Palace Theater Doors – Thursday Doors

Welcome to Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments below, anytime between 12:01 am Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time).

The headline on opening day in 1922.

If you were at the bar on Saturday, you know that I introduced David and Cheryl to the Palace Theater. Of course, I saved some of the pictures I took for today. I also saved a little bit of the story.

The Palace Theater was a successful venue for movies, bands and stage productions for 65 years, but in 1987, it was forced to close. Part of the reason for the closure was the failing economics of the venue, and part was a fire in the building next door that caused extensive water damage to the Palace. As you might expect in any major city in America, the plan going forward from 1987 was mired with financial problems and political drama. I am not going to explore the drama, no pun intended, of the theater’s closing, renovation and eventual reopening. Nor will I delve into the current controversies regarding the theater’s financial ties to wealthy suburban subscription holders, the union of stage workers and the whims of Broadway. In attempting to research those topics, I found many blogs and dozens of newspaper articles.

One fact is clear. The Palace Theater closed in 1987. In the late 1990s, an effort was spearheaded by the Governor of Connecticut (a Waterbury native son) and $300,000,000 was used to bankroll a downtown renewal project that included relocating a suburban campus of the University of Connecticut to downtown Waterbury, the establishment of a Magnet School for the Performing Arts and a $30,000,000 renovation of the Palace. The theater reopened in 2004. Most of you know me well enough to know where I’m going to go if the choice is politics or renovation.

Renovating the Palace wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t cheap. There are two significant reasons. One, the Palace Theater is listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings, and that complicates renovation. You can’t gut a 75-yer-old Renaissance Revival style building, hang sheetrock and spray the ceiling with acoustic foam. You have to repair what was there or replace it with modern versions of period material.

The grand lobby of the theater appears to be marble. It’s not. That’s a faux finish created with plaster and paint. The large parabolic domes in the ceiling of the orchestra area of the theater and in the main lobby, are plated with gold leaf. The carpet, the chairs, the 1,000 lb (453.6 kg) hand-painted main stage curtain, the boxes and even the non-functional pipe organ decorations had to be preserved.

The original theater did not have an orchestra pit. The plan was for the theater to be able to host Broadway traveling productions, so they needed a pit. However, the Mad River runs under the theater. At the time, it ran (through a conduit) straight down the center. They removed all the seating, broke through the floor and installed two new sections of conduit to divert the river under the aisles and around the sides of the stage. When the pit is not necessary, three rows of seating AA, BB, and CC are installed over the orchestra area.

During the renovation, plaster casts were made of many of the decorative elements that had survived the fire/flood. Those casts were used to mold elements in the frieze, balusters, and portions of the decorative edging of the parabolic domes. They also used a plaster cast to reproduce my favorite doors, the ones on poster frames. The last several rows of seating were removed from the orchestra level in order to add a bar, and likewise, a bar was added just outside the seats on the mezzanine level. The restrooms were greatly expanded, including (I’m told) a Ladies room with so many stalls they assign an usher there during sold-out performances.

The theater is magnificent. Most of the reviews I found (88%) were excellent, and only one was negative – there’s always one guy. I hope the theater can survive the pandemic closure and wrestle with the problems that face an inner-city theater in 2021. I don’t think they could have done a better job.

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132 comments

    1. There is an Ard Deco theater in a nearby town to this one. I’m checking to see if they offer tours. I’d love to step inside with a camera.

      You have an interesting lot today. Thanks for joining us.

      Like

  1. Oh, Dan, I loved this photo journey. When I lived in the greater NYC area, I went to many theaters. My daughter danced professionally for years, so I know the backstage and all that makes up ballet. Your post takes me back in time to the magic and the wonder of it all. Thank you for this excursion of the heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad this had a little extra meaning for you, Gwen. Standing on that big stage, seeing the signs for the performers, directing them to the dressing rooms and then seeing all that goes on to make the productions magical, was a real treat. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be out there on stage. It was a little intimidating for me just peeking through the curtain. From the seats, the stage looked like it was a mile away. From the stage, it looked like the seats were in my living room.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Dan, really enjoyed learning more about this theatre – and inspiring when folks pull together to restore – and whew – t can be extra tricky with “registered historical” places. We lived in a rental in Los Gatos in 2002 and the homeowner had huge headaches from restrictions on what they could do with the house when remodeling it –
    anyhow, likes the doors and the seating arrangements that are made – and interesting to learn about the water lobby

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoy te story behind these doors, Yvette. I am so glad they restored this theater. I hope they can keep it alive. When I had my cabinet shop, I was doing work in a historic house. What a huge pain. They didn’t want to let us “change” the structure, even though it was failing. The homeowner had to fight with the commission to allow even mediation to roof rafters in the attic, to prevent the roof from collapsing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. oh the word roof rafters brought back more memories of the los gatos house (145 Johnson avenue – I think that is what it was) and they had roof rats in the roof rafters and I was like “roof what???”- freaked us out a little

        and it sounds like a pain working with the historic house

        and the “boxes” in the theater are what would like to see filled if we did travel back with that time machine, Dan
        like who was in there with their formal attire and theatre binoculars

        Liked by 1 person

        1. During the tour, they showed us how the boxes really don’t have a good view of the stage, especially the ones in the front of the theater. They said “the boxes were build for people who wanted to be seen more than they wanted to see the production.”

          Liked by 1 person

          1. oh that makes sense because that society role playing was so huge! thanks for sharing that – it is fun to learn more about those times – and our “box” seats at stadiums are not necessarily that much better are they?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. hahaha
              such a good point! different experiences completely – and value in both for different aims
              and wishing you a great Thursday (notice i got the link right this time – woo hoo/ o am back baby – jk)

              Liked by 1 person

  3. What a magical place. Fascinating that backstage was painted black and why. I can’t believe they were able to divert the river that runs under the building! Amazing how much was saved from the fire and restored beautifully. It’s great to see that modern technology was used to recreate the look of marble and gold ceilings, etc.

    All the doors are grand. Very fitting that this building is a work of art unto itself. Thanks for the great tour Dan.
    Ginger

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ginger. I do think buildings like this are works of art. That’s why I think they should be saved.

      Diverting the river had to be an amazing challenge in 1920, but at least they didn’t need to pass a bevy of inspectors and officials that they probably had to satisfy in 2000. Can you image going to City Hall and saying, “I need to move a river that runs under my theater so I can add an orchestra pit.”

      Like

  4. I do so love a fancy-pants theater building! IMO, it looks better today than before the fire/flood. The last time I was in the Louisville Palace, it had been restored to beauty. We were in the lobby, though (book sales), and didn’t get to view the full magnificence of the theater, which has a ceiling that looks like a starry sky. Here’s my doors from Corydon, Indiana: https://marianallen.com/2021/02/corydoors-lost-and-found-thursdaydoors/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apparently Mr. Poli was a fan of dark colors. They were able to lighten everything up, as long as they didn’t change what was being painted. I think you’re right, it looks better now. The lobby of this theater is often rented out for events like that book sale. I’d find it hard not to wander around an stare at the ceiling.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think, if Broadway shows start touring again in the fall, like they think they will, the theater will survive. The other battles (politics and unions) might prove to be much harder to solve in the long run.

      Your post is a nice mix of doors. I’d still like a burger from TJ’s.

      Like

  5. Old theaters are often the best and this is the perfect example of what I mean. Cleveland renovated the old theaters downtown and have one of the best theater districts in the US, mostly gems like this one. It makes me happy to see this, Dan, so thanks for starting my morning off with a smile. I have some old doors, but not quite like these! :-)

    https://sustainabilitea.wordpress.com/2021/02/18/thursday-doors-getting-high-on-doors/

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Between theater and its museum, Cleveland is a quiet arts capital that most people don’t know about, Janet. I’m glad to see cities try and preserve buildings like this. Waterbury opted for an arts and education corridor. I’m not sure how well it’s working, but I hope they find the right mix.

      I love your first door!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cleveland is actually a pretty nice place to live that people don’t really know about or else make fun of. The museum is world-class as is the symphony and there are lots of great restaurants…and parking doesn’t cost an arm and a leg!!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. When I was with AIIM, we had an Executive Leadership Series three or four times a year. The director of the Cleveland Museum spoke a few years ago about the challenge of creating an interactive space that was interesting to children and adults. The focus was on information management, and they had done some marvelous work.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you like these, Manja. We don’t have old palaces to tour, so we had to build them ;-)

      I wish I could have gotten a better picture of the ceiling. It’s so large, and so pretty.

      Your doors are wonderful (and I fixed the typo).

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for coming along on the tour. I’m guessing that the city channeled the river through conduit in order to encourage people to build in this district, or to prevent downtown flooding. Hartford also buried a river to prevent flooding, but not until years later. Moving the river after it was buried had to be a challenge.

      You have a very nice collection of doors today! Thanks for joining us.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So the river used to run through where the orchestra pit is now ??!?? Reminds me of certain place where the computer center used to be in the basement of a parking garage over a certain Doan creek. What could go wrong with those situations ? The Mississippi is not the only water source that is mighty. I hope they over built to handle any eventuality when they rechanneled that river.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have to hope for the best, John. I’d like to think they were better prepared in 2000 than they were in 1920, but what do I know about such things. Rivers have a mind of their own, in my experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Fripp-Lowden House
  8. What a beauty! I love when a building is put on the National Registry. There is so much more attention to the details to keep it historic. Oh, those organ pipes! Great post for today, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A beautiful theater, Dan. I agree that they did a wonderful job. I was fascinated by the idea of rerouting a river to make room for an orchestra pit. A super post and a great view of that area of town. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a treat you are offering us today, Dan. Just walking on its corridors, climbing its stairs, listening to the hushed silence from behind those velvety curtains, oh, it gives me goose-bumps! So glad that 100 years later they made it brand new again.
    Your tour reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera :)

    I do miss the theater, so thank you!!

    I managed to write a short (Gothic) story for today: https://alluringcreations.co.za/wp/door-set-in-stone-thursdaydoors/
    The door is from here, nearby. We have lots of very tall fences in South Africa…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny that you mention the Phantom of the Opera. During the tour, they pointed out the holes they had to cut in the ceiling in order to lower sets onto the stage.

      I enjoyed the story you wrote to accompany your door today. I’ve been thinking of having a writing challenge around doors later this year. I thought it might be a way to get writers, photographers ad travelers to support each other.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Fires were so devastating back in the day! Our small town had an opera house not even 1/4 the size of your’s that was being renovated and caught fire when someone left a rag in a bucket of linseed oil. Totaled it. And this was in the 80’s. Can’t imagine how hard a building of that size was to save from the flames. Quite an undertaking but that renovation should be greatly appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. That is an amazingly beautiful place, and Oh! the gold door! I love the ticket booth, too. Grand. And the orchestra pit details! I cannot get over the heft of the hand-painted curtain! Fab share!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I really enjoyed this post, Dan! They did a magnificent job of restoration. You must have felt in awe on the tour. The gold movie poster door is my favorite. The ticket booth brought back many childhood memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Dan – quite an amazing place … and I do hope the theatre survives for a few more decades … incredible they decided to divert the Mad River … interesting -thank you – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  15. beautiful restoration! I hope they can make a go of it. My hometown city of Dayton restored Victoria theater downtown and I enjoyed a few old movies, complete with live organ music! I grew up with a Mad River; it’s hard for me to believe they built the theater over a river? My Ohio Mad River is part of the Five Rivers MetroParks … and part of the reason for the dam system in the Dayton area.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure, but I think the city buried the river to encourage business to build in this area. That would explain why they were surprised to find the river conduit when they tried to dig the orchestra pit.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I just reviewed your post and it was a great documentary of the Palace theater. Sadly, many theaters in many cities across the USA have similar fates and unfortunate outcomes when given the kiss of death, the designation of a Historic Building. Like you said, such designations require more costly renovations so economics force these relics to remain unrestored and sometimes a blight in the neighborhood. A movie theater in Honolulu, HI met that fate and still remains as a deserted blighted building in the neighborhood. Another issue that makes restoration difficult is asbestos; if found (many older buildings used asbestos) they have to undergo abatement which is very expensive and disposal to a licensed dump but the owner of the hazardous material owns that hazard in perpetuity!

    Great post and photos of the doors and other features of the theater!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That designation made the renovation more expensive. Seeking Broadway productions has mad the ongoing operation more expensive. They have to work with union stage hands. While I have nothing against that, the rate makes small local productions unaffordable. It’s the choice they made. As the city demographics have changed, they face the criticism that the suburban subscribers are taking advantage of the city. It’s complex. Then theater gives the stage to the magnet school (I think) 50 days each year. So they are supporting the city. Contracts come up soon for negotiation. I hope they can work things out better.

      Liked by 1 person

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