When the Fallsville Splash Water Park reopened recently, it was a bit like "Back To The Future" around Niagara Falls. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the water park once again opened its doors and transported us all back to the summer of 1988. You remember those days, don't you? Downtown Niagara Falls was still thought savable and new projects were still being planned on a scale larger than food vendor tents.
The second debut of the splash park -- assuming a land dispute doesn't shut it back down -- is the next best thing to time travel. Not since 1991 has one been able to head downtown to cool off from the summer heat. It's like we've all been sent back 14 years to relive younger, more innocent days.
All of this got me to thinking, what if the summer of 2005 saw a mass reopening of many of the great businesses and attractions from Niagara's past? Which ones would you like to be able to experience again? Here is one man's list of 10 places from our past that I'd like to see put in the time machine and sent to 2005.
Niagara Falls has had just one national center housed here and the home for Native American culture was a touch of class for the tourism district. The design of the building, paying homage to the Turtle Clan, was unique and attention-drawing. The combination of Indian artifacts and Six Nations' history created an undeniable blend of fun and learning for visitors to experience.
Along with the rebirth of the Turtle's cultural center, here's a vote for the reopening of the restaurant housed in the Turtle's "head." A bacon, eggs and toast breakfast for 99 cents. That's a bargain in any era.
When it was open in the '60s and '70s, the Porter Road department store was everyone's favorite place to shop. Not only did the store offer a wide selection of items at a quality thought superior to its main competitor, K-Mart, but Twin Fair was also the first department store to contain a connected grocery store. In one stop, a family could shop for back-to-school clothes and fill the pantry with a week's worth of food. Talk about being ahead of your time.
The Rides at Olcott Beach
What a year the summer of 2005 would have been for Olcott. With the abundance of 90-degree days that we've experienced so far, the sandy beaches of this favorite recreation spot along the shores of Lake Ontario would have been teeming with people.
Throw in the rides at the Olcott theme park and you'd have it made in the shade. From bumper cars to a haunted ride in the dark, Olcott possessed the type of character often lacking in today's high-tech theme parks. All you would need would be a piece of salt water taffy to make the day complete.
Niagara Falls Pirates Game at Hyde Park
The perfect way to end a time-traveled summer of 2005 day -- taking in a game at the ball park in the center of the city. The great thing about Pirates' games was that the kids played it because they loved the game and not because they were some prima-donna blue-chippers chasing a million-dollar contract.
The cool night air, a box of Cracker Jack and the crisp crack of a fastball hit sharply to center. Does it get any better than that? Let's play two.
Long before McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's had a stranglehold on the fast-food burger biz, there was one name that stood out above all others -- Henry's. Henry's had two locations, one on Pine Avenue near 24th Street and one on Military Road across from the old King's department store.
Henry's wasn't interested in salads, chicken sandwiches or kid's meals. The guys and gals at Henry's stuck to the staples of cheeseburgers, fries and soft drinks and they offered them up with more flavor and freshness than the national chains that now glut the area.
Before we step off of the time machine, here's a Henry's paper kite for every boy and girl under the age of 12. Today's plastic kites will never fly as well as well as the ones that 99 cents bought at Henry's.
Strand, Cataract and Hippodrome theaters
Sure, multiplex cinemas have a lot of great features, but they are woefully lacking in one area -- charm. The trio of theaters above featured such old-time amenities as ticket booths, real buttered popcorn and uniformed ushers to show you to your seats.
Add in big band music and Wurlitzer organs and you're talking about a night out lost on the kids of today. Only black-and-white films of yore would be permitted to play on the big screens if the theaters were brought back today. Nothing would spoil the mood faster than seeing the words "Starring Hillary Duff" flash across the screen. Give me Bogie and Bacall any day.
The Checkerboard Restaurant
If you like sweet Italian sauce and fresh, hearth-baked bread to sop it up with, then this eatery once housed on Whirlpool Street just north of the lower bridge was the place for you. Unlike its counterparts, the Como and Fortuna's, the Checkerboard featured a simple decor and relied on low prices and good food to keep folks coming back for more. It wasn't uncommon for people to order a quart of sauce to take with them to pour over their home-cooked pasta. In a town known for its fine Italian fare, the Checkerboard was a king amongst paupers.
Old Falls Street
The ultimate blast from the past. In the days before urban renewal, Falls Street had it all. From bustling shops to jam-packed eateries to crowds walking four-wide down the avenue, Falls Street was the place to be in 1950s and '60s Niagara.
What was great about Falls Street was that it had charm to burn. The shops, though tacky, hearkened back to the honeymoon era of Niagara and drew folks like steel drawn to a magnet. If there is one thing that Niagara circa 2005 needs, it is an area like old Falls Street.
Hopefully, you'll get a chance to go "Back To The Future" and frolic in the wave pool at Fallsville Splash Water Park this summer. Enjoy it while you can, because it probably will be the only part of our collective past to return for another go-around. But if you've got a DeLoren and a Flux Capacitor, call me -- we need to talk.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Aug. 2 2005|