SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Proctors Theatre has been an entertainment venue in downtown Schenectady for almost 100 years. According to the Proctors website, more than 7,000 people attended its opening day in 1926.
In the early 1900s, Frederick Freeman Proctor, also known as the “Dean of Vaudeville,” managed several theaters throughout the eastern United States. His first theater in Schenectady opened in 1912 and was located along the Erie Canal. When the population in the city hit over 80,000 by 1919, Proctor wanted to build a larger venue in the business area.
He soon bought the property at 432 State Street and started construction in 1925 on what would be Proctors Theatre. Popular theater architect Thomas Lamb designed the venue in an Italian Baroque style with Egyptian influences.
The interior included an ornate plaster ceiling and decorative moldings, gold accents, plush carpeting, a giant chandelier, and a ceiling mural created by Danish painter August Lundberg, said the website. An Arcade with shops, businesses, and a side entrance to The Carl Company department store was also built. When finished, the total cost of the project was $1.5 million.
Opening day was December 27, 1926. The feature film on that day was “Stranded in Paris” starring Bebe Daniels, paired with five vaudeville acts. At that time, a matinee performance was 35 cents, and an evening show was 50 cents.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Proctors prospered with movies like “King Kong,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind,” musicians such as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington playing on the MainStage, as well comedians Bob Hope and Red Skelton.
On May 22, 1930, Proctors Theatre was the first site to have a public demonstration of television. Dr. Ernst F. W. Alexanderson, one of General Electric’s engineers, conducted the experiment in front of a live audience. According to the website, an orchestra in the pit was led by the image of a conductor on a seven-foot screen transmitted from a General Electric lab. Today, a plaque commemorating this event is in the Arcade.
Proctors was primarily a movie house in the 1950s and 1960s, but began to falter with the invention of television. In the 1970s, after changing hands multiple times and in desperate need of repair, the City of Schenectady took over the theatre after its foreclosure for nonpayment of taxes by a previous owner.
In the summer of 1977, several performing arts groups, along with concerned citizens, formed the Arts Center and Theatre of Schenectady, Inc. (ACTS) to save Proctors from being torn down. But in February 1978, the city closed the building again for nonpayment of taxes.
ACTS was soon able to fund a $25,000 feasibility study with the help of the community, which showed that Proctors could be a valuable asset to Schenectady again. The group then raised money to make some repairs. The building was cleaned, painted, and re-plastered. A new roof, three new boilers, a sprinkler system, and safety railings were installed. Volunteers helped clean the 2,700 seats.
Proctors officially reopened on January 3, 1979, with a standing-room-only audience for magician Harry Blackstone, Jr. That day, Mayor Frank Duci presented the theatre’s key and deed to Katherine Rozendaal, president of ACTS. She then gave him $1, the price agreed on by both parties for the purchase. That same year, The Charlie Daniels Band was the first rock act to perform at Proctors.
Proctors was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The theatre went through renovations but still remained open that year as well. By 1983, renovations included new carpeting, a replica of the original house curtain, replicas of the 1926 marquees, and a backstage crossover. Proctors also acquired Goldie, a pipe organ, and installed a hydraulic lift for it and the orchestra pit floor. In 1992, the roof was replaced, and the ceiling dome and front half of the theatre were restored in 1997. Air conditioning was installed in 1999, allowing for year-round use.
In 2005, Proctors added a new stage house in a $40 million expansion project. Proctors also launched Marquee Power that year, making it the only performing arts center in the U.S. to heat and cool itself and surrounding properties through district energy. In 2007, Proctors added the 434-seat GE Theatre, as well as the Proctors Box Office, new conference rooms, offices, and a cafe. In 2015, a two-year intensive renovation was completed, “returning Proctors to the glitter and glory of its opening day,” said the website.
In 2018, Proctors opened its new teaching and learning facility, The Adeline Graham Theatrical Training and Innovation Center. The Addy includes a 100-seat theatre, three classrooms, a media lab, and a dance studio or event space.
Today, Proctors averages 1,700 uses of the campus per season, which includes Broadway shows, operas, ballets, musicians, and comedians. Proctors “has truly become a performing arts center and cultural anchor in downtown Schenectady, and throughout New York’s Capital Region,” said the website.