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Hertel’s happening—once again
By Larry Brooks; photos by kc kratt

Now that the Sample is gone, the North Park Building is the only block-long building—73,000 square feet large—on the Hertel strip and a North Buffalo landmark. Best known for the North Park Theater, it also houses neighborhood favorites such as Bertha’s Restaurant and Hertel News and Tobacco as well as twenty-three other commercial and residential tenants. It is undergoing a five-year renovation by owners Alice and Tom Eoannou, who purchased the building in January 2006.

It was built in two sections—the western half of the block in 1918 and then the eastern half, including the theater, in 1921. The North Park Theater opened November 4, 1921. Currently owned by Michael Clement, it is the last of the old-fashioned movie houses in Buffalo, and, with 850 seats, it’s one of the largest privately owned theaters in the country. If you look carefully at the exterior main sign, there’s a patch of masonry, about ten by fifty feet, above the marquee. Behind that is a beautiful stained glass window with the words Shea’s North Park that a previous owner covered up. The Eoannous plan to uncover it, hopefully next spring. The glass will be restored by Jacobs Stained Glass and backlit so that it can be seen by all.

The first changes to other sections of the North Park building exterior have already improved appearances. Old wood transoms and signs have been removed and replaced by glass as originally designed. Address numbers have been hand-painted on each door in a uniform style. Sign brackets, custom-made by Allentown’s Steel Crazy, hang over each business door. They feature small spotlights to illuminate the signs at night and the letters “NP” are cut into the metal. Some interior changes have been made as well: in a couple of second-floor hallways, drop ceilings were removed to expose the original skylights.

Alice Eoannou.
This is truly a labor of love for Alice Eoannou. She’s done some of the painting herself— the faux hammered copper fascia over Floral Explorations and the ladies room of the theater—and planted the containers along the sidewalks. Additionally, much of the work is contracted to her brother Craig Lamb and father David Lamb.

“He [husband Tom] was looking for a project. He loves old buildings. I wind up with all the projects after he starts them.” After the former owner of the NP building passed away, the Eoannous sold the Hertel buildings that house Sidebar and Taste of Thai restaurants to buy it. “We live in the neighborhood,” they state. “Our kids live here. It benefits everybody.”

Another North Buffalo fixture, lawyer Oscar Smukler, a local legend in practice fifty-eight years, has had an office in this building for fifteen years. Of Alice and Tom’s renovations he says, “I think it’s wonderful. They’ve improved the building tremendously structurally as well as cosmetically … put a new boiler in, electrical and plumbing improvements, the different signs, lighting. They’ve upgraded the tenancy in the building. They’re doing a nice, nice job on the building.” Smukler has seen many changes on the street and says, “Hertel is a great street. Other than Hertel and Elmwood, we don’t have much of a business district left—they’re the only viable areas left. There are some wonderful businesses on both.” Smukler has special memories about the building starting with “the North Park Theater, of course, the linchpin of the whole block. I’ve spent a lot of time watching movies there. And then there’s the camaraderie among the tenants.” For instance, some use Oscar’s copier because they cannot afford one of their own. “There’s a lot of cooperation among the tenants; they’re all good tenants here.”

Writer Larry Brooks is a consultant for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

The growing Hertel strip.


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