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Celebrating the Kleinhans cornerstone

People say Kleinhans Music Hall is all curves. Such is its sleek, modern grace.

But the hall began in the usual pedestrian way, with a cornerstone. And it's appropriate we celebrate the anniversary of the laying of that cornerstone, on Sept. 12, 1939. It was the moment when one of Buffalo's most audacious buildings came into being.

Kleinhans Music Hall, which marked its 75th anniversary with fanfare in 2015, is one of those treasures that are bigger than Buffalo deserves, given our comparatively modest size and finances.

Finnish architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen, a father and son team, managed to make the hall simultaneously, classic and contemporary. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, they even designed accessories especially for the building. Couches, chairs, and water fountains have a streamlined design meant to complement the hall. Backstage dressing rooms feature mirrors and lights unique to Kleinhans. A visiting artist's Kleinhans experience begins even before he or she walks out on stage.

Huge doors, sky high, open into the Mary Seaton Room. The restrooms are not merely restrooms. Signs with understated, silver-screen elegance direct you to "Men's Lounge" and "Powder Room." The warmth of the woodwork is intentional. The Saarinens intended it to pay homage to Buffalo's arts and crafts traditions. The wood helps the superior acoustics, which are somehow always state of the art.

How to observe this occasion? Start by viewing The Buffalo News' gallery on the beginnings of Kleinhans. Then, take a daytime jaunt to Symphony Circle. Take the opportunity to admire the hall's exterior. Too often, we overlook it in our hurry to get inside.

One of the brilliant images of Kleinhans from The News' gallery. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

One of the brilliant images of Kleinhans from The News' gallery. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

Walk around the outside of the hall. Rest your eyes and your spirit as you gaze at the reflecting pool. Appreciate how it accentuates the curves of the building, which with a little imagination could suggest a stringed instrument. Pay a visit to Frederic Chopin and Giuseppe Verdi, who look down benevolently over the east lawn.

Do a 360 to take in the beauty of this corner of the world. Kleinhans is the only major concert hall located in a residential neighborhood. Visiting musicians often remark on that.

Take time to contemplate not only the vision of the Saarinens, but the generosity of Edward Kleinhans. The wealthy Buffalo haberdasher opened his men's clothes store in 1893 in the Brisbane Building. He and his wife, Mary Seaton Kleinhans, died within weeks of each other in 1934. They bequeathed their entire estate to the Buffalo Foundation to build this music hall. It was one of the few projects of its scale to be built during the Great Depression.

Kleinhans marked its 75th anniversary in 2015. The celebration continues. When you have looked at it from all angles, step inside and visit the box office. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's fall season starts Sept. 17. Pick up a brochure to see what's coming up. Seeing the BPO at Kleinhans is on The Buffalo News' list of 100 Things Every Western New Yorker should do at least once. This hall belongs to all of us.

Don't be a stranger.


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