Under the North Park Theatre’s marquee, bursting with color, moviegoers entering the newly restored theater Friday discovered decades of dirt and grime had been replaced by sparkle and splendor.
For many, the ornamental details and artwork that had been obscured for decades in the 1920 movie palace were astonishing.
“I used to come here, and every time I’d look up at the ceiling, I figured that surely a piece of it would fall on me during the show. Now I’m looking up at its grandeur and I’m just so pleased, so happy. I thought it was a cool place anyway, but I never thought I’d see this,” said Elizabeth Reinagle, who went to the theater’s first showing with her husband, Russ.
“It’s just great. I have lived here all my life. What a jewel for North Buffalo,” said Dan Ryan, with his wife, Sandy, and daughter Talia.
They were among more than 400 people who came out to see “Girl on a Bicycle.” But the real feature attraction was the theater itself, brought back to life by owners Tom Eoannou and Michael Christiano.
“Tonight, we are incredibly proud that over the past nine months, we employed 30 local skilled craftsmen, with over 15,000 man hours, and our neighborhood theater looks damn near what she did when the doors opened on Nov. 21, 1920 to the public,” Eoannou told the crowd from the stage, before the start of the movie.
“It’s been an absolute privilege and honor to restore this theater.”
Artwork by Raphael Beck, long obscured but now restored by Swiatek Studios, was evident in the large auditorium dome, which now reveals a five-panel mural of Greek mythology, surrounding a sunburst. It was also present in a vivid fresco displaying Grecian ballerinas that had been hidden for 60 years by the screen’s masking.
“It took three months to take the grime and nicotine off,” Eoannou said of the fresco. “A curator said it was one of Beck’s most important works.”
Also on view again is the brightly lit and colorful proscenium arch, the red and gold applique cornices and other ornamental features, as well as two nude women with comedy and tragedy masks.
“Who knows how long it’s been since the theater looked this good?” beamed Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto, who grew up in North Buffalo. “It’s probably not looked this good since the ’30s. It’s a dream come true for the neighborhood.”
The neoclassical theater was operated in its early days by Michael Shea, namesake of Shea’s Performing Arts Center. Art deco sconces on the walls and black and white chandeliers from the ceiling continued a movie palace tradition of mixing architectural designs.
The theater was full of other surprises. The wood and marble refreshment stand framed by red glass was back in its original location outside the auditorium, instead of in the back of the theater, where movie dialogue used to compete with the sound of popping popcorn.
Leaded-glass windows with the North Park insignia rose above the entrance doors, the entryway revealed an Italian marble floor once buried under old carpeting and a small second men’s room was added to the first floor.
The giant silver screen, once in the old downtown Paramount Theater, was painted and no longer showed stains when previews hit the screen from the new digital projector at 7:15 p.m.
“People are excited that their movie theater is back,” said Ray Barker, the programming director, who was busy selling tickets and getting the pulse of the crowd. The wooden box office sat below another dome in brushed gold that stood out against the freshly painted white ceiling.
In a nice touch, Eoannou asked Norm Dechert, the longtime theater fixture who was manager from 1968 to 2012, to stand, and after a loud ovation proclaimed the projection booth would be named after him.
“He dedicated himself to the theater like it was his home, and he did it in the leanest of times,” Eoannou said.
“Anybody who loves Buffalo really needs to come here,” said Will Keresztes, enjoying a night out with his wife, Debbie.
Showtimes through Thursday for “Girl on a Bicycle” will be at 2, 4:30, 7 and 9:30 p.m.