The venerable Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor is slated to reopen on Friday after being closed for more than two years. PHOTO BY ROBERT LEVIN

Beloved Criterion ready for 2nd act

BAR HARBOR — The historic Criterion Theatre reopens this week following a six-month, $1 million-plus renovation that has brought back much of the building’s original 1930s charm.

From new floors to new seats and new paint, new roofs, a new façade – the list of “new” in the venerable art-deco structure built in 1932 goes on and on. The Bar Harbor Jazz Festival has overseen major upgrades to both the interior and exterior of the building, and they are looking forward to the doors being opened once again to an eager public.

“We’re just so excited to get people in the building, other than the workers and us,” Jazz Festival President Michael Boland said Tuesday.

Renovations began in November 2014 after the festival group received an anonymous $2 million donation to buy the building and begin fixing it up. The first step was to bring in Eastern Mold Remediation to undo years of water, mildew and mold damage. During a recent tour, it appeared those efforts have been a resounding success. The inside air is fresh and clean, without a hint of the moldy odors that plagued the building for years.

A number of other projects have been underway since, and just about all of them will be done by opening night. The theater’s carpets were torn out and replicas made from the original 1930s print reinstalled. The white and black tiles out front have been replaced with red and black tiles, which Boland said are more historically accurate.

A number of businesses have worked on the renovations, including painter Wes Tibbetts, the Family Floor Store, builders David and Ross Poland, Rick Wallace and Jeff Young, plumber Brian Walls and electrician Steve Lambert. Cassady Pappas was general contractor on the job.

Patrons are bound to notice at least one of the changes when they sit down to watch “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” on opening weekend – the theater’s original seats not only have been refilled and reupholstered, but also moved around to create wider aisles. The theater had to shed about 100 of its original 900 seats to gain the legroom, Boland said, but the greatly increased comfort was worth the sacrifice.

“We made the decision that it was more important every night someone is in here for a movie to be more comfortable than just for that rare, one-time show that we needed all 900 seats,” he said.

Another major change has occurred in the theater’s restrooms, which have been reconfigured to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act rules. The owners plan to introduce handicapped access to the second floor balconies eventually and redo the restrooms up there as well.

One project that will not be finished in time for opening weekend is the installation of the new fabric on the walls. These are being remade in the exact style of the old ones, but the project is taking longer than intended, Boland said. The same goes for the glass wall sconces, which are being painstakingly redone to match the original, art deco fixtures.

The Jazz Festival is hoping to put in place a number of regular community programs, theater director Eli Mellen said. The Barn Collective soon will offer children’s programming on Saturdays, and then twice a week once the summer is in full swing. And there is much interest currently in getting a children’s theater company up and running.

But there is still a lot of fundraising work left to be done before the community programming can begin in earnest, Boland said. And there are many renovations in areas of the building that are not as visible that still need to get done.

“While we’re really thrilled about the changes that we have made, there’s a lot left to do. We’ve got a whole other six-to-nine-month process that we need to fund,” Boland said. “Not only do we still need funding for the renovations, but we also still need to fundraise in support of the programming that we want to do.”


Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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