Party to celebrate opera house’s 90th year

Posted May 25, 2010, at 6:53 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:35 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor Opera House, home of the Penobscot Theatre Company, will celebrate its 90th birthday this Friday, with a party coinciding with opening night of PTC’s latest show, “The Underpants,” at 8 p.m.

“The opera house originally opened Memorial Day weekend in 1920, so while I’m not sure if it’s the exact day, it is the same weekend,” said Scott R.C. Levy, producing artistic director of the PTC. “Opening night of a new show is always a celebration, but this opening night is also going to be a birthday party, with cake and champagne for the opera house.”

The Bangor Opera House was built between 1919 and 1920, after an earlier opera house in the same location burned in 1914. It was designed by architect Edward J. Bolen in the Art Deco style with Egyptian Revival influences. In the 1920s, there were eight theaters in downtown Bangor, hosting a variety of musical and vaudeville acts and films. Urban renewal and other fires resulted in the destruction of all seven other theaters, and by the 1960s, the Bangor Opera House was the only historic theater in downtown.

For decades, the opera house bounced from owner to owner, being used as everything from a movie house to a church. The facade and front doors of the building, which were removed in 1966, were replaced with aluminum, giving the building a look more akin to a shopping mall than a nearly century-old historic theater. The Penobscot Theatre Company finally purchased the building in 1997, though by 2007, the bricks in the facade had begun to fall out.

An effort to restore the facade began that year, with a committee formed to get the process going. The city of Bangor awarded a Community Development Block Grant, and work began in earnest in 2008. Over the course of a year, G. Drake Masonry repaired the bricks and windows, House Revivers fixed the parapet and top story and fitted new mahogany doors into the front entrance, and Wagner Electric Sign Co. of Elyria, Ohio, fabricated a marquee based on photographs of the 1919 version.

The work was completed in December 2008. In May 2009, PTC was honored with the Community Revitalization Award by Maine Preservation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the preservation and vitality of historic places in Maine.

The next step in the restoration of the opera house is to fix the interior of theater. The balcony is still out of use, and while the upstairs offices were recently renovated into rehearsal space, there remain several details that need to be upgraded.

“We have lots of dreams, and my first hope is that the interior is restored sooner rather than later,” said Levy. “We are attending the League of Historic American Theatre’s annual conference in San Antonio in July, and we hope to get some real ideas and forward movement from that. I’m hoping we can develop a real plan over the course of the next season.”

After “The Underpants,” the PTC will hold its fourth annual Northern Writes New Play Festival June 21-July 5 at the opera house.

The 2010-11 season lineup was announced earlier this month, and features seven shows and the play festival. They include Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” (Sept. 8-26); “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” (Oct. 20-Nov. 7); “Plaid Tidings,” the holiday-themed sequel to last year’s wildly popular “Forever Plaid,” in repertory with a family-friendly production of “The Velveteen Rabbit” (Dec. 3-24); “Dirty Blonde” by Claudia Shear (Feb 9-27); “To Kill A Mockingbird” (March 30-April 17); and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” June 1-19.

For more information, visit www.penobscottheatre.org.

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