BUFFALO, N.Y. — Forty years ago, July 12, 1982, a West Side landmark went up in flames, in one of the most epic fires the neighborhood has ever seen. But like a phoenix from the ashes, the Connecticut Street Armory was rebuilt, and it took going back into the Earth for some of the original building materials, Medina sandstone.
Joe Murray lived a few blocks away from the armory, where he worked. "I was an M.P. with the 206 M.P. Company. I responded immediately on my own." He got there quickly and was sent to watch the front door on the Connecticut Street side of the massive building. "I was in the front of the building, the flames were in the back. So, all I could see was smoke," he recalled.
As the fire grew, so did the number of spectators, so crowd control became an issue as well, especially when explosions started within the flames. "A lot of things run to your head when you hear little booms going off and then large booms." Murray says that about 100 vehicles were burned. "I realized after the fact that it was fuel tanks. The vehicles, mainly the ones that weren't topped off, because it gave expansion of the fuel to expand and explode." He adds that the fire was so hot, that many of them melted into the floor. "We had jeeps at the time, just like compressed into the ground due to the extreme heat."
As firefighters worked into the night, they were finally able to douse the flames, but not before $5 million in damage was done, and about 1,000 neighbors were evacuated from the surrounding streets. The firewall held up to the inferno and saved the front portion of the historic building. THe Medina sandstone walls were about the only thing that stood up to the flames in the back section of the building, giving them something to work with when they rebuilt.
Jim Hancock of the Medina Sandstone Society says they had to pull 750 tons of stone out of a previously closed quarry in Hulberton."They wanted to replace the sandstone, but there wasn't enough sandstone in the area, so they had to reopen a quarry." He says and that was the first hurdle. Because all the skilled craftsmen were long gone, they had to have it shipped out to New England to be cut and then shipped back to Buffalo for installation.
Armory Superintendent Jonathan McKee showed 2 On Your Side's Pete Gallivan the elaborate woodwork in the grand court that was saved by the firewall, and the work of the firefighters. The back section, the former drill hall, was totally rebuilt. Gone are the original bleachers and wood floor. But the important thing, is this West Side landmark still stands tall, 40 years after a massive fire that put its future in question.
In honor of the construction and beauty of the building, it was inducted into the Medina Sandstone Hall of Fame in 2015.
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