Colonial Theatre – Laconia, NH

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

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

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.

Fire Curtain, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

According to an account in the Laconia Daily Sun, the fire curtain dropped on its own during the renovation. It had been stuck up, and no one wanted to move it out of fear of damaging it.

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.

Ticket Booth, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The theater’s ticket booth.

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.

Projection Booth, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

This projection booth was added during the multiplexing in 1983. The door on the left leads to the original projection booth.

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.

Orchestra level, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH.

View of the auditorium from the side of the orchestra level.

Lobby, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The lobby of the theater remained the same throughout its various incarnations.

Box Seats, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

View of the auditorium from the boxed seats.

Proscenium arch, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The strip of metal in the center of the mural is from when the balcony was divided in two in 1983.

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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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