North Park Theatre is about to embark upon its next big cinematic adventure. Thanks to funding from the Richard W. Rupp Foundation, The John R. Oishei Foundation, The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr Foundation, and state funding secured by former Senator Mark Grisanti, the final phase, and the last “big wow” of the North Park Theatre’s restoration is underway. This final effort includes a crowdfunding effort that will allow the entire community to be a part of the last leg of this significant “Centennial Restoration” project, totaling upwards of $300K.
The previous phase of the North Park Theatre restoration project saw the uncovering and the historic Shea’s North Park theater glass windows that had been buried beneath a slab of concrete (see lead image). The North Park Theatre was originally Michael Shea’s’ first community theater, built six years before his Buffalo opus – the wondrous Shea’s Theater in Downtown Buffalo. The North Buffalo theater essentially laid the groundwork for the stalwart project that was to come. The theater was eventually purchased by Loew’s and became Loew’s Teck, according to Mike Christiano, who, along with Tom Eoannou, became the driver of the latest vision for the theater. Christiano told me that when Loew’s took over the reins, they pretty much buried any sign that it had ever been a Shea’s Theater.
Now, the race is on to bring back the original luster of the building’s facade, so that it will once again have a similar appearance to the way it looked back in the 20s.
The original Shea’s windows above the marquees have been uncovered and restored, and now the rest of the work is at the starting gate, which will showcase the theater exactly how it was during the Shea’s North Park era, with all of the ornamental details brought back to life, including the historic cinema poster enclosures (if enough funding is raised).
There is also another monumental signature aesthetic component that will be part of this restoration project, though I am not at liberty to disclose. What I can say is that it will blow people away once it is complete.
At this point, this is where the grassroots community effort comes into play. In order to see the project through to completion, to bring yet another jewel or two to this North Buffalo tiara, with enhanced lighting, a vaulted reveal, and a facade that harkens back to its 1920s appearance, the community is asked to contribute towards the 100 Year Restoration achievement.
Christiano told me that the last year that Dipson ran the theater, attendance was 10K. Last year it was upwards of 40K. He attributes this to the restoration effort, the up to date movies that are shown, and the devotion of Ray Barker, the operational manager who is also a professor at ECC and Canisius, with a doctorate in history and a passion for films. North Park Theatre is Buffalo’s only 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit cinema, which is why it’s so important for the community to continue to support the restoration and preservation efforts. Much of what is being restored and unveiled has been covered up since ’59. Thankfully, by covering up what they did, they also helped to preserve elements of the building in the process.
“This is a project that the community can get behind,” said Christiano. “Every dollar of support is going towards the kick ass historic elements that will one day elevate this theater up the ranks of premier movie theaters in the country. It’s something that we can all be proud of.”