Buffalo – Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera was joined today by Assemblyman Bill Conrad and Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes to announce that Buffalo’s historic North Park Theatre at 1428 Hertel Avenue has been accepted into the New York State Historic Business Preservation Registry.
The honorary registry, established in 2020 by the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, highlights businesses that have been in operation for at least 50 years and have contributed to their communities’ history. At a time when many businesses face new and unique challenges, this registry allows New Yorkers to recognize and honor historic businesses, while providing educational and promotional assistance to ensure their continued viability and success.
Amidst Buffalo’s deep and multifaceted cultural history, the North Park Theatre retains a special place.
The theatre opened November 21, 1920 and was the original neighborhood movie theatre of the Shea’s Amusement Company, founded by Michael Shea. Shea took capital from his vaudeville theatres operation at the beginning of the 20th century and invested in movie theatres, which were a novel technology at the time.
At its peak, Shea’s theatre empire would extend throughout Western New York and into Toronto, and while most don’t stand today, his flagship downtown theatre, Shea’s Buffalo, and the neighborhood cinema, the North Park, survive.
Following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. in 1948, Shea’s empire was broken up and sold off to various interests. Loews Incorporated, one of the oldest theater chains operating in North America, acquired the North Park.
Following a short stint as a discount movie theatre in the early 1980s, the North Park became Buffalo’s flagship arthouse cinema in 1983. Following a major investment and restoration in 2013, the North Park re-opened in March 2014.
Yet the euphoric reopening only came to fruition following years of architectural neglect and a financially difficult transition into film and cinema’s digital era.
When it became clear that a massive investment into digital projection would be necessary for the North Park to survive, building owner and local defense attorney Tom Eoannou saw an opportunity to invest in this widely beloved neighborhood jewel on a grander scale, and to restore the North Park Theatre to its 1920s glory.
In May 2013, Eoannou partnered with Left Bank Restaurant and Mes Que owner Mike Christiano to assume full operational control of the theatre under a newly formed ownership group. The North Park closed for an 8-month-long, full-scale restoration.
To restore the fading marquee, the theatre turned to its original 1941 designers, Flexlume Signs. Owned and operated in Buffalo for over 107 years, Flexlume referenced their original 1940s blueprints for the ambitious project.
For the interior, they hired local Shea’s Performing Arts Center restorers Swiatek Studios, who set upon a mammoth task in refurbishing the grandiosity of the North Park’s interior.
The North Park’s elegant neoclassical foyer and auditorium was originally designed by Buffalo architect Henry Spann, while its breathtaking ceiling murals were produced by famed 1901 Pan-American Exposition painter, Raphael Beck.
Beck’s six Art Nouveau murals are perhaps the North Park’s greatest treasures. Five murals are layered into the ceiling’s dome, and a sixth crowns the theatre’s proscenium, depicting stylized scenes inspired by Classical mythology.
Swiatek sealed and repainted the crumbling ceiling, repainted and restored all of the theatre’s decorative plaster work, and removed layers of dust and tobacco stains from the walls and paintings.
They gave special focus to the proscenium and the auditorium ceiling’s center dome, which together contain Beck’s six large murals. One by one, they restored each mural to its original splendor.
Even then, the renovation work wasn’t done.
Seven months after reopening in March 2014, the theatre was able to reveal the beauty of its stained-glass window above the marquee – a treasure hidden from view for the better part of a century.
Other renovations include a state-of-the-art digital projector, new seats, new windows, a first-floor gentleman’s bathroom, new lighting, newly exposed marble floors in our lobby, a new concession stand, and more.
For more than 100 years, the North Park Theatre has adeptly carried the vision of original owner Michael Shea — that a theatre should carry the power to lift the “common man” out of the monotony of his daily routine and transport him to worlds and to dreams he’d otherwise be uncapable of rendering.
Through its recognition as a New York State Historic Business, the North Park will undoubtedly continue to serve its hundreds of weekly moviegoers and students who attend educational screenings and workshops, all who come away with a greater appreciation for the power of cinema.
Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera said, “It is my pleasure and honor to have facilitated the historic North Park Theatre’s acceptance into the New York State Historic Business Preservation Registry. This is a theatre that has meant so much to so many within our community, and its eclectic programming and screenings have made an incalculable impact on the imaginations of Western New Yorkers. To see a film at the North Park is to revel in the grandiosity of its history, as well as that of Western New York and the people who continuously work to make this space a permanent wonder.”
Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, “The North Park Theatre has captured the imagination of filmgoers for over 100 years. Since the theater’s founding, it has served as a center for strengthening and enriching our community’s culture through arts. I am proud to announce along with my colleagues in the NYS Assembly that Buffalo’s historic North Park Theatre has been accepted into the New York State Historic Business Preservation Registry.”
Assemblyman Bill Conrad said, “Local landmark businesses like the North Park Theatre contribute tremendously to the character and identity of a neighborhood. One glimpse of the iconic marquee tells passers-by that North Buffalo is a place steeped in history and culture, and that the community here values and protects both – and has done so for generations. I congratulate the North Park Theatre on its Historic Business Preservation Registry designation, and I thank my colleague, Assemblyman Jon Rivera, for sponsoring its nomination. The existence and upkeep of this theater is a point of pride for all of us in Western New York, and I’m eager for the designation to afford it greater opportunities for education and self-promotion, so more people from across New York State can learn about its significance and find inspiration in its enduring beauty.”
Ray Barker, Program Director at the North Park Theatre, said, “The North Park Theatre opened in November 1920 and has remained in business for more than a century. Our theatre continues to honor the vision of original owner Michael Shea, who built opulent, grandiose theatres like the North Park to transport moviegoers away from their troubles and into new realms of imagination and possibility. We are proud to offer an eclectic mix of films from all over the world to the people of Buffalo, Western New York, and especially the Hertel-Parkside community. We are deeply honored that Assemblyman Jonathan Rivera has nominated the North Park for this special recognition, and are proud to have been added to New York State’s Historic Business Preservation Registry.”