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  • Writer's pictureJeff Schober

The New Angola Theater's renovation may revitalize a Southern village

Updated: May 6

Now 100 years old, owners seek to modernize while celebrating the past

March 14, 2024: Owners Gary Cerne and Myra Pinker are getting set to welcome patrons to the New Angola Theather. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

A plan to reimagine the New Angola Theater, a 410-seat venue originally built in 1924, is underway on Main Street, with architects’ studies, renovation ideas, and a vision to breathe new life into an old space. The Village of Angola offers one more example that Western New York’s revival and resurgence continues, even amid smaller communities.

With a population of more than 2000, the village of Angola is 22 miles south of Buffalo, within the town of Evans. Like many rural spots, Angola has experienced business and population fluctuations as economies shift. But when Mayor Tom Whelan was elected in 2021, he recognized the need to kickstart development along Main Street.

Finding new owners for the theater, which had been closed since 2020, happened on a whim, and since then, progress has moved in spurts.

Husband and wife Gary Cerne and Myra Pinker, both retired school administrators, bought the Angola Theater in 2022, and have spent the past two years planning, writing grants, and searching for the right people to implement their vision. With investments totaling approximately $1.7 million, momentum is on track, and they hope the opening isn’t far off.

© photo by Steven D. Desmond

“People are getting antsy in the village,” Cerne said. “Every day someone asks when we’re opening. People even stop us when we’re working.”

“People are scratching at the doors,” agreed Mayor Tom Whelan. “Everyone asks me about it all the time. I’m going to start saying ‘two weeks.’”

It’s going to take longer than two weeks, so Whelan’s joke might fall flat for anxious patrons. But he believes the Angola Theater will help other village businesses increase traffic, with a soft opening likely sometime in the fall. Plans are underway for a newly constructed bar, a deeper stage to host concerts, and of course, films projected onto the big screen.

Angola Roots

Pinker grew up in Angola, and remembers seeing movies at the Angola Theater with friends and family during her childhood. It wasn’t nostalgia, however, that lured her back to the theater. Cerne and Pinker are clear: they bought the building because of Whelan.

“The mayor has done a wonderful job,” Pinker said. “He’s outstanding. He supports every business here and puts his heart and soul into the community. He knows everybody and everybody knows him.”

Buying a theater had never been on the couple’s radar. Recent retirees, Cerne and Pinker spent their careers in public education. It wasn’t until 2016, when they purchased Rose Brook Golf Course in Silver Creek, that they became business owners.

© photo by Steven D. Desmond

“I was getting ready to retire,” said Cerne, 62, who worked for several local school districts, ending his career as Superintendent of Schools in Dunkirk.

“You need something to do or you’re going to go crazy,” his wife told him.

Pinker, 55, also worked in various districts, spending the last 15 years as an Assistant Superintendent at Frontier Schools.

“We were asked to invest in a golf course,” she said. “My husband and I had been looking into buying a bowling alley for something to do. Instead, a friend approached us about their family’s golf course. We bought in, and over the past several years, revitalized it so you can’t even get near the place.”

“We cater to the average guy,” Cerne explained. “We’re not a country club, but we’re a very nice public golf course. We keep our prices low and our beers cheap. It’s taken off.”

Rose Brook Golf Course was originally begun by Bethlehem Steel employees, according to Pinker. When she and her husband became owners, they wanted to revert to that vintage feel, honoring the past while updating to modern amenities.

They hope to duplicate that success with the New Angola Theater.

Just ask

“That’s how we ended up here,” Cerne explained. “We host a Christmas party at the golf course every year. We were sitting there at the party, nearing one in the morning, and the mayor spoke up.”

“Are you interesting in buying a theater?” Whelan wondered.

Since being elected, one of Whelan’s goals was to ensure that Main Street could thrive. Progress has been made. The village now features a bar, a juicery, a record shop and a hair salon that has been in place for many years. The old town hall was purchased with plans to turn the building into an Airbnb. But the Angola Theater, a key landmark, remained vacant. Whelan sent out letters to potential investors, all to no avail.

Angola Mayor Tom Whelan has been a driving force in the theater's new life. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

“I had reached out to different people, including celebrities,” Whelan recalled. He even sent word to Jay Leno, who has visited Angola in his quest to acquire classic cars. “Nobody was really interested. On the way to the Christmas party, my wife suggested that I should ask Gary and Myra.”

When Whelan floated the idea, Cerne and Pinker perked up.

“We’ll take a look at it,” Pinker agreed.

Pinker has become familiar with the theater's layout. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

The following morning, the couple toured the theater with a realtor, examining its possibilities. Beginning in 1948, the Angola Theater had been owned by the Geitner family, who also owned the Angola Drive-In and another theater in Silver Creek. In 2001, Richard Geitner sold the Angola Theater to Claddagh Commission, who invested $170,000 into renovations, including a new roof. The theater was run by Suburban Adult Services for many years, until Covid’s outbreak forced its closure.

Once they toured the facility, Cerne and Pinker were excited by the possibilities.

“Myra and Gary came through, and within two days, they were squabbling on a price,” Whelan laughed. “There was a bid within a hot week.”

The theater had been shuttered since March 2020, frozen in time from when Covid forced a pause on the world. When Cerne and Pinker closed on the building, everything remained in working order, except for the movie projectors — they had locked up from lack of use, and were deemed inoperable.

“We probably could have opened the doors when we bought it,” Cerne said. “The theater was in good enough shape. But it wasn’t the way we wanted it. We had a vision that we want to see through.”

The biggest component was securing money to make renovations possible, then finding the proper people to help implement their plans. And that meant finding the right architect.

Honoring history

Pinker spoke with Mike Agate, who works at CannonDesign, an architectural firm in Buffalo. After touring the theater, Agate recommended fellow architect Nancy Redeye, a 30-year veteran of the Buffalo firm Flynn Battaglia, who specializes in historic places.

“This is her niche,” Pinker said of Redeye, who previously worked on renovations for the Hollywood Theater in Gowanda, as well as the Irish Classical Theater and North Park Theater, both in Buffalo. “I met with her, and explained our vision to go back to the old glory days of this theater. We wanted to wait for her to accept the project.”

© photo by Steven D. Desmond

Redeye toured the theater, and realized the potential.

“We did an existing conditions assessment,” Redeye explained. “We went through everything there to see what condition it was in. A lot had to do with updating the heating, and air conditioning that needs to be replaced. We also need to update plumbing and electrical service. Everything there is at the end of its useful life. The former owners were holding on and didn’t really replace anything.”

Cerne and Pinker want to celebrate the historic nature of the theater. On October 17, 1965, while serving as New York’s U.S. Senator, Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech on the front steps. Photos of the event were discovered when they took inventory. Pinker’s godfather, John Pingitore, then a teen, shook Kennedy’s hand that day, and snapped photos with a Kodak Instamatic camera. When Pingitore learned that Pinker and Cerne purchased the theater, memories came rushing back. He sent them a note recalling his childhood in Angola.

Robert F. Kennedy spoke at the Angola Theater in the 1960s. Photo by Mary Ann Troidl, courtesy of Myra Pinker.

“Angola was such a bustling village when I was growing up,” Pingitore recalled. “There were two drug stores, two supermarkets, a butcher shop, three barbershops, a Western Auto Store, two diners, a 5 and 10 variety store, two saloons — three if you count the Angola Hotel, which I was looking forward to going into and having a drink. But the place burned down before I turned 18.”

The theater’s revival, many hope, will be the springboard to new prosperity.

For Cerne, the slow pace has been his biggest challenge. By nature, he wants to see progress. But finding the proper people was more important than fast action, and will serve the cause better in the long run, he acknowledged.

“I’m always in a hurry to get things done,” he said. “Waiting drives me crazy. There was a long period when we weren’t moving in any direction, but we’re gaining momentum now. I’m pumped that things are starting to happen.”

The view from the top of the balcony. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

Grants have been secured, with the potential for more to come. The renovation will occur in phases, and the pace depends on funding. Included in the wish list are new carpeting, expanding the depth of the stage for musical performances, updating bathrooms, enhancing the concessions area, constructing a bar, and reworking the entire front of the building.

“We’d like to update the marquee, put windows in front, and clean up the elevation,” Redeye said. “We’d like the theater to be brought back to its original charm. It’s not unusual for projects to go through multiple phases.”

Whelan believes that having activity on Main Street may draw customers from the nearby beach, where a visitor might want a different experience.

“People will want to see a show, or hear live music,” he said. “In a year or year-and-a-half, this area is going to be booming.”

Redeye sensed the anticipation early on.

“The first time I was there, looking at the building, people walked by and asked what we were doing. When we explained, this woman was so excited that she hugged Myra. That says a lot to me when a community is excited. I’m no economic development expert, but Angola doesn’t have a lot of public gathering spaces, aside from the library. This will make a big difference.”

Text © 2024 by Jeff Schober


Jeff Schober has a journalism degree from Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in English and History from the University at Buffalo. He teaches English and Journalism at Frontier High School and is the best-selling author of ten books, including the true crime book Bike Path Rapist with Det. Dennis Delano, and the Buffalo Crime Fiction Quartet. Visit his website at

Steve Desmond is an award-winning photographer. With his son, Francis, he is the author of A Life With A Purpose which raises money for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research. To view more of Steve's work, search Facebook under "Steve Desmond" and "Desmond's PrimeFocus Photography," or on Instagram at "Stevedesmond9."


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