Preservation Ready: Raising the Sattler's curtain
The original interior details that distinguish the Sattler are largely intact and ready for restoration.
A grand old Buffalo theater that—like the North Park, the Savoy, and Shea’s Seneca—came from the drafting table of the Spann brothers (Henry and William), the Sattler was commissioned by department store magnate John G. Sattler. It still stands at 512 Broadway, an imposing terra cotta-ornamented edifice that has seen better days—and may see them again.
The long-empty theater is noted for its Beaux-Arts style, ornate white glazed terra-cotta facade, fanciful under-eave brackets, leaded glass, and decorative, Art Nouveau-influenced friezes. The magnificent façade is still a showstopper, especially on this section of Broadway, surrounded as it is by empty demolition sites—just west of Jefferson.
Sattler built the structure as a 928-seat movie palace in 1914, on the site of the wood-frame Casino Theatre. In 1920, the theater was purchased by the Basil brothers and renamed Basil’s Broadway. At some point a small stage was installed, and the theater featured vaudeville and burlesque performances as well as films.
After the building ceased to be used as a theater in the early 1960s, it became Muhammad’s Mosque 23, then God’s Holy Temple from 1976 to 1984, and was finally leased to Joy Temple Church from 1987 to 1996. During its tenure as Muhammad’s Mosque 23, it hosted such luminaries as Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali. The God’s Holy Temple sign is still visible on the façade of the building.
While these tenancies certainly kept the structure in use, it is unclear what, if any, restorative maintenance was done to the former theater, especially in the eighties and nineties.
Images by Joseph Cascio
The Sattler was empty for twelve years before being purchased by the Western New York Minority Media Professionals (WNYMMP) in 2008. In spite of the three church occupancies from the mid-sixties to the mid-nineties, the building still looks like nothing else but a theater. Many of the ornate seats are still in place, as is the richly ornamented ceiling, balcony, ticket booth (added in 1946) and projection booth. A walk through the dark musty interior reveals magnificent architectural details that could come back to life, given skilled labor and the cash to pay for it. Sattler’s has retained so much of its period mystique that it has been used as a location for contemporary filmmakers who need its spooky ambiance for horror films.
Michael Quinniey, who chairs the restoration effort for the WNYMMP, is briskly enthusiastic about the future of Sattler’s. His organization plans to rechristen the structure the Broadway Theatre and open it as a multimedia performance space. “We are learning the business of restoration,” he says. “Most of the paperwork with the state and federal agencies is in, and we hope to raise an initial $600,000 to clean the building, fix the front façade, and fix the roof. Just to sustain the building. Then we’ll start putting on events to generate more revenue and matching dollars. The estimate for full restoration is $6 million.”
WNYMMP is working with Flynn Battaglia architects and Watts Engineering to direct and implement the restoration.
Following the example of other restoration teams throughout Buffalo, WNYMMP has applied for National Register status, which opens the door to a variety of financial benefits. But Quinniey insists that the involvement of the surrounding community, especially young people, is most essential to the project’s success. “This theater will employ 100 people,” he says. “We want to give young people the opportunity to get involved. We often just come here and park outside, talking to the people who live here, many of whom remember this theater when it was still operational.
The group will use the structure as a base of operations for their ongoing mission of mentoring young people in the media, arts, and entertainment industries. In recognition of the support and advice preservationist Michael Miller gave their project, WNYMMP plans to build a Michael Miller lounge on the west side of the theater. Miller, who died in 2009, was a central figure in Central Terminal and other Polonia-based restoration efforts.
Poised on the brink of rebirth, the old Sattler theater may also bring new life where it is sorely needed in this near East Side neighborhood.
Elizabeth Licata is editor of Buffalo Spree.