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Back when it was known as the Unity Theater.
For a while when “Cinerama” was single projector 70mm (think ‘It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World’) they also ran standard 35mm scope on the curved screen. Saw Elvis in ‘Viva Las Vegas’ like that and it actually looked pretty good!
I guess not!!
Opheliafl (or Karen Clark) – the Holiday Restaurant rotated only if you had enough to drink, otherwise it was pretty static!
Thanks for those really personal rememberances Holidayguy. You were truly fortunate to be so close to these huge theaters. I think I went to one of the 4 small ones they built in the back about 3 times and hated them every visit. It was the handwriting on the wall for theaters built during that approximate 25 year period. Now we have sorta a compromise between the two concepts, which was acceptable technically until the poor early digital projection systems appeared. Here’s hoping the best for the future, but retaining ultimate tribute to the days of the past.
Thanks for the info and the link to the photo Joe. As a kid, I used to get my hair cut in one of those store-front houses on the right side of the street across from the theater.
You’re right psmith102006 – the Plaza North was, I believe, the last huge ‘big box’ theater built in W.N.Y., but it was more or less hidden in the middle of suburban sprawl. I think it opened with “Goodbye Mr. Chips” with Peter O'Toole. I have no photos of it, or of the Valu 5 which someone told me became a Valu Hardware store or something equally commercial.
Here ya go telliott – it’s the only photo I have of the 1 & 2 theaters, taken during the old car rally promo for “Grease 2” (that’s my ‘58 Caddy Limo hogging up the parking lot!). As you can see, the buildings were ultra 60’s bland – just huge boxes connected by a popcorn lobby, but once inside you were in giant curved-screen heaven………..
What really helped to kill this theater was lack of adequate parking. Basically, it had no lot at all, leaving patrons to ferret out street spots in a area with popular restaurants.
It’s proximity to the State University of New York at Buffalo helped to keep it running while it’s nearest competition, the Amherst, had tons of parking in a shopping mall and was only about a half mile away.
Another nail in the coffin was when the University Student Union decided to convert a lecture hall in their building into a 35MM theater. Despite objections from the local theaters, the film fanatics that were in charge managed to get a pair of Simplex E-7's
from a closed local theater and install them. The hall was actually built to accommodate such a thing, with the fire shutters already in place on the projection booth. Actually, it was technically quite spiffy, also installing a Century 4-channel magnetic stripe unit with 3 huge Voice of the Theater speakers behind screen and wall mounted units in theater.
The trick was, you had to be a student to get tickets – thereby allowing them to book popular films as well as foreign ones. Since the hall was originally called the Norton Conference Hall, it became known as the Norton Conference Theater – but not being a legit house, you won’t find it listed anywhere.
I inspected and ran their films for many years — which involved encountering things not normally associated with your average projectionist work:
Frequently they would somehow exhume prints that hadn’t been run in decades (like Moby Dick) that would barely make it through one or two showings (it’s fun to watch the film outside the sprockets peel off in long strips while it’s running!).
The machines were old and would periodically break down. It’s very difficult and borderline dangerous to tell a hallway full of stoned kids that they can’t see “Gimmie Shelter” due to technical problems (I ran an entire day on one machine, bringing up house lights every 20 minutes to change reels — pre platter days — now it’s pre digital download days — OH MY!) …. and YES, the arc housing got REALLY hot!!!
Then there was the infamous run of ‘2001’ – a favorite of the stoners. A popular audience thing was to lay on the stage with their feet up against the screen and trip out during the light show portion — one showing a guy appeared at the booth door claiming that the film was taking the wrong direction, but if he could get at the projector he could correct the course and save everybody. They carried him out of the building screaming and ranting………
I won’t say everyone was under the influence, but I think you could walk up the light beam from the screen to the booth!
Yet this was not as bad as the day the Black Student Union invaded the theater during a screening, jumping on stage and announcing that ‘2001’ was a racist film and they were shutting it down — and that’s exactly what they did by ripping down the screen, kicking in the speakers, charging the booth and ripping the 2 reels of film out of the machines and stealing them. Luckily they didn’t kick over the arc machines. Upon learing that MGM was taking legal action to get the film back, they decided it wasn’t that racist after all and returned them.
AH, THE GOOD OLD DAYS……..
But I digress —–
The Amherst Theater survived by dividing itself into 3 theaters – the Granada was not so fortunate (if one can call such survival tactics ‘fortunate’) and eventually went x-rated before the wrecking ball finally arrived. From it’s extremely small entrance on Main St., I’m sure many people never knew of the fantastic interior and superior management and projection of that 60’s-70’s period.
DianaD got it right: it was INDEED a time when the movies were a big deal – and had her dad been running it today, I’m sure it’s booking of ‘Avatar’ in 3-D would have been the best anywhere!
Yo Torontonian – when you made the long trek down the QEW in 1953, the only theater in Buffalo running Cinerama was Shea’s Teck – the Century installed the single projector version of the process after the Teck quit. Never heard of the Marigold Restaurant, but having a dining facility in an old house was somewhat popular at the time in the city, especially for bar and pizza fare.
They made a really interesting film about William Castle that is quite hard to find today called “MATINEE”. While it never mentions Castle by name and is totally fabricated in terms of his films and promotions, there is no question about whom they are alluding to.
This is a feature film (1993), directed by Joe Dante — so get ready for a fun and wacky ride if you can find a copy.
Good news Paul, the Scotch & Sirloin Restaurant is STILL in business — I just came back from Buffalo last week. However, the Boulevard Cinemas have yet to make a reappearance!
Just found out that there were actually 2 different breakdown reels made — the one previously mentioned in this section by Lowell Thomas was reportedly made for “7 Wonders of the World”. The other was made for “Cinerama Holiday” with the actual 2 couples who were featured in the film: the Marshes and the Trollers.
Believe it or not, there was actually a 3 strip commercial made for Renault – with a Dutch soundtrack – that still exists!
You can find a whole lot of Cinerama heaven at www.in70mm.com – check it out.
Although I was never in the Cataract Theater, I just cannot resist jumping into such a linguistic Juggernaut (anything to which a person blindly devotes himself — American College Dictionary — to save further dissertations).
Indeed, this movie house was once part of a totally thriving downtown area just steps away from the famous waterfall. It’s demolition, along with the rest of that entire district, was all part of a cataract effect (cascading downward…..) that continues to this day.
The aforementioned ‘Wintergarden’ greenhouse, which was built close to where this theater stood, was joined to a large indoor shopping mall which closed about a decade after it opened. Just a few months ago, the Wintergarden itself was torn down, now leaving a gaping hole next to the still abandon and deteriorating mall.
A huge convention center was build about 5 blocks from where this theater stood – squarely in the middle of what used to be the main street all theaters were on. It lasted about 20 years and is now a gambling casino!
Have to make another comment after reading in the Rialto Theater section that this theater, which was less than a block away from the traditionally roudy Rialto, indeed did have ushers that seemed to be imported from Nazi Germany at the time — hence their booking of “Blackboard Jungle” with the assurances of crowd control to the public.
Hey msean (or anyone else with a good memory) -
Did this theater have a marquee that came straight out over the entire sidewalk like a large roof that was supported by poles at the curb? I lived on Herkimer in the 40’s and 50’s and sorta remember something like that.
I was only in this theater once, but as I recall it was a very large but not particularly long building with an extremely high balcony that was rather nausea-inducing when looking sharply down at the screen. There’s gotta be someone else who remembers being here and hopefully can back me up —
This small theater indeed did become both a garage and a shooting range – which was really in keeping with the theme of the surrounding deteoriating neighborhood. The last film to play here was one of the Godzilla series, as the ‘now playing’ one sheet stayed in the left showcase windowbox for quite a while after the theater went dark.
Great to hear more of the breakdown reel – now if we only knew how they handled the sync job or damaged frames in putting it all back together!!
Just as a point of further ‘Cinerama’ interest, the Buffalo N.Y. area also had the Granada Theater, which was one of the most technically adventurous houses in the country. They ran the 3 strip Cinemiracle production of “Windjammer” there. Be sure to check out the write-up in Cinema Treasures to learn all about it….
Buffalo actually had the very first permanent, purpose-built motion picture theater in the world – the Vitascope Hall – in the Ellicott Building back in 1896. This building, at the time, was also the largest office building in the area, covering an entire city block, and it’s still in active use today as such, but the theater is no more but a memory. Hence, I guess it’s only fitting that the city also had 2 3-strip theaters as well — really was a great cinema town to grow up in (lots of snow = lots of viewed films).
AS OF 2 YEARS AGO WHEN I WAS UP THERE, ONLY THE STREET FACADE WAS LEFT OF THIS THEATER. CHECK OUT IT’S WRITE-UP, IT’S LISTED IN THE BUFFALO N.Y. THEATERS AS ‘SHEA’S TECK’, AND LOST MEMORY HAS A NICE LINK TO AN INTERIOR SHOT SHOWING THE HUGE CURTAINS AND SIDE SPEAKERS.
THERE IS ALSO A PICTURE OF SOME OLD PROJECTORS, ALTHOUGH I WONDER IF THEY WERE ACTUALLY THE ONES AT THE TECK AS THEY ARE THE ARC UNITS – PROBABLY SIMPLEX E-7’S – CERTAINLY NOT THE NEW TECHNOLOGY. IN FACT, I USED TO BE A PROJECTIONIST AT MY COLLEGE (UNIVERSITY OF BUFFALO) AND WE ACTUALLY CREATED OUR OWN PROFESSIONAL 35MM THEATER IN THEIR 250 SEAT STUDENT UNION AUDITORIUM BY BUYING WHAT LOOKED LIKE THESE EXACT UNITS FROM A CLOSED HOUSE IN TOWN – HENCE I’M VERY FAMILIAR WITH THEIR OPERATION.
AS FOR THE TECK, ONCE THEY FINISHED THE 70MM RUNS AND WENT TO A SECOND-RUN VENUE, THEIR FIRST ‘REGULAR’ FILM SHOWN ON THIS GIANT CURVED SCREEN WAS “VIVA LAS VEGAS” – WHICH WAS A ‘SCOPE FILM THAT LOOKED ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC UP THERE — I’M SURE 99 PERCENT OF THE AUDIENCE NEVER HAD A CLUE ABOUT WHAT THEY WERE SEEING TECHNICALLY, BUT THE MANAGEMENT STILL CARED, THE CURTAINS STILL WORKED, THE FOCUS WAS GOOD (I THINK THE UNION WAS STILL ALIVE BACK THEN) — AND IT WAS STILL A GREAT PLACE TO SEE A FILM.
THANKS FOR YOUR COME-BACKS – MAYBE WE CAN GET SOME OTHER FOLKS TO RELATE THEIR EXPERIENCES AS WELL BEFORE ALL OUR NEURONS GIVE OUT!!!
Hey, it’s Al again –
Actually, when I experienced the breakdown,there was no ‘breakdown reel’ projected. It was during “How the West Was Won” and, like yours, the right projector film just ripped – screen went white. Next the house lights came up as the big red curtains closed and the remaining projectors shut down. There was no announcement, no music, nothing but the sound of fresh popcorn popping!
After about 15 minutes, the curtains opened again to nofanfare, totally exposing the huge blank screen – I guess as a cue to get you to return to your seat. Then all 3 machines started up at once. Only problem was that the right one was now out of sync and characters crossing over the overlaps would disappear and appear into thin air. Once again the house lights came up as everything – including the soundtrack – ground to an unceremonious halt.
I think it took them about 45 minutes to get it all up and running correctly again. As I mention in the comment section on this theater, it was a conversion in a large rectangular building and the left and right projection booths were added as little rooms literally outside the main building with the projection ports actually holes in the structure wall. To get to these elevated rooms, the projectionist had to walk a covered catwalk – like a fire escape – that was hung on the building’s sides (no other structure was build on either side) — no doubt a true ordeal during one of Buffalo’s famous winter storms since the only protection was that overhead covering. These daunting logistics no doubt added to the confusion and recovery time during such occurrances.
Maybe the AMC 20 isn’t so bad after all………
(just kidding – it was all worth it!)
The passionate postings here-in regarding people’s apparent lack of interest in these grand road-show type theaters make me jump in here, although I’m not from Tampa. However, I do hail from Buffalo, N.Y. where we had the Teck Theater which also was a Cinerama 3-strip (yet to make the listing on ‘Remembering Cinerama’).
I think the vast majority of the patrons simply wanted to see the movie showing — a truly horrifying realization for those of us who were captivated by the theater ambiance and technical strides that came with it. Certainly, in the early days of film, leaving your home that today somewhat resembles the ‘dark’ ages of stimilus input was easily half the experience. What with grand and overly pretentious interiors, a large black & white picture with loud – if technically poor – sound was way cool compared to a wireless set with earphones or a Zenith table model radio.
Then, we all know how it changed over the years, until people were lining up outside the shopping mall to watch what frequently amounted to a road-show film projected in what looked like a rectangular shipping container – out of focus and frame – and with sound that barely rivaled the Zenith table radio.
The thing is, as generations progressed, things just kept on morphing into the home – going out to the theater was the main motivation, or the social stimulus if you will, more that the actual film viewed. Hence, we’re sorta left with the mid-generation of theatergoers who were the last to appreciate what they had with the grand old houses and formats. Notice that today, theaters are again becoming technically spiffy. Sure, they have to be to compete with home screens nearly as big as early multi-plex ones – not to mention 5.1 etc.
Now, stop to ask yourself, in about 40 years – how many of these patrons aregoing to wax nostalgic on the AMC 20 lobby and it’s 2
giant screen theaters?
I mean, I call the AMC today when they are running 5 prints – or downloads (gotta keep up here) to find out what theater has the largest screen and THEY CAN’T EVEN TELL ME!
I guess, bottom line, is you’ve either been hit by the magic or you haven’t — and if you have, you’re probably of a generation that doesn’t exactly hang around electronic web sites like this frequently. Obviously, for some strange reason, I have and I do —– for whatever consolation that may be.
So – I look foreward to the write-up on the Buffalo Cinerama one day — and just wonder if anyone reading this was ever at a showing when one of the film reels broke during projection — as I was way back when…………..not an easy fix!
Right JIMY8, I also remember seeing a lot of these roadshow presentations here. However, I think my fondest memory is of repeatedly viewing (like for all day practically) the amazing stop-motion animation work of Ray Harryhausen in “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad” at the Century. I still have the original soundtrack recording of this film, as well as the one from “The Ten Commandments”. The snack bar truly made their money on me that day!
Thanks a lot for the info Jeff – if you have any other recollections of the local theaters that I’ve commented on, please share. Maybe we can start a group of locals to reflect on personal movie house memories as well as technical ones.
The only other ‘near’ Paramont story I can come up with is the local “Peanut Man” that used to ply the corners of Main Street around the theaters with his pushcart selling hot nuts to passerbys. The cart used steam to power a whistle as an attention getter and — I believe — in the really early days he actually had a live monkey on his shoulder!
Try that one today on nearly deserted Main Street as the semi-subway cars rumble by!!!!
Good memory Jeff – the days of Joey Reynolds and Daffy Dan Neverath were legend at KB radio! Don’t know of that magic ship, however — it sorta sounded like a interesting place given the politics in Buffalo at the time.
Although the Paramount was known for a few events like the Beatles concert, my main memories are of the old Century Theater after Harvey and Corkey took it over and held their rock concerts there. To think that they started off at the University of Buffalo with gigs and today it’s Miramax ——–