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My View: Shea's Seneca is a link to a glorious past

By Jim Williams

It’s not often that I stroll down memory lane. It isn’t because I don’t have fond memories of times gone by, but what is more important to me than dwelling in the past is living in the present and hoping for a brighter tomorrow.

But now, I must say, there is a very good reason to make an exception. I recently read that the neighborhood that I grew up in is restoring a South Buffalo landmark. I’m alluding to the rebirth of the Shea’s Seneca Theatre.

I know that other parts of Buffalo must take pride with the restoration and renovation of other architectural and historical landmarks such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House, Larkinville, the North Park Theatre, the Richardson Complex and the waterfront grain elevators, along with Canalside. But to anyone who grew up in this part of the city in the five decades leading up to the late 1960s, this announcement conjures up many fond memories.

This theater was the social center of South Buffalo for many years.

Shea’s Seneca was more than a movie house built in the golden age of movies and moviegoers. It was the epicenter for thousands of patrons who visited in the five to six decades it adorned the corner of Seneca Street and Cazenovia Parkway. With the advent of plazas, malls and shopping centers along with the proliferation of big-box stores, Seneca Street gradually declined from being a retail and entertainment destination.

This, along with neighborhood homes giving way to absentee landlords and younger generations moving to the suburbs, contributed to the decline of a once-vibrant retail and residential community.

This generation’s move to the greener pastures of West Seneca, Orchard Park and Hamburg also greatly hastened the neighborhood’s decline.

Seneca Street and Cazenovia Parkway was where you “hung out.” Parson & Judd was for your milkshakes and sodas, Your Host for your breakfast and lunch and Frank the barber for your haircut.
Then when you reached that magical age of 18, your choice of the many bars, saloons and pubs where you could partake for the first time (legally) in a cold one.

As a young man I remember being a “go-fer” for the usual suspects at Frank’s Barber Shop. Frank’s patrons would be playing cards in his back room on an oversized green felt table. I would walk down to the Your Host for their coffee and doughnuts. It should be noted that although I didn’t see any money on the table, I’m sure they weren’t playing canasta or Old Maid.

Shea’s Seneca Theatre was the Hollywood of South Buffalo. A theater of solid brass double entry doors, a beautiful lobby leading to a long hallway of mirrored walls and gorgeous hand-painted ceilings. Who can forget those uniformed ushers, double features, cartoons on Saturday afternoon, Hopalong Cassidy and Buck Rogers? Oh, yes, Friday nights were special. We could stand outside the theater on the corner and watch the girls go by. (Wait a minute, wasn’t that a song?)

I remember so vividly, after leaving the show on those dark summer evenings, running through the lagoon area of Cazenovia Park. Instead of walking all the way down Cazenovia Street to Abbott Road and then to Potters Road, I would take this dark shortcut through the park running as fast as I could, afraid that some scary creature would jump out of the lagoon. I couldn’t wait to reach the safety of the brightly lit funeral parlor.

Yes, hats off and many thanks to those developers for their foresight and vision in wanting to bring back a part of South Buffalo that so many of us remember.

Jim Williams, of Buffalo, remembers the theater as a social center for South Buffalo.
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