By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Sonya Misiaszek and Rob Turpin, the architects at work to restore the Colonial Theatre, are seeking assistance from members of the public by sharing their photographs and memories of the theatre that shed light or offer clues about about its structure and appearance.
"The Colonial Theatre has had several lives over its history," said Turpin. He said that the Laconia Historical and Museum Society has provided has provided many images, most of them of the stage and lobby. But, the pictorial record of the seating, foyer, box office, concession stands and so-called "back of the house," which housed the dressing rooms and where sets and props were stored, are scarce. Misiaszek added that photographs of Canal Street, where the entrance to the stage is located, and the neighboring businesses would also be useful.
Misiaszek said that a photograph of a recital or a parade may provides clues to the past appearance of the theater. "We may find a decorative element that is no longer there or information about furnishings like carpeting and lighting," she said. She noted that images of both the interior and exterior of the building would prove useful.
Apart from the restoration, Misiaszek said that preparations are underway to list the theatre on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that requires extensive documentation of its architectural and decorative features. Lynne Monroe of the Preservation Company of Kensington, who has worked on a myriad of projects, including the Music Hall in Portsmouth, is gathering the evidence to support the application.
At the same time, Turpin said that the Groundroot Preservation Group of Cape Neddick, Maine, which is acting as conservator for the project, is collecting and analyzing samples of the paint and materials used in the theater over the years, which will provide the basis for preparing the specifications for the restoration. He said that Steven Mallory, the conservator for the project who most recently managed the restoration of Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate in Virginia, can determine not only the materials used to construct and decorate the theater but also the techniques the artisans, craftsmen and tradesmen employed.
Turpin pointed out that when the theater was divided into a multiplex with five screens the owners, Lawrence and Patricia Baldi, took care to minimize the damage to the building. Moreover, decorative plaster features that were removed were stored in the basement and remain in a condition that will enable them to replicated.
When the project is complete, Turpin said, "it will not be the Colonial Theatre of 1914, the year it was built." Instead, he explained it will blend elements than span its history, all historically and aesthetically significant, but nevertheless what he called "a conglomeration." It will not be restored to a specific date, he said, although every effort will be made to recapture the original coloring and imagery. For example, Turpin noted that the marquee and blade, the vertical lighted sign reading "Colonial," dates from the late 1940s or early 1950s, when the theater became a cinema, yet it will be restored.
Misiaszek said that within the historic preservationist community "The prospect of restoring the Colonial Theatre has been on people's radar for a long time. Everybody is very excited about this project." She stressed that any image of the theater, even those that appear mundane, could prove valuable to the restoration process. Likewise, she encouraged anyone with vivid memories of the appearance of the theatre to put them in writing.
"This is a way for the people of Laconia to feel part of the process," she said.
Photographs and information should be submitted to Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Council who can be reached at 524-3057 or 383 South Main Street, Laconia, NH 03246.