Saturday, September 24, 2011

War Memorial Auditorium, 140 Main Street, Buffalo, NY

Photo courtesy of Chris Andrie

Capacity  18000
The 422' by 262' Buffalo Memorial Auditorium [10] began as a public works project to replace an aging civic auditorium (Buffalo Broadway Auditorium c. 1898, now a highway department garage known as the "Broadway Barns") and the recently collapsed Peace Bridge Arena across the border in Fort Erie.
The Broadway "Audtiorium" was used for six-day bicycle races for which a steep-banked wooden track was constructed, and attracted some of the best bicycle racers from around the world. The "Better Homes" expositions were held annually at the auditorium in the 1920s. And ice-making equipment was installed to served the Buffalo Majors ice hockey club. Boxing and basketball also took place in the auditorium.
In June 1938, city officials sent a loan and grant application to the WPA for funds to build the new structure. The approval of the $1.2 million grant was announced in Washington D.C. on October 7, 1938,[2] and construction began on November 30, 1939. The arena was built on the junction of the old Erie Canal and Main-Hamburg Canal.[3] The Auditorium's construction brought a great deal of activity to downtown Buffalo. On December 31, 1939, Buffalo Evening News reporter Nat Gorham wrote:
"As if overnight the Terrace once more is coming back to life. The massive new hall will be the mainstay, but city planners also want to improve the section with a boulevard in the old canal bend, waterfront parks and relocation, if not removal, of the New York Central tracks. Visible proof of these good intentions is construction of the new hall, which is being watched daily by hundreds of citizens."[2]
—Nat Gorham

Built for $2,700,000, Memorial Auditorium's grand opening celebration was held on October 14, 1940. The arena originally seated 12,280 for ice hockey, with an additional 2,000-3,000 sitting in the floor area, for basketball and other events.[4] Among the first events held in Memorial Auditorium were an auto show and roller skating.
Before the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League came to Buffalo, college basketball was Memorial Auditorium's most popular sporting event. On December 11, 1940, the Auditorium hosted its first college basketball game when Canisius College played the University of Oregon.[9] In its first seven months, Auditorium events drew nearly one million spectators and the first year's attendance was 1.3 million.[2] Circuses, dog shows and political events all took place at the Aud.[4] The building was also set as a war memorial for the Spanish-American war.
An $8.7 million (approximately $49.9 million in 2012 dollars)[1] renovation took place after the 1970–71 inauguration of the Sabres and Braves franchises. The arena's roof was raised 24 feet, making room for a new upper Orange level. This raised the total capacity of the arena to over 17,000 for basketball and 15,858 for hockey, making it a more suitable home for the NBA and NHL. A new scoreboard was installed, which would be the Aud's final scoreboard upgrade. The exterior structure required for the new upper level also added extra stairways and escalators, as well as new upper exits for the top of the lower bowl. The original gray seats at the top of the lower bowl were painted blue, and all seats in the lower sections were replaced with new cushioned seats in the Red and Gold sections. Other changes from the Aud's original design included the removal of the exit tunnels in Red sections 6, 7, 14, 15, 22, 23, 30, and 31, and Blue sections 2, 3, 10, 11, 18, 19, 26, 27, 34, and 35. The areas occupied by those tunnels were replaced with seats, and the continuous wall separating the Red and Blue sections was opened at each stairway. The removed exit tunnel openings in the wall separating the Red and Upper Gold sections were closed into a continuous wall between the remaining Red exit tunnels.
The American Hockey League's Buffalo Bisons played 30 seasons at the Memorial Auditorium, beginning with the 1940–41 season. The Bisons won five Calder Cup championships, with the last coming in 1970 in the franchise's final game. When Buffalo was awarded an expansion team in the National Hockey League—the Sabres—in 1970, the Bisons folded.
The Buffalo Sabres played their first home opener at Memorial Auditorium on October 15, 1970.[11] They occupied the Auditorium through the 1995–96 season, when they moved a few blocks away to the Marine Midland Arena. Michael Peca scored the last in-game goal at the Aud while Pat LaFontaine put in a ceremonial goal after the 4–1 win over the Hartford Whalers. It was the last arena in which the ice sheet fell short of the league-mandated 200 ft. by 85 ft. size (though Maple Leaf Gardens still had irregularly shaped corners).
Many Sabres players noted Memorial Auditorium's atmosphere:
The thing about that building was that everyone was so close that you could recognize people just by looking up. You don't get that in a lot of places today. The people felt like they were a part of the team and we felt like they were a part of our success. That was the special thing about Memorial Auditorium. I don't think anything like that can ever be replaced.[12]
—Lindy Ruff
In the summer of 1974, five permanent seats were added, increasing capacity for hockey in the 1974-1975 season to 15,863. After the hockey season ended, the walls and aisle separating the Upper Gold and Red seating sections were removed and replaced with 570 gold seats, which raised the total capacity of the arena to 16,433 for hockey and over 18,000 for basketball.
Memorial Auditorium hosted the 1978 NHL All-Star Game on January 24, 1978.
NHL history was made at the Aud on February 24, 1982, when Wayne Gretzky of the visiting Edmonton Oilers scored a natural hat trick in the final seven minutes of the third period to help defeat the Sabres 6–3. Gretzky broke Phil Esposito's record for the most goals in a season [76] with the first goal of the hat trick, Gretzky's 77th of the season.[15][16]
In March 2009, Gretzky visited Buffalo as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.[16]
In an effort to keep the Sabres in Buffalo, plans began to be made by the Buffalo Common Council and then mayor James Griffin to extensively renovate the Aud in the late 1980's and into the early 1990's. A multi-million dollar plan was drafted but was scaled back when the Sabres owners (the Knox family) made it clear that the long term viability of the franchise was dependent upon a new multi-purpose Arena being constructed.
Finally in 1990, the scaled back Aud renovation and rehabilitation took place. Along with minor structural and cosmetic improvements, handicap-accessible seating areas were installed (lowering the total seating capacity to 16,325 for hockey), and air conditioning and elevators were added to the Aud to help keep the building functional until discussions and decisions on a new Buffalo arena could be completed. The money borrowed to pay for these improvements was not paid back until well after the year 2000, years after the Aud had closed.
At the time of its closing, the Aud's concessions included The Aud Club, a sports bar; BBQ Pit, a sports bar and restaurant; and Sport Service bar. Seats at the Aud were mostly made of white ash, but the gold seats were converted to padded cushion seating.[5] From top to bottom (floor level), the colors of the seating went orange, blue (originally grey), red, and gold.
The Aud closed in 1996, at which time the Sabres, Bandits, and Blizzard moved a few blocks south to the new Marine Midland Arena (now First Niagara Center). Since 1996, the building remained closed to the public although Buffalo's Studio Arena Theatre was at times allowed to use the large floor surface to paint backgrounds for its productions.
During the 2001–02 season, Sabres officials and the city of Buffalo entered the building to relocate some items from the main concourse of The Aud to HSBC Arena, including a sign for the "Pour Man's Aud Club" which was re-incarnated by popular demand.
In 2003, the Sabres produced a 30-minute infomercial to boost season ticket sales inside the closed Aud. Footage from this production showed the building still very much intact. However, the building was without major utilities and the crew thus had to supply all light and electrical sources.
The building continued to deteriorate following the 2003 production visit. Water pipes began to break and moisture began to take its toll. The city of Buffalo became lax in their monitoring of the building, which allowed the general public to find ways of breaking into the building and resulted in graffiti and vandalism. Many artifacts were stolen or destroyed. While obviously suffering from neglect, the major aspects of the building remained intact. During the CBC Television Hockey Night in Canada broadcast of the 2008 NHL Winter Classic, the inside of The Aud was shown during a segment featuring the arena. The video showed that the seating bowl and arena floor had remained virtually untouched. Most notably, the advertisements that were on the boards during the final Sabres home game in 1996 were still present and the scoreboard hanging above center ice remained in the rafters.
In the mid-2000's, plans were in the works to renovate The Aud and re-purpose it as a Bass Pro Shops store; however on March 29, 2007, these plans were officially abandoned. Instead, it was announced that Bass Pro was to construct a new building on the site of the to-be-demolished auditorium. In December 2007, the Aud was sold by the city of Buffalo to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation for $1 in hopes that it would move along asbestos removal and demolition. All salvageable items were to be sold, stored, or removed before demolition began. The sales of these artifacts, especially of seats, will help pay for a memorial to the Aud.[6] The salvaged items include art deco flag holders, limestone eagles, and a time capsule.[7] Also salvaged from the Aud were a number of "blue" and "orange" level seats, which were then auctioned off.
Asbestos removal and other environmental remediation was performed in preparation for the demolition in late 2008. Major demolition of the Aud began in January 2009. On February 9, 2009, the "Buffalo Memorial Auditorium" edifice that sat above the main entrances was torn down. Much of the front of the Aud was torn down that same month. The entirety of the demolition is expected to cost $10 million[8] The formal "Farewell Buffalo Memorial Auditorium Ceremony" was held on June 30, 2009 at 1:30 PM. The copper box time capsule was also opened. The final standing pieces of the Aud came down in early July 2009. Bass Pro announced in February 2010 that it was no longer pursuing a superstore in Buffalo, leaving the former site of the Aud vacant.
Jerry performed here
Grateful Dead
New Riders Of The Purple Sage opened.

9/26/73 Grateful Dead
Joe Ellis and Martin Fierro sit in.
Promoter Harvey and Corkey.
Jerry plays the guitar Wolf with no sticker.[20]

5/9/77 Grateful Dead
Promoter Harvey Weinstein and Corky Burger Productions.
Jerry plays the Travis Bean 500 #12 guitar.[19]

11/9/79 Grateful Dead
Jerry plays the guitar Tiger.

9/26/81 Grateful Dead And Friends
Promoter John Scher and Festival East Concerts.
"Eyes Of The World through Let It Grow with Joe Ellis on trumpet and Martin Fierro on saxophone."[18]

"We missed our plane the next morning to NJ. Stuck in Buffalo airport for 12 hours on standby. In the late afternoon the Boys come walking up to the gate. There was like 50 (half asleep) deadheads amazed to see the the Dead come walking up. They were all cool with the deadheads (except Billy) Signed autographs and took pictures. My brother was off goofing around in the airport and had the camera, so no pic's were taken......bummer! Someone asked Jerry what he though about Buffalo? "This town don't got no heart".[13]

"My first gig - fondest memory is being in that dark, dank hallway, twirling dervishes bouncing me around like a pinball, when suddenly a stunning Stella grabbed ahold of me and we slowdanced to TLEO…"[14]

"I stole my Mother's car and filled it with friends and drove to Buffalo 9-26-81."[21]

"Back at the airport the next day we commandeered a vacant ticket counter and proceeded to access the computer and type out and post throughout the terminal the set list from the show to everyone's bewilderment."[17]

11/5/93 Jerry Garcia Band
Promoter Metropolitan Presents.
Mission In The Rain and Reuben and Cherise in the same show!

Buffalo War Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY

1.)^Staff. Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2012. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.,
2.)^Vogel, Mike. "Buffalo's Town Hall". The Buffalo News (Buffalo), Magazine - page 4, August 1, 1994.
6.)^"Aud memories many, but old seats are few". Sabres Insider.
7.)^Sharon Linstedt (2009-01-17). "Time capsule unearthed in Aud's cornerstone". The Buffalo News
9.)^Northrop, Milt. "College Basketball Breathed Life Into Newborn Aud". The Buffalo News (Buffalo), page 1D, March 27, 1996.
10.)^Buffalo's old hockey cathedral still packs a punch,
11.)^Kelley, Jim. "All-time Aud Games Stir Lasting Memories". The Buffalo News (Buffalo), page 5D, March 31, 1996.
12.)^Kelley, Jim. "The Ice Age: Hockey Made the Building Famous". The Buffalo News (Buffalo), page 1C, March 26, 1996.
13.)^GaryHartman, comments, 2007-07-05,
14.)^JJG4Ever, comments, 2007-12-16,
15.)^James F. Clarity (February 25, 1982). "Gretzky, scoring 3 goals, sets season record at 79". New York Times.
16.)^"Gretzky remembers Memorial Auditorium". Buffalo News. March 6, 2009.
17.)^uponscrutiny, comments, 2010-03-24,
18.)^The Deadlists Project, 1973-09-26,
19.)^Wright, Tom, Garcia musical instrument historian, 2014-03-21, email to author.
20.)^Gouldon, Grant, photographer, 1973-09-26.
21.)^Jalbert, Tom, comments, Grateful Dead Tour Veterans 1980s,


  1. The Grateful Dead played here twice in 1973 (73-03-31 and 73-09-26) and once in 1977 (77-05-09)

  2. Thanks, I've added those dates and upgraded the entire post.