Restoring the Colonial Theatre

03-08 Colonial Theatre inside   03-08 Colonial theatre inside 2

The interior of The Colonial Theatre has been cleared of the divisions into five separate theaters and awaits restoration. (Rick Green/Laconia Daily Sun)

 Downtown project gets approval for site plan as fundraising efforts continue


LACONIA — Lorraine Benoit recalls the magical feel of sunlight streaming through the entry of the ornate Colonial Theatre in 1951 when she got a job as an usherette at age 16.

A $14 million project to restore the 103-year-old building and surrounding property may just return a little of that magic.

Architect Rob Turpin also hopes to create a fun destination and foster downtown development.

We want people to have a great time here,” Turpin said in the building on a freezing Monday morning. “Obviously, with the theater being restored, we'll bring back a lot of the grandeur, but beyond that we want to make sure their experiences here are fabulous. If they see and appreciate the level of detail with the revitalization work, that's icing on the cake.”

A 3D rendering of the project shows a brick building with clean lines, expansive windows and the trademark vertical "Colonial" sign. The city Planning Board gave conditional approval to the project's site plan Tuesday.    

The yearlong work to refurbish the theater, 14 apartments and four commercial units is to begin in late spring or early summer. The theater hasn't been used in years, and major work will be needed on electrical, plumbing and heat and air systems.

It began its life with 1,400 seats, but will have 750 seats, including 300 in the balcony, after restoration. Modern standards require wider seats and aisles.

Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council, which is the entity that owns the Colonial properties, said 300 people have contributed $1.5 million in a public fundraising campaign. Federal and state tax credits and grants as well as a city loan are part of the overall funding package. The city provided a short-term loan of $1.4 million to the BEDC in July 2015 that enabled the BEDC to buy the properties from Patricia Baldi.

We think this will be a catalytic project for Laconia and the region,” he said. “We know we will have a strong economic development effect. Property tax values will grow. Jobs will be created.”

Hints of grandeur can be seen in the entryway's smudged dark and light marble, crumbling gold plasterwork and dusty purple-tinted prism glass.

In an effort to restore the theater in a historically accurate way, Turpin's Laconia architecture firm has interviewed people with knowledge of its history, including Benoit, the one-time usherette.

He has also studied other restoration projects, including the 1924 Colonial Theatre in Keene, the 1915 Palace Theatre in Manchester and the 1878 Music Hall in Portsmouth.

Benoit's first memories of the theater were as a 9-year-old girl, when it cost 12 cents to see a show. This was well after the days when it mainly hosted vaudeville acts.

When she got her job there as a junior in high school, she felt privileged.

On sultry summer afternoons, the theater was cool inside, as it always was,” she remembered. “I was standing in the alcove space next to the cashier's cage, and the sunlight was streaming in through the main entry, illuminating the entire lobby.”

She once stepped outside and saw John Carradine, the famous actor, and got his autograph.

Brian Waldron, 39, has different memories of the theater. He recalls going there in the 1980s after it was divided into several small cinemas.

He now owns a hair salon in Concord, a city that has had its own downtown revitalization. New energy and economic investment has flowed to the area. He thinks the same thing can happen in Laconia.

Concord's downtown was a sleepy place before it got a facelift,” Waldron said. “Now it's a walking downtown, with places where people can commune. The arts are really the driver.”

He sees similar potential for Laconia's downtown, and he has a personal interest. Waldron is a singer-songwriter who performs in Concord and elsewhere. He would like to see the Colonial Theatre become a venue for him and other musicians:

Absolutely. I'd love to play there,” said Waldron.

 Colonial 1

The above view of the Colonial Theatre shows it from Main Street. Below is the view from Canal Street, which shows an entrance to the upper-level apartments. (Courtesy Misiaszek Turpin Architecture)

Colonial 2



Colonial Theatre 1915 Postcard 1 - wolfeboro 

This postcard image shows what The Colonial Theatre looked like when it opened in 1914 as a venue for vaudeville. It later served as a movie house. (Courtesy photo)

Colonial Theatre 1949 Marquee 2

The marquee of The Colonial Theatre in 1949 for the showing of "Mighty Joe Young." (Courtesy photo)

Inter-Lakes voters approve teacher raises

MEREDITH — Voters participating in the annual Inter-Lakes School District Meeting Wednesday night approved significant pay raises for teachers and support staff.
Teachers will receive a 2.5 percent increase in base wages each of the next three years, starting July 1.
Current salaries range from $39,000 annually for a starting teacher to $69,000 for a teacher holding a master's degree plus 30 graduate credits and 10 years of experience.
Support staff will get a wage increase of 10.57 percent, or $1,855, in the first year, and annual increases of about 6 percent each of the following three years. The average hourly salary of a support staff member would reach about $15 by the end of that period.
The School Board and associations representing 112 people in the teacher category and six full-time and 68 part-time staff members agreed to the wage plans.
Voters at the meeting increased the budget for the school district, which has about 1,000 students, from $23.93 million to $24.41 million.
The operating budget total reflects a $95,000 increase, decided at the meeting, in order to continue to fund a technology integration position that was to be eliminated.
Senior Jackson Williams led the effort to increase the budget.
"Without this position, you will not be strongly supporting technology and engineering," said the student.
That increase, combined with a projected revenue decrease of $181,621, will require the district to raise $559,549 in the form of a net assessment increase for the operating budget alone.
An owner of a home assessed at $250,000 in Meredith will see a yearly property tax increase of $167, while the increase will be $40 for a home in Sandwich in the coming year.
A similar home in Center Harbor will actually have a property tax decrease of $115 under a formula that takes into account changes in student attendance counts and equalized property tax assessment from different communities.
Voters also agreed to add $100,000 to the district's facilities maintenance expendable trust. Money is set aside in the fund to cover expected expenses like painting, building refurbishment and capital improvements.

Corner Slice awaits review of sign rules


GILMANTON — At the Historic District Commission on Tuesday, the operators of the Corner Slice convenience store and gas station received assurance that the town is reviewing its sign ordinances, after a flap concerning a standalone "open" banner at the historic district business.
The Planning Board, the Historic District Board and the Zoning Board are reviewing all sign ordinances, confirmed Roy Buttrick, member of the Gilmanton Planning Board. Buttrick said his focus is on finding resolution, noting that board members are volunteers.
"What I really want to do is positive, positive. Everybody is working together to try to get this done," he said.
A 15-foot flag with the word "open" on it was taken down at the Corner Slice, a business that has faced a host of regulatory hurdles before it opened last summer. The freestanding vertical flag with the word "open" that once attracted customers from nearby Route 140 and Route 107 was disallowed by town staff, who told owners Henry and Rachel Vigeant to take it down.
Annette Andreozzi, land use administrator for Gilmanton, said the Corner Slice "was trying to do something that didn't fit into the rules," prompting the commission review.
Now, according to Rachel Vigeant, the Historic District Commission has provided guidance that information from the town office will emanate from new town administrator, Heidi Duval, rather than from particular departments.
And the town is trying to update its ordinances, to cover instances where rules don't specify particular uses. For example, Buttrick said the freestanding "open" banner is not covered in the signs ordinance, which addresses signs but not banners.
Rachel Vigeant said she and her husband, Henry, have voluntarily discontinued use of the 15-foot banner while the town sorts out its rules.
"The larger flag – that's our choice, we're working with the boards until they make a decision. All entities will be reviewing everything," she said Wednesday.
Rachel Vigeant said the larger 15-foot flag was up for about two weeks before she and her husband took it down. A smaller flag continues to protrude from the side of the store, located near the corner of Route 140 and Route 107.

01 13 Corner Slice-Gas