A former rock music mecca is coming back to life as a concert venue and events center.
The Showplace Theatre, the movie theater-turned-concert hall that reigned from 1994 to 2008, will reopen following an extensive renovation by new owner Joe “Roxbury” Breidenstein, owner of the Roxbury dance club in West Seneca from 2000 to 2005.
“It’s a landmark here in Buffalo, and an old movie theater, and you can’t find them anymore for sale,” Breidenstein said. “I tell people, ‘This has been a labor of love.’ ”
Bands will take the stage in the freshly painted red, black and gold theater next Monday for the first time since it closed in May 2008, following the death of owner Peter Goretti. The St. Patrick’s Day Celebration will feature local bands Breckenwood, Crashfuse, Cosmic Shakedown and Sleepy Hahas, with doors opening at 4 p.m. Cost is $10, with food, beer and wine available. For more information, visit www.theshowplacetheater.com.
It’s intended to be a trial run, Breidenstein said, “the perfect way to get our feet wet and test this place out.”
Breidenstein, who owns Glass Block Guys, has worked with his crew on the building, 1063 Grant St. at Military Road, for the last four years. He purchased it for $60,000 in 2010.
Much of the place was a mess when he took ownership, he said.
“The doors to the ladies room were on the floor, the toilets and mirrors were broken, and the lighting was nonoperable,” Breidenstein said, citing some of many examples.
“If we weren’t in the masonry and construction business, this building wouldn’t be renovated. It was that bad,” he said.
Improvements include a new roof, repointing the exterior brick, repairing the water-damaged south wall, adding new doors and light fixtures, fixing the air conditioning and heating systems, rebuilding the stage and bar floor, and enhancing the basement for use as a green room.
Breidenstein added a screen on the stage as an homage to the Showplace’s movie theater past. It’s positioned at an angle to allow films to be shown behind the bands, with the projector located off to the side in the disc jockey booth.
Several rows of seats have been installed in the rear, where the slope is greatest.
The theater opened around 1910 as a nickelodeon called the Try-It Theatre. It became the Unity Theater around 1930 and the Showplace Theatre in the 1970s.
The movie house was reduced to showing X-rated movies at the end of its life as a movie theater, as many urban single-screen theaters did, after multiplexes scooped up the first-run Hollywood films.
Concerts brought a new identity to the Showplace. Gov’t Mule, Tragically Hip, Insane Clown Posse and Ice-T performed there, but it was better known for catering to teens and 20-somethings, with local bands playing heavy metal, hard core and punk, as well as Christian music.
With an occupancy of 400 at the theater, Breidenstein imagines booking everything from weddings and stag parties to comedy shows and political fundraisers. But music, he said, will remain a constant.
“Concerts are the history of this place, and that’s where I think it needs to stay,” he said.
That’s good news to Matt Hughey of the City of Tonawanda, who frequented the theater after moving to Buffalo from Cleveland in 1996.
“I loved that place,” Hughey said. “It was always as cold as an icebox, and run-down, but it had its moments. There were some bands that shined and grew from there.”
Buffalo resident Greg Hinaman goes farther back with the theater, having attended movies in the 1960s. “It was really cool,” he said. “The popcorn was always great, and it had that big screen.”
Breidenstein said he isn’t concerned about the struggling neighborhood around the theater.
“People say, ‘Joe, it’s in the ghetto,’ and that doesn’t bother me one bit,” Breidenstein said. “If you notice, the old theaters, like the Rapids in Niagara Falls, are often in this kind of area, and Buff State is right around the corner, and that only helps. I like this area, and I’ve met great businesspeople.”
Mark Kubiniec, president of the Grant-Amherst Business Association, said the theater is another step in the area’s redevelopment.
“The neighborhood has had that theater as the site of movies and rock ’n’ roll shows, and it’s been a vibrant venue for a long time,” Kubiniec said. “When it shuttered its doors, a lot of people were disappointed, and we thought we’d end up with a boarded-up building that would get knocked down. We’re thrilled that it’s poised for a rebirth.”
The building’s seedy condition, together with the dim lighting and loud music, was part of its charm. Now, Breidenstein is looking to add a new chapter for the renovated theater.
When that will begin, he’s not sure.
“We’re close to having an opening date, but I don’t want to do anything halfway,” he said. “It’s a big dinosaur, and I prefer to have it running on all eight cylinders.”