Our final Membership Month installment is all about Vision, Believe and Encouragement!
Preservation can be (and often is) a daunting, overwhelming and time consuming undertaking. Yet time and time again we have seen people stay the course and succeed because they had vision. They see potential in an old main street storefront, in the underutilized mill, in the closed up movie theater downtown. They saw potential and believed it could be a reality.
Having vision and belief is essential, as is having a network, resources and people to rely on. Over the years Preservation Massachusetts has been a source of encouragement, resources, information and even some therapy to those making preservation a reality.
Your membership to Preservation Massachusetts allows us to be that resource, that reassurance, that conduit and sometimes just that person to be there and listen. You encourage and empower others, strengthening our community statewide.
As we conclude our Membership Month series, here is a story about how vision, belief and encouragement brought about one of the best preservation success stories in Massachusetts!
Worcester's Hanover Theatre
In 2002, Ed Madaus noticed a "For Sale" sign in the window of a Showcase Cinema on Southbridge Street in Worcester. The movie theater had closed in the 1990's and had been vacant for nearly a decade. Just sitting, perhaps waiting.
Under the late 1960's facade, the historic roots of the theater stretched back to 1904 with the Franklin Street Theatre. In 1926, Thomas W. Lamb, one of the world’s leading theatre architects was commissioned to make major additions and alterations. The result was a 3,000 seat theatre that captured the elegance of the roaring 1920’s. Poli’s Palace Theatre, named for owner Sylvester Z. Poli, came to life. On opening day it was said that every seat was filled, with enough people waiting outside to fill every seat a second time. Poli’s Palace continued to be one of Worcester’s finest theatres, showing both stage shows and films.
Poli’s Palace eventually was sold to Loew’s Theatres in 1932, and the Loew’s Poli continued as a theatre venue until 1967 when National Amusements, Inc purchased the building. They closed the theatre and dramatically altered the interior during the transformation into a Showcase Cinema. The stage, proscenium wall, upper seating boxes, balcony seating were all removed. Walls were built to divide the space into four smaller movie theatres. Much of the elegance, detail and magnificence of the Poli’s Theatre was gone.
Flash forward to the "For Sale" sign, and Ed Madaus and Paul Demoga, two local businessmen had a vision of the theatre as a great cultural resource for the City of Worcester. They formed the Worcester Center for Performing Arts with the intention of restoring the theatre to its glory days of opulence and elegance. They had vision, they had belief, and they embarked on an intense campaign to bring back one of the city's cultural gems. .
The restoration took five years and brought together numerous people, businesses and corporations. The WCPA, with Lamoureaux Pagano Associates, Architects and Barr & Barr Builders headed up a massive team of players who all dedicated themselves to seeing the Poli’s Palace restored. The inside of the theater features several historical attributes, including a proscenium, grand chandeliers, a terra cotta facade and a second floor mezzanine. Builders also installed new elevators, a glass pavilion and state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems. Complete with a balcony, detailed plasterwork and boxed seating, the theater represents the perfect union between historical beauty and modern amenity.
During the restoration, it was thought that too much of the historic fabric was lost to make the theatre eligible for state historic tax credits. But a miraculous discovery of the original 1904 Franklin Square Theatre entry façade, simply covered over for forty years, enabled the theatre to qualify for vital tax credits.
On March 14, 2008, at a Grand Opening Gala, featuring Tony-Award winning actress Bernadette Peters, the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts was introduced to Worcester and the world.
In the past ten years the theatre has thrived and helped to reinvigorate Main Street in Worcester. Preservation Massachusetts witnessed the progression of the project and supported the project with information, tax credit support, resources, guidance and not a small amount of encouragement (and therapeutic conversation).
It is amazing where vision and belief can take you. From a vacant and decaying theatre to a gem among New England theatrical venues, the Hanover Theatre is truly an amazing and inspirational story.
The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts received a Paul E. Tsongas Award in 2008.