After purchasing the landmark building for an undisclosed price early in 2017, developer Oren Evenhar and his firm Pine Builders will work alongside design firm DXA Studio to transform the Paul Robeson Theatre in Buffalo into a space that will serve the local community.
Evenhar initially planned to convert the property into a residential space. However, he said the building “has too much charm” and envision turning it into a school, professional performance venue or a medical facility.
While Evenhar is looking for an operator, renovation is already moving ahead. On October 2017, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved plans to update the building’s facade and entrance for wheelchair access. Construction on both areas is expected to commence in the next three or four months.
DXA Studio’s Jordan Rogove, who will head the project’s design team, said that they will keep many of the building’s distinctive features, such as a cast iron steeple and the original glass windows with paintings by European artist Simon Berasaluce.
Rogrove said he would like to see the building kept as a theater space, but understands that may be a longshot. Nonetheless, he is happy to contribute to the transformation of the building he described as “a little Hagia Sophia” because of its history of diverse uses.
In the past 153 years, the Forte Greene theater has served various purposes including being a church, a synagogue, and a performance space. It was built in 1864 as a Universalist church. It was then turned into one of the borough’s first Reform synagogues. After that, it became a Catholic church that catered to Polish Brooklynites for 90 years.
It was only turned into a theater in 1980 by Dr. Josephine English, actor and activist. For 30 years, plays for the African-American community were staged in the building.