Members of an African-American media group say they’re teaming with Carl Paladino’s Ellicott Development to restore the former Sattler Broadway Theatre in Buffalo. WBFO’S Eileen Buckley says millions of dollars must be raised to begin the restoration.
The more than 100-year old theater at Broadway near Jefferson is pad locked. Inside the dilapidated building it’s dank, smells of mold, there’s a huge hole in the wall and much of the facility is crumbling. But for members of the Western New York Minority Media Professionals they see a future theater restored and ready for multi-media shows and its training for students, all to help revitalize a rundown East Side neighborhood.
“We’re very grateful to Mr. Paladino,” said Dwayne Kelly, with the Western New York Minority Media Professionals.
Kelly said Paladino stepped forward as they were soliciting help. “Carl stepped up and said I think I can help you make this work,” said Kelly.
WBFO News asked Kelly if it felt difficult knowing that Paladino has been accused, in the past, by some as being racist.
“I’ve never found him to be racists,” said Kelly. “Carl is very passionate and sometimes he doesn’t use the most delicate terms in going about something, but certainly I would think if he was a racist and a bigot he wouldn’t have given us the time of day.”
But Paladino was a no-show at a news conference Thursday to announce the restoration. Paladino is expected to serve as project manager free of charge. The media group says it owns the building.
The organization has an ambitious time frame of completing restoration in 18-months, but needs to raise $5 to 7 million.
Michael Quinniey is with the media group.
“Most people ask, how are you going to raise the money. The first thing we had to learn was the process of historic restoration and preservation,” said Quinniey. “You have to learn how to structure your group and how to get the word out to raise money.”
Preservationists are also lending expertise to this project. Mike Puma is a historic preservation consultant and Chrissy Lincoln is with Preservation Buffalo Niagara.
“And this building was built in 1914, designed by Henry Span, but obviously the most beautiful aspect of this building — is this amazing polychrome terra cotta facade,” said Puma.
“And in case anyone has any doubts that this really that this can really revitalize a neighborhood, in Cleveland there a $7 million restoration of a theater there, that so far, since 2009 has brought in 80-new business and just last year alone, brought in over $4 million in local taxes,” stated Lincoln.
It is the organizations hope that a new theater could redefine a section of Broadway filled with vacant lots and deteriorating storefronts. If the project becomes a reality, the minority media organization is promising to create 100-new jobs and plans to hire a number of local youth.
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The historic restoration of the grand theaters of Playhouse Square is about to come full circle, thanks to a $3 million gift from the George Gund Foundation.
The gift, made to the Playhouse Square Foundation’s $100 million Advancing the Legacy campaign and announced on Saturday, is earmarked for the restoration of the Ohio Theatre lobby, to be completed next year.
That restoration will bring the massive project back to its beginning: When the Playhouse Square Foundation embarked 33 years ago on what became the reclamation of the district’s five theaters, the Ohio Theatre auditorium was the first space to be restored. Its lobby will be the last.
It will also be the most challenging, since almost none of the original decorative elements survived a 1964 fire and the years of neglect that preceded the formation of the Playhouse Square Foundation and the restoration effort.
The $3 million from the Gund Foundation brings the total raised so far for the Advancing the Legacy capital and endowment campaign to $57 million. About half of the campaign’s funds will be used for immediate expenses and such things as children’s theater programming and a production fund, and half for the institution’s endowment, said Art Falco, president and CEO of Playhouse Square.
“The Gund Foundation has been a great supporter and friend from the beginning,” Falco said. This donation is the largest amount the foundation has ever given to Playhouse Square, he added.
“This gift to Playhouse Square’s Advancing the Legacy campaign helps ensure that Clevelanders will continue to enjoy the arts and cultural programs that take place in its beautifully restored theaters for years to come,” said David Abbott, the Gund Foundation’s executive director, in a prepared statement.
When it launched, in January of 2014, Playhouse Square estimated that it would take three to five years to reach the campaign’s $100 million goal. Just over a year later, they are past the halfway point.
But the remarkable fundraising achievement is overshadowed by the imminent completion of Playhouse Square’s grand, long-term vision of a first-rate theater district in downtown Cleveland.
“That’s why we’re so excited,” said Falco. “And it’s fitting that it ends where it began.”
The Ohio’s lobby is no ordinary theater entrance. When it opened on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 1921, it generated as much excitement as its auditorium.
In The Plain Dealer the following day, the front-page headline read: “Theater’s Opening Bringing New Era: Inaugural of Ohio Places Cleveland in Higher Theatrical Rank; Lobby Largest in Any Temple of Drama.”
The reporter, Harlowe R. Hoyt, wrote more about the lobby than the theater itself. “The main lobby – grand foyer, I believe they call it – is a show place that is difficult to describe,” he wrote.
He then went on to describe it in eight extensive paragraphs, noting such details as a large painting that “is one of a series of the ‘Gods on Olympus’ painted for the Pompadour when she reigned as mistress of Louis XV.”
That painting, along with most of the rest of the lobby decoration, was lost in a devastating fire on July 4, 1964. The theater officially closed in 1969. Three years later, it was on the brink of demolition when a group of grassroots activists led by the late Ray Shepardson saved both it and the State Theatre next door.
In 1982, the restored Ohio reopened as the home of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival (now Great Lakes Theater). But a limited budget and short time frame meant that the lobby restoration had to be put on hold.
It was given a simpler and lower-cost contemporary design, with plans to restore it to its gilded glory sometime in the future. The State Theatre, the Connor Palace, the Hanna Theatre – where GLT now resides – and the Allen Theatre stood ahead of it in line.
The future, at long last, has arrived for the Ohio lobby. Demolition on the $5 million restoration begins on July 7, and when it reopens on June 1, 2016, the entrance to the Ohio Theatre will be renamed the George Gund Foundation Lobby.
The theater will remain open as the work proceeds; a system of scaffolding and platforms will allow patrons a pathway through the lobby to the theater, though they won’t be able to watch the work in progress.
The remaining $2 million for the project came from the funds raised in the Advancing the Legacy campaign.
The 1964 fire, as well as the years of neglect and vacancy, makes the lobby restoration a challenge. When asked what needed to be done, Falco said, “Everything.”
He was not exaggerating. Tom Einhouse, Playhouse Square’s vice president for facilities and capital, estimated that only 1 to 2 percent of the original lobby remains: a section of the decorative frieze and entablature where the wall meets the ceiling.
“This has been lost, completely lost, for 52 years,” he said. “We’re going to re-create it from the ground up.”
The project will be a collaboration between Cleveland architectural firm Westlake Reed Leskosky, which will oversee structural work, and EverGreene Architectural Arts, based in New York, which will handle the decorative elements.
Those elements – columns, murals, decorative fireplaces, painted surfaces, carpets, intricate and delicate molded ornamentation on the ceiling and walls – are legion in a lobby designed to look like an Italian palace of the Renaissance era.
As Hoyt reported in the 1921 Plain Dealer story: “The idea of the foyer was adapted by architect Thomas Lamb from an ancient palace in Italy. The decorative features embody many of the details of the old hall from which it was copied.”
The Ohio, like the hundreds of vaudeville and movie theaters built across the country in the 1920s, brought this Old World opulence to the American working class, which included many immigrants.
“They were the palaces of the common man,” said Jeff Greene, president of EverGreene, meant to transport patrons not just to a more rarefied way of life, but also to a different time.
“The day these theaters opened, they were supposed to look like they’d always been there,” Greene said.
That is Greene’s job as well. Because so little of the original lobby remains, his craftspeople will hand-sculpt about 30 decorative elements to make molds for the extensive plaster work.
Greene and his staff, along with Einhouse, have immersed themselves in archival research. They will use photographs and written records, along with the few extant fragments and strips of paint they collect, to re-create, in 2015, a 1921 space that was meant to look like it was built in the 15th century.
“It’s really forensic work, taking all the clues you can find,” Greene said. “My job is to figure out what this thing looked like. We found the original blueprints in the Thomas Lamb Collection at the Avery Library at Columbia University, but they didn’t build it exactly as it was drawn.”
Despite the difficulty, Greene – who has worked on hundreds of historic restorations, including the Allen Theatre and Severance Hall – considers the Ohio lobby a once-in-a-career opportunity.
“I’ve been doing this work for going on 40 years, and no one has asked us to completely re-create something that doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “That’s what makes it so unusual and, to my mind, a very cool and challenging project.”
When it reopens in 2016, Falco said the Ohio lobby will be “as beautiful as the Ireland lobby in the State Theatre.”
That’s a big promise, but one that Harlowe R. Hoyt would no doubt endorse. As he wrote at the end of his story in 1921: “Cleveland may well be proud of its new Ohio theater. And don’t forget, it boasts the biggest lobby of any dramatic house in the world.”