What is the Niagara Post Theater?

Built in 1931 by the US Government for the soldiers and families of the Army post at Fort Niagara to enjoy movies, the theater was known as “The Post Theater.” In 1963, the government deactivated the Army post, and the property was given to New York State for a park to support historical Fort Niagara.

As a result of the deactivation, a majority of the post buildings were demolished. Remaining structures included the Officer’s Club, Commandant’s House, a barracks building, and the Post Theater. These were considered candidates for future development.

Post Theater (aeriel view)

Fort Niagara (post map)

Post Theater (postcard)

1963 - 1999

Sometime after the theater closed in 1963, the seats were removed and the theater auditorium served as storage for the park. Over the years, the building deteriorated with occasional repairs being done to maintain structural integrity. Several developers, also during that period, considered proposals for the renovation of this and other military structures that remained. The Officers’ Club was placed under the operational control of the Old Fort Niagara Association through an amendment to their existing agreement with State Parks. The action converted the 20.16 acres surrounding the structures for the redevelopment and reuse of three former US Army buildings, targeting private and public applications.

1999 - Present

In 1999, an Environmental Impact Statement was prepared for the adaptive re-use of the buildings at Fort Niagara State Park. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation assumed the lead role under the State Environmental Quality Act, and the required documents were prepared. In 2013, the Adaptive Re-Use process was completed for the Commodore’s House, the Barracks Building and the Post Theater.

Architectural Character

The Fort Niagara Post Theater at Fort Niagara State Park is typical of post theaters built across the country during the depression era. Because the theater was built as part of an army base, the blueprints for the theater were of standardized design. These theaters were equipped to show “talkies,” which were just coming into existence.

The Fort Niagara Post Theater design is similar to the design of post theaters built at Fort Screven, GA; Fort Benning, GA; Fort Hancock, NJ; and Fort Douglas, UT.  The building was designed to be simple and functional so it does not have the detailed characteristics of many high-style buildings. The architectural style was used in the US Army from 1880-1940 and is known as Georgian Colonial Revival, a subtype of Colonial Revival that gained widespread popularity during the period revivals of the early 20th century. Georgian Colonial Revival was incorporated into hospitals, headquarters, barracks, and housing, especially at former World War One Army camps.

The theater has the forward facing pediment characteristic of the Greek Revival style associated with Colonial. The pediment is “supported” by four simple columns protruding from the brick wall. Columns were also a major characteristic of the Greek revival style. Other prominent features on the theater’s façade are the keystones above the doors and windows. Keystones were features sometimes included in the Classical Revival style.

The interior features are Streamline Modern or Art Moderne which is a late type of Art Deco that emerged in the 1930s. Its architectural style is simple with aerodynamic curving forms, long horizontal lines and sometimes nautical elements incorporating cement and glass.

It was both a reaction to Art Deco architecture and a reflection of austere economic times. Many of these theaters were built by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the Depression to put men back to work.