At Colonial tours, memories fill in the blanks (628)

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — There's an empty floor where the rows of seats once stood, and the concession stand is gone, but there were more than enough memories on Wednesday to fill any voids that currently exist at the Colonial Theatre on Main Street in downtown Laconia.

While the demolition phase of the historic theater's rejuvenation project has been completed, and while it awaits the engineering and renovation phases, the Belknap Economic Development Council has opened the doors to the theater for public tours during Wednesdays in August.

As the stroke of noon approached on Aug. 17, a line of people stretched down the sidewalk and to the corner of Canal Street. Justin Slattery, executive director of the BEDC, said that turnout for previous tours has been similarly robust.One final tour remains, from noon to 1 p.m. on Aug. 24.

The theater opened in April 1914. Its colorful frescoes, marbled floors, ornate plasterwork and gilded finishes fashioned by Italian artisans placed it squarely among the grandest entertainment venues in New England. After the World War I, live performances steadily gave way to motion pictures, and in 1983 the auditorium was partitioned, horizontally and vertically, into five theaters, shrouding the finishes behind blank walls.

The theaters had been dark for many years, leaving the 20,000-square-foot property an increasingly unfortunate eyesore in the middle of a downtown that seems to be rebounding from a period of depressed economic activity. There are now a selection of new restaurants, and a new coffee shop, ready to serve theater goers. So, it was widely celebrated last year when the city and the BEDC announced a partnership to acquire the property for $1.4 million and embark upon a $15 million renovation, aimed at restoring the theater to near its original design, and returning it to the role of the downtown's premier entertainment and culture center.

The crew from Bonnette, Page & Stone Corporation carefully removed the partitions and furniture that divided the Colonial into several small theaters, while leaving the ornate details of its original design intact. It seemed that every person in attendance on Aug. 17 was reliving memories of the theater's prior grandeur.

"My grandfather, Dexter Royce, was the first projectionist here," said Rebecca Ekholm. Her grandfather worked in the projection booth for about 20 years, until the mid-1950s. "I used to come here every Saturday," she said.

Lucinda Burack was happy to see the theater returning to its original layout.

"I remember when they broke it up into four theaters. It was so appalling," she said.

For Claudia Wright, the Colonial was where she found her first job, as an usher – or, in those days, an "usherette." She toured the theater on Wednesday with her son, daughter-in-law and grandson.

"We had to wear little blue skirts and a white blouse, and they supplied us with a jacket," she said. Her job was to take movie goers' tickets, show them to their seats, and to scold young viewers who propped their feet up on the seat in front of them.

"It was fun, because I got to go to the movies for free," said Wright. Her favorite film from that era was the 1957 romance "April Love," starring Pat Boone and Shirley Jones.

Philip Lagueux, who toured the project on Wednesday with his wife, Bunny, might have been one of those kids scolded by Wright. His family moved to Laconia when he was a boy in the 1950s, and he recalls being able to take in a show with only a single coin.

"I'd get a quarter and come to the movies, buy popcorn and everything for a quarter," he said. "Fifty years ago, it was a beautiful theater," Philip said.

Bunny added, "They're going to make it beautiful again."

08-19 Colonia tour 1

The weekly tours of the Colonial Theatre's renovation progress have been well-attended. There will be one more tour available, noon to 1 p.m. on Aug. 24. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

08-19 Colonia tour 2

Claudia Wright, at left, worked as an "usherette" at the Colonial when she was 16. She's shown here with grandson Chris Wright, daughter-in-law Lin Wright, and son Dennis Wright. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

Laconia police have the 'busiest summer on record'

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Police Chief Chris Adams told the Laconia Police Commission Thursday that this summer has been one of the busiest on record.

He said in July alone, there were 200 more calls for service than there were last July and the activity increase is spread over all three shifts.

"I don't know if it's the weather or what," Adams said.

In July, police made 129 arrests, conducted 428 motor vehicle stops, issued 347 warnings and 26 citations, and investigated 53 car accidents. On the positive side, he said there were no fatal crashes in July.

Adams said 15 of the 53 accidents were caused by inattentive drivers, including some that involved cell phone use. Lt. Thomas Swett said he has applied for a grant to help with enforcement of the hands-free law.

Adams also told the commission that there have been quite a few heroin/fentanyl overdoses in recent months and that some of them are suspected to involve a drug that goes by the nickname "bath salts."

He said Swett has put together an application for some of the $1.5 million appropriated in the state budget to combat opioid addiction. Swett said that if the grant is approved, the money will be spent on prevention, treatment and enforcement in about equal parts.

Adams said the department did very well during its recent re-accreditation process through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies or CALEA and, but for a few minor things, he said the department scored very well.

As to accreditation, resident Dennis Lintz noted that during the CALEA public comment period, residents were given 10 minutes each for public comment, while the commission only allows two minutes of public comment for each person.

Lt. Allan Graton said that the length of time for CALEA is because the accreditation process only occurs every three to four years but the police commission meets every month.

Commissioner Thomas Tarr said he contacted about eight or nine other police commissions in the state and learned that on average, they allow between two and three minutes per person.
Lintz has attended nearly every meeting of the commission in the past two years. His primary complaint is the department's alleged use of confidential informants and thinks that cutting them breaks for their information somehow led to the death of one teenager and the serious injuries to another who were stuck by a car in 2013 on Messer Street.

To this end, Lintz has also peppered the department with Right to Know requests that have taken hundreds of man hours to process.

Nevertheless, Lintz said Thursday that he feels that a two-minute limit on public comment restricts his right to free speech.

City Tennis Tournament at Memorial Park to take place Aug. 28

LACONIA — The Laconia City Tennis Tournament for 12- to 18-year-olds will get underway at Memorial Park on Sunday, Aug. 28, with play continuing throughout the week.
The Laconia Parks and Recreation Department approved the request for the use of the Memorial Park tennis courts for the tournament Monday night following a presentation by 17-year-old Nezir Alic, who is organizing the tournament.
"I like to play tennis and there were no tournaments scheduled, so I decided to try and put one together," said Alic, who said that there will be a $10 fee for competitors and there will be a trophy for the winner.
He said those who want to enter the tournament can register at laconiacitytennistournament.weebly.com.
"If enough people sign up, there will be boys and girls divisions," said Alic, who is hoping that the tournament will become an annual event.
The tournament hours are 9 a.m. to noon and 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

– Roger Amsden

 

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