New seating brings added comfort, less capacity to Kleinhans, Business First

The last time Kleinhans Music Hall had new seats installed, the Beatles had yet to record “Hey Jude” and Lyndon Johnson was still president.

Yes, it has been that long.

This summer, the Buffalo landmark will be getting new seats — the latest phase of a series of renovations that have taken place during the past few years. The $1 million project, which will see Kleinhans seating capacity drop from 2,800 seats to 2,400 seats — a 14.2 percent drop, is being financed through grants obtained by the John R. Oishei Foundation, M&T Bank Foundation and Margaret L. Wendt Foundation.

Replacing the well-worn seats has always been a top priority for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Kleinhans Management Music Hall board of trustees. Securing the funding made it a reality.

“In reality, 2,400 seats is probably the right number for Kleinhans,” said Chris Brown, Kleinhans Management Music Hall directors chairman. “It makes it that much more intimate.”

The seats will not only be new, but they will be slightly wider — by, on average, one inch — and also have more leg room. Once all are installed this summer, Kleinhans will have 1,300 seats on its main floor, down from the 1,500 it has currently has and 1,100 in the balcony, a decrease of 200 seats.

All of the seats have been tested to match Kleinhans’ renowned acoustics, said architect Ted Lownie, a Hamilton Houston Lownie partner and founding member. Lownie has served as the BPO’s consultant on the Kleinhans renovations.

“You just can’t turn your back on a building like this,” Lownie said.

The seats are close to same specs Kleinhans architects that the father and son tandem of Eliel and Eero Saarinen had envisioned.

Some of Lownie’s recommendations were less sexy and headline grabbing, like improving the building’s heating and air conditioning system. Others were more visible, such as bringing Kleinhans’ signature reflecting pool back.

In all, Lownie identified $4 million worth of renovations Kleinhans needed. Half have been completed. Once the seats are installed, the project will be 75 percent complete.

“Every building needs constant attention, especially one as busy as this one,” Lownie said.

Daniel Hart, BPO executive director, said on average Kleinhans is used for more than 200 events each year and sees more than 175,000 people walk through its doors. That includes those bound of BPO concerts to high school graduations and weddings along with numerous corporate events.

“Twenty four hundred seats is still a lot of seats,” Hart said.

Kleinhans opened in 1940 and this summer will mark only the third time new, blue cushioned seats are being installed. The last time was 1968.

Concert hall seats generally have a 25-year life span.

“These are 47 years old,” Brown said. “This is all about making sure people are comfortable at Kleinhans.”

Future renovations include additional sound system upgrades, repairs to the building’s wood finishes and the creation of a mini-BPO museum.