Buffalo Movie Theaters - Table of Contents
A WORK IN PROGRESS
An Oral and Visual History of Buffalo Movie
Buffalo, New York
Please send your
photos and memories. Indicate if you want your name
and/or e-mail address included online.
Remember the Senate theater! It only cost a dime to get
in and we'd go on Saturdays. Something unusual was a 1/2 block before we reached
the entrance, my friends and I would find loose change on the sidewalk. This happened
every Saturday and we never questioned it?
Then there was the Niagara theater where we were sitting and waiting for "Rebel
Without a Cause" to begin. Prior to the movie starting, the movie manager announced
James Dean had just been killed in a car accident. We were devastated! What an actor!
I also went to Burgard V.H.S and skipped school and went to the Palace theater across
from Shelton Square. Don't remember how we were able to get in, since we were only
15 or 16 years old. - Vinny Brocato
In regards to Tom Dudzick's inquiry about " Shea's little Seneca" known
as "The Rat Hole" was named "The Oakdale," and privatly owned
by the same person who ran the "Artistic" at the foot of the Elk Street
Bridge and Smith Street. The bar next to the "Oakdale" as I recall was
known as Luthers on corner of Seneca and Babcock. I too would be interested
in seeing any photos of the old neighborhood. - Bill Kasinski.
My dad, George Miller worked as a sound engineer for Altec
Lansing. He serviced the systems in all the major movie houses in greater Buffalo,
along with Robbie Robertson, a Mr. Giles who lived on Grand Island, and late on,
Ken Cavanaugh. This would have been from the late 30's until his retirement in the
late sixties. We had free passes to all the big downtown theaters. I remember the
premier of QUO VADIS, BEN HUR etc, and dinner afterwards at Laube's OLD SPAIN. I
also remember being proud that I was too big for the "crying room" at the
Colvin theater, where the infants could enjoy a good flick; Also,remember sneaking
cigarettes and lipstick in the balcony of the old Kenmore Theater on Dealware Ave.
- Mary Ann Miller Valaitis Whaley
I WORKED AT THE CENTER THEATRE FOR 3 YEARS AS AN USHER. YES,
IT WAS FOR .50 CENTS PER HR. THE CENTER PLAYED MAINLY PARAMOUNT PICTURES. I REMEMBER
THE MANAGERS NAME WAS LEON SERIN. WE ALSO USED TO SHOW CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING EVENTS
AND SOME STAGE SHOWS. AFTER CLEANING UP, WE WOULD OFTEN GET OUT OF WORK AT 1 AM AND
THE BUSES WERE NO LONGER RUNNING AND GETTING HOME MEANT STICKING MY THUMB OUT AND
HOPING THE GUY WHO PICKED ME UP WASN'T SOME KIND OF WEIRDO.
TWO NEIGHBORHOOD THEATRES I DIDN'T SEE MENTIONED WERE THE
ORPHEUM ON GENESEE NEAR BAILEY AND A SMALL SHOW, I CAN'T REMEMBER THE NAME, ON GRIDER
ACROSS FROM THE HOSPITAL NOT FAR FROM THE PUBLIC SWIMMING POOL. MY RECOLLECTION WAS
THAT IT COST LESS THAN A DIME AT THE ORPHEUM TO SEE 2 MOVIES, A COUPLE OF SERIALS,
MANY CARTOONS AND THE NEWS. THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE MID TO LATE FORTIES. - BOB
Fascinating site.. My neighborhood, the Fruit Belt, had 3 movie
houses within striking distance, not including the downtown houses which were all
in walking range. The New Ariel was on High St. between Michigan Ave. and Maple St.
They changed programs 3 times a week and had separate Sat and Sun Matinees Admission
was 9 cents for matinees and 12 cents for evening shows. The other theaters in the
neighborhood were the Columbia and Colonial houses both on Genesee Street maybe 10
blocks from one another. Along with the Unity on Grant St., they were owned by either
Gammler or Gammer something like that. The Genesee St. theaters both became Full
Gospel Churches and the Ariel was used by Roswell Park Hospital for animal storage
. - Dan Tremblay
During mid-thirties I saw movies at the Maxine Theater (?)
on Seneca. It was down the street from a Shea's on Seneca St. (where Cazenovia St.
ended). There was also a Capitol Theater (?) on South Park Avenue. Where I saw a
magical performance by Katherine Hepburn in Alice Adams. Haven't seen either of these
theaters mentioned on your site. I attended these three theaters from 1934-'35 thru
Somewhere in all of the reminiscences about Buffalo theatres
someone mentioned that the Teck theatre was less than first rate. Three, or maybe
four generations back it was the major legitimate theatre in Buffalo. My Dad was
the pianist there for several years but took up another instrument because he was
put on standby pay when the touring companies brought their own pianist. (It did
give him the opportunity to be a spear-carrier in one of the operas that played there
during his piano playing tenure.) When the Erlanger opened the Teck fell on harder
times. Of performances at the Teck I have no memory. Nor do I have memories of performances
at the Court Street theatre where my Dad began his career as a bass violinist but
I have a flitting memory of walking across Court Street to the theatre, which was
in the first or second block off Main St.
My true memories of performances are of Saturday matinees at
Shea's Hippodrome where Pop moved from the Court St. There were two conductors whose
names I remember; Harry Wallace who died and was replaced by Al Greenberg. Conductors
had contracts but the musicians served at the pleasure (or good judgment) of the
conductor. And I do remember some of the musicians. But this is more about performances.
The side sections of seating at the Hippodrome began at the
front with two seats in the front row. At Saturday matinees one of those two seats
on the left side was mine! I can't believe I was there every week but I have no other
memories of Saturday afternoons.
On the other hand Olsen and Johnson, Burns and Allen, Jack
Benny, Jack Pearl, and Ken Murray are names still in my memory as well as bits of
their acts. Of course, there were animal acts, ventriloquists, singers, and acrobatic
acts and others running the full gamut of the vaudeville troupes.
Despite those memories, I cannot remember what specifically
brought those experiences to an end. Perhaps it was not just one thing but a consequence
of a merging of illness, talkies and the depression and maybe a change of conductors.
While the experiences did end, they have left me permanently with a love of live
theatre. - Bob Wurtz
The Center (or Centre) was originally the Hippodrome (Shea's).
The Paramount was originally the Great Lakes (also Shea's, I think).
The Teck (Shea's) was a white elephant from the day it opened.
The Buffalo played first-run films from MGM and Fox. Paramount
played first-run Paramount. For the life of me, I can't remember who played first-run
Warner Brothers (I think it was the Paramount) I believe the Center played primarily
moveovers from the Buffalo, altho I remember "The Miracle Of Our Lady Of Fatima"
playing there first-run. The Century played first-run RKO, Republic and Eagle-Lion.
Briefly, in the 40's they brought back vaudeville (fun). The Lafayette (Basil) played
first-run Universal and Columbia. As for us kids, the Century meant Disney (at the
time RKO released Disney') and the Lafayette meant Abbott & Costello (Universal)
The Century ran vaudeville (with a feature film) for a time in the very late 40's
or very early 50's.
The touring big bands played Shea's Buffalo (Jim & Tommy
Dorsey, Kay Kaiser, Harry James, Horace Height, Ink Spots, etc.). Also, radio's "Dr.
IQ" (I have a lady in the balcony) played at Shea's Buffalo when it was in town.
I remember seeing "Lassie Come Home" at the Granada one Saturday afternoon.
The projectionist skipped a whole reel. I stood outside the theater and cried.
I remember that the Century had a coat check room on their upstairs mezzanine. Don't
this anyplace else (quite likely Shea's Buffalo).
They were all very happy places for me. I spent most of my adult life managing movie
theaters. The last one, before retiring, was a 12-plex. My, how times change. - Brian
in San Francisco
The Kensington Theater was right on the corner of Kensington
and Bailey Avenue. I saw many a movie there in the early and mid 60's. Unfortunately,
it went the way of the many neighborhood theaters with the advent of the mini-screen,
multi-cinemas in the suburbs. Seeing a movie now at a mall does not come close to
the going to the movies experience at one of the atmospherically rich old movie theaters
of yesteryear. -Jerry
The Kensington theater blew up from a gas leak. The
Genesee and Bailey were torn down and replaced with empty lots.-- those
were my childhood Saturday matinee places. The Colvin on Kenmore near Colvin
was torn down for a senior high rise. - Nancy Piatkowski
The Basil's Varsity Theater (next door to the Varsity
Drug Store Upstairs and downstairs of an office building of sorts that housed, among
others, our family dentist in the early 50's) was on the SE corner of Bailey and
Berkshire. Saturday matinees of cartoons and feature films -- come early and stay
all day to view at least one feature film, up to 25 cartoons and combinations of
such film serial favorites as Superman, the Blackhawks, Flash Gordon and many many
more -- were 12 cents. That was 2 cents cheaper than the Kensington Theater
that was just down the street at Bailey and Kensington.
The Shea's Kensington of this era had essentially the same Saturday afternoon
venue. The Kensington was larger and more plush. Both had stages and what might have
passed earlier for an orchestra pit. The Kensington also had a red velvet curtain
that was dramatically opened at the beginning of the show -- the Varsity may also
have had this feature but my memory is hazy on that one.
The photos indicate that the Genesee and Lafayette
were both Basil's Theaters, as was the Varsity on Bailey Ave. The Amherst
(3500 Main St. - a Dipson Theater) and University Plaza were, I believe, one
and the same. By the late 1950's this theater, located in the University Plaza, had
become one of the better local "art" theaters showing offbeat and foreign
films -- probably due to it proximity to UB and the large surrounding student population.
However, it also gained further notoriety because it was once owned/operated by the
the Weinstein Bros. (Bob and Harvey of Miramax Films fame) while they were attending
UB (Harvey) and Fredonia State (Bob) and from which they never graduated. (It is
possible that the reference is to the Century Theater at that time but my
memory and another source are at odds on that*). In Sept. 2000 SUNY Buffalo awarded
Harvey an honorary degree for the one he had failed to earn 30 years earlier. Miramax
was actually formed in Buffalo in 1979 with offices in Memorial Auditorium.
- Jack DUKESBURY, Jakarta, Indonesia
The Shea's Elmwood theater was located at 539 Elmwood
Ave. which was on the east side of the street just north of Utica. I spent many a
Saturday afternoon there sitting in the 13th row from the screen along with my current
classmate from School 16. Admission (early 40's) was $0.11 with a nickel for a candy
bar. (No chocolate, there's a war on, you know...!) It was here I hid behind my jacket
as I watched Boris as "The Mummy" and Lon ,howling at the moon as he changed
by stop-action to "The Wolfman".
I really don't remember much about the theater, itself. I think the candy bar was
to the left as you entered. - Bob Schley
Does anyone remember when the movie "The Sound of Music"
premiered in Downtown Buffalo?
I believe it was at the Shea's Buffalo, but it could have been the Paramount. There
was a parade on Main Street during the day and search lights circled the sky from
in front of the theater at night. Remember those big search lights you would see
in the sky and wonder what was going on in some part of town?
Anyway, The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews was premiering in Downtown Buffalo
on that night. It continued playing for many months and had special signage all around
the marquee that lit up Main Street in front of the theater. Although I didn't see
it that night, I saw the Sound of Music there some weeks later after the crowds dissipated
somewhat. It was a wonderful movie to see on that big screen in that grand old theater
some 35 years ago. - Jerry
Jerry, If my memory serves me correctly (it often doesn't),
The Sound Of Music played at the Paramount Theater. I remember being very
impressed with the opening scenes on that large screen. - Gene Thompson
My memory isn't real accurate anymore either, but I thought
I saw The Sound of Music at the Granada Theater on Main Street. - Dennis
The Granada Theater was on Main just west of Winspear
in the University district. It was right next to my uncle's dress shop, "Leslie's
Dress Shop"; he then bought a building across Main St. from the Granada, remodeled
it, and moved the dress shop across the street. This was in the early 1950s. - Sue
The downtown theaters certainly were grand! Seems like we would
go to the Century, Shea's Buffalo or Paramount to see films whenever we could, just
because of the luxury of the theater. Some of my fondest memories are seeing movies
at these downtown theaters with my grandmother. She never drove a car, but every
Thursday she would take the NFT bus downtown to see a movie, have lunch, and shop.
I enjoyed going with her, but didn't care for the shopping part too much. Lunch would
usually be at Lobby's Old Spain. - Dennis
Yes, the downtown theaters were grand and its sad that we have
lost them. We do still have Shea's Buffalo, though. It's good that we have at least
one of them left.
Wasn't it great, though, when you could go into the Buffalo, Paramount, Century,
Lafayette, or other downtown theater any time you wanted for the relatively affordable
price of a movie ticket. I used to watch the movies, but often during them, couldn't
help but look up at the ceiling and around the theater. It was such a feast for the
eyes...such architectural grandeur.
I do remember Old Spain and eating there , although I do not remember what I ordered
or much about the experience except that it was kind of a neat place. It was on the
same side of the street as Shea's Buffalo and it seems like it was kind of near the
old Greyhound Bus station. Further down Main was a Chinese restaurant named Chins.
On the other side of Main Street was the Swiss Chalet that had good rotisseried chicken
and it seems like you could see them cooking it right in the front window. How about
Sinatra's...a bar where all the songs on the jukebox, if I remember correctly, were
Frank Sinatra's? - Jerry
When I was going to school in Fredonia before I had a car,
I remember taking the bus to the Granada. I loved that theater--it was large, with
a huge screen and stereophonic sound. It was a revival house. When I went, I saw
"Gone With the Wind," "My Fair Lady," "The Sound of Music,"
and others. Many of these played in 70mm wide screen.
Several years later, I went back hoping to relive the memories only to find a huge
vacant lot where the theater had been. I felt as though a part of my youth had died...I
still think of that theater often.
I also remember the TECK theater. It was in bad shape when I went. I saw "Fame"
there. - Mark Goodrich
Wasn't there a theater by the name of The Center downtown on
Main Street? I'm sure there was and it was there in the 60's. It seems like it was
on the east side of the street. Also, there was Shea's Teck further up Main Street
from Shea's Buffalo and on the same side of the street. It was smaller and not as
elaborate as the Buffalo but still a theater of the old style.
Later, in the late 60's, after the old Palace Burlesque on lower Main St. had been
razed, a new Palace Burlesque opened on Main Street. It was further up Main on the
other side of the street. It either took over Shea's Teck Theater and opened there
or in another building very close by. It had live burlesque just like the old Palace.
So, there were two Palace Burlesque theaters in downtown Buffalo at different times.
- Jerry Puckett
The Elmwood Theater building was completed April 27th, 1914.
It was a three story tall fireproof stage and film house built for the sum of $50,000.
It originally contained 1600 seats. When opened, the theater contained a Skinner
opus 216 organ with a two rank echo that cost $9,000. The Elmwood was built at the
same time some 10 other theaters were being planned and constructed around Buffalo.
The Elmwood eventually became a part of the Shea Theater chain and operated under
that name until closure during December,1961. It was used again for local theater
groups until October 1965 when it was demolished in one day. It's site is now a parking
lot for the Marine Midland Bank.
Ah yes, the Seneca Theater on Seneca St. in South Buffalo
had no seats down the left and right sides of the theater. For overflow crowds they
would hand out throw rugs to sit on in those areas! I saw the Beatles movie "A
Hard Day's Night" there. The place was packed with screaming girls, and I'm
sure all the rugs were handed out on the day I was there. You couldn't hear half
of the movie because of all the screaming!
The Abbott Theater was on Abbott Road near Ridge road. I don't know if it
was officially in Lackawanna or South Buffalo. We would ride our bikes there and
stop at the drug store in the Abbott Plaza to buy candy on our way there (I wish
I could remember the name of the drug store). I saw many movies there in the 60s
and early 70s, before the General Cinema theaters were built at the Seneca Mall.
I'm not sure who I'm writing to or if anyone is there to read this, but I'd love
to know if anyone out there remembers "Shea's Little Seneca" theatre,
affectionately known as "The Rat Hole". It was at, I think, 774 Seneca
Street, right next door to my father's tavern, "Big Joe Dudzick's" at 770.
It was just a little neighborhood movie house, torn down around 1960, but I saw my
first movies there. I'd give anything to see a picture of it, and maybe in that way
I could see, included in the shot, my father's tavern, which has now been turned
into a parking lot. - Tom Dudzick
I used to go to the Seneca also for the movies and the bands
after and the theater on Abbott was called The Towne Theater - Ed Toy
When I was a kid in the 50s, the Commodore was a movie
house. It was where I think I saw "White Christmas" and I only was inside
once. We were more likely to go downtown or to the Bailey (Bailey at Genesee) or
the Genesee (Genesee at Nevada.) The Commodore was at or very near the city line,
on the south side not quite to Holy Redeemer as you head out to Pine Ridge. - Karen Kolb
Re: Sound Of Music
Currently enjoying a huge revival in NYC and, I think, in Europe, too. Sort of a
camp-cult classic. Big audience participation, sing along, dress-ups, etc. Sooner
or later, it all comes 'round again. I think the last resuscitation of the Granada
was "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". - Peter
In the 1954 phone book, there are 58 theaters in Buffalo, not
including the drive-ins!
The Elmwood management were smart - - - -in the late 40s when
I went there, they had one program for the Saturday matinee and changed it for Sunday.
So we could go two days in a row! I think the ticket price then was a quarter.
- Alison Kimberly
In the early 40's, the price of admission to the Elmwood was
$0.11. With another nickel for candy, a whole Saturday afternoon at the movies cost
a grand total of $.16. That got you two movies, a short , a cartoon and the Movietone
news. Heck of a deal for the 40's.....! - Bob Schley
The Central Park was at the southeast corner of Main &
Fillmore, and next to Don Allen's Chevrolet. Hall's Bakery was almost across Fillmore.
During the '40s, a Saturday matinee, with all the features others have mentioned:
two movies, a cartoon, short subject, newsreel and previews, cost 14 cents; candy
was 6 cents, including a "war tax, " so two dimes, would purchase the movie
ticket and candy. We would buy candy which would last, such as Walnettos or Necco
wafers. The house lights were controlled from backstage, so the tip-off that the
movie was about to begin was the usher walking down the aisle and behind the stage.
The site, which was a parking lot, now, along with the site of the former Chevrolet
dealership (once Don Allen, then Dan Creed), contains a Rite Aid. - Graham Millar
It was an evening at the Genesee Theater. The date was October
31st sometime in the early to mid 60's. There was a triple-feature playing that night
and it wasn't a lineup for the faint of heart. The Mummy, Frankenstein, the Wolfman
... they were all up there on that big screen and the theater was filled to capacity
with young thrill-seekers ready and willing to have their hair stand on end. My bother,
a friend, and I were sitting in the front row and just in front of and below us was
a dark and foreboding place on that particular night, the orchestra pit.
In addition to the triple-feature, the newspaper had announced that there was to
be a live, on stage appearance of a special guest. The three classic horror movies
were more than enough to put the audience in the right frame of mind. The lights
were turned down, lightening was projected on the screen and the sound of thunder
echoed through the theater. The master of ceremonies came onto the stage, said a
few words, and then directed our attention to the wings where out from behind the
curtains trudged a stiff figure we all immediately recognized.
It was when Frankenstein crossed the stage and headed down the stairs into the audience,
and the all the lights were turned off, that the place really went crazy. All we
heard for the next couple of minutes was the deafening sound of a theater full of
screaming kids. Everybody got their money's worth of fun and fright that night. Those
were the good old days, or nights, at the movies. - Jerry
This [Frankenstein story immediately above] reminds me on the
time when I went to see the movie "House on a Haunted Hill". I don't remember
the theater, but a skeleton went flying across the theater. And I thought it was
a very scary movie. Compared to what they make today, it was more like a Disney movie.
- Kathy Kovalek, Antelope CA
I remember the Haley Mills movies. The curtain opening at the
Shea's Kensington as Pollyanna's train moved across the screen bringing her to live
with her aunt...Parent Trap, with Haley Mills and Haley Mills and Let's Get Together,
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. We all wanted those pixie haircuts. - Sharon
Saturday afternoons at the movies- how could you beat it? There
were double features plus cartoons, Junior Mints, popcorn, Juju Beads, raisinettes,...
. I grew up in North Buffalo so our choices for Saturday matinees were either the
North Park or the Colvin shows. At the Colvin, there was a small room next to the
projection room that you could sit in and see the movie. Also, the manager, Frank
Mancuso (later worked for Paramount) had a son, Frank Jr.,who produced the Friday
the 13th series. Check out the websites... it still gives me the chills... - Mary
Anybody else remember the Circle Theater on Connecticut Street
on the West Side? I remember catching parts of "Trader Tom of the China Sea"
there. The owner, Danny, was always at the door with a cigar and his hand out to
collect the ... I think 25 cents, maybe 20. - Butch Kavanaugh
I remember once when I was going to school at Burgard V.H.S.
around 1960 or 61, my friends and I skipped one day to go to the Palace to see a
very hot film, LADY CHATTERLY'S LOVER. Pretty risqué stuff, huh? We thought
we were really doing something. That was my only time in the Palace, but we did see
some strippers and comics. Actually the comics were better. Sure was a different
time. -- Jerome P. Maragliano
I was an usher at the Shea's Buffalo during the summer of 1954.
It was my first "real" job; between 8th grade graduation and starting freshman
high school. I earned 50 cents an hour. At first, I was under the watchful eye of
the usher captain at the bottom of the grand stairs telling people to "watch
your step up." Later, I was moved to the main auditorium guiding people to the
seats with my trusty flashlight. Much later, when I was a "pro," I moved
up to the loges. Many many times I watched the time go by on the grandfather clock
still on the stair landing inside the Pearl Street entrance. -- Tom
During the 1940s and early 1950s Shea's Teck was the moveover
house for Shea's Buffalo.Shea's Buffalo would play a film for a week or two and it
would move to the Teck for a weekor two. Thus a longer Main Street run without
tying up the larger Buffalo. The Teck then did aremodel and was the three-projector
Cinerama house for a while. When that played outanother remodel in the late
1950s and the house went first-run with THE LONG HOT SUMMER.Then it became a hard-ticket
house with the likes of BEN-HUR and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
While those films enjoyed long, long runs at the Teck the
theater was not the ideal housefor such films. The screen was too small in
the long, narrow house. Shea's Buffalo had the first CinemaScope feature in
Buffalo, THE ROBE.The Century was the second theater to present CinemaScope in Buffalo
with HOW TOMARRY A MILLIONAIRE. The Century would eventually be the primary
hard-ticket housein the city with long runs of OKLAHOMA, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, AROUND
THE WORLDIN 80 DAYS, WAR AND PEACE, etc. The theater best-suited for 70mm was the
Granada innorth Buffalo. It had the first-run hard-ticket engagements of SOUTH
PACIFIC and PORGY ANDBESS. When it later did reruns of 70mm films it was obvious
to the audience this was theperfect house. Even the nabe Colvin tried hard-ticket
with THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE.
The small downtown Cinema, across the street from Shea's
Buffalo became the city's firstfull-time art house and later did day-and-date first
run mainstream pictures with the Amherstnear the University of Buffalo. The
North Park neighborhood house then became the principalart house. The
Paramount and Warner Bros features usually played the Paramount and Center.Before
the Fed decrees for theater chain realignment those houses were Shea's Great Lakes
andShea's Hippodrome. The Paramount was the action/comedy house with double features.
The Center's biggest hits were usually aimed at a more sophisticated
audience. AUNTIE MAME,SAYONARA were major hits there. Basil's Lafayette
was as large a house as Shea's Buffalo andthe Paramoaunt but a few blocks away
from the other theaters. It also was the home ofColumbia and Universal-Internaitonal
pictures. Those studios were not known to produce blockbuster films back then.
Every once in a while they would have a major hit like PILLOW TALK, THE GLENN MILLER
STORY, TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR. For a while in the mid-fifties Basil's
Lafayette was host to some touring plays like Anthony Perkins in LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL
and Joan Blondell in THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS. The plays only got
two-day engagements. They also played host to concerts. My favorite was
Stan Kenton with The Four Freshmen and June Christy. What a night that was. Shea's
Buffalo, in the early 1950s, when the studios were feeling the first pinches of home
TV, played host to MGM's touring movie stars. The likes of Jane Powell,
Carleton Carpenter, Debbie Reynolds and Sally Forrest did a stage variety show
four or five times a day for a week. There was an MGM programmer as part
of the bill. One such was THE MAN WITH A CLOAK which featured newcomer Leslie
Caron. The weekend crowds in these downtown theaters were huge back then. During
the week the matinee ladies held forth. Shopping, luncheon and a movie was quite
popular. Laube's Old Spain, next to Shea's Buffalo was quite popular.
The "Old Spain" described the decor, not the menu. People came from
miles around to sample their roast turkey dinners, served by no-nonsense middle-aged
ladies in hairnets and black uniforms. I believe there was an organist there
to calm one's nerves after a hectic day of shopping.
The one thing that Buffalo did not have that would have
made Main Street perfect was an automat restaurant. That would have been so
much fun. Loved them in New York. When the studios were financing their own
films there was not a rush to get a production loan paid off. Thus pictures
were allowed to play out for a few months. Word-of-mouth could help as well
as repeat business. A picture in Buffalo, for instance would open at a downtown
house for a week or more. Thirty days after that engagement ended it would
open in the first wave of neighborhood houses. That usually meant Shea's Kensington,
Shea's Elmwood, Abbott, Bailey, Amherst (when it was subrun) and others. A
few weeks later a second wave of neighborhood houses would feature the film.
Then a few weeks later it was up for grabs for the rest of the houses. The neighborhood
houses usually did double bills and split weeks.
Sadly, by the late fifties, the downtown area became a hangout for young black school
dropouts and unemployed. Their vulgar comments and threatening gestures,
probably in fun, was not making the
matinee ladies comfortable. The ladies stopped their shopping and movie-going.
The theaters became difficult to keep up with the loss of patronage, the department
stores and restaurants were hurting,
white flight was in full force. The highly publicized knifing of a
young boy in a Shea's Buffalo rest room by a black teen didn't help either.
The major first-run films were opening in the new suburban houses by the mid-sixties.
With less overhead to eat into their profits the studios/distributors were delighted.
The neighborhood theaters began shutting their doors.
Does anyone remember the "sneak previews" the
studios would add to a regular program once in a while? The title and stars of the
film were never advertised, just the genre. Always a surprise. After the
showing the audience was asked to fill out opinion cards.
|For those who live in the Buffalo area, the ultimate authority
on Buffalo theaters is Ranjit Sandhu's massive Buffalo theater manuscript, which
can be seen by asking for it at the reference desk in the Special Collections Department,
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. It has never been published or cataloged,
and to my knowledge, BECPL has the only copy outside of Ranjit's possession. It cannot
be used outside of the department.
It documents every known theater, opera house, movie palace, music hall, and saloon-with-a-stage
built before 1939 in the city of Buffalo, and there were *hundreds* of them. It runs
about 400 pages. - Cynthia Van Ness
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