I have been neglecting the Preservation Ready series for quite a few months so I thought I would jump back in with one of my favorite buildings, one that is very important to the urbanism and future potential rebirth of a commercial district of South Buffalo. This long, glazed, terra cotta clad, classical facade is the public face of the old Shea's Seneca Theater. It was once the heart of what was essentially South Buffalo's downtown. Sitting astride the intersection of Seneca and Cazenovia streets, it has a powerful and important urban presence. This is the most significant building among several great buildings in this neighborhood. I have highlighted a few here
It was once common to front theaters with major commercial edifices, holding several shops that frame an ornate theater facade and marquee. These theaters were once ubiquitous throughout Buffalo. I believe that the only remaining fully intact and fully operational theater/commercial building in the City of Buffalo is the North Park which I recently featured here
. Others in various states of existence (or non-existence) include the Grenada
on Main Street near UB which is still standing but no longer shows movies. Its theater entrance is a pizza shop now I think. The Kensington
, which once stood at the corner of Bailey and Kensington, was torn down after a fire (or was it an explosion?). The Amherst Theater also on Main Street just outside the city limits across from the University of Buffalo South Campus still shows movies but its long row of shops have mostly been torn down in favor of creating a giant parking lot in front of a Tops Market. South Buffalo's Seneca Theater has suffered a similar fate in reverse. The Theater portion of the building was torn down for parking in the 70's while the street facade of shops was retained.
Unlike other buildings on the Preservation Ready list of buildings to save, this one is not in imminent danger. It appears to be in stable condition and is still in use. The roof looks relatively new from Google views and the masonry looks to be in relatively solid but not great condition. The building use, however, is at a very low level and does not provide the benefit it could and should to the neighborhood if its was being used at full potential The shops are underutilized with some (most?) empty storefronts, and the upper level is boarded up (either unused or being used for storage or some other activity that adds nothing to the street vitality). Even though it is still in use and at least in moderately good condition, it is an important neighborhood building that could easily slip into an irreversible downward spiral. It is also a building that could be an anchor for a revitalized commercial strip in this part of the city with the right owner and plan.
South Buffalo is a jewel hidden in plain sight that has mostly been passed over by Buffalo's recently energetic development community. As historic buildings, ripe for easy redevelopment, become more rare, buildings like this hopefully will flash onto their radar. Its big wide windows will lend themselves to spectacular apartments or commercial space. From the air you can see that the building has big broad floor plates that promise much flexibility for various uses. This part of South Buffalo has some issues of poverty and disinvestment but in general has many solid and attractive streets with tremendous assets such as the nearby Cazenovia Park with its golf course and creek. The creek offers the opportunity of long walks in nature well up into Orchard Park for those inclined. You could also paddle all the way to downtown form here if inclined. Mercy Hospital and Trocaire College also are within blocks of this corner. It is a natural for redevelopment. Plus it has PARKING! For now the Seneca languishes but is at least thankfully in a semi mothballed state. The optimist in me says it is only a matter of time until someone sees the renovation of this one as a no-brainer.
See more on the Seneca and its history here
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