The Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
August 08, 2011 Monday
Park Theater restoration moves $1 million closer to reality
By Rod Hutton
‘If you build it, they will come."
The well-known line from the movie "Field of Dreams" has been the philosophy behind the fundraising effort to restore the Park Theatre, said Mia Moravis, Park Theatre media chief. If the capital campaign to reopen the theater, which shut its doors more than 30 years ago, keeps its momentum, the restoration project should start next year.
Since the restoration project of the town’s old movie theater got off the ground five years ago, organizers have worked tirelessly to build a community around the theater through partnerships with theater companies and music organizations and summer and fall movies series.
Caroline Hollister, president of the board of trustees and the woman who has championed the theater restoration from the start, said the project’s fundraising has passed the $1 million mark.
"People have been so incredibly generous, and the businesses have been incredibly generous," Moravis said.
Park Theatre is working to raise the remaining $1.6 million to $1.9 million needed for the estimated $2.6 million to $2.9 million restoration. While Moravis would like to see the fundraising complete by fall of 2012 when construction is set to begin, it is likely fundraising would continue and be ongoing throughout construction. The restoration project is expected to take about a year, so if all goes as planned, the theater would reopen in 2013, she said.
Italian immigrant Romolo Vanni opened the movie theater on Main Street in 1923. After his death in 1954, the theater continued running movies for another 25 years. Then in 1976, it was sold as a warehouse for a bike and art supply store.
The old Art Deco-style theater remained under the store for decades.
Store owners Roy and Nancy Stone hoped to see the theater reopened one day, so they left it untouched. A few years ago, the Stones agreed to sell the theater to a group of citizens, including Hollister, who then founded the Park Theatre Board of Trustees. Donations ranging from $5 to $5,000 came in from more than 800 people in Jaffrey and 11 surrounding towns to fund the purchase.
Restoration plans include the addition of a café, a lobby large enough for 90 people and an expansion of backstage to add dressing rooms to the theater for anticipated live performances. The theater is to be restored to maintain its 400 house seats, which include 76 in the balcony and 324 floor seats.
The reopening of the movie house not only means that there will be a movie theater on Jaffrey’s Main Street again, but that there will be a performing arts center in the eastern Monadnock region.
Park Theatre has several "performing partners" which have banded together with the theater to help fundraising efforts. The performing partners also plan to use the theater once it opens as a performing space, Moravis said. Performing partners include Actors’ Circle Theater, Monadnock Music, Branch River Theater, Monadnock Chorus, the Peterborough Children’s Choir and the Shakespeare Project.
The performing partners reflect the consensuses of the arts community in the region that the venue would add to the viability of the performing arts in the Monadnock region.
But the cultural impact of the reopening doesn’t stop with a performance space. Park Theatre has even more plans for the community with the establishment of ParkArts, an afterschool theater arts education program for about 1,300 area schoolchildren. Once it is up and running, Moravis said, ParkArts would expand to teach film and television arts as well.
Moravis said the current economy may make it a tough time to raise money; however, the impact that a restored Park Theatre would have culturally, educationally and economically is beginning to attract the attention of potential donors from all over the state and even from across the country.
The Park Theatre Free Summer Movie Series has been building community and awareness about Park Theatre for the past five summers. Every Thursday throughout the summer a free movie is shown inside the air-conditioned Jaffrey’s Women’s Club. A fall movie series is held at the Women’s Club on Saturdays.
Once Park Theatre reopens Hollister plans to hold a "Quarter Night" once a year at which moviegoers can watch a movie and get something from the concession stand for just a quarter. The special night is a nod to Hollister’s childhood growing up in Jaffrey. "When Romolo ran the theater, we had quarters; you could see a movie and get some candy," she said.
Park Theatre is planning its next fundraiser, Festival’s Dessert Theater, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27 at St. Patrick School on Main Street in Jaffrey. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at www.theparktheatre.org/festival or at Steel’s Stationers in Peterborough, Toadstool Bookshops in Peterborough and Keene, the Greater Peterborough or Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce.