Torn-Down Tuesday: The Lafayette Theatre

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

The original Lafayette Square Theatre, on the northeast corner of Lafayette Square at Washington and Broadway, was built in 1901. It held 1,600 people in balcony seats – there was no gallery. It was devoted “entirely to the burlesque” when it was opened, although by 1916, it was hosting baseball fans when the Bisons were out of town.

Overhead view shows the Lafayette Theatre and the old Central Library with the top of the Soldiers and Sailors monument in Lafayette Square.

A “paragon playograph” was set up on the stage, and allowed baseball fans to follow the action via ticker tape in the days before radio and television broadcasts.

Inside the old Lafayette Theatre, 1912.

Next door, the New Lyric Theater opened in 1913 – only to be taken down in 1921 to build what was Buffalo’s largest theater, the massive Lafayette Theatre.

Originally built for both motion pictures and vaudeville, when it opened in 1922, the Lafayette boasted the most seats and the largest sign in Buffalo.

Lafayette Theatre, 1922.

“The brilliancy in the front of the theater will fairly startle the eye when the myriad of lights are turned on in the gorgeous signs which bedeck the front of Buffalo’s largest, newest, and most beautiful playhouse,” gushed The Buffalo Times when the theater opened in the new Lafayette Square Building.

Inside the Lafayette, 1922.

The Lafayette was the first to bring sound to Buffalo movies with Vitaphone technology in 1927. The Vitaphone apparatus weighed 12 tons and took four weeks to install. Buffalo’s Willis Carrier, the inventor of modern air conditioning, was there when the building’s original “airwashing” equipment was replaced with newer equipment in 1936.

The Basil family took over the operation of the Lafayette in 1943 and renovated the theater, adding new comforts and an updated marquee.

At the time, it was one of the largest real estate transactions in downtown history when Benderson Development bought the theater to raze it for a 100-car parking lot in 1962. Benderson offered the organ and theater seats to “any qualified charitable organization or institution whose request seems justifiable.”

The Pulaski Day parade in 1962, which featured a speech from President John F. Kennedy, marched past the Lafayette on the march up Broadway to the steps of City Hall where Kennedy’s address took place.

The rest of the Lafayette Square Building came down in the early 1970s, and the location has been a parking lot ever since.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.