Between 1919 and 1921, Augusta saw a flurry of filmmaking thanks to a former cowboy star and a writer from Vassalboro.
Edgar Jones had spent a good portion of the early 1910s as a Western star for the Lubin Manufacturing Company, a movie studio in Philadelphia that closed down in 1916. Jones eventually came to Augusta to form his own movie studio and brought with him a stock company of actors and a movie crew. By 1919 he started to churn out the 2-reelers (which ran 20-30 minutes) he called “North Woods” stories. For most of the close to 40 films, Jones starred in as well as directed and produced them.
He eventually brought in Holman Day to write and adapt his popular Maine stories for the movies. Eventually Day ousted Jones from the company with the backing of local businessmen and took over production, changing the company’s name from Edgar Jones Productions to Holman Day Productions. Jones and most of his company left Maine, but Day was not a businessman and ran the company into bankruptcy within a year.
Six films from this period are known to survive … four from Jones and two from Day … and they are remarkable. Along with highlighting Augusta, Belgrade, local lakes and forests, and the Kennebec River, these films have solid stories, good acting, and surprisingly good production values. The films take full advantage of the area’s natural scenic beauty as well as all four seasons.
Of the actors who appear in the surviving movies, film buffs will likely be familiar with Evelyn Brent and Mary Astor, but others like Huntley Gordon, Ben Hendricks, Bradley Barker, and Carlton Brickert continued their careers well into the talkie era. Even the forgotten Edna May Sperl had a career beyond Maine.
VISIT OUR EVENTS PAGE TO LEARN MORE AND TO PURCHASE TICKETS.
Exterior restoration continues with “crowning glory”
March 1, 2021
John Gawler, Owner of Gawler and Daughters Sheet Metal of Belgrade, Molly O’Guinness Carlson, Owner of Head Tide Archeological Conservation Laboratory and Peachey Builders craftsmen Steve Brown are collaborating to restore and replace the decorative element as the “crowning glory” on top of the Augusta Colonial Theater.
Molly O’Guinness Carlson of Head Tide Conservation Labs restored the original art deco zinc formations that are being placed upon a newly created replica of the arched shape made by John Gawler of Gawler and Daughters Sheet Metal of Belgrade. Steve Brown, Craftman for Peachey Builders will be the hands reinstalling the element on the top of the
Augusta Colonial Theater in Spring 2021.
None of this would be possible without the skilled supervision of Gary Peachey, owner of Peachey Builders in Augusta. We are so grateful to everyone involved in the on-going story of the resurrection of the Augusta Colonial Theater.
A portion of the funds to complete this project were raised by the State Lunch Sweetheart Dinner fundraiser held on February 14, 2021.
The Augusta Colonial Theater Board of Directors released its first Annual Report to the Community today,
recapping the progress made toward restoration, the work of committees, support from donors, and financial overview. Read the report here.
AUGUSTA – The Augusta Colonial Theater will host its first live performance in 53 years on Friday, May 6, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. with a production of Lifting the Curtain, featuring Master Mind Reader Kent Axell. Tickets are $25 per person and are now available for purchase at givebutter.com/kaxell.
While the future is normally uncertain, this show provides the entertainment that only a Master Mind Reader can bring. It leans heavily on audience participation, from simple audience inclusion to manifestations of possible future events. In the spirit of such a performance, the Augusta Colonial Theater invites the community to join the theater as it “begins again” towards a new and better arts and cultural center for the capital area.
Not only will the audience be thrilled by mind reading and illusions by the performer, they will also get a glimpse into the theater’s future. The show’s title, Lifting the Curtain, signifies a new beginning and the theater’s rebirth into an arts and cultural center.
“We are thrilled to open the theater’s doors and welcome the community back for the first performance in over 50 years,” stated Kathi Wall, Executive Director of the Augusta Colonial Theater. “This is a step into the theater’s next chapter and a look at the capital area’s future with an arts and cultural center. Our community can look forward to more and more performances, live music, movies, and so much more in the very near future.”
Every ticket purchased for this amazing show brings the theater one step closer in creating a live performing arts venue for the enjoyment of all. To purchase tickets, visit givebutter.com/kaxell. A limited number of tickets will be sold at the door, so be sure to get yours early.
Augusta Colonial Theater
The Augusta Colonial Theater (ACT) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to restore and operate the historic Colonial Theater for the artistic, educational, and charitable benefit of the community. To date, ACT has invested $1.5 million into the restoration of the theater, which has been raised through grants, fundraising events, and corporate and individual donations. For more information, visit colonialtheater.org.
Theater officials, who said fundraising has been stymied by the coronavirus pandemic, sought release of city money to match grants.
AUGUSTA — City officials have agreed to make up to $300,000 in city money available sooner than planned to provide the Colonial Theater matching funds needed to secure grants.
Theater advocates said it has been a struggle to raise funds during the coronavirus pandemic, so they’ve turned to grant funding as a way to keep the project moving forward. Many of those grants require the funds to be matched with local money, which is why theater officials asked the city to release $40,000 from a $300,000 fund set aside in 2016 by a previous city council to help bring the theater back to life.
“We’ve made great progress but COVID-19 has made private fundraising much slower, and that’s very understandable,” said Andrew Silsby, vice chairman of the theater’s board of directors. “When that happened we turned to grant writing, and we’ve been very successful at getting grants.
“We’d like to use the $40,000 to match the grants we’ve already gotten and to match larger ones we expect to come in,” he added. “This allows the city’s investment to be doubled, and help us be able to continue to restore the building.”
Councilors not only agreed to make $40,000 available, they also voted unanimously to strike an agreement with theater leaders to make all $300,000 available — as needed — as a forgivable loan.
If the project is successful and the theater is restored and reopens, the $300,000 would never have to be paid back. But if the project fails and the theater’s board decides to sell the partially-restored building, any money taken from that amount would have to be paid back to the city.
In 2016, when councilors agreed to set aside the $300,000, they specified the money wouldn’t be paid to the nonprofit group working to restore the theater until the project, estimated to cost as much as $8.5 million, is substantially complete and a certificate of occupancy has been issued.
“It is public money for a nonpublic building,” Rollins said. “So it’s not just a black and white issue.”
However, Rollins said members of the 2016 council he spoke to were in favor of the proposed new deal making the $300,000 a forgivable loan to the theater.
He said he doesn’t think there is any other project that has been undertaken that could have more of a positive impact on Augusta than the revitalization of the theater and improvements to the northern end of Water Street.
At-Large Councilor Marci Alexander, who was part of the council that approved setting aside funds for the theater, said she’s in favor of the new plan. She said it protects Augusta’s investment because if the theater project fails, the city could have a lien on the building, which has already received about $1 million worth of improvements.
“I think it’s economic development at its best, and we need economic development, especially during the pandemic,” Alexander said. “Because that gives people hope. And hope is what causes people to keep their businesses going, to fight all the way to get through, so that, on the other side (of the pandemic), these ventures are still going.”
According to documentation provided to councilors by theater leaders, the theater could receive about $55,000 in grants if it comes up with $211,000 in matching funds. Other potential grant applications, with various levels of matching funds, could bring in up to an additional $466,000.
Kathi Wall, interim executive director of the theater, said arts-related groups and businesses are suffering in the pandemic because their sources of income generally rely on people being able to attend large public gatherings. So being able to seek historic preservation grants, which often require a local match, is crucial to keep the Colonial Theater’s restoration moving forward.
“It protects taxpayer money and gives us a little more flexibility in terms of grants,” Wall said. “The other thing is, every one of the city councilors were very supportive of the Colonial project, which goes a long way toward us being able to tap into other sources of money, if people know we have the full support of the city.”
In 2017, councilors narrowly voted to give $30,000 to the theater, from the $300,000, after the project encountered an unexpected expense, to remove environmentally hazardous coal ash from the basement of the theater, which needed to be taken out before the floor project could proceed.
However, City Manager William Bridgeo said theater officials never ended up actually providing an invoice and thus never received the $30,000, which he speculated could have been due in part to changes in the theater’s leadership.
Bridgeo said theater advocates need about $70,000 to match grants the Colonial has received, so the $30,000 that was approved but never given to the theater will be combined with $40,000 requested recently by theater officials, to make those matches.
As the need for more of the $300,000 arises to match grants, Rollins said theater officials would ask for permission to receive more of the forgivable loan funds, which would be paid out as long as the project keeps making progress.
City Attorney Stephen Langsdorf will draft an agreement specifying how the forgivable loan agreement will work.
The project returns the front of the theater to its 1926 appearance and addressed structural concerns.
The Colonial’s Theater’s facade restoration included reconstructing the formerly leaning parapet, masonry repair and repointing, new flashing, and exterior painting. The exterior painting required paint sampling and analysis by Sutherland Conservation & Consulting of Augusta to accurately recreate the six-color tapestry paint scheme.
Hascall & Hall, a Portland-based company with experience in historic renovations did the reconstruction work.
Support for this project included:
Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Certified Local Government Grant, $24,995
Completed in cooperation with the City of Augusta, the grant administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior
Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust, $10,000
Davis Family Foundation, $15,000
Belvedere Historic Preservation & Energy Efficiency Grant Program, Maine Community Foundation, $10,300
Augusta Fuel Company (AFC) $25,000 (over five years)
AUGUSTA — The Colonial Theater Board of Directors is pleased to welcome Kathi Wall as the theater’s interim executive director. Wall will lead the theater’s ongoing restoration efforts and fundraising, filling a vacancy left by outgoing director Peter Bezemes.
Wall is a longtime advocate and supporter for the arts and community youth programs in central Maine, and served as the President of the Augusta Boys & Girls Club Board of Directors after being the executive director for 12 years. Originally from New York, Wall began her career in nursing in 1965, quickly ascending to leadership roles in oncology and transplant units in Buffalo, Boston, and Cooperstown. In 1978, Wall and her husband Dr. Alexander Wall, a general surgeon, settled in the Augusta area and raised two children now in their forties — a daughter Jennifer, and a son Alex. Today, they are also the proud grandparents to Charlie (12) and Claire (16).
After a successful career in nursing, Wall’s passion for education, children, and the arts led her to pursue a liberal arts degree from Skidmore College in 1993. In the decades since, Wall has worked tirelessly to improve the health and wellness of underserved children and youth in the Kennebec Valley region. In addition to her most notable achievement of forming the Teen Center (now the Boys & Girls Club) twenty years ago, Wall worked to create a Children’s Health Collaborative for Maine General Medical Center and formed clinics to support victims of child abuse and domestic violence.
When asked why she is interested in the Colonial, Wall responded by saying: “My interest in the success of this project lies in the fact that after living in the area for 42 years, I am tired of Augusta being a cultural desert for area people. It used to be so much more, and can be again. Arts should be everywhere. We have the seeds. They need to be planted and nurtured so they can grow into a place that draws people to its center — art shows, concerts, music venues, plays, movies — the downtown area deserves this. So, let’s get to it.”
In the short term, Wall will focus efforts on the completion of the theater’s façade and reconvene working committees to strategize how best to move forward, especially in light of new challenges posed by COVID-19. Wall’s term is expected to continue for one year, at the end of which time the board may hire a permanent, full-time staff person.