposition. I knew they were really involved so that held water.," she said. 

Then Brown searched through the archives and found a picture of the building at the expo, sitting inside the West Amherst Street gate. So they had a siting, the next question was, what was it? 

Ann Werner thought it was a ticket booth. The exact purpose remained a mystery until about 10 years ago when another picture was found revealing the secret. It was a souvenir concession, where they sold commemorative coins out of the little building. 

So now, the site and purpose of the building was found, next came restoring it. 

Luckily Mrs. Werner's daughter was an experienced preservation architect, so she did the leg work and research on what needed to be done and even sourced the proper materials such as the tile walls and paint colors.

"It was important to her and her daughter's story of growing up. They wanted to see you know, the building preserved. So it's a great little piece of the Pan Am that we still have."

The History Museum regularly offers events and behind the scenes tours of the resource center, including one next Tuesday, August 22.


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