The Colonial Theatre in Laconia, NH is one of the 20 theaters featured in my new book “After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters.” For more information visit: http://www.afterthefinalcurtainbook.com
Advertised in the Laconia Democrat as “One of the handsomest play-houses to be found in New England and far ahead of anything which the average city of Laconia can boast”, the Colonial Theatre in Laconia, New Hampshire opened in April 1914. It was designed by George. L. Griffin, a local architect, in the Neocolonial style for owner Benjamin Piscopo. Piscopo was from Venice, Italy and commissioned a fire curtain with a mural depicting the city of Venice as seen from the water.
When the 1,400-seat Colonial opened, it showed a mixture of stage shows, photoplays, and vaudeville. The opera “Il Trovatore” was performed at the theater by the Boston English Opera Company on April 6, 1915. In September 1916, the theater joined Charles H. Waldron’s Amusement Enterprises circuit, and was known as Waldron’s Colonial Theatre. Waldron advertised it as “Playing only First Class Attractions.” Vaudeville and silent film star Willie Collier Jr. performed at the Colonial on February 28, 1918. With the decline of vaudeville in the late 1920s/early 1930s, the theater switched to primarily showing motion pictures.
The world premiere of “Return to Peyton Place”, a film set in a fictional New Hampshire town starring Carol Lynley and Jeff Chandler, was held at the Colonial in 1961. In 1983, the auditorium was multiplexed with the balcony and orchestra sections divided into four separate screens with a fifth screen in the former stage area. Fortunately, much of the original architecture, as well as the fire curtain, were preserved behind the new dividing walls. In August 2002 the Colonial closed after 87 years. It was last used as a combination pizza place and movie theater.
On June 15, 2015, the City of Laconia announced they had partnered the Belknap Economic Development Council (BEDC) on a $15 million package to purchase, restore and reopen the Colonial Theatre as well as redevelop the retail space and the 14 apartments in the building. BEDC created a limited liability corporation, 609 Main Street, LLC, to run a capital campaign to cover some of the cost of restoring the building. The first part of rehabilitation began in March 2016 when the partitions that divided the auditorium into four screens was removed. When the restoration is complete, the theater will be a multi-use performing arts center with 750 seats, with 450 in the orchestra level and 300 in the balcony.