AUGUSTA — Ralph Werber knelt on the balcony stairs at the Augusta Colonial Theater, pulling out old carpet staples with vise grips and a hammer.

“I’ve seen movies in here when I was a kid,” he said. “I’d like to see it restored.”

Slapping his hand on the narrow wooden floor boards, the 71-year-old East Pittston man added, “I’d like to sit right here and watch a movie rather than go to the new theater in Augusta.”

Werber was one of several volunteers working on Saturday as dozens of people toured the 1913 theater on Water Street to marvel at what remained of the building that showed its last film in 1969 and which has seen a lot of damage from weather in the intervening years.

The theater is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. each Saturday through the fall, with members of the Augusta Colonial Theater Inc. board available to answer questions, lead tours and sign up supporters.

Werber was in one of the 1,100 seats — wooden in the balcony and cushioned on the main level —that once filled the theater when he saw the 1968 “Night of the Living Dead” and “Barbarella.”


“That was my last trip here,” he said.

Linda Jean, of Cape Cod, saw the “open for tours” sign as she headed for her nephew’s store, Merkaba Sol, and couldn’t resist peeking inside the theater building.

“I was born in Augusta, raised in Augusta and went through college in Augusta,” said Jean, 61. “I remember coming here as a young child. You’d get a quarter from your parents to come here.”

Jean’s father owned Pat’s Barbershop, not far from the theater, so she was a regular moviegoer. As she stood in the middle of the theater watching volunteers work, she looked beyond the gaping holes in the floor and the bits of tin hanging from the ceiling, recalling that she and her sister might well have performed a tap dance on the small stage years ago.

“I would love to see it finished,” she said. “I think this is great.”

Theater board member Larry Fleury welcomed couples and families as they came through on Saturday and took photos of the old projection room in the balcony and the medallions above the stage exits and mugged it up as they crossed the stage. Yellow danger tape cordoned off unsafe areas, work lights brightened the interior and music played in the background.


“The acoustics are great,” said Chris Selwood, his face and hands sooty from scrabbling under the small stage and pulling out heavy iron or cast aluminum ends with the stylized “C” for Colonial. They marked the last seat in each aisle on the main floor.

Selwood, of Augusta, had already located one complete cushioned seat and one wooden one and hoped they could be restored for display.

The self-guided walking loops to the balcony and the stage have proved popular the past few weekends, according to developer Richard Parkhurst, who is president of the Augusta Colonial Theater and who heads the construction committee.

“I feel it’s important to get people in there for them to understand that the building is viable and a beautiful structure,” Parkhurst said.

Restoring the theater for film, performing arts, presentations and any number of other uses has attracted a number of organizations.

Students working with Eric Stark, associate professor of architecture and architecture program coordinator at the University of Maine at Augusta, are measuring the structure to create a full set of architectural plans for the building. The original ones have been lost.


Those plans and then the engineering survey to be done by the engineering firm founded by Edward S. Coffin, former city councilor, will help direct the renovation, Parkhurst said.

“That’s what’s holding us up from implementing suggestions from the February visioning meeting,” Parkhurst said.

The Augusta Colonial Theater is applying for grants to fund the restoration work, and Parkhurst said it will soon seek a fulltime development director who will manage volunteer work, grant writing and implement design and construction work.

Parkhurst said a number of potential investors have already been identified.

Parkhurst also said he expects the building will qualify for about $1.9 million in tax credits for restoration of historic landmarks.

David Greenham, former producing artistic director at the Theater at Monmouth, who is teaching drama at UMA as well as directing programing for the Holocaust & Human Rights Center of Maine at the university, surveyed the scene from the stage on Saturday.


He was involved in the restoration of Cumston Hall as well as the Grange hall in Monmouth.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said.

Greenham, who is on Stark’s committee, said he’s already seen progress in the cleanup. “There’s some restorable things,” he said. “It’s well worth talking about and well worth trying to save.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

Twitter: @betadams

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