The Star Theater: Corner Pearl, Mohawk, Genesee Streets

The Star Theater, c. 1900, viewed from Mohawk and Genesee. Image source: Roy Nagle Collection

The Star Theater, located at the corner of Pearl, Mohawk and Genesee Streets, opened as a legitimate theater on December 24, 1888. It passed through various hands until 1901, when Peter C. Cornell, M.D. gave up his medical career to follow his heart, becoming part owner and manager. At that time, plays staged in New York City traveled with their starring casts for weekly engagements in cities across the country. Buffalo was a major stop on the theater circuit and, by the early 20th century, the Star faced competition from the Teck, Shea's Court House Theater, and the Gayety Theater.

Maxine Elliott in a New Play

Clyde Fitch's "Her Own Way" Well Received in Buffalo

Buffalo, Sept 25. Maxine Elliott appeared at the Star Theater this evening in her new play, "Her Own Way," by Clyde Fitch, and in her first venture as an individual star, under the management of C. B. Dillingham. The play provides Miss Elliott with a congenial character in which she was the recipient of much applause. It is a satire on society. The stage effects are elaborate, and arranged with skillfulness of detail.

Miss Elliott was called before the curtain after each act. At the close of the third act Mr. Fitch was obliged to respond, and expressed his thanks and the thanks of the company for the generous reception.

New York Times, September 25, 1903

Location of the Star Theater, 1894. Image source: Buffalo City Atlas

Charles Illingworth, reminiscing in the Niagara Frontier magazine in 1955, said, "The top-ranked playhouse was the Star Theatre...It featured leading star performers and plays of the times. On the Mohawk Street side was the lobby with its floor of black and white marble squares and its walls lined with life-size photographs of the outstanding players, Richard Mansfield, Julia Marlow as Portia, Miss Mannering, and Forbes-Robertson among them. Through the high plate glass windows on the street side the passersby could see the small groups waiting to be joined by the rest of their party...

"The chairs were upholstered in red and on the bottom of the seat was a wire bent to hold a gentleman's hat. The ladies who wore hats fastened them with long hat pins to the upholstery on the back of the seat ahead. People dressed for the theatre at the time, the ladies in decollete and opera capes; the gentlemen wore tails and opera hats. Carriages were ordered at 10:45 or 11:00 and you handed your number to the starter who whistled up your brougham."

In good weather, patrons could walk up to Main Street after the play and enjoy a light after-theater supper at the posh Iroquois Hotel.

Maude Adams as Peter Pan

In 1907, theatrical star Maude Adams, came to the Star Theater in her role as Peter Pan. She made a lasting impression on Manager Peter Cornell's teenage daughter, Katharine, who dated her determination to become an actress from this event.

Read the complete Star Theatre program from the week of May 16, 1910 here.

That week Billie Burke (right) starred in a comedy, "Mrs. Dot." Twenty nine years later she would star as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in the "Wizard of Oz," and generations would forget her esteemed career in the legitimate theater.

The Star featuring vaudeville, c. 1920. Image source: TBHM

In 1912, another theater was constructed near the Star, named the Majestic. In 1919, Peter Cornell moved to that theater and the Star became a a vaudeville and movie house called The Criterion.

Criterion, 1924 Image source: Courier-Express

1950's Nirenstein map showing the E.W. Edwards store. Image source: private collection

In 1926, the building was demolished to make way for a new department store, E.W. Edwards & Son. The dry goods company, founded in 1832, had built stores in Syracuse and Rochester before coming to Buffalo in 1922 with a small leased presence. In 1925, the company purchased two properties and constructed a large building.

Advertising postcard from the 1926 opening of its new store. Image source: private collection.

At the end of 1952, the Edwards company closed its doors. The store at the corner of Mohawk, Genesee, and Pearl Streets was occupied by the IRS in 1957.

The location of the Star Theater/Edwards' store, as well as a portion of Genesee Street, was covered by the Convention Center in 1977.

Bing aerial view of the area. The orange trapezoid superimposed on the Convention Center roof shows the location of the Star Theater/Edwards' Department Store.

Reference materials consulted for this story included "Nine Nine Eight: The Glory Days of Buffalo Shopping," by Michael F. Rizzo.