Mitchell Mark - Table of Contents ..........Buffalo Movie Theaters - Table of Contents

Buffalo Site of the First Purpose-Built Motion Picture Theatre

(Buffalo, N.Y.)

UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage is being celebrated worldwide for the first time in history on Saturday, October 27, 2007. Buffalo, N.Y. may be the first city to officially proclaim a celebration. "Buffalo is uniquely qualified to be the site of the first celebration of this important event," says Edward Summer, president and founder of the Buffalo International Film Festival, "since we have recently discovered that it is the site of the worldís first purpose-built motion picture theatre as well as the site -- in 1896 -- of some of Thomas Edison's very first motion pictures."
At 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 27, 2007, at the Ellicott Square Building, the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage Proclamation by Hon. Byron Brown will be read, a World Day for Audiovisual Heritage Resolution passed by the Buffalo City Council will be announced, and people will re-enact waiting in line to attend a motion picture at the original entrance to the Vitascope Theatre, opened by Mitchell H. Mark in Edisonia Hall on October 19, 1896, in the Ellicott Square Building.

What better place to celebrate World Day for Audiovisual Heritage than at the site of the first purpose-built motion picture theatre, where 200,000 people attended motion pictures during 1896? A cake with 111 candles will celebrate the anniversary of the theatre itself. The celebration of UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage in Buffalo will be entered into the official UNESCO records.
Audiovisual records - moving images and recorded sound - provide us with valuable entries into the past. They draw us into the collective dramas of our recent history, they allow us to experience, firsthand, how an art was practiced, they show us people going about their business in settings that may have changed vastly, and indeed going about business that may have changed just as much. They tell us a great deal about ourselves and others, where we have been, and what makes us what we are.

Two years ago, at the 33rd session of UNESCO's General Conference, the Member States declared 27 October as a World Day for Audiovisual Archives, noting that this heritage is testimony "to the economic, political and social development, the evolution of education, scientific knowledge, and diversity of cultures of different nations and communities, as well as to the evolution of nature and the universe". The drafters of this resolution were fully aware that these archives are extraordinarily fragile, and that the efforts to preserve them can be extremely costly, and not easily within the means of many countries.

Floods and fires, storms and earthquakes can erase this heritage overnight. War, theft and vandalism, and simple human negligence, have destroyed many collections, and continue to do so. Humidity, heat, dust and salt-laden atmospheres also play their part, and losses are provoked by technical obsolescence as well as physical decay affecting not only old images and sound recordings, but also the 'new' digital media. Safeguarding audiovisual heritage is a very complex process requiring a range of legal, institutional, technical, and financial solutions. Not taking action will result in the loss of entire chapters of this heritage in less than ten years and lead to the irreparable impoverishment of human memory, culture and identity.

The first ever tour of Buffalo's fabulous motion picture related history was sponsored by the Buffalo International Film Festival on Saturday, September 29, 2009 and guided by Martin Wachadlo, local architectural historian. Twenty awstruck members of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) from all over the U.S. and the UK were guided to the site of Edisonia Hall and the Vitascope Theatre and the Regent Theater (1914) which is the birthplace of TODD-AO.

A highlight of the tour was a visit to The Regent Theater (1914) at Main and Utica. Now Bethesda World Harvest International Church, this beautifully remodeled building still preserves many of the architectural features of the original movie house which was used by Buffalo's American Optical Company to test the revolutionary 30 frame per second 70mm TODD-AO camera/projection system commissioned by mogul Mike Todd for his movie of Around the World in 80 Days starring David Niven and Frank Sinatra. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were flown to Buffalo in 1953 to see a demonstration that influenced them to give their permission to make Oklahoma into a film using TODD-AO.

Belonging to such diverse organizations as the Library of Congress, the National Archives (NARA), the BBC, the Academy Award Archives, and the UCLA Film Archive, these highly skilled and prominent archivists were astonished at the sheer diversity of architecture in the city. Beyond such masterpieces as the Guarantee Building and the Darwin Martin House, the number of early 20th Century Movie Theaters still surviving is unique in the world. These include The Michigan (1910), The Savoy (1911), The Sattler (1914 on the foundation of a 1900 theater). Although in need of restoration, the theaters ñ once attended by Mary Talbert ñ still glow with beautiful terra-cotta decorations. One member of the tour remarked that in Hollywood, no movie houses before 1920 even exist! This makes Buffalo truly unique in having preserved a fabulous "Time Machine" peek into the past.
Buffalo was also an important Motion Picture Exchange from the turn of the twentieth century up to the 1960s. Film Exchanges handled and shipped the 35mm prints of all the newest motion pictures and made sure that theaters from Syracuse to Cleveland, from Erie, PA to Toronto had them on time and in perfect condition for each evening's programming. Pathe, Vitascope, Warner Brothers, MGM, Paramount, Universal all had offices in Buffalo along Franklin and Pearl Streets starting as early as 1906. Mr. Wachadlo pointed out nearly a dozen of them still standing, although now used for other purposes. The Warner Brothers' building on Franklin is now a restaurant

The positive response to this unique tour will be an inspiration for future tours that will expand and enrich the international appreciation of Buffalo as a unique site of Motion Picture history and a production location for major motion pictures like Pan American Exposition (1902) The Natural (1984)  and The Savages (2007).
Buffalo International Film Festival, Inc. is a 501c3 not-for-profit charity incorporated in Buffalo to celebrate the artistic, cultural and scientific contributions of the Western New York region to the world's motion picture heritage.

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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