Binghamton is oozing with remarkable musical talent, as any attendee of the city’s numerous live music festivals can tell you. But those acts often have a hard time finding local venues to get booked at. It’s especially true if you’re hoping to perform in a larger mid-level venue. And adding insult to injury, there are countless unused Binghamton buildings that would make for outstanding music venues, too.
It seems the vast majority of development projects in Greater Binghamton are focused on either housing or flashy new restaurants. And hey, I like to eat food and have someplace to live as much as the next person. But can we just take a moment to daydream a little and ask a big “what if” here?
What if someone took any of these seemingly unused Binghamton buildings and … oh, I dunno … turned them into a beautiful new mid-level music venue? Kings Theatre in Brooklyn was similarly renovated not long ago. Imagine Binghamton doing the same with one of these treasures!
Now, I need to preface this list I’ve assembled with a pretty big disclaimer. This is purely an exercise of fantasy. I realize many of the buildings on this list are in various states of disrepair, and some are even in use already. It could cost millions or even tens of millions of dollars to revitalize some of these structures. It would be a big project.
So I’m asking you to just suspend your disbelief for a while. Let’s pretend I just won the Megapowersuperawesomeball lottery, and I’m developing one of these buildings into Binghamton’s newest music venue. Which of these unused Binghamton buildings would make for the coolest new live music venue in Binghamton?
The Stone Opera House
If you know me personally and we’ve ever discussed our list of big lottery-winning “what ifs”, you already know what I’m about to say. You probably also could’ve guessed it would be listed at #1. It’s been my dream to one day transform the Stone Opera House into a performing arts center for as long as I’ve known the building existed.
Originally called the Columbia Theatre, the Stone Opera House was once a storied theater. Legendary actors graced its stage, including Edward G. Robinson, John and Ethel Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, John Drew, George M. Cohan, and Eddie Foy. Then-future President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech at the Stone Opera House in 1900. It doesn’t get much more prestigious than that.
Today, the Stone Opera House is in a horrific state of neglect. But with the right owner (I wish it was me!) and the right funding (it can’t be me!), The Stone Opera House could be transformed into an incredible performing arts center. I can’t help but daydream about what that space could be used for. Live music, community theater, stand-up comedy, film festivals, ballet and other forms of dance … sigh. One day, guys. One day.
The Strand Theater
Located next door to the Stone Opera House, the Strand Theater would be a great second choice. Though the Strand’s most notable historical moment was a little less … ahem … “prestigious” than the Stone Opera House’s claims to fame. In 1972, the Strand made national headlines when it was raided by Federal agents for airing an adult film. It shut down not long after that.
And now for the morbidly sad news. According to a WNBF article from 2022, a property developer bought both The Strand and the Stone Opera House. And if you’re guessing it’s someone from Brooklyn aiming to transform both of these beautiful theaters into student housing, then congratulations! You win! And the prize is sadness! Yay!
It would’ve been great had someone bought either or both of these historic structures and restored them as theaters. If I had the money I’d have done it in a heartbeat. It may not be as profitable as overcharging college kids and then underdelivering on services. No offense to this developer, but come on, you guys have a reputation. But with proper funding, either of these unused Binghamton buildings could be turned into truly epic music venues.
The Masonic Temple
I grew up just a few blocks from the Masonic Temple. This building has always and will always creep me the eff out. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe this building in particular is probably haunted. The probably outlandish urban legends about murders, cult sacrifices, and secret underground tunnels webbed beneath the city certainly aren’t helping.
The Masonic Temple is a strangely beautiful building when you really look at it … from a safe distance. And it could theoretically be transformed into a music venue, though the funding would probably end up getting pretty expensive. It wouldn’t be an ideal location, but you could use that space in very creative ways and open up an entire realm of performing arts possibilities.
Now for the really remarkable bit: the Masonic Temple was previously already used as a music venue. Yes, really! The legendary punk outfit Black Flag did a gig there in 1986. I’m hoping to write that story in the very near future, but I digress.
I have it on good authority that the building does need extensive work, but there are interested parties who’d love to see it transformed into a performing arts center. Our fingers are crossed!
NyPenn Trade Center
NyPenn Trade Center is well known to Binghamton’s musicians. Back in the day, bands could rent out rehearsal spaces here. And rumor has it there’s still a beautiful theater inside the building, though I’ve never seen it personally. If that’s true, some strategic renovations could transform the former JC High School building into a premier music venue, with space to spare for renting to retail and commercial businesses. Oh, and maybe bringing back those much-needed music rehearsal spaces the Binghamton music scene so desperately needs. That too!
The property has tons of available parking, including a big dirt area on the east side of the property that could be paved and made into even more parking. There’s nearby expressway access. It would be a spectacular venue if the owners were interested in making it into one.
As I understand it, NyPenn Trade Center has come under new ownership recently, and it remains unclear what this new owner intends to do with the building. Chances are we’re all thinking the same thing, this being Binghamton and all. But if that developer went back to renting out rehearsal spaces to musicians, and opened up the alleged theater space to live music, they could solve two of the Binghamton music scene’s top issues singlehandedly.
City National Bank
Constructed in 1852, The old City National Bank at 49 Court Street was actually used as a music venue for a short time back in the 1990’s. But it does have a beautiful exterior, and come on, “Parlor City National” would be a pretty awesome name for a music venue. Unfortunately though, this doesn’t qualify as an unused Binghamton building—Visions Credit Union occupies the space. But should they ever decide to move, this could be added to our list of contenders.
First National Bank
Not to be confused with City National Bank, First National Bank is another bank just up the street from the first, on the traffic circle at Chenango and Court. This site has been embroiled in scandal in recent years, with controversial
slumlord property developer Isaac Anzaroot allegedly running the building into the ground, to the point where it was even condemned in 2021.
Showing his contempt for the city (and the people living in it), Anzaroot also had a temper tantrum and threatened to demolish the historic building. I’m not sure if he still owns it or if someone else does. But it would be pretty cool if someone converted it into a music venue either way.
Nominated as a historic landmark in 2022, the Cameo is owned by Binghamton business developer Damien Cornwell, who plans to do exactly what this article is proposing: develop the Cameo into a topflight venue, with music, community theater, and other events. The project is still in the process of getting moving, but it looks extremely promising, and Cornwell has a solid track record of success in Greater Binghamton. So we can probably chalk this up as perhaps the only of these unused Binghamton buildings that looks like it will be directly used in a positive way for the community!
New York State Inebriate Asylum/ Binghamton State Hospital
You’d be hard-pressed to name a creepier building anywhere than the New York State Inebriate Asylum. Designated a historic landmark in 1997, the asylum—later known as Binghamton State Hospital—was the first hospital in America to treat alcoholism as a mental disorder. Legendary architect Isaac G. Perry designed the building with Gothic Revival styling, apparently having seen the word “asylum” on the work order and thinking to himself “let’s make this building look like somewhere nightmares hang out and play shuffleboard when they’re not invading the sleep paralysis dreams of their victims.”
This intimidating castle looming on a mountainside has been giving Binghamtonians the heebie-jeebies for more than a century and a half. It functioned as an asylum until it closed in 1993, and hasn’t been used since. Legend has it at least one horror movie was filmed there, though I’m not sure if that’s true. And hey, this isn’t a website about horror movies, it’s about music!
Binghamton University reportedly bought the building in 2015. Their plans remain unclear, but unless it involves turning this into a music venue and renting out a bunch of rooms as a haunted bed and breakfast when there aren’t any shows happening, the answer is “they’re using it for the wrong thing.” I hope whatever they’re doing makes it open to the general public, though. The old Carnegie Library in Center City that they converted into a culinary school felt like a loss. That would’ve been my second choice for a potentially rad music venue … but I digress.
Charlotte Kenyon Elementary School
This former elementary school was shuttered in 2002, and hasn’t been used for anything since. It was apparently sold in December 2022 to an unknown party. It could theoretically make for a pretty cool performing arts center, with maybe some rehearsal studios, art studios, and other creative spaces made available for rentals.
Earlier plans for the school involved transforming it into housing for seniors, akin to what was done with Alexander Hamilton Elementary on the West Side (another building that used to creep me out as a kid and was close to my childhood home).
Converting this former Chenango Forks school into a music venue would be an uphill fight, and that hill would apparently be made entirely of money. According to experts, renovations prior to the pandemic were estimated at $25 million, which included building a new water treatment facility for the location. Still, if money were no object, this school could be made to work!
The Fate of Many of These Unused Binghamton Buildings Remains Unclear
As I mentioned earlier, this article is purely a work of fantasy. I understand the mortifying economic realities of undertaking a project like this. And I also know that Binghamton has a competitive market of New York City property developers who would rather convert these buildings into overpriced apartments on the cheap than transform them into music venues. Short-term profitability often wins over long-term gambles, unfortunately.
But hey, I’ll keep occasionally buying lottery tickets and daydreaming about that opening show we’d put on at the newly-renovated Stone Opera House, complete with a massive sound system furbished by Binghamton’s own McIntosh Laboratory, featuring a major indie headliner supported entirely by unsigned local talent. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the Cameo and a few other buildings on this list make fresh history as Binghamton’s next legendary music venue. If any time travelers feel like tossing me those winning numbers, I’m all for it.
Eager for some live music today that won’t cost millions of dollars? Check out the Parlor City Sound events calendar and see what local bands and artists are up to!