Buffalo Movie Theaters - Table of Contents

Buffalo's Forgotten Theaters
A few notes by Ranjit Sandhu
July 2002

Buffalo has recently lost the Colonial Theatre (733 Genesee), the Lincoln
Theatre (1406 Broadway), the Broadway Lyceum Theatre (330 Broadway), the Red Jacket Theatre (774 Seneca), the Ellen Terry Theatre (361 Grant), the New Ariel Theatre (185 High), and the Jewish Broadway Sun Theatre (562 Broadway).

So before we lose all the rest of them, grab your cameras, get on your bicycles, and take a self-guided tour. You won't regret it! Here are seven you can start with.

Click on illustrations for larger size




















The Savoy Theatre

As you drive through the East Side, a once-beautiful neoclassical frontage at the corner of William and Krettner may well catch your eye. It's a sad and decaying reminder of what once was there.

In 1909 the Co-Operative Amusement Company, composed of over 100 stockholders, largely businessmen and professionals from the East Side, built a "fireproof" movie theatre. To quote from an announcement in "The Buffalo Evening Times" of Tuesday, 16 November 1909, p. 6:

White Italian marble and much ornamental plaster work with tints will be used in decorating, while the floor will be of white tile with the name of the theater inlaid with letters of red. At either end of the lobby will be stairways with white marble steps leading to the balcony. The lighting of the lobby will be done by means of incandescent lamps in the ceiling border and two large chandeliers suspended from the center ceiling. The whole front effect will be further beautified by myriads [sic] of electric lights conveniently placed. The box office will be a work of art and will be so situated as to afford ample room for crowds that may fill the lobby. The auditorium will be free from posts and will have a seating capacity of about 1,500 .... The curtain will be of asbestos. The dressing and orchestra rooms will be under the stage.

The architect was Henry L. Spann, who later designed Shea's North Park Theatre, which still operates on Hertel Avenue. (Note: Spann is pronounced "spahn," not "span.") The cost of construction was variously reported as $50,000 and $65,000. In 1927 the management purchased an organ to accompany silent movies (a single organist costs less than a full orchestra, I guess). They chose to buy a Link, from the Link factory in Binghamton. Only two Link organs are known to survive. I hear that there was a third still in use at a church that was once the Broadway Lyceum at 330 Broadway, but I think it was still inside when the building was recently demolished.

Interestingly, the Savoy was built on the site of the Penny Arcade, which had been run by Joseph C. Schuchert, who later went on to found a nationwide film-distribution trust called the General Film Company.

The Savoy was later renamed the Roxie, and later still the Roxy. As recently as 1989 or 1990 the original stage door was still visible on Krettner Street, but it was soon thereafter removed and most of the brickwork work on that side of the building was replaced by cinder blocks. Wreckers are currently demolishing several commercial buildings neighboring the Savoy Theatre, and so I am not sanguine about its survival.

Address: William and Krettner Sts. (six blocks east of Jefferson)
Architect: Henry L. Spann

The Sattler Theatre

Another eye-catcher on the East Side is the striking terra-cotta frontage at 516 Broadway, near Jefferson. The architect, once again, was Henry L. Spann, probably in collaboration with his much-younger brother William T. Spann. John G. Sattler commissioned it. Yes, the same Sattler who was a local real-estate tycoon and the same Sattler who owned the late department store.

This 928-seat, $35,000 "fireproof" structure was built in 1914, on the site of the old wood-frame Casino Theatre. As far as I know, there was no stage, only a movie screen. In 1919 or 1920 the theatre changed hands, and it was renamed the Broadway. In 1922 the new management installed a Marr & Colton 2-manual organ. Later still the Basil brothers took over and renamed it Basil's Broadway.

In recent years it was used as a church (Joy Temple), but now, to all appearances, it seems abandoned. Take a look as soon as you can. I'm afraid that you might not have too many chances left.

Address: 516 Broadway, near Jefferson
Architect: Henry L. Spann

The Abbott Theatre

At the northern end of South Buffalo, at the juncture of South Park, Abbott, and Bailey, is Connie's Laundry & Dry Cleaning. If it looks a bit odd, that's because it was not built as a laundry. It was a 498-seat nickelodeon built by James S. and Florence D. Savage at the late date of 1914. The architect, once again, was Henry L. Spann, most likely in collaboration with his brother William. The Abbott never advertised in the newspapers, and to my knowledge there were no news stories about it, so it's difficult to trace anything resembling a history. Rumor has it that it was still operating as a movie theatre in the 1940s.

Address: South Park, Abbott, and Bailey (Connie's Laundry & Dry Cleaning)
Architect: Henry L. Spann

The Frontier Theatre

This was another late-date nickelodeon, which opened on 20 December 1913 at 188 Rhode Island Street, corner of West. The name on the permit was John J. Maher, but names on permits are often of third and fourth parties, so I'm not sure what to make of that. The architectural firm that designed this modest little building was the renowned Bethune, Bethune and Fuchs. (The first of the two Bethunes, as local-history buffs and architecture buffs surely know, was America's first professional woman architect, Louise Bethune.)

Back in 1996 I had a pleasant chat with Ernest C. Vogel, who was in his early 80s and who made me jealous by still having 20/20 vision. He had worked in several movie theatres in his youth, and the Frontier was among them. His job was to accompany the silent movies with music. But the music was not live. In a room flanking the projection booth was the manager's office with a four-turntable gramophone and a collection of 500 records of mood music. With each scene change he would switch to another record.

In 1928 the management purchased a Link pit organ with a roll-player. Wait. Stop. Don't ask. I'll explain. A pit organ was a small, single-unit organ that was placed into the orchestra pit. The chest and relays were not in separate rooms throughout the building, and the pipes were not in special chambers. Everything was contained in the console. The roll-player was a separate piece of furniture, about the same size as the organ console, which was placed beside it in the orchestra pit. It could hold four continuous rolls at a time.

The roll-player served several purposes. If the organist called in sick, any dummy could accompany the film by using the roll-player. The roll-player also served as insurance against a musicians' strike. In the case of the Frontier, however, the roll-player was always operated by remote control from the box office, and so the Frontier never saw any need to hire a musician at all. Of course, if the ticket-taker happened to be too busy to keep an eye on the movie and press the buttons to switch the rolls, then inappropriate music accompanied the film. And if the movie called for more than four moods (most do), well, four was all it got. But that was a small price to pay to save an extra salary.

In later years the Frontier was renamed the Senate, and that's the name that still appears on the marquee. Konczakowski added it to his little chain of local movie theatres, along with the Circle, the Marlowe, and the Regent. (Amazingly, all four are still standing!) In more recent years it was used as a shooting gallery. You know, "Shoot the mechanical duck and win a cigar!"- that sort of shooting gallery. I don't know what goes on in there now.

Address: 188 Rhode Island Street, corner of West
Architect: Bethune, Bethune and Fuchs

The Mirror Theatre

The cutest little nickelodeon still standing in Buffalo is the Mirror, at 311 Connecticut, corner of Plymouth. It was built in 1909, and the name on the permit was Kent M. Austin. Though Fred A. Baynes was listed in the city directories only as a contractor and builder, there is no reason for me to contradict the claim in his advertisement ("The Illustrated Buffalo Times," Sunday, 12 December 1909, p. 2) that he was also the designer.

I don't think that the Mirror operated as a movie theatre past 1916. Currently it is a bar and banquet hall called the Armory. The bar is in the old lobby. The banquet hall is in the old auditorium. The owner would not let me visit the microscopically small projection booth, for fear that I would get injured. Well, yes, I imagine that probably anyone would get injured in one of those old and outrageously unsafe booths. Understanding and agreeing with his worry completely, I promised that I would not sue or cause trouble with his insurance company. No go. Well, maybe some day....

Address: 311 Connecticut, corner of Plymouth (The Armory)
Architect: Fred A. Baynes

The Circle Theatre

Just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Mirror is the Circle, at 444 Connecticut Street. This "fireproof" brick structure opened on 25 November 1914, and I have no idea at all who the owner was. Even the technical credits are a bit vague. One report has George M. Wolfe as the architect. Another report has Martin C. Miller as the architect. Architecture-buff Bob Toplin told me that Wolfe was the architect, but that Miller was the interior decorator. Who knows? Seating capacity was variously reported as 694 and 504. Take your pick.

In early 1962 Fred Keller leased the theatre and renamed it the Circle Arts, and, as the new name implied, he specialized in European films. A year or so later he lost the lease and moved to the Varsity Theatre on Bailey and took the Circle Arts name with him.

Afterwards the Circle was used as the Arab-American Federation of Western New York. (The entire interior has been modernized. - Ed.)

Address: 444 Connecticut Street
Architect: George M. Wolfe

Steve Brodie's Saloon

Next time you go downtown, stop at 475 Main Street, which is now Spherion Staffing. It now looks like any other office building. But once upon a time it was something quite special. The building itself dates back at least to 1885, when the lower story was a saloon run by Albert E. and Noel F. Duchene. By 1887, under the stewardship of George Stauber, it had become one of those infamous music halls. A music hall was a saloon in the front and a small theatre in the back. The theatre offered a rough sort of variety entertainment, and parents probably had good reason to worry when they found out that their teenage sons were among the customers.

In about 1899 Stephen Brodie took over. I've been genuinely surprised lately to discover that Steve Brodie is no longer a recognized name. Don't people watch Bugs Bunny cartoons anymore? Allow me to plagiarize several newspaper accounts of his life, along with a few web sites. He was born on Park Street in New York City in 1863 (the exact date I have been unable to determine), and started his career as a bootblack. Soon he took charge of the shoe-shine stand at French's Hotel near the Brooklyn Bridge. He added newsboy to his résumé and took up residence in the newsboys' lodging house, where he soon became the leader. He sold newspapers near City Hall and in the Bowery, which became his favorite haunt.

As the "New York Times" (Friday, 1 February 1901, p. 2) explained, "His first newspaper mention came with his appointment to a Lieutenantcy in Capt. Ayer's famous Life Saving Corps organized on the East River front. 'Steve,' like every other street gamin of his day, was almost amphibious, and spent half his time in the waters of the river. Many rescues were credited to him while still a youth, including two young women who fell off an excursion barge. A strong and daring swimmer, he was in his element in the water, and a short while later at Coney Island he rescued Miss Jennie Rhett, an actress who had ventured beyond her depth. Miss Rhett presented him with a gold locket for his bravery."

Brodie made a name for himself by competing in walking contests, becoming a champion pedestrian in New York City and in various places out west. When he returned to his lodging home after a western tour, his fellow newsboys dubbed him the "newsboy pedestrian." Six months later he gave up his shoe-shine stand and worked as a recruiting agent for a filibustering expedition to the Honduras.

Then one Thursday his friend James A Brennan bet Brodie $100 that he could not jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. After all, a fellow named R. E. Odlum had tried the jump on 19 May 1885 and did not live to tell the tale. But Brodie accepted the challenge, and on the morning of 23 July 1886 he jumped - and lived. The next day the newspapers were filled with stories of his feat, and his fame and fortune allowed him to open a saloon on the Bowery. Hanging on the wall of his saloon was an oil painting of his jump, along with an affidavit from the barge captain who had rescued him.

Brodie's saloon made him prosperous, and he capitalized on his fame by exhibiting himself in a dime museum and becoming an actor, most famously playing himself in a touring show called "On the Bowery."

In November 1888 Brodie jumped off a railway bridge in Poughkeepsie, and on Saturday, 7 September 1889 he went over Niagara Falls. To quote from the "Yates County (Penn Yan, NY) Chronicle" (Wednesday, 11 September 1889, p. 2):

Brodie went to a point 200 feet above the falls. He then stripped and had his body padded with cotton batting, and then put on a suit of rubber which was inflated fifty-two inches around the waist and seventy-two inches around the chest. The head gear was also inflated, while two steel bands protected his body. The force of the current above the falls carried him with lightning rapidity over the outside of one of the volumes of water and [he] was quickly lost in the foam and mist. It was nearly two minutes before he again appeared, a black speck, jumping to and fro in the boiling cauldron of rushing, gurgling waters. After being rescued by friends, it was nearly twenty minutes before he became conscious. His injuries are numerous, but are not considered dangerous.

Each of his acts of daredeviltry has been disputed, and eyewitnesses claimed they saw him fake the Brooklyn and Niagara feats. Perhaps. The argument that no one could survive a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge has been disproved by later daredevils who tried it and lived. And plenty of others have gone over Niagara Falls and lived. And Brodie's prowess in the water, rescuing people from certain deaths, is not in dispute. So one may legitimately wonder about the credibility of the nay-sayers. But lending credence to the nay-sayers is a stunt that Brodie pulled in 1898, in which he successfully hoaxed his own death. Almost every newspaper in the country printed his obituary, but then a few days later he reappeared in New York City.

Brodie in Buffalo

"On the Bowery" played in Buffalo several times over the years, and was quite popular among the locals. Each time Brodie played here, he donated heavily to charity. By 1899 Brodie was living in Buffalo, where he worked as a sometime actor. Early in that year he organized a benefit for St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum. To quote the "Buffalo Enquirer" (Friday, 1 February 1901, p. 6),

On one occasion he opened and operated a ten-cent store on Main Street, the proceeds going to the poor. On another he defrayed the expenses of the funeral of a poor unknown outcast, whose body had been taken to the Morgue. In conjunction with The Enquirer, he on another occasion furnished Christmas dinners to a number of worthy poor families, and distributed tons of coal and large quantities of groceries to many destitute homes. It was a shrewd method of advertising, but beneath his rough outside Brodie had a warm heart and a genuine feeling for those less fortunate.

Upon moving to Buffalo he also purchased the saloon at 475 (then 473) Main Street, which he outfitted similarly to his saloon in the Bowery. Rollin Lynde Hartt briefly described a visit to Buffalo:

Next I said, "Music halls, cabman," and we flitted from one horrid den to another, in quick succession. A boy would have called it "seeing life," not knowing it was death we were seeing. And yet I found here and there a touch of odd humor.... These were music halls of precisely the Bowery type, though I found them in Main Street, and in streets as accessible. The most elaborate... was then the property of Mr. Steve Brodie, who leaped to fame and fortune from the Brooklyn Bridge. A moral maxim posted behind his bar impressed me deeply. It read: "Cursing and swearing don't make you any tougher in the eyes of people that hears you. Steve Brodie " ("The City at Night," "The Atlantic Monthly," September 1901, p. 359).

At first Brodie's Buffalo saloon was successful, but soon the novelty of seeing the famous bridge-jumper wore off. Then late in 1900 he contracted tuberculosis and left for the drier climate of San Antonio, where he died on Thursday, 31 January 1901, at the age of 38. He left behind a wife, two daughters, a son, and an estate worth $200,000.

475 Main Street came to play a significant role (or actually, a significant footnote) in motion-picture history, for it was here that Mitchell and Moe Mark hired Fred A. Baynes to remodel the old saloon into the Edisonia Penny Arcade. This was no later than 1902. The Mark brothers, now forgotten, were pioneers of a sort, and by sheer happenstance brought together Adolph Zukor, Marcus Loew, and a number of others who would later come to found the Hollywood studio empires. By 1906 the Mark brothers had converted the Edisonia to a movie house and changed its name to the Automatic Vaudeville Company. And then on Saturday, 16 May 1908 the Marks' former business partner Rudolph Wagner re-opened it as the Theatre Comique, a ten-cent cinema. But more on all this in a later article.

If walls could talk....

Address: 475 Main Street, which is now Spherion Staffing (southern neighbor: Lafayette Square Building)

© 2002 Ranjit Sandhu

Much of this information comes from Ernie Vogel, Cynthia Van Ness, Martin Wachadlo, Bob Toplin, Dan Harter, Charlie Stein, Nick Cintorino, and probably a few others whom I can't think of off hand. There's no way on earth I could have assembled these facts without their help.

Original illustrations are just about impossible to come by. Photos were surely taken for portfolios, promotions, and insurance. Where did they all go? And if you have stories to tell, I'm all ears! Many thanks!

Related Pages:

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
| ...Home Page ...| ..Buffalo Architecture Index...| ..Buffalo History Index... .|....E-Mail ...| ..

web site consulting by ingenious, inc.