Varsity Theatre

3165 Bailey Avenue,
Buffalo, NY 14215

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Basil Brothers Theatres

Architects: R. Hill, G. Lewis

Functions: Live Music Venue

Previous Names: Capri Art Theatre, Uptown Theatre

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Varsity Theatre

The Varsity Theatre was opened November 28, 1923, with 863 seats. The opening movie was “Pioneer Trails”. The Capri Art Theatre opened in the former Varsity Theatre building sometime in the early-1960’s. In the 1970’s it ran adult movies. Last known as the Uptown Theatre, it had been closed several years when it was purchased by its current owner Ibrahim Cisse in 2010.

In February 2014, plans were announced to restore the theatre, to be used for live performances, occasional movies and community events, with a planned re-opening for 2015. It reopened February 12, 2015 as a live music venue and has been renamed Varsity Theatre again.

Contributed by Ken MC/Lost Memory

Recent comments (view all 8 comments)

poman on March 21, 2007 at 7:11 pm

This was known as the Palace Theater during the 4 years I was attending the University of Buffalo (1988-1992). They showed porn double features on video projection, for a hefty $8 admission price. One double bill I attended was a ‘70s film (FAREWELL, SCARLET) paired with a shot-on-camcorder cheapie (OPEN HOUSE). There was no longer a marquee above the entrance, just a sign that said “Palace Theater.” Patrons had to go inside and ask what movies were playing, or call the theater and listen very carefully to the answering machine for the titles. Painted on the walls on either side of the entrance were words that basically stated “The movies shown inside this theater are for health and educational purposes only” — meaning the Palace, under whatever name, had been showing skin flicks since the early '60s. The ticket booth was right inside, with a turnstile. I don’t remember the lobby, except that it was small and there was a little bulletin board announcing the following week’s double feature. I never saw the auditorium with the lights on; it was always pitch black, to the point where it was almost impossible to find a seat. Very scary. I went a few times, always with at least 2 friends and only when old-school classics were being shown, and then swore the place off.

roberttoplin on May 18, 2007 at 2:15 am

The “Varsity” was designed by G. Lewis & R. Hill and opened in 1923 or 1924 with 1,000 seats.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 25, 2012 at 11:11 am

The Palace Theatre in the picture DonLewis linked to is not this house, but one on Main Street in Downtown Buffalo. It isn’t listed at Cinema Treasures. As far as I’ve been able to discover, that Palace was always a burlesque house.

This house might have been called the Circle Arts Theatre, if the claim about Fred Keller, operator of the earlier Circle Arts Theatre, on this web page is correct:

“In early 1962 Fred Keller leased the theatre [the Circle] and renamed it the Circle Arts, and, as the new name implied, he specialized in European films. A year or so later he lost the lease and moved to the Varsity Theatre on Bailey and took the Circle Arts name with him.”
Here is a weblog post from early 2010 about Abraham Cisse (though they misspelled his surname as Cissie), who had recently bought the Uptown Theatre and was in the process of renovating it. I’ve been unable to find any more recent information about the project, but Mr. Cisse is apparently still the owner of the property.

Here is another recent photo of this house as the Uptown.

TivFan on January 21, 2013 at 5:35 am

Where did the postcard picture go? It was there this morning. Does anyone have a direct link to the Don Lewis postcard showing the Palace (and the building that replaced the Bijou)? There a few other Buffalo sites that have photos of the Palace Theatre and Shelton Square. It is amazing how many theaters there were in Buffalo during the 1930’s-40’s. If you ever have the time, see Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. It is astounding! It is the grandest, most extravagent theatre I’ve ever seen. It’s been a while since I’ve been there…I saw “North By Northwest” there in 1996. Radio City Music Hall is fantastic, but for sheer opulence, see Shea’s.

Don Lewis
Don Lewis on January 21, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Agreeing with Joe about my postcard image of the Palace Theatre and the Capri Art, I have pulled it.

LouB on March 3, 2014 at 11:09 pm


This link deals with a grant the theater has recieved.

LouB on February 13, 2016 at 12:10 am


The above link deals with this theatre.

dallasmovietheaters on January 7, 2017 at 11:53 am

The $150,000 Kensington neighborhood theatre launched on November 28, 1923 in Buffalo with the film, “Pioneer Trails.” Manager James Cardina was then able to temporarily close his Kensington Theatre to remodel it.

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