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.

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 was empty for many years, and has now been gutted and converted into office space and a meeting room.

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

Contributed by John Elwood

Recent comments (view all 18 comments)

HowieHowe on October 10, 2010 at 8:07 am

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 on August 29, 2012 at 6:33 pm

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

HowieHowe on August 30, 2012 at 3:42 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.

LoganG on August 9, 2014 at 11:55 am

My band played there all the time. I miss that venue. Bowie was a good guy, he was always fair with us. I would love to see it come back as a metal and rock venue.

LoganG on August 9, 2014 at 11:56 am

Sorry I meant Howie not Bowie

HowieHowe on August 9, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Irony is I now operate a Building Maintenance firm and one of my landlords owns the theater, and it was completely gutted and changed into an office and meeting room, and can never be used for shows again because in simple terms this city hates Rock, Metal and teenagers.

RobertT on August 10, 2014 at 12:23 am

Sadly yes, it has been remodeled and it’s original design/layout is lost forever. However I do have photos of the inside of it before the remodel. Also sadly the Sealtest Icecream building located next to the Empire Theater has been torn down completely. The only good thing that was worth the fight was the restoring of Dearborn Hall on Lake Ave.

Johnny_Nodepth on November 23, 2014 at 10:26 am

I saw The White Buffalo starring Charles Bronson at the Empire Theater in Manchester NH in 1977. It was like no other movie theater I’ve ever been to. Too bad It’s in the wrong hands now.

HowieHowe on November 23, 2014 at 11:16 am

The theater did not close because of owners, it closed because City of Manchester refused to let it operate again as a theater of any kind, though many tried to revive it over the years. The current owners had no choice but to renovate it into something different or tear it down. The City actually preferred tearing it down.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on July 2, 2015 at 10:48 am

The Theatre Historical Society on-line archive has the MGM Theatre Report for the Empire in “East Manchester”; it’s Card # 484. But no one filled it out so there is no info on it, only an undated exterior photo which was probably taken about 1950.

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