Last week, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz offered two different proposals for a new convention center to replace the current complex that is being called “functionally obsolete.”
The new plans call for the razing of buildings, including the 1865 Hiram Hotchkiss house at 153 Delaware Ave. which is the last extant example of a Civil War-era home in the downtown core. More than 40 years ago, buildings were razed to make way for the current convention center as well.
In 1976, the Andrews Building, on Court Street near Pearl Street was the first structure to come down for the convention center that not only took away buildings, but also another arm in Joseph Ellicott’s radial streets plan was lost when Genesee Street was built over.
Before the convention center was built, you could stand in Niagara Square and see the Electric Tower. Even if the convention center was removed, a portion of Genesee was built over when the Hyatt Regency Hotel was built in the years following the opening of the convention center.
Buildings that once fronted on Genesee, like the YMCA building and the old Genesee Building, which is now enclosed in the Hyatt atrium, are left on strange angles, vestiges of a radial street pattern that no longer exists.
In the run-up to what was being billed as “The World’s Largest Disco — 64,000 square feet,” one organizer promised the dance party in Buffalo’s new convention center would be remembered as “the Woodstock of disco.”
Downtown boomed with a 100-speaker, 30,000-watt sound system in “holophonic three-dimensional sound,” and a $25,000 light show designed and installed by Litelab — the Angola company famous for creating the bar scene lighting in disco-era classic film “Saturday Night Fever” starring John Travolta.
As “Captain Disco,” longtime Buffalo nightclub DJ Charles Anzalone was one of the people keeping the dance floor moving. His memories of the night were stark more than a decade later and included “huge dancing disco trains 1,000 people long, snaking through the crowd … confetti cannons going off, and people’s drinks getting covered with confetti … glittery platforms and tacky suits from Man Two or Pantastik.”
Aside from balloons dropping from the rafters and cannons firing blizzards of confetti, that 1979 show also included a performance from Queen of Disco Gloria Gaynor — who was celebrating her birthday that night.
In keeping with the “world’s largest” theme, the “I Will Survive” singer was presented with a huge birthday cake decorated with water fountains, fresh flowers and sparklers, created by Raymond Tutton of Richard Rays Restaurant on Washington Street.
The cake and flowers were wheeled out on stage by a group of producers and Convention Center employees that included Mark J.F. Schroeder — the current comptroller of the City of Buffalo.
In 1994, disco returned to the Convention Center when a new promoter decided to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the original event. Airline seats from Club 747, signs from the Playboy Club and Mulligan’s Cafe, and the infamous “Freddy’s Special” wheel from Cassidy’s bar all added to the nostalgic look back at Buffalo’s late ’70s dance club scene.
Over the last two decades, “The World’s Largest Disco” has become one of Buffalo’s biggest parties of the year, with tickets for the week-of-Thanksgiving event going on sale in August. While the costumes and the scene at this week’s “disco” would almost certainly be foreign and confusing to someone transported in from that first event, the one thing that remains the same is the music, and at least a few people getting on the dance floor to “turn the beat around.”