Tonawanda News


April 28, 2013

BOOK NOOK: Kleinhans Music Hall, no concert tonight

Tonawanda News — A visitor to Buffalo’s Kleinhans Music Hall is generally there to attend a concert, and while the beauty of the building is noticeable, it’s typically second-fiddle, so to speak, to the event.

A slight but informative book, “Kleinhans Music Hall: Buffalo Architecture Mid-Modern,” currently available at Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concerts and on its website, changes that. Those of us who have long admired this mid-20th century treasure of local architecture now have a handbook of history and photographs of the place.

Finished in 1940, Kleinhans Music Hall was designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Finnish father-and-son architects famous for a number of prominent buildings in locations larger than Buffalo. Its general swoopiness, to employ a decidedly non-architectural term (use of curvature to offer a feeling of envelopment) is a hallmark of the Saarinen way of doing things, and it is artfully explained in the book.

Although no credit is given, the text is by Brian Carter, University at Buffalo architecture professor, who stays nicely balanced between a critique only an art critic could understand and a populist explanation of this remarkable building.

The book offers a short history of how and why the concert hall came to be Buffalo’s pride; a gift by the family of Edward Kleinhans — he of the retail clothing firm — and the structure itself was deliberately parked not downtown but on Frederick Law Olmstead’s encompassing municipal park plan, in a residential neighborhood.

It was also a Public Works Administration job, a Depression-era program to get people working by pumping money into civic projects that sooner or later had to get done, baseball stadiums, schools and the like (so was the Buffalo Philharmonic, incidentally, a Works Progress Administration project).

Those federal projects often resulted in trillion-cubic-feet piles of concrete masquerading as public gathering places, but in Kleinhans Music Hall a masterpiece was created.

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