One very cool thing about Buddy Guy still touring is that he plays at some of the oldest and most beautiful venues in the US. For all the issues we’ve done we’ve managed to find one that was…too cool, if not a bit ignorant. Of all the venues we’ve talked about, the Landmark in Syracuse is the only one that let their pride get in the way. It’s the job of the venue to bring artists to their house for their patrons, and they should do so with a high regard for the venue itself. But the venue shouldn’t put itself above the musicians and its guests. You go to a venue for the music, not the venue. Not unless you’re a historian. But at its best best you go for both, so when a venue believes itself above all else, you’ve got to wonder why, and while we don’t excuse the behavior we do see why they have so much pride in the place. There’s no denying the beauty of the theater and the chance to see Buddy Guy perform there may be well worth the price of admission and comfort.
The following history is lifted from their site and I think is as telling of the Landmark Theater as can be.
When silent movies arrived in Syracuse, Salina Street had the Empire, the Strand, Keith’s, Temple (later Paramount), and Eckel theatres to draw patrons downtown for movie-stage shows. The latest and grandest was Loew’s State Theatre.
Marcus Loew attempted to buy the Empire Theatre but negotiations failed. Real Estate developers found him the building side at the northwest corner of Salina Street, occupied by the Jefferson Hotel, along with frontage for a block along Jefferson St. Thomas Lamb was commissioned as architect. He had already designed the Strand, Temple, and Keith’s. He planned the city’s largest theatre, 3,000 seats, with an eight-story office tower. Site acquisitions, costing $1.9 million, began on March 29, 1926. Groundbreaking for construction began on March 15, 1927. Construction took eleven months and three days, involved more than 300 workers and cost $1.4 million.
The Loew’s State opening was announced February 18, 1928. The new theatre was advertised as “the last word in theatrical ornateness and luxuriousness.” By mid-morning on that first day, hundreds had formed lines outside the new Theatre. For 25 cents admission, patrons were directed by uniformed ushers through the lobbies, absorbing the wealth of colors and materials—marble, terrazzo, tapestries, filigrial chandeliers, and exotic furnishings. They were ushered into Lamb’s exotic world through the main lobby, which boasted a chandelier designed by Louis Tiffany for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s mansion, and the grandest of the theatre’s several huge murals. The Musician’s Gallery, located over the front doors, featured quartet serenades as intermission entertainment during the 1930’s. Patrons who ascended the grand staircase reached the promenade lobby, where they delighted in finding a fishpond with a Japanese pagoda fountain. The main auditorium, which houses 2900 seats, was decorated in rich reds and golds and accented with wall ornaments throughout. The 1,400-pipe Wurlitzer organ offered its own exotic flavor, treating patrons to such sounds as a glockenspiel, marimba, bird whistles, hoof beats and surf sounds. For more than a year, Loew’s showed only silent films. It shows its first “talkie,” “The Broadway Melody” on March 30, 1929.
The Depression thirties provided some of the Theatre’s finest hours. In the cultural style of the times:
• A uniformed doorman or “barker” greeted patrons out front
• Three cashiers staffed the outdoor box office kiosk
• Uniformed ushers, overseen by uniformed captains, directed waiting patrons into lines between velvet ropes, then to seats as they became available
• Sharply dressed “candy girls” graced the concession counters
• A basement carpenter shop created signs and stage props to order
In 1933 Loew’s presented its first public demonstration of television. In 1934 it introduced double features. About the same time, color arrived. In the early 1940s Hollywood presented war films, complemented by newsreels which patrons scrutinized for glimpses of friends or relatives in uniform. Veterans were paraded across the stage. Intermissions were devoted to war bond sales.
In 1947, Loew’s State box office receipts peaked. But after WWII, staffing, maintenance and tax costs all rose, with enormous negative impact.
Soon, the Loew’s Corporation began to diversify, resulting in a perception that downtown theatres were corporate liabilities. It reduced staffing, maintenance, and systems upgrading. Mechanical plants failed. Decorative fabrics, walls, carpeting, and seating, once fastidiously maintained, fell victim to vandalism.
In 1954 Loew’s State Theatre’s organ became defunct. 10 years later the company sold it and its components were crated and later installed in the Stanford theatre in Palo Alto, CA.
In 1967 the parent corporation of Loew’s State announced closing and probable demolition of the Theatre. Concurrently, the neighboring Keith’s and Paramount theaters were being demolished for new retail development.
City officials joined with cultural organizations banded together to save downtown’s last movie house. But county officials instead approved and built the John H. Mulroy Civic Center on Montgomery St. A reduced tax assessment in exchange for a pledge to keep operating enabled Loew’s State to reopen. But it featured exploitation or second-tier fare, indifferently received in competition with TV and suburbia’s smaller, well-financed first-run houses.
In the mid-1970s Loew’s again announced the theatre’s closing. With demolition threatened, community leaders, city officials and cultural agencies established a committee to study possible community acquisition. On May 21, 1975 a Citizen’s Committee to Save Loew’s was formed.
The next day, Loew’s State was officially closed.
On June 4, 1975 the main lobby’s Vanderbilt chandelier was sold. On July 9, the Syracuse Area Landmark Theatre (SALT) was designated the agency to try to acquire and preserve the theatre. The city promised tax rebates. On July 14, 1975 the theatre reopened.
On May 3, 1976 the US Department of the Interior listed the theatre in the National Register of Historic Places. This provided a federally protected preservation covenant and made SALT eligible for preservation funding and discouraged commercial development.
In August 1977, Sutton Real Estate kept ownership of the office building; SALT would buy the Theatre portion for $65,000 – conditional on raising the funds in ninety days. Volunteers intensified fund-raising and began emergency repairs to allow reopening.
Volunteers scrubbed, patched and resuscitated aging equipment. They arranged tours to reintroduce residents to the Theatre’s splendor. The first weekend, lines formed on Salina St. The high point came on October 11, 1977 with a sold-out benefit with Harry Chapin. Even after all this, SALT remained more than $30,000 short. On November 5, the State Office of Parks and Recreation, citing the magnificent effort of volunteers, announced a matching grant of up to $35,000 for acquisition of the Theatre. The National Endowment of the Arts also made a $5,000 grant for architectural feasibility studies.
On June 29, 1979 title to the Theatre was finally transferred to SALT. Volunteers swarmed over the building, removing now-prohibited asbestos, replacing some 1,800 light bulbs, and many other tasks.
Local, state, and federal governments as well as foundations and corporations began responding to funding pleas. Once more, the theatre became an event space. Revenue from individual memberships increased. Painstakingly gaining momentum, the Theatre now hosts over 150 events a year. Legendary performers that appeared as the theatre reopened included Gregory Peck, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan. Since the completion of the stage expansion, the Landmark Theatre has been host to many top-level national acts including Jerry Seinfeld, Jackson Browne, Celtic Woman, Ray LaMontagne, and numerous Broadway touring shows in addition to the many corporate and fundraising events held by community groups each year.
A Guide To Attending Shows At The Syracuse Theater*
Balcony and Upper Levels
“Currently, there is no elevator to the Balcony, Loge and Upper Levels. Please take this into consideration when purchasing your tickets. The Landmark Theatre will not issue refunds or offer reseating for patrons who purchased Balcony and Loge seats and find themselves unable to access them by stairs. The Orchestra seating has access from ground level.”
Porter Says: If you enjoy your legroom equal to that of common Bic pen, you’d be like a pea in a pod (or a pen in a box).
“If your seat is broken, please contact the nearest Usher or Security Officer for further assistance.”
Porter Says: Every venue has its share of problems, but what if there was a sold out show? What if you came with a date? Do you both get new seats? Is this really something that should be addressed by the guest of the venue not the venue itself? Yes, 3,000 seats would be a lot to check, but the vanity of a venue to suggest that its guests be put on the spot seems a bit of a stretch.
“Taking photos during events is distracting not only to the performers, but your fellow patrons as well. Therefore all Cameras, Video cameras/recorders are strictly prohibited. This policy will be strictly enforced.”
Porter Says: As a show photographer, I’m in favor of this policy to a point, mostly because I’m also human. When I got married I wanted photos of my wife and I everywhere and anywhere we went—and still do. Our minds have only so much capacity for memory, the idea of us not having a small reminder in the… lets say first 15 minutes I think is a very small ask. Not quite as small as the seating apparently, but small.
The Landmark Theatre does not provide an area to check coats or any other personal belongings. We are not responsible for any property that is lost, stolen or damaged.
Porter Says: I feel like its necessary to once again go back to the inadequate seating space. In winter, especially in New York the idea that you have to find space for a coat as well as your legs in the 5 – 6” space you’re given is frankly ridiculous. Buffoonery.
The Landmark Theatre rarely cancels or postpones events due to inclement weather. Please be advised that tickets for all events are sold on a non-refundable and non-exchangeable basis. This stipulation is clearly marked on each ticket. Should a decision be made to cancel or postpone an event, this information will be posted, as soon as we receive it, on our website. Please continue to check our website for the latest, up-to-the-minute information.
Porter Says: It’s rare they cancel a performance so it’s okay when they do. (Italian accent) Don’t worry about it!
“All exits are final. Guests are not permitted to leave an event and then re-enter the same event. Smoking passes may be obtained at the Salina Street doors for certain events.”
Porter Says: Because, you know, nothing bad ever happens outside when you’re inside. Sure I get it, they don’t want to have to go through the process of patting you down for that dangerous item you went out to your car to get. Again I feel like there has to be a compromise here. You can’t bring bags into Buddy Guy’s, but you can come and go as you like. I’m not saying we got it right, but we also aren’t cuffing you at the door. That costs extra.
*Based on the rules listed on their website.