Jake Schneider had no idea what was behind the plain wall or clapboards, above a suspended ceiling or even under the 1970s floor when he and his contractors began pulling them out of the century-old former bank building on Seneca Street last fall.
What they found were historic stained glass windows, skylights, architectural patterns, plaster medallions and geometric patterned tiles – all from the city’s heyday during the Roaring 20s and all hidden away for decades.
It had been essentially buried by previous urban renewal efforts to modernize and streamline the interior during decades of ownership by multiple banks. Much of the detail had deteriorated from years of neglect, and only a few could be surmised from the grand Sullivanesque exterior of the building with its brickwork and terra cotta ornamentation.
“You saw the exterior character of the building and we knew it was a beautiful building, but it wasn’t until we started tracing, looking behind the walls and things, that we realized what we had to work with,” Schneider said.
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But now that interior history will be restored and on display for all to see – as new patrons dine, relax and enjoy their favorite tunes.
That’s because Schneider, an architect-turned-developer, is transforming the former South Side Bank at 2221 Seneca St. into the city’s newest eclectic music venue: The Caz.
Working hard, playing hard
Scheduled to open by November or December, the $2.5 million project, which began in September, is designed to restore the 6,090-square-foot building to its former glory, in accordance with historic preservation standards.
At the same time, the venture will give it a whole new and different purpose, which also helps fill what Schneider sees as a demand in the city for more music of all kinds.
“Let’s enrich the music scene here in Buffalo. Let’s bring more acts. This will make it much easier for everyone to be able to bring this talent to the city“, Schneider said. “We have a healthy and vibrant music scene where a lot of people make their living.”
Upon completion in late summer, the one-story high-rise will feature a restaurant, horseshoe-shaped bar and performance stage on the main floor, with seating for 130 people.
It will offer a newly constructed mezzanine at the top of a section, with three tiers of tiered seating, where a further 85 to 90 guests can enjoy bank-themed drinks and a more limited food menu from a secondary bar , looking down at the singer or band. The bank’s main vault will function as a cloakroom and storage for customers’ valuables – echoing its historic use with its historic vault door as an exhibit, but without vaults.
For performers, the facility will include fully equipped audio-visual capabilities, with stage lighting, a sound booth and a production room for live broadcasting.
A spiral staircase will be carved into the floor and stage to allow performers to exit a private wood-paneled “green room” studio in the basement.
“It’s a densely populated community,” Schneider said of South Buffalo. “People work hard and they like to play hard, and hopefully they’ll come and play here.”
Banking musical performances
Citing the tradition of Skyroom Tralf or Salty Dog Saloon, Schneider said The Caz will be able to host veteran performers who no longer draw large crowds, as well as new local or regional talent.
“I want it to be inclusive, all demographics, all nationalities of people,” Schneider said. “I like all genres of music.”
The venue can also host comedy shows, dance parties, weddings or other celebrations, especially in coordination with Schneider’s Shea’s Seneca banquet facility across the street at 2178 Seneca.
“We want to be a destination country,” Schneider added. “I hope one day we’ll be known as a really cool place to visit when you’re in town.”
To run the facility, Schneider sought a local manager. After conducting a nationwide search that garnered more than 50 resumes from across the United States and Canada, he selected Andre Pilette, a Buffalo native and graduate of the Collegiate Institute of St. Joseph, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Clarkson University before spending the next 16 to 17 years in New York City in the music and marketing businesses. “We can do standing room only shows, we can do seated shows,” Pilette said. “But the theme of dinner and a show, that’s something the community really needs.”
South Side Coast
Built in 1921 for the 2-year-old South Side Bank, the building was designed by architect Harold Jewett Cook, who was inspired by Louis Sullivan’s “jewel box” banks in the Midwest. South Side was purchased by Liberty Bank in 1929, and later became part of Norstar Bank, then Fleet Bank and finally Bank of America Corp., which closed the branch in November 2016. Schneider bought it in October 2018 for 150,000 dollars.
The project qualifies for $725,000 in state and federal historic tax credits, and also received a $100,000 Main Street grant from National Grid, as well as a Better Buffalo Fund grant to restore the windows.
“We have a lot of work to do to clean this up, but it’s going to look sharp when we’re done,” Schneider said. “It’s going to be a fun little place.”
Swiatek Studios of Clarence is restoring the plasterwork, including the medallions on the capitals of the columns that adorn the upper edge of the walls, between sets of three stained glass windows. Many of the medallions needed not only repair but complete replacement, so Swiatek made a silicone mold to replicate them.
“They were in such bad shape that they took them down,” Schneider said.
The glass has also been repaired or replaced, and part of it will be backlit, while the floor – which was in poor condition – will be covered with a terrazzo tile that echoes the original design.
Upstairs, the mezzanine actually has three tiers of stairs, with rows of chairs or stools and food and beverage rails interspersed with circulation space to ensure good views of the stage. The back row will be almost flush with the bottom of the glass windows. A corner bar with two servers will connect to the main bar and kitchen below via a dumbwaiter.
“I was worried the Park Service wouldn’t let us do it. But they said as long as you can stay there and appreciate the whole space, they’d be OK with us taking a piece of it,” Schneider said. “They’re pretty good people to work with. They understand that we’re repurposing a building for a new use, so they give you some freedom.”
Contact Jonathan D. Epstein at (716) 849-4478 or [email protected].