When Buffalo relied on reservoirs to provide water pressure, one such existed on Prospect Hill along Niagara Street; it was
called the Prospect Reservoir even after it was relocated to the Masten-Best-Dodge-Jefferson neighborhood on Buffalo's east side
in the late 1800's. (The former reservoir site was acquired by the 74th regiment which built what is now known as the
Connecticut Street Armory on that spot.)
The opening of the Colonel Ward Pumping Plant in 1915 rendered the Prospect Reservoir obsolete and it remained unused,
surrounded by its massive earthen walls until the Depression brought "make-work" jobs to Buffalo.
Between 1936 and 1938, thousands of laborers reduced the earthen berms, poured concrete and created a stadium and
recreational complex. One worker recalled receiving $15 per week on that project and said, "More people worked to
build War Memorial Stadium than worked on the pyramids." When complete, there was a stadium seating 45, 748,
swimming, wading and diving pools, baseball diamonds, and a quarter-mile cinder track. Construction was initially
estimated at $1 million dollars, but the completed project cost $3 million dollars.
The city of Buffalo had not planned to have a stadium and did not actually have any purpose for this new facility, named
Buffalo Civic Stadium in 1938. Special events were held there until midget racing became popular in the U.S. These
small versions of full-size race cars were especially designed to race on quarter-mile tracks, providing exciting action
for spectators beginning in the late 1930's. The cinder track was paved and stock cars also raced there through 1959
when NFL rules forced racing out of the Bills' stadium.
The new Buffalo Bills football team began using the stadium in 1946-47 and remained there until the opening of their
new stadium in Orchard Park in 1972. The Buffalo Bisons baseball team began using the newly renamed War Memorial
Stadium in 1960 when their home, Offerman Stadium on Michigan & East Ferry was demolished. They remained until
their new baseball stadium was completed in 1988, at which point War Memorial Stadium became empty and too large
for other purposes.
Nearby residents missed the excitement of frequent sporting events held in their neighborhood; they missed the extra
income from charging spectators $2 - $5 to park in their driveways and lawns on game days; they did not miss the congestion
or the bad behavior of football fans. There was a city-wide consensus that War Memorial Stadium had to be demolished and
something built in its place. Debate ensued over whether private housing should be constructed or some public facilty that
served the east side community.
In 1988, demolition began on the stadium. Agreement was eventually reached on what was going to be constructed:
a sports complex that would serve the city's youth. Prominent local architect Robert T. Coles drew up plans and
construction began in 1991 on what was estimated to be a $5.8 million dollar project. When completed a year later,
the $6.8 million dollar project had created an all-weather track, lighted football field, baseball diamond, 1,882 seats
for spectators, and support buildings.
The facilty was dedicated in 1992, but there was no money to operate it and so it remained closed for two years.
The Buffalo Schools had been tapped to operate the facility entirely, but could not afford to and refused the responsibilty.
By 1995, funding sources had been identified and a community-based board of directors was in place
to operate the complex and schedule its use. In 1997, it was renamed the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur
Athletic Sports Pavilion in honor of the late city resident who had worked tirelessly to help young people
of Buffalo's east side.
In 2006, the facility is used by Buffalo schools' athletic teams, youth football and baseball leagues,
educational tutoring, annual Gospelfest gatherings and other special events.
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