F. Scott Fitzgerald in Buffalo,
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896, to Mollie and Edward Fitzgerald.
In 1898 Mr. Fitzgerald's furniture manufacturing business failed, and he was hired as a soap salesman with Proctor & Gamble in Buffalo. Scott was a year and a half old when the family arrived here. They headed for North Street, and moved into the Lenox Apartments, now the Lenox Hotel, at 140 North Street.
Originally built c. 1897 as an apartment building, the Lenox was converted into a hotel in 1900, probably to take advantage of the Pan-American Exposition crowds. It offered an electric carriage service exclusively for its guests. The Lenox survives today as one of the last hotels in Buffalo.
Very elegant in 1898, the apartment building was a very fashionable place to live. It had a front porch and huge stone pillars that had been carved.
Mansions surrounded the hotel. Next to the hotel (where Walgreens is now located) was the Root House by McKim, Mead and White, one of the most influential and prestigious architectural firms in the country. Across the street from the Lenox and the Root were two more mansions by McKim, Mead and White: the Metcalfe House (demolished 1980), and the Williams / Butler House at the corner of North Street and Delaware Avenue, perhaps the most beautiful residential building in Buffalo.
Says Brian Dyche, the manager of the Lenox in 1994, "It [the Lenox] was for people who maybe spent the summer in the Hamptons, the winter in the city. The rooms, most of them, were full suites ö with kitchens, breakfast nooks, servants' quarters."
In April 1899, the Fitzgeralds moved into a flat at Summer and Elmwood. The house is no longer standing.
Ten months later, Procter & Gamble transferred Scott's father, and in January 1901, immediately after the Pan-American Exposition had started, the family moved to Syracuse.
The Fitzgerald family visited the Exposition, and in September 1903 they moved back to Buffalo, this time around the corner from the Lenox, at 29 Irving Place, in Allentown, not far from the the Proctor & Gamble offices at 683 Main Street. Scott was now seven years old, a handsome little kid with gray-green eyes and blond hair.
Biographer Andrew Turnbull described Irving Place this way: "A single tree-lined block- a lovely sheltered spot for a poet to grow up in. Children played ball in the dappled shade or raced their buckboards down the sloping street, one of the first where asphalt had replaced the universal cobbles."
It was a time when Irving residents lighted the summer nights with Japanese lanterns stretched across porches. Although it is rumored that Fitzgerald acted out plays in this attic, the current owner (in June of 2000), Alison Kimberly, points out that there is no attic in the building.
His best friend was a boy named Hamilton Wende, whose family had theatrical connections and who obtained free tickets for Teck Theater matinees. Spellbound, the boys would rush home to re-enact the plays. They gave performances for the neighborhood children and charged admission.
Another boyhood friend was Ted Keating, whose Delaware Avenue home had a common backyard with 29 Irving. The boys would tie long stretches of string to each other's toes at night, so they could awaken each other in the morning.
At 7, Scott already showed the style that would be his hallmark. So polished was he that his father joked he'd give $5 to hear Scott swear. He learned dancing at the Century Club. A dance card that Scott kept yields prominent Buffalo names. Dorothy Knox, for instance, was Seymour Knox's sister, and Harriet Mack's family owned the Buffalo Times. The Macks lived at the head of Highland Avenue in a big old Victorian house, the Norman Mack House.
The late Austin M. Fox wrote the following in the December Issue of Buffalo Spree: "Early on, Scott exhibited considerable interest in girls. Accordingly, he seems to have particularly enjoyed Van Arnum's dancing classes, where his blond good looks and his dancing finesse made a hit with young daughters of well-connected families, such as Kitty Williams, Marie Lautz, and Dorothy Knox, whom he mentions in his 'Thoughtbook.' He records that he won first place in Kitty's affection until dancing school stopped in the spring, at which time he lost the coveted position to rival Johnny Gowans (later a brilliant, well-known, all-around amateur athlete in this area).
"Present local descendants of Kitty, Marie and Dorothy can add a certain folklore status to their family histories by mentioning at appropriate times, that their grandmother or great-aunt had been kissed by Scott Fitzgerald during youthful post office games at a party of the dancing school group."
Scott had a dog named "Beautiful Joe," a black cocker spaniel, and also a bicycle - a girl's bicycle. He was sent to school at the Holy Angels Convent (now defunct) at the corner of Porter and West Avenues under the arrangement that he needed to go half a day and was allowed to choose which half.
The house - not unusual - was built in sections. There are many outside walls on the interior. The front section (double parlor) that is highly ornamented (ceilings, floors) was built much earlier; then came the dining room; then the front part of the kitchen and finally the back room of the kitchen. Each of the walls is many courses of brick and is considered an outside wall.
In September 1905, Scott transferred from Holy Angel's Academy and enrolled in Nardin Academy, one of the first Catholic private schools (founded by Miss Ernestine Nardin in 1857). Later, Fitzgerald recalled Nardin: a football player he admired named Norbert Sullivan, and an argument with a teacher. (Fitzgerald spelled the school "Miss Narden's.)
In October 1905, Scott's family. led his socially ambitious mother, moved to 71 Highland Avenue (photos). Although it was a more prosperous address, the Highland house gave the jimjams to biographer Turnbull: "To the other residents of Highland there was something forbidding about the Fitzgerald's life in the house with the single turret that resembled a witch's hat, and Scott was more apt to be playing at the neighbors' houses than his own."
He frequented the Powells across the street (80 Highland), where there was usually a crowd of youngsters on the porch.
71 Highland has changed since Fitzgerald days. "Originally the house was clapboard, with double glass doors," the owner, Mrs. Eslick, said in 1994. "When Fitzgerald lived there, the house looked Victorian." Fitzgerald biographer Turnbull stayed with the Eslicks years ago when he was researching his book. Mrs. Eslick was amazed when he wanted especially to see the attic. "Our attic is the worst - I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to go up there," she said.
Turnbull was seeking evidence of something Fitzgerald had told him. "It was in his notes, how Scott Fitzgerald used to go to the attic and swing," Mrs. Eslick says. "He had a swing, and Turnbull could visualize it."
The swing had been attached by hooks to the ceiling, and Turnbull, gazing up, saw what he was looking for. "There they were," Mrs. Eslick said. "The hooks are right up there in the attic."
Scott Fitzgerald was 12 in March 1908 when his father lost his job. They moved back to St. Paul in July, and Fitzgerald walked out of Buffalo history the same way he had come in.
Western New York in Fitzgerald's Writing
Fitzgerald shows off his knowledge of our area in the last paragraphs of "Tender In the Night."
Here he recounts the downward spiral of ruined doctor Dick Diver. Poor Diver begins in Buffalo and slides from one town to another, each a little shabbier than the last. Western New Yorkers will understand as no other readers will:
"The Great Gatsby" Movie in Buffalo
"When the movie 'The Great Gatsby' opened in Buffalo, we reserved a block of tickets at the Holiday, sent out invitations for an "Opening," directed all to come in "Period Clothing", had a clam bar in a corner of the dining room named the "East Egg Clam Bar," had a Dixieland dance band, invited Robert Redford to come - Hollywood countered with David Merrill - we refused. A great time was had by all I assure you, and until the wee small hours. People were extremely creative in their dress - even dying hair, decorating shoes and on and on."