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112th Birthday Party for The Mark Brothers' Vitascope Theatre, World's First Movie Theater, Buffalo, NY, USA on October 18, 2008
112th Birthday Party for The Mark Brothers' Vitascope Theatre, World's First Movie Theater, Buffalo, NY, USA on October 18, 2008 1-2PM
Buffalo, New York, United States The opening of The Vitascope Theater in 1896 by the brothers MItchell and Moe Mark will be celebrated on Saturday, October 18, 2008 at The Ellicott Square Building, 295 Main St., Buffalo, New York, 14203. The Vitascope Birthday Party is open to the public and is hosted by the Buffalo Film Festival and Ellicott Development Company.
The Vitascope Theatre is believed by noted authorities to be the first architecturally-designed, purpose-built Movie Theater in the world.
112 years ago, on Sunday, October 18, 2008, the Mark Brothers previewed their brand-new, architect-designed theater for the select residents and The Press of turn-of-the-century Buffalo. The theater opened to the public the following day, October 19, 1896
Only recently "re-discovered" through the scholarship of Ranjit Sandhu and "revealed" in 2007 by The Buffalo International Film Festival, The Vitascope Theater and the brothers Mitchell and Moe Mark -- long forgotten -- are an unexpected major addition to the history of world cinema. Scholars were stunned when a photograph of the entranceway of the theater taken in 1896 was discovered. It is likely to be the earliest such photograph of an actual Edisonia Parlor and Theater in existence. Mark Sommer of The Buffalo News broke the story to the Associated Press on November 25, 2007.
Although motion pictures had been shown in other cities including New York and New Orleans earlier than this event, all of the previous venues had been existing theaters, music halls, or storefronts (that had their windows painted black to make the room dark). The genius of Mitchell and Moe Mark was their vision of a beautifully designed theater constructed exclusively to show the brand-new sensation: Moving Pictures. They had operated a phonograph parlor, then a kinetoscope (a device where the viewer peeked into a machine where the movies were visible) parlor on Main Street in Buffalo starting in 1894. When Thomas Edison made a small number of Vitascope Projectors available for sale in April 1896, the Marks snapped one up and eventually hired an architect to design the theater that would hold it. Allowing for the time necessary to design the theater, draw the blueprints by hand (no computers back then!), and to do the actual construction of the exquisite little 72-seat theater, they must have started work no later than June or July of 1896.
The Ellicott Square Building, completed May 30, 1896, was, at that time, the largest, finest and most complete office building in world. Designed by world-famous Daniel Burnham of Chicago, Ellicott Square had its own electrical and steam generators as well as an advanced air-filtration system. It is highly likely that Burnham and/or his company drew up the designs for the Vitascope Theater.
The Buffalo Express of Sunday, 18 October 1896 noted:
"There's a theater in Ellicott Square now - a new Bijou theater, beautifully decorated in white and gold, with an inclined floor carpeted in Wilton velvet, nine rows of luxurious orchestra chairs arranged in sets of four on either side of the central aisle-72 in all - a handsome stage with an elaborate proscenium arch, lavishly carved and daintily decorated, rich maroon plush hangings, incandescent electric lights flooding the place with radiance, perfect ventilation and all the other accessories of a delightful place of entertainment.
This is Vitascope Hall, the new auditorium fitted up as a suitable place for the proper display of the marvelous possibilities of Edison's wonder worker - the perfected Vitascope.
Beginning tomorrow hourly exhibitions will be given in Vitascope Hall, beginning at 10 a. m. and ending at 11.30 p. m., with weekly change of programme. The advertising columns of the papers will tell what to expect.
In connection with Vitascope Hall, and serving as a vestibule thereto, is the new Edisonia exhibition quarters at No. 305 Main Street, Ellicott Square."
More remarkable is the Buffalo Express article of 7 November 1897 which tells us that Mitchell Mark has decided to keep the theater open on Sundays because "he has had over 200,000 visitors in the last year!"
On opening night audiences were treated to: the Garden of the Tuilleries, Paris, the coronation of the Czar, the Dance of the Roses, bonfire in a hay field, street scene in Moscow, view of the Bois de Boulogne, Co.. Waring's White Wings on parade, two negroes in a watermelon-eating contest, corner of 14th Street and Broadway, New-York, serpentine dance and many others. It's important to note that the majority of these films (which ran less than 30 seconds each) were not produced by Thomas Edison's company, but rather by The Lumiere Brothers of Paris, France and distributed in the United States by the Pathe Brothers with whom Mitchell and Moe Mark were reported to have had one of the earliest American distribution arrangements.
By 1914, the Mark Brothers were the richest theater operators in America and, perhaps, the world: They spent one million dollars to open the archetypical movie palace, The Mark-Strand, at 47th Street and Broadway. Long acknowledged by historians as the very first movie palace, The Mark-Strand was even hailed by the New York Times: "if anyone had told me two years ago that the time would come when the finest-looking people in town would be going to the biggest and newest theatre on Broadway for the purpose of seeing motion pictures I would have sent them down to visit my friend, Dr. Minas Gregory at Bellevue Hospital. The doctor runs the city's bughouse, you know."
Even Cecil B. DeMille's autobiography acknowledges that Mitchell Mark, just before his death in 1917, was one of the two most powerful theater owners in the world. The theater chain founded by the Marks was eventually divided between the Warner Brothers and the Stanley movie chain and become the basis of the RKO-Stanley-Warner Theaters which existed well into the 1970s.
The Honorable Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo, NY has issued a proclamation honoring the Mark Brothers and The Vitascope Theater.
Edward Summer, director of The Buffalo Film Festival hopes that "the birthday celebration of the amazing Vitascope Theater and the Mark brothers who built it will become a yearly event. In the coming years, we hope to add to the event with screenings of 1896 films using a real Vitascope, and, ultimately, to reconstruct the actual theater in the still-existing space in Ellicott Square."
A special commemorative poster is being produced by Scott Alexander Wood. It will be available at the birthday party and on-line at www.BuffaloFilmFestival.com. A graphic is available for publication.
The event is co-sponsored by: The Buffalo Film Festival, The Buffalo Film Society, Scott Alexander Wood Designs, Buffalo Tours, Ellicott Development Corporation, Avenue Art & Design, New York State Movie Theater Corridor,
Mr. Wood, Mr. Sandhu, and Mr. Summer are available for phone interviews by appointment.
The Buffalo Film Festival is an activity of Buffalo International Film Festival, Inc. a 501c3 not-for-profit charity, which depends upon donations and support from the general public and private corporations.
The Buffalo International Film Festival: Movies of the World
Official Website: www.BuffaloFilmFestival.com
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