Shea's Seneca Theater

2188 Seneca Street,
Buffalo, NY 14210

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Shea’s Seneca Theatre opened on 11th January 1930 screening “The Mighty” starring George Bancroft and Vera Ralston. The 3 Manual 15 Rank Wurltzer theatre organ was played by Nelson Selby.

It was the last, the largest and the most magnificent of the three neighborhood theatres which were part of Michael Shea’s dream that every neighborhood should have a theatre of first magnitude, this one located in the district of West Seneca.

It was designed by local Buffalo architect Willliam T. Spann in an Adam style and all seating was on one floor.

The auditorium of the Seneca Theatre was demolished in 1970, but the front of the building and lobby were retained.

Contributed by KenRoe

Recent comments (view all 19 comments)

Patsy
Patsy on November 11, 2005 at 1:21 pm

Richard G: I’ve been trying to acquire information about the art deco Seneca Theatre in Salamanca NY. The architects in 1942 were John AND Drew Eberson!

roberttoplin
roberttoplin on December 26, 2005 at 4:59 pm

Richard G.:The theatre south of the Seneca might very well be the “Maxine” at 2228-32 Seneca. Last time that I was there it was a Rite Aid. It opened June 29, 1914 with 800 seats and was designed by Henry L. Spann. It later was remodeled and re-opened as the “New Maxine” on Apr.15, 1928. ………..Sorry I’m 7 months late, but I haven’t visited C.T. in quite awhile.

klinehan
klinehan on September 7, 2007 at 11:39 am

I grew up with the Shea Seneca Theater in the ‘60’s. It was the first movie theater I ever went to. It was beautiful. At some point, it closed and reopened around '64 with the help of the South Buffalo Businessman’s Association. It was managed by the beloved Harry Lotz. The seats on the sides of the theater were taken out to become dance floors. After the feature movie, local bands played onstage. Harry Lotz occasionally gave curtain speeches. I remember him asking “Do you kids want to see, 'The Trip’? (thunderous applause) I know I do!”

The theater had to close again but reopened as a music venue called Psycus. There were a lot of dayglo paintings and paisley couches in the lobby and an amazing light show. Among the bands that played there were Country Joe and the Fish, The Buckinghams, The Zombies, The Nazz, and The Bob Seger System. It only lasted a year and stood vacant for a year or two before it was demolished in 1970. I watched it being torn down. It was very sad. As it was being demolished you could see the old theater before it was gone. It was paved over into a parking lot.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on September 22, 2007 at 5:34 am

Somewhere I saw that the Senaca had 1750 seats?
The WurliTzer Theatre Pipe Organ, Opus 2085, was shipped to the theater on May 12, 1929. The organ then went to the Haven Roller Rink in Lackawanna, New York and then to a private owner in Lancaster, New York. In the mid 70’s it went to Scooby’s Pizza in Dallas Texas. In the mid to late 80’s it was sold off as parts with the console going to the Avalon Theater in the former village of Bay View which is now a neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The theater closed in 2001. The organ was removed in 2004 because the theatre was no longer heated, the organ was being ruined by water, mold, mildew, plaster and the chance of vandalism. The organ is now stored either in Milwaukee or Racine, Wisconsin. I have no idea if the Seneca console is still with the organ. The Avalon is supposed to be restored, but the new owner says it is unlikly the organ will be reinstalled.

“Gee Dad, it WAS a WurliTzer!”

BuffaloGrrl
BuffaloGrrl on January 11, 2008 at 7:06 am

Does anyone have a resource for photos of Shea’s Seneca Theater or any of the other theaters in the South Buffalo area? I am opening an office on Seneca St, a block away from the Seneca Theater and would like to showcase images of the area circa 1920’s – 1960’s.

Shea’s Seneca was also my first movie experience at 6 years old and I also still dream of it to this day. I was there the day demolition began and it was one of the saddest days of my life. It was an amazing, magical place.

railroad
railroad on April 8, 2008 at 7:21 pm

Phone number 1960: TRiangle 5715

NittyRanks
NittyRanks on September 14, 2008 at 4:14 pm

I looked this up because my band did a wedding on July 27th around the corner at the renovated masonic temple on Cazenovia St. I noticed it was a theater as I drove by. Here is the link from google maps. Look at the street view portion:

View link

msjudy
msjudy on December 3, 2009 at 11:57 am

I’d love to walk through the Shea’s Seneca just one more time. Grew up on Norman Street and the theater was always a big part of life in the neighborhood. Thought it was gorgeous and I’d love to see a photo of the interior. My dad remembered an old theater located between Norman and Kamper Streets. That theater was around when he was young. He remember the lady who played the piano to accompany the old films and that they gave dishes away to entice people to come to the theaters, today’s collectibles!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 3, 2009 at 10:18 pm

The Seneca Theatre closed in December, 1961, and was reopened in 1965, with its seating reduced to 1,332, according to this article in Boxoffice of April 19, 1965. There’s a small photo of the front of the theater.

I haven’t found out how long the Seneca survived as a movie house after this reopening, but the October 7, 1968, issue of Boxoffice gives the opening date of the Psycus, the discotheque-rock music club that was the theater’s later occupant, as September 27 that year.

The destructive behavior of a particularly delinquent generation of teenagers led to great distress among the elders of Buffalo, as told in one Boxoffice article about a wave of vandalism and rowdy behavior hitting the city’s theatres. According to one claim, almost every seat in the Seneca Theatre had been slashed or torn. One theater manager said “We’ve never had so much trouble trying to manage the youngsters. I’m sorry to say that the girls are worse than the boys.” The article appeared in Boxoffice of November 27, 1943. Kids those days!

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 23, 2012 at 3:54 am

New link to 1965 re-opening article cited above by Joe Vogel: Boxoffice

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