Empire Theater

87 Massabesic Street,
Manchester, NH 03103

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Empire Theater

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The Empire Theater was built in 1912. It currently stands empty.

Information is scant, but as of 1990 court document found online…

“The plaintiff, Andrew Conforti, and the intervenors, Orion Theatre, Inc. and Robert A. Howe, appeal a ruling of the Superior Court (O'Neill, J.) that the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) of the City of Manchester (city) correctly concluded that the city zoning ordinance did not permit live entertainment on the property owned by the plaintiff and leased to the intervenors, and that live entertainment was not a preexisting, nonconforming use of the property, which, at the time of enactment of the ordinance, was used only as a movie theater. We affirm.

The plaintiff owns the Empire Theater in Manchester. The theater, erected as a movie house in 1912, is located in what is now a B-1 zoning district. The plaintiff leased the property to Orion Theatre, Inc., who in turn subleased it to Robert Howe. In 1990, the city granted a building permit for interior renovations of the theater, recognizing that, although the use of property as a movie theater was not allowed in a B-1 zoning district, the use of the Empire Theater to show movies was a preexisting, nonconforming use."

It has been empty since.

It is a rather unremarkable building. Darn plain actually. If you want to find it, go down Lake Ave until you get to the Four Seasons Family Supermarket. Take a right and its there.

Contributed by John Elwood

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

creinhardt
creinhardt on October 14, 2006 at 11:29 pm

Richard Gouin’s post from Mar 1, 2006, while informative, contains a few inaccuracies. The theatre is still standing at 87 Massabesic Street in Manchester, and is currently home to a convenience store aptly titled the “Empire Market”. I suppose yes, the actual theatre innards of the building have been demolished, but the building itself still stands, largely unchanged. It still says ‘Empire’ on it, and I believe you can see the places where the two happy/sad theatre faces were.

Susancharbonneau
Susancharbonneau on August 7, 2008 at 10:15 pm

Does anyone have a picture of the Empire, either while it was a theater or even a more recent photo?

creinhardt
creinhardt on August 7, 2008 at 11:36 pm

There are multiple pictures of the Empire Theatre at my website, along with information about other theatres in Manchester
View link

Susancharbonneau
Susancharbonneau on August 7, 2008 at 11:53 pm

Chris,

Great! I’ve searched and searched for pictures of the Empire. Thank you so much for this. My grandfather, Edward Charbonneau, owned an interest in five theaters in Concord and Manchester: The Eagle, Empire, Star, Strand and the Palace. He also bought, and owned outright, the Concord, which he bought in 1933 or 1934 and owned until until he retired which, I think was in 1947 or perhaps a bit later.

I am still looking for pictures of the Eagle (I can’t find any information on that one) and old pictures of the Concord (I only have recent ones).

Thank you for responding to my post and for the great picture!

creinhardt
creinhardt on August 8, 2008 at 12:01 am

If I recall correctly, info on the Eagle was scarce, but I’ll look through what I might still have lying around and see if I can find anything. If you’re near Manchester, the New Hampshire room at the NH Public Library has a file of newspaper clippings about movie theaters, which is where I got most of my pictures from. Was the Concord located in Concord? I happen to live in Concord now, let me know if you need someone to do some mucking around at the historical society.

Susancharbonneau
Susancharbonneau on August 8, 2008 at 12:11 am

Chris,

I so appreciate all of your help. I live in Southern California, so I’ve been doing my research online. I still have cousins in New England and they are looking through family pictures to see what they can find.

The Concord is located in Concord; 18 South Main Street. It’s still there, but apparently it’s quite run down.

Your offer to gl “mucking” around at the Historical Society is very generous and I would love to take you up on it. Anything you can find would be most appreciated. If you would like to contact me directly, my email is:

Thank you!

RobertT
RobertT on May 6, 2009 at 8:01 am

To everyone who may read this. The date is May 5, 2009 and a private owner bought what is the ‘Empire Theater’ and the building next to it, 420 Belmont. To add more infomation, the building of 420 used to have a underground bowling alley, a single lane was used, the bowling alley is located behind the building and only the roof is seen from Cedar street. I obtained this information from Robert Howe, who is now the building manager for the owner of said properties. There is also a second hand shop here in Manchester that has some of the original seats from the ‘Empire Theater’ for sale. I will get the information of that place soon. Coming up May 9th, 2009 at 11am at the Empire Theater there will be a rally. Hope everyone interested can come. Also if you check www.manchexpress.com in their May 4th edition, there is an article about the Empire Theater and a photo of it. If you would like to contact me, email me at and I will keep in contact with you.

HowieHowe
HowieHowe on October 10, 2010 at 4:07 pm

As Mr. Tarr relates above, I am now the Property Manager of the Theater I used to run, for my Landlords, Formosa Properties.

In the years since we closed, it ahs been sold twice, goen into foreclosure once, and during those years somebody tore out all the seats and sold them for scrap. Vandlas and scrappers also stole allthe copper piping and wiring, essentially rendering the building useless. Believe me it breaks my heart.

Let me point out that despite the city claims that it could only be used as a movie theater, it has had stage since it was built, and that stage was often used for community events over the years, even by the Manchester School Dept for their Wilson Street Elementary School. Teh City simply lied in its prsentation to the court. As for movies, in the past twenty years, with the rise of the multiplex theaters, it has become impossible for single screen houses to get films to show until the multiplexes are no longer running them, and nobody is left to wnat to pay to see them. We were offered films the same day they came out on video. It is this very reason that has prevented any movie theaters from existing, or erecting, in downtown Manchester. The City ordering the live entertianment to stop, which underwrote the films we could get, was about censorship pure and simple. We offered live Rock & Roll to teens on two nights per week, and in Manchester Teens are not supposed to be seen or heard in public. Those shows sold out and gave us the money to do a lot of improvements to the theater before we were ordered to stop.

I have not given up on the theater, as I see it as having potential. Right now the ticket booth and concession stand have been torn out, and the projection booth is being torn down, but I am being allowed to save the projection equipment (what is left of it after the vandals). I hope to find a place to use it in the future.

With all the seats gone, it will take major effort to use the presentation room for anything, as it is doubtful that the city will let people stand on the slanted floor, though other cities (like Providence) have allowed such use for concerts, and most outdoor concerts allow such use on hillsides. I would love to turn it into a dinner theater, putting tiered sections along each side, with tables and chairs, and suing the theater for community and small theater events. We also have the Video Projector we bought for theater safely stored, but we would need a new screen.

But, this depends on the City of Manchester, and their bureaucratic red tape has killed many business ventures. They will ue a demand for a good number private parking spaces to block use of the building.

One correction to some previous posts: The Empire Deli or Grocery Store is not in the theater, and never was. Before we built a concession stand in 1990, you bought your candy, soda and such thorugh a window into the store next door, which was owned and part of the Bruno Theater operation.

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on August 30, 2012 at 2:33 am

This theater suffered damage as a result of a fire on August 27, 2012. View article

HowieHowe
HowieHowe on August 30, 2012 at 11:42 pm

The fire only caused minor damage and was caused by some scrap workers hanging a droplight on the wall to see while they removed the old AC unit hanging from the ceiling that we were scrapping. The owners are transforming it into a kind of community center, along with their offices, and it will have all new interior lighting and HVAC (Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning). The floor has been leveled in the rear, and the lobby along with the projection room and concession stand has been gutted, and rebuilt into a modern office. The fornt of the building was extensively changed with new doors and windows.

The fire damage was limited to a small portion of a side wall in the back of the main presentation room, that was being remodeled anyway, so it really is not a bid deal. Actually the Fire Dept did more damage to the renovations than the fire did to the building.

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