Torn-Down Tuesday: The Century Theatre and Harvey Weinstein

By Steve Cichon

They pulled out all the stops.

One of the great actresses of the silent film era, Norma Talmadge was brought in amid a parading caravan of 25 touring cars when Marcus Loew of the Loew’s Theater chain threw open the doors of his 3,000-seat Century Theatre on Main Street between Mohawk and Genesee in 1921.

The movie house with a grand reputation passed through the hands of several icons of the Buffalo movie theater business. Michael Shea ran the place starting in 1928, and Nikitas Dipson took it over in 1939, along with the Basil Brothers.

By 1967, the movie house had “an image problem,” after “a gang of hoodlums” showed up to watch a twin-bill featuring biker movies.

When Aerosmith played at Harvey & Corky’s Century Theatre in 1975, they were unknown to the point where the band’s name was misspelled “Arrowsmith.” (Buffalo Stories archives)

“Taking their cue from the violence on the screen, they erupted in a blood-chilling manner, and the repercussions are still being felt,” reported the Courier-Express weeks after the incident.

The theater had been boarded up for some time when Harvey & Corky Productions took over the space as a concert venue in 1974.

“This structure will allow the audience to get into the music,” said Harvey & Corky principal Harvey Weinstein just before the venue reopened. “If people want to get on their chairs and dance, we’ll let them. We’ll treat the people like adults, not children.”

The space went on to host many legendary Harvey & Corky shows, but at a cost.

Even before Weinstein’s place in history was secured as the man whose misogynistic behavior inspired the #MeToo movement, his popularity in Buffalo was mixed at best. For decades, one of Weinstein’s biggest detractors has been former News Arts Editor Jeff Simon.

The marquee of the Century Theatre in 1974. (Buffalo Stories archives)

On more than one occasion, Simon talked of Weinstein’s having destroyed the Main Street landmark. In one 1997 piece, he wrote that Harvey and Corky “gutted and ruined the venerable old Century Theater.”

In 2012, The News’ Colin Dabkowski further expounded on a dislike for Weinstein and his mistreatment of the Century when he wrote, “And then Harvey and brother Bob compounded the crime in their film ‘Playing for Keeps’ by concocting a putrid demographic us-vs.-them fantasy about righteous big city youth trying to bring a rock ‘n’ roll hotel to a community full of sclerotic bumpkins.”

The Century, a block up from Hengerer’s, 1978. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In 1978, the Century Theatre met the wrecking ball after a balcony inside began swaying during a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and housing inspectors warned that another such show could turn deadly.

Some of the Buffalo-crafted Flexlume neon signs that graced the Century for generations wound up a few blocks away. The Century Grill on Pearl Street featured a sign from the theater while it was open, from 2003 to 2014.

While developer Rocco Termini proposed a “Century City Lofts” development project in 2007, the spot where the Century lobby once stood remains an open lot.


Buffalo in the ’30s: Nearly a blizzard on Main Street

By Steve Cichon

Snow-covered streetcars, buses, cars and pedestrians share the 400 block of Main Street with Hengerer’s, Shea’s Century theater and Buffalo Savings Bank’s gold dome in this shot from 77 years ago.

Buffalo News archives

On Jan. 30, 1939, Buffalo was dealt a surprise 8.5 inches of snow. Two people died as a result of the storm — both as they drudged through the weather on downtown sidewalks. The fact that news accounts mention that the weather event was not an official blizzard, leads one to believe the storm was wicked enough to use the shorthand of “blizzard” whether it strictly fit the meteorological definition or not.