Beginning of the New Strand
by Christena Rulli
Customers in short swishy dresses and bobbed hairstyles strolled down dark streets to the grand opening of a new playhouse on December 29, 1924. Amazed customers gazed at silks lining walls, a 96-bulb monstrous chandelier hovering above, and impressive Corinthian columns tinged with gold as they paid 20-30 cents for a seat. This image has faded from the Strand Theatre, but the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts (NCCCA), plans to recapture this style.
Over the years, the theater interior has changed. Seating 1,326 people, it originally had one downstairs theater and a marble staircase leading to the balcony. In the late 1960's, a floor was built to separate the balcony from the theater downstairs, creating two cinemas. Pieces such as the chandelier and cascading draperies vanished and the elegance and romance of vaudeville presentations disappeared.
“We want to restore it as close as possible to its beginning theme of 1924 as far as the budget will take us. We want to make it as popular as it once was,” explained Sylvia Stack, President of the Board of Trustees of North Country Cultural Center for the Arts.
Restoration has only just started to begin. Architect Fred Keil is drawing plans so contractors can begin to bid. Other preliminary research is also occurring with finding the knowledge of certain visual elements such as fabric used for curtains and seating cushions. Plans include reconnecting the balcony to the theater, renovating former second floor offices into a small refreshment cart, bathrooms on both floors, installation of two lifts that will provide access to the stage area and second floor, and the creation of a main refreshment stand. Located backstage, the fly space and the rigging apparatus- areas that help change scenery, is also part of the plans. Fly space will provide three stories of extra room to move large backdrops used for play productions.
“A new roof has been done and we are in the process of obtaining a 1924 Wurlitzer organ,” explained Stack. Other additions added will be a retractable movie screens that can fold away and a close-circuit television, which can broadcast large cultural events. The exterior is also going to be redone to its original architectural design.
Completion is estimated at 2.7 million dollars. As of now, $400,000 has been raised toward the Strand and a new seat campaign will soon be launched. A recent grant the City of Plattsburgh received from a state program to benefit arts and entertainment is being devoted partly to the theater. Approximately $100,000 of this contribution is being put toward the restoration.
Doors almost closed on the theater when past owners were negligent in paying property taxes with totals of $40,000, traced back to 1992. This amount could not be paid despite efforts of an established payment plan. The theater was on the selling block in 2004. Large movie venues were interested but the place became purchased by the NCCCA on July 30, 2004, according to the Press Republican.
"Purchasing the Strand helped fulfill our mission of providing a vision of arts and music, which is the primary reason why we bought it,” explained Stack. “We wanted to keep it retained in the hands of the community.”
“I am really excited about how the theater is going to turn out,” explained Jessica Loughman, a Plattsburgh resident. “They will be able to show more plays, concerts, and offer so much more then it does right now. I am curious to see it once it’s transformed.”
Now, the theatre is currently open for business and continues showing second run movies to the public as plans are being created. The completion and reopening of the Strand to the public will ideally occur sometime in 2007, according to Stack. The place will be a Performing Art, Education, and Learning center, which will serve the community and its needs for conventions, shows, concerts, and other entertainment. The playing of motion pictures not normally seen in bigger movie theaters will also continue. “The community will be proud when it is finally accomplished,” stated Stack.
The North County Cultural Center for Arts was created in 2001 and has recently merged with the Council on the Arts for Clinton County. These nonprofit organizations are responsible for providing films, music, arts, workshops, and poetry for the community.
The Strand Theatre has been considered a second-run theatres since the early 1980's and is still showing movies to the public. To find out the movie listings and times, call 518-566-7185. Tickets are $ 7.75 per adult and $5.75 for children and senior citizens.
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