Skip Navigation

  1. City Departments
  2. City Services
  3. Our City
    1. Accommodations
    2. Architecture
    3. Arts and Culture
    4. All America City
    5. Buffalo My City
    6. Buffalo Niagara Convention Center
    7. Visit Buffalo Niagara
    8. Buffalo Sports & Outdoor Recreation
    9. Education
    10. Buffalo Ambassadors
    11. 1 more items...
  4. Online Payments
  5. My Profile
    1. New User Registration
    2. Existing User Login
    3. Schedule Payment Instructions
  6. Meetings

Home > Our City > Buffalo My City > Buffalo My City Watercolors > 17-A Shea's Buffalo (1991)

17-A Shea's Buffalo (1991)

Narrative by - David M. Rote
(Narratives are copyrighted)

The palatial Shea's Buffalo Theater in the heart of Buffalo's theater district was the crowning achievement of showman and theater entrepreneur Michael Shea when it opened in 1926. Designed by Chicago theater architects C.W. and George Rapp, the Buffalo Theater became the "showplace of the North."

The interior dazzled the beholder with its grand staircase lined with marble and mirrors, exquisite crystal chandeliers, and a myriad of trappings designed by Tiffany Studios of New York City and furnishings from Marshall Field Company of Chicago. The 3,100 seat auditorium and gilded boxes were filled to capacity to enjoy the music and dancing, laughter and song which spread out across the great stage. Here came a virtual who's-who of American entertainers of every ilk and first run "movies" were included on the bill as well. The "Mighty Wurlitzer" pipe organ, a product of the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of nearby North Tonawanda, often provided "orchestral" music. Shea's Buffalo Theater was one of the first theaters in the country to be air conditioned, the invention of an enterprising engineer at Buffalo Forge Company, Willis Carrier.

But live theater was giving way almost entirely to the "silver screen" and the Buffalo Theater was acquired in 1948 by Loew's Corporation as a "movie palace." The incursion of television even spelled the doom of the great movie houses and Shea's Buffalo Theater fell silent. The city of Buffalo foreclosed on the property in 1974 for back taxes.

The year before, an all-volunteer non-profit organization called the Friends of the Buffalo Theater, led by a former Loew's employee Curt Mangel, was committed to a complete restoration of the theater, including the 4-manual, 28 rank Wurlitzer organ, which was to be its centerpiece. In 1984, the theater organ was rededicated and Shea's was again open as a center for entertainment and the performing arts while such sister theaters as the Star, Keith, Olympic, Hippodrome, Court Street, Erlanger and the later Paramount, Center, Century, Teck and Lafayette are now just a memory.

Michael Shea's dream is again a reality. His Medina sandstone home still stands on Richmond Avenue near W. Utica Street and his brick carriage house behind is the long-time home of Merritt Auto Painting, founded in 1929.