Celebration of Buffalo's former "Aud" on display at Coca Cola Field

Apr 17, 2017

The building no longer exists but for decades hosted countless events ranging from sports to concerts to political rallies. Just a few blocks away, Coca Cola Field is paying tribute to its former neighbor with a display featuring many artifacts from events held at Memorial Auditorium.

The Buffalo Bisons baseball club, which has a Hall of Fame Room within Coca Cola Field, is using that space to host the Aud tribute. The collection includes a section of original hardwood floor with "The Aud" font, jerseys and other items identifying sports teams that played there, posters, ticket stubs and other odd artifacts that tell a tale of a building that provided events enjoyed by a wide variety of audiences.

John Boutet, the Bisons' archivist, assembled the display and was asked how he is able to find objects that many presumed to be lost forever.

"I'm an avid collector. I love to go around to card shows and estate sales and things like that," Boutet said. "You just never know when these things are going to pop up. You never know your next lead to find an old jersey or an old program."

Memorial Auditorium opened in October 1940. It closed in 1996, the year Buffalo completed and opened its new downtown arena, first named Marine Midland Arena and now KeyBank Center. The most remembered tenants of the building may be the National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres but the Aud was also home to two minor league clubs: the Buffalo Bisons, which were mainstays in the American Hockey League, and the Buffalo Norsemen, which played one season in the North American Hockey League in the 1970s.

The Buffalo Bandits indoor lacrosse team, which won National Lacrosse League titles within the building, are also still in existence. 

But there were also many sports teams that since moved out of Buffalo or folded entirely. Remember the Buffalo-Toronto Royals indoor team tennis franchise? They played only one season, in 1974, yet within the Aud tribute collection is a Royals pennant. Also among the stash are jerseys, balls and other artifacts from Buffalo's two indoor soccer teams, the Stallions and Blizzard. There are also mementos of the short-lived Buffalo Stampede inline hockey team which won the Roller Hockey International championship in its first year of play, in 1994. After one more season of play, the Stampede folded.

Prehaps the biggest of the former franchises to play in the Aud were the National Basketball Association's Buffalo Braves, now known in the NBA as the Los Angeles Clippers. They called the Aud home from 1970 to 1978.

"Buffalo Braves history at the Aud is legendary. Even though they played only eight seasons in the building, so many fans remember going to Braves games," Boutet said. "The Braves were a little easier to get a tickey for. The Braves didn't sell out usually, like the Sabres did, so it was a great affordable option to take young kids to see NBA basketball."

Local college basketball games, however, did sell out at the Aud, which hosted numerous games featuring regional rivals Canisius and Niagara, as well as St. Bonaventure and University at Buffalo. Basketball entertainment provided by the Harlem Globetrotters was also a popular draw.

So, too, was pro wrestling. Local native Ilio DiPaolo, who died in 1995, was one of those who drew thousands to the Aud for matches. His boots were donated to the collection by his son, Dennis.

"There was not a bigger Buffalo sports legend than Ilio DiPaolo," said Boutet. "You mention some of the other names that were great wrestlers of his era, Dominic DeNucci, Bruno Sammartino, George "The Animal" Steele, there's a fantastic wrestling history here in Buffalo."

From ice skating shows to circuses to rodeos, if it happened in the Aud, chances are there's a relic within the collection to remember the event.

The Aud was also home to numerous concerts, including legendary acts Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and a multitude of modern acts.

"We weren't short for concerts here in Buffalo," Boutet said. "The Rolling Stones were here. You name it, Jethro Tull, Bon Jovi... Rush, Frank Zappa, Aerosmith, you name it. The Aud has a great concert history."

Perhaps the only major act that bypassed the Aud was the Beatles. 

There were also political events held at the Aud. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy made a stop in Buffalo in 1960. A straw hat and newspaper article from that visit are included in the display. So, too, are artifacts recalling a political gathering that predates Kennedy's visit.

"Wendell Willkie (Republican nominee for U.S. President) was the first political rally at the Aud, in 1940 when it opened. It was actually the first event," Boutet said. "We've got different things from them. Political events, you name it, we have it here in the exhibit."

The tribute to Memorial Auditorium is available for viewing during Buffalo Bisons home games.