Colonial Theatre

 

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.
View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Colonial Theatre in Augusta, Maine opened in 1913 and was designed by architect Harry S. Coombs, who was known for designing many local libraries.  In 1926 the theater was damaged by a fire, and much of the auditorium had to be rebuilt. The owners took advantage of this and expanded the size of the theater. Originally the 1,240 seat theater showed silent films, and had an orchestra pit directly in front of the stage so music could accompany the films, but this was covered over as silent films gave way to “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.  

Since this photograph was taken the lobby has been cleaned up and used for live events.
Since this photograph was taken the lobby has been cleaned up and used for live events.

During World War II, bond drives were held at theaters across the country where you could only gain admission by purchasing a war bond, which were certificates issued by the government to help finance military expenses, and the Colonial Theatre was no exception. At one bond drive held at the Colonial, actress and singer Dorothy Lamour made an appearance to help drive bond sales.

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The theater closed in the late 1960s due to declining ticket sales. Mothballed and only used for storage, the building’s roof began to deteriorate. Without regular maintenance, water began to leak into the building and eventually causing three large holes in the wooden auditorium floor.

While the theater was closed water leaked in from the roof and caused the wooden auditorium floor to rot.
While the theater was closed water leaked in from the roof and caused the wooden auditorium floor to rot.

 

Colonial Theatre, Inc. was founded in 1995 with the purpose of buying and restoring the building. A number of developers expressed an interest in rehabilitating the theater, but no plan worked out and the building continued to deteriorate. In 2009, Colonial Theatre, Inc. began the process of getting the theater listed on the National Register of Historic Places as that status would offer some protection and tax breaks if the theater was restored. Five years later, they succeeded and the theater was listed in the summer of 2014. The theater is open for tours on Saturday mornings during the spring, summer and fall months.

In 1929 a DeForest Phonofilm system was installed which allowed the theater to show “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.
In 1929 a DeForest Phonofilm system was installed which allowed the theater to show “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.

In June 2015, an art installation and screening of “A Home for Women,” a documentary by Caroline Losneck, Betsy Caron and Kate Kaminski, was held in the lobby of the Colonial, which was the first movie shown at the theater in almost 50 years. More information about the theater is available at https://www.facebook.com/ColonialTheater and http://www.augustacolonialtheater.org/

 

The exterior of the Colonial Theatre in Augusta, ME
The exterior of the Colonial Theatre in Augusta, ME
View of the side of the balcony
View of the side of the balcony.

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One of the surviving auditorium light fixtures.
One of the surviving auditorium light fixtures.

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7 thoughts on “Colonial Theatre

  1. It’s really good that they saved it from being torn down, but will it ever be renovated? Then again, believe it or not there is some new vibrancy in Detroit of all places, so perhaps one day here too.

    1. I think so. There’s been quite a bit of progress since the theater was added to the National Register in 2014. Power, heat and water were all reconnected to the theater in the past year and the roof was patched as well. I think it’s only a matter of time before a full restoration happens.

  2. Glad to see you post this – I’d asked if you knew about the Colonial a while back. Hopefully the current plans will bear fruit and the building will see some life again….

  3. Hi Matt. I thought the inner lobby was a very interesting feature of The Colonial- see attached. The other fascinating fact about this theatre is it was built for only movies- amazing in 1913 that vaudeville wasn’t part of the mix.

    Sorry I missed you. Congratulations on your wedding.

    Jason

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