When the State Teachers College at Buffalo (later SUNY Buffalo State) moved to its new five-building Elmwood campus in 1931, its flagship building was Rockwell Hall. Named for college president Harry W. Rockwell, president from 1919 to 1951, the building housed administrative offices, a library, and the college’s auditorium.
Today, Rockwell Hall remains the college’s focal point—housing classrooms, the School of Arts and Humanities, the Art Conservation and Music departments, and the Performing Arts Center.
Even before a 1970 fire closed Rockwell Hall’s auditorium, renovation of the building had been sought. In 1983 the “Friends of Rockwell Hall” went public with their concern over the building’s seriously deteriorating condition. The group’s efforts sparked a successful letter campaign to the governor and state legislators, won editorial support from the Buffalo News, and ultimately secured the needed state funding. In September of 1984, President D. Bruce Johnstone, Assemblyman William B. Hoyt, and State Senator Anthony B. Masiello kicked off the “Rockwell Renaissance” by taking a sledgehammer to an old auditorium wall.
The three-year renovation included a complete redesign—including a rebuilt stagehouse, a greenroom, four dressing rooms, sloped seating, accessible entrances, new sound and lighting, an orchestra pit, and retractable orchestra shell.
The Performing Arts Center reopened in October 1987 with a gala celebration titled Festival of Five. The event featured classical, chamber, and popular music, as well as dance and theater productions.
In 2004 the theater underwent $1.2 million in major technological upgrades and refurbishments. The project included extensive upgrades to the sound and lighting systems, demolition and replacement of the rigging system and stage floor, and installation of new stage curtains, acoustic draperies, and orchestral shell. The Performing Arts Center reopened in March 2005 with a sold-out performance from David Sanborn.
In the summer/fall of 2019 the theater underwent a renovation of the house with refurbished seating, as well as new carpeting, paint and house lighting. The Box Office also underwent a dramatic transformation that increased visibility, added a second window and made the Box Office ADA-compliant for both customers and employees.
In recent years the Performing Arts Center’s stage has been graced by such notables as Colin Powell, Coretta Scott King, The Goo Goo Dolls and Bryan Adams. The Performing Arts Center remains a vital, multifaceted component of Buffalo State College and a major contributor to the cultural vitality of Western New York.