If you want something you never had, you have to do something you have never done.
One of the things I love most about shooting musicians is that look of rapture. And that term may not be the correct one. It is an odd mix of concentration and surrender. The absolute joy that appears in their face. Last night I got to see it in spades with a group out of Austin, by the name of Roxy Roca. When we meet I will absolutely have to give you a copy of each of their albums…each song on both albums is a great one. Their guitar player ike Tariq is a master, someone I could never get tired of listening to.
Enough waxing on the poetic…we are on to today’s theatre. A larger seating like the DARS Hall in Washington D.C. AND HAUNTED, how FUN.
Date: October 7
Theatre: Shea’s Performing Arts Center, Buffalo, NY
Trivia Facts/History on Shea’s Performing Arts Center
One of the top 5 places to investigate in Western New York is Shea’s Performing Arts Center. It has been home to many Broadway tours as well as a couple ghost hunts! Numerous stories of strange happenings have been told regarding the old theater as paranormal activity level in the building is marked as occasional.
Shea’s opened in 1926 under the name of Shea’s Buffalo and the direction of Michael Shea. It was said that Mr. Shea was overwhelmed with pride on opening night, as he sat among his patrons with tears in his eyes. Since his death in 1936, stories of unusual feelings of presence in the theater and especially in Michael Shea’s customary seat have been experienced.
Shea’s Performing Arts Theater was included on the television special “The Phantom Tour: the 13 Most Haunted Places in Western New York.” One story has been spoken about in both the episode and Mason Winfield’s “Village Ghosts of Western New York.” A restoration volunteer at the theater was viewing the work around her from the balcony when she heard a man say behind her, “Isn’t this magnificent?” She turned to see a distinguished man with grey hair and mustache in a suit next to her. She directed her gaze back to the stage and stated she agreed. When she turned back around, the man was missing. The volunteer told her supervisor about what happened and the supervisor directed her to a portrait of the building’s owner, Michael Shea. The painting on the wall matched the vision of the man she had seen. To this day, the volunteer gets goosebumps from retelling the story.
Other odd events have occurred at the theater such as doors slamming, feelings of an un-known presence around, lights flashing before being plugged in, and that same portrait of Michael Shea being rearranged. Shea’s Performing Arts Center has embraced the spirit, even setting up dinner-and-ghost hunting events.
At the center of the Western New York theater spotlight, Shea’s Center for the Performing Arts brings a rich history to the forefront with its grand architecture and ornate detailings. The theater is a center for performance and a historical artifact in its own right.
Shea’s has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since the 1970s and stands as one of the most uniquely elegant theaters in the country.
Michael Shea brought the theater dream to reality. Born in Ontario but raised in Buffalo, he began in the entertainment business by helping build two theaters in Toronto as a structural iron worker. Starting in 1882, Shea opened several arenas for entertainment in Buffalo, including Shea’s Music Hall, Shea’s Garden Theatre, and Shea’s Court Street.
In 1904, Shea opened Shea’s North Park Theatre on Hertel (still showing independent films today), and in 1914 Shea’s Hippodrome on Main Street. Shea eventually sold his chain to Paramount, but at one time operated thirteen theaters.
The sale to Paramount helped Shea build the Shea’s Buffalo Theatre in 1925 for $2 million. Architects C.W. and George L. Rapp of Chicago designed the theater, which was modeled after a European opera house, while Tiffany Studios created the interior of neo-Spanish Baroque design. Tiffany gets the credit for the amazing ceiling detail and the massive chandeliers.
Shea’s is only one of four Tiffany theaters still thriving today. The theater opened to the public on January 16, 1926, showing movies and stage shows to the masses in a grand arena. Stars like the Marx Brothers, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Gracie Allen all appeared on the elegant stage.
The 1950s and sixties saw the decline of downtown Buffalo and the rise of suburban sprawl. Loews Corporation purchased Shea. Shea’s continued to show movies, but the beautiful movie palace, like fading screen star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, had become a shadow of its former glorious self. The City of Buffalo foreclosed on Shea’s for back taxes in December 1974, but a group of theater enthusiasts organized to save the historic gem. The not-for-profit Friends of Buffalo Theater organized in 1975 to save Shea’s from the wrecking ball.
The group worked to restore Shea’s, beginning with its Mighty Wurlitzer organ, which had been neglected for so long that mushrooms were growing in the organ’s chambers. The city maintained ownership of the theater, and the Friends stopped work in 1979. But the city soon found another not-for-profit waiting in the wings.
In 1980, the Shea’s O’Connell Preservation Guild began management of the building instead of the city and continues operation today. Its restoration efforts finally concluded in April 1999. Recent renovations include the expansion of the original stage to fifty feet deep, increased wing space, three star suites, seven principal suites, and six chorus suites. A new loading dock was also built to help with the enhancement of the technical and visual aspects of the performances. The expansion has helped to bring some of the most elaborate and exciting traveling shows to Buffalo, such as Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, and Phantom of the Opera.
Since 1999, Shea’s has continued its restoration through generous community donations and fundraisers. Work has been done to preserve the original box office, grand lobby, and marquee. In 2000, Shea’s rewired the auditorium and lobby areas and completed a number of other important updates of facilities. Hand work such as painting and chiseling is done largely by skilled volunteers.
The restoration is being done by Evergreene Architectural Arts of New York City, a nationally recognized restoration specialists, and a local company, Safespan, has constructed all of the scaffolding required for this major project.
Phase IV of the $2.5 million auditorium restoration and the final major restoration project of Shea’s Buffalo Theatre began June 16, 2014 and will continue this summer. The $900,000 project inside the auditorium includes the restoration 80% of the ceiling including the dome and high walls. Last summer, Phase III of the auditorium restoration was completed which included the Proscenium and 20% of the ceiling.
Over the past 18 years, there has been $20 million in restoration completed at Shea’s. Restoration is funded through private donations, Shea’s fundraising events, and public grants.
It is important to note the distinction between restoration and renovation.
At Shea’s, we are in the process of RESTORATION: to act to return something to its original condition or appearance by repairing it, cleaning it, or refurbishing. RENOVATION is the make changes for modernization or remodeling.
Modeled after European opera houses and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, Shea’s Buffalo Theatre opened in 1926 and is one of the only remaining Tiffany designed theatres in the country. Originally an elaborate movie house, Shea’s later became a place for live vaudeville shows and virtually every great name in American show business had performed on its stage.
Today, Shea’s Performing Arts Center (which encompasses Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, Shea’s Smith Theatre and 710 Main Theatre) operates as a full service performing arts center with over 250,000 patrons annually and presents the widest variety of performing arts in the region including touring Broadway musicals, concert artists, family shows, comedy, education programming, local school presentations, historic tours, special events and a free family film series.
*PS-Dear Reader- The only favor I ask is that you follow the story, Share if you are so inclined. Know that I am following dreams as you do.