A hundred years ago, denizens of downtown Bangor had a dizzying array of options to choose from when it came to entertainment. Catch a play at the Park Theatre? See the newest movie at the Bijou Theatre? Watch a vaudeville show at the Olympia on Union Street? Hear the Bangor Symphony Orchestra at the auditorium at Bangor City Hall? Or see the latest touring theater company to come through town, at the then-newly rebuilt Bangor Opera House?
Today, out of all the many theaters in downtown Bangor, only one remains: the Bangor Opera House, home to the Penobscot Theatre Company, built in 1920. This weekend the opera house will celebrate its 100th birthday with theater tours and a party Saturday.
“It’s such an old building, and there’s a lot of energy here. There’s so much presence,” said Bari Newport, artistic director of the Penobscot Theatre since 2012. “Eight years on here, and it’s still endlessly fascinating, the little things you learn about this place. It’s all that’s left of what used to be a huge part of downtown Bangor.”
It’s hard to know, exactly, just how many theaters there were in downtown Bangor at a given time, as theater names and ownership changed on a seemingly year-to-year basis, and fire claimed many more buildings in those days than it does today. One of the first theaters in Bangor was the municipal auditorium located inside Bangor’s old City Hall on Hammond and Columbia streets, which was built in 1894 and which could seat up to 1,500 people — a kind of precursor to the Bangor Auditorium, which was built at Bass Park in the 1950s.
Among the earliest privately owned theaters were those known as the Gaiety and the Acker. The Gaiety Theater was located inside Norumbega Hall, a massive Greek revival-style hall built in the 1880s, located where Norumbega Parkway is today, between Central and Franklin streets. It burned down during the Great Bangor Fire of 1911. The Acker Theatre was built in 1908 on Union Street, across the street from the Bangor House. It was rebranded a few years later as the Nickel Theatre and, eventually, became known as the Olympia Theatre.
Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.
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