The North Park Theatre on Hertel Avenue would be high on anyone’s list of North Buffalo landmarks, so when Dipson Theatres announced Thursday it would no longer be presenting films in the aging movie palace, it was feared its screen would go permanently dark.
However, Buffalo attorney Thomas J. Eoannou, who owns the building containing the theater, said he is partnering with Left Bank Restaurant owner Michael G. Christiano to keep the North Park open.
“It’s going to remain an art theater,” said Eoannou. “It would be an awful shame to mothball it. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful place.”
He said that he and Christiano have been talking over plans for about a week, since Dipson notified him it would not be renewing its lease. How the theater will be run has not been finalized.
Michael Clement, president of Dipson Theaters, made public his decision to pull out of the theater on Thursday and said he will show its final film there on June 6.
“The North Park hasn’t made a profit for us in five years,” Clement said. “This is something that has been troubling us for some time.”
He will sign off with a tribute to Buffalo, closing out Dipson’s run with the Peter McGennis film “Queen City,” which was filmed in Buffalo with Vivica A. Fox. The film, which opens next Friday, premiered earlier in Dipson’s Market Arcade Theater downtown. Dipson also operates the Amherst, Eastern Hills, Flix Stadium 10 and McKinley Mall 6 theaters.
Eoannou said he is confident they can make a go of it with the North Park, while acknowledging the challenges facing all cinemas in a time of big-screen televisions and 3-D projection.
“We do know the huge costs involved,” he said, and, in a nod to the dated condition of the theater itself, “and we do know the condition of the seats.”
Eoannou is more often in the news as one of the city’s best-known defense attorneys, most recently for his representation of Beth Lynn Hoskins of East Aurora in her lengthy animal cruelty case, but he also has invested in a number of historically significant properties in Buffalo.
“I love architecture, I have a passion for it,” he said.
It is his partner, Christiano, who is the movie fan. “Mike’s been going to the North Park since he was a kid,” Eoannou said. “And the entire staff – some of them have been there for 20 years – they all share our passion for the theater, and they are all going to stay on.”
One thing the men do intend is to make improvements to the 1920 building, which Eoannou described as being in “a state of neglect.”
“We’re going to work to the best of our ability to restore the North Park to its grand old dame status,” he added.
That will be welcome news to other businesses in the neighborhood.
Andrew D’Amico, who owns the Sidecar bar across Hertel Avenue, said customers may come in before and after the shows, but that everyone likes what the North Park adds to the area’s ambience.
“People like having a theater in the neighborhood,” D’Amico said. “It’s a big thing on the street – everyone knows where it is. It’s awesome.”
Adding that he hoped the owners would keep it open, he said, “The neighborhood people don’t want anything to change.”
“A lot of customers come in for dinner before the movie,” said waitress Rosie Syharath at the nearby Taste of Thai. “It’s nice. They show movies that you can’t see at the Regal.”
Eoannou and his wife, Alice, already have made a significant commitment to the 1400 block of Hertel. She owns the new Globe Market, which took over the space of the former Hertel News & Tobacco shop on the corner of North Park Avenue.
Next door, Christiano’s cousin, Tony Christiano, runs the Més Que soccer bar and restaurant. The rest of the block-long complex contains Bertha’s diner – also a neighborhood institution – along with an eclectic collection of shops and salons.