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Scholars say movie theater debuted here

About 35 people on Saturday celebrated the site where, according to some film scholars, the world's first purposely built motion picture theater once stood.

Mitchell and Moe Mark opened Vitascope Hall in the basement of Ellicott Square 112 years ago, with the entrance through the Marks' first-floor Edisonia Phonograph Parlor, an early penny arcade that featured the inventions of Thomas Edison.

The theater is believed to have been in the basement, in what is now a carpenter's shop beneath Crinzi & Gullo Jewelers.

The Mark Brothers operated the 72-seat Vitascope Hall -- also known as Vitascope Theater -- for two years. They went on to become movie impresarios, opening more and larger theaters in Buffalo as projection technology improved. In 1914, they opened the first movie palace, the Mark Strand Theater, on New York's 47th Street and Broadway.

"Mitchell and Moe Mark of Buffalo . . . were clearly the visionaries who saw the future of motion pictures and motion picture exhibition," said Edward Summer of the Buffalo Film Festival. "They vanished from history for all sorts of reasons, but they've been rediscovered and we think their place, and Buffalo's place, will be restored.

"And hopefully someday the Vitascope Theater itself will be restored."

The building's owner, developer Carl Paladino, has said he wants to commemorate the groundbreaking theater through a window display in the building's atrium and possibly a plaque outside.

Summer said the Buffalo Film Festival is exploring the possibility of purchasing a rare, original Vitascope movie projector, which it would use to screen a film at a later birthday commemoration in Ellicott Square.

Buffalo artist Scott Alexander Wood produced a limited number of fine prints to celebrate Vitascope Hall. The celebration also featured a birthday with candles and the reading of a mayoral proclamation.


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