AUGUSTA — The Colonial Theater’s facade is getting back its historic look while also undergoing structural work to ensure its brickwork, the uppermost portion of which has been leaning over Water Street in recent years, stays in place.

Bricks on front of The Colonial Theater are seen Wednesday in downtown Augusta. The facade is going to be repaired and painted in the next few weeks. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

When the roughly $130,000 project is done, the facade of the long-unused movie theater in downtown Augusta will be structurally sound and have a new look meant to reflect how the building looked more than 90 years ago. At that time, the theater was rebuilt and the facade was painted after a fire damaged the original structure, built in 1912.

When the structure was rebuilt in the 1920s, workers were unable to get all the soot and grit and scorch marks off the original bricks, according to Richard Parkhurst, chairman of the theater’s board of directors. So they painted the bricks that went into the front facade, in a handful of different brown-yellowish hues of paint that, though now much thinner and worn, is still on the facade today, Parkhurst said.

A historic preservation consultant with Sutherland Conservation & Consulting of Augusta took paint samples from the facade to determine what color it should be repainted to return it to its 1926 appearance.

The theater stopped operating as a theater in 1969 and, other than occasional recent events, has been vacant since.

Advocates and local officials have said the theater could be a keystone in revitalizing the downtown area.

“The colors will be very much like they are now, just fresh, they’ll be brighter and shiny,” Parkhurst said. “It will look like it did in 1926. So that’s pretty exciting.”

The top of the brick facade will be taken down about 3 feet from the top of the building and rebuilt, and the lower part of the facade will be restored and then repainted.

That work will result in a new, more-stable brick crown on the top of the facade, replacing one that in recent years has been leaning over enough that theater officials decided, to be safe, to install covered scaffolding over the sidewalk underneath it to prevent anyone walking there from getting hit by a brick, should one have happened to fall.

New executive director Peter Bezemes poses for a portrait in Colonial Theater on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, in Augusta. (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)

“The facade was in a little bit of bad shape, especially the crown,” said Peter Bezemes, the theater’s executive director who started the job Aug. 1. “We were afraid bricks could, eventually, fall from it.”

Parkhurst said the work will not include a new, lighted marquee at the historic building because it would be a costly project by itself — about $100,000.

He and Bezemes see the facade project as hugely important not just because the work needed to take place, but also because it will be a highly visible project on a building where, so far, most of the significant work has taken place inside, out of sight to most of the public.

“It’s a huge step,” Parkhurst, a downtown developer, said. “We’ve done a lot of work on that building but nothing that really shows. For the public, nothing really seems to be happening, unless they go inside.

“This will be a true indicator that we’re going to restore this theater. This is a major step for us, something to encourage people to come and look at the building and get involved.”

Fundraising for the restoration and modernization of the theater, which is expected to cost between $6 million and $8.5 million, has been ongoing and will continue. Parkhurst said about $1 million has been raised so far and they also expect to be able to fund about $2.25 million in work through historic preservation tax credits.

Donations may be made through the theater’s website.

The theater was built in 1912 and rebuilt after a fire in 1926, first showing silent films, with an orchestra pit in front of the stage. A sound system was added later, and the theater showed movies for many years.

Hascall & Hall, a Portland-based company that Parkhurst said has experience with historic renovations, is doing the work. The work is expected to take about 45 days.

The facade is now fronted by a large scaffolding reaching above the building, which is wrapped in plastic, or tented, and heated so workers can continue to work as temperatures drop. Parkhurst said the plan is to paint the building over the winter but, if the weather gets too cold, the painting part of the project might need to be delayed until spring.

People set up displays for the River of Trees event inside The Colonial Theater on Wednesday in downtown Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

The theater, despite the ongoing work, will host the Augusta Downtown Alliance’s River of Trees this weekend, starting Friday, and next weekend, Dec. 6-8.

The event raises funds for the association and the theater will also have its own tree in the event to help raise funds for the restoration. The event features decorated trees that are surrounded by gifts. Those who attend the event may enter raffles for the trees and the gifts, donated by local businesses, that go with them.

 

 

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