Civic Theatre

477 Congress Street,
Portland, ME 04102

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Civic Theatre

Opened in 1908, Keith’s Theatre could seat 1,600, and presented vaudeville, stage shows, and occassional movies before switching over to movies entirely by the 1920’s.

The theater was later known as the Civic Theatre. It was was demolished in the 1960’s for a parking lot.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

deleted user
[Deleted] on March 24, 2004 at 7:33 pm

i live near portland maine i have been told that the civic theatre has been torn down years ago. in its place there is a large parking garage.
mike m.

Roger Katz
Roger Katz on April 2, 2004 at 2:52 am

477 Congress Street is Merrill Auditorium, formerly the City Hall Auditorium, opened in 1912 as part of the city hall complex. It seats 1900 people. I don’t think that this is the building pictured in the postcard on this page, and I’m not sure it is the building described either.

deleted user
[Deleted] on April 2, 2004 at 2:59 pm

477 congress st is where the keiths theatre was it became the civic
theatre years later. it was torn down years ago.that is called the village green there are some shops and a coffee shop.the portland symphony orchestra has a office there in the village green. but there
concerts are in the merrill auditorium that was called city hall
auditorium it was restored a nember of years ago its now a very nice place to see a show or concerts and sometime plays.

justmaine
justmaine on April 1, 2005 at 2:45 am

This theater was torn down in the early 1960’s, and replaced with a multi-storey parking lot. It was owned, at the time, by Casco Bank. Its President, Halsey Smith, had commissioned architects to prepare a plan to refurbish it, and the bank committed to spending about $250,000 to do the work. They sought a group who would commit to take it over, and be responsible for any operating losses. At the time—before the rise of awareness in the value of preservation—no one was interested, so the bank retreated, and had it torn down. Consultants from Actors' Equity in New York, said it had acoustics that could not be replicated. It was a real tragedy. It was beautifully decorated with plaster cherubs and intricate deatils.
Remnants of the decoration can still be seen in the surviving Preble Street entrance. Dick Paulson, March 31, 2005

justmaine
justmaine on April 1, 2005 at 2:50 am

P.S. The Katz posting, on April 1, 2004, is mistaken. The Merrill Auditorium—formerly called City Hall Auditorium, is behind City Hall, at 389 Congress St.

teecee
teecee on April 15, 2005 at 8:15 pm

old photo & history:
View link

dp53
dp53 on May 13, 2005 at 10:12 pm

Although the Civic Theater itself was torn down, the the Civic Arcade, which served as the lobby to what the Casco Bank Building and an entrance-way to the theater, is about to be restored to its original design. In the 50s-60s, the arcade had two banks, a coffee shop, a Class-D post-office-stamp collector’s shop, a religious articles store, a radio station (WPOR) a pet store (The Dog House), a visiting Santa and Sleigh during the Christmas season, and a maze of music studios on the level below. It also had a flooring and carpet shop and when the Civic was closed in ‘63, the Civic became a storage site for rolls of linoleum and carpeting for the shop.

One thing though, I’ve always been puzzled by the design of the building, the theater, and its relation to the original Keith’s. In the earliest postcards I’ve seen entrances to Keiths NEXT to the Longfellow house on Congress Street, where Days Jewelry store later was. The second entrance was on Preble St and served as a secondary entrance to the theater and the arcade.

It was a great old theater though – I went there lots of times when I was a kid.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on September 20, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Here is a 1949 ad from the Portland Sunday Telegram:
http://tinyurl.com/2pn9zh

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on September 15, 2008 at 7:27 pm

The Keith’s Theatre (later the Civic) opened on Jan. 27, 1908 with 1,355 seats and was designed by Albert E. Westover, according to info at Theatre Historical Society of America

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on October 22, 2018 at 10:52 pm

This history courtesy of the Portland Maine History 1786 to Present Facebook page. In correlation with some of the 1910 postcard images in the Photos Section.

BF Keith’s Theatre, postcard mailed 1910; the entrances still exist, but the theatre itself is now the parking lot behind the parking garage at Brown and Cumberland.

20 Preble St., also 477 Congress Theater Name: B.F. Keith’s Theater Alternate Theater Name(s): Keith’s Theater, Civic [1938] Owners: Clifford S. Hamilton, mgr. (Julius Cahn-Gus Hill 1921) Affliated with: Maine Amusement Co., E.F. Albee, Pres. as Civic: Zeitz Bros. Circuit, State Theater Bdg., New Bedford, Ma., pres. Harry Zeitz (1956 Yrbook of Motion Pictures and 1945 Motion Picture Showmen, MGM) Date Opened: 1908 Date Closed: 1965 Sources: Annual Register of Maine, 1913, 1927 Building today: demolished 1965; Preble St. lobby extant, mosaic floor can be seen in store. Photos: QDB/NHF Coll. 4 cards: ‘Keith’s Theatre, Portland, Me.’; also ‘Keith’s Theatre, Portland, Maine’ interior (1910); also ‘Preble St. Entrance Keith’s New Theatre Portland, Me.’ b&w; also ‘Preble St. Looking towards Monument Sq., Portland, Me.’ shows Portland Theatre too. NHF postcard, Keith’s Theatre with Gents Smoking Room. (1910) Franklyn Lenthall and David Bowers both have interior image, ‘Boxes at Keith’s Theatre.’ Another Bowers postcard has exterior and two interior views, including ‘Main Entrance, Preble Street’ and Congress Street Entrance, Subway' which is a long hall with mirrors. Third Bowers card has four interiors including ‘Gents Smoking Room’ ‘Ladies Parlor.’ Copyrighted ‘08. NHF postcard, Congress St. above Monument Square, Portland. Bowers, exterior view of brick building with two story facade and hanging Keith’s sign and exterior kiosk with oval Keith’s sign over it. Postcard copyright 1908. Also postcard interior 'Ticket Office Keith’s New Theater.’ One Bowers exterior postcard has facade from across the street, hanging from awning is sign advertising the film ‘Brewsters Millions.’ Another Bowers postcard has Longfellow’s Home with Keith’s Theatre entrance adjacent, postmark 1912. Northeast Historic Film visit date: Theater Type: Cinema/Vaudeville Notes: Cap. 1,875. H.L. Watkins, booking manager. Belongs to B.F. Keith’s Circuit. Plays vaudeville and pictures. Stage 55 ft. wide, 37 ft. deep, 64 ft. high. Distance of throw 105 ft. size of screen 12 x 14 ft. Simplex Projecting Machine, Lauriet Dufor, operator. Albert E. Hopkins, Orchestra Leader. B.F. Keith’s vaudeville Exchange, NY Reps. per Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Directory 1921. Wids 1923, p. 449, listed in Important First Run Houses. Pop. 69,272, cap. 1,899, tickets 50 cents and 75 cents, open every day except Sunday, mgr. A.I. Marinton, booker H.L. Watkins, purchasing agent H.L. Watkins, projectionist Harry Boynton, phone Forest 2742, per Motion Picture Trade Directory 1928, 1929. ‘Architect A.E. Westover and his local associates, F.H. and E.F. Fassett, made an auditorium 85 feet deep by 87 feet wide. The orchestra seated 700, the balcony 600, and the gallery 500, affording a capacity of 1,800. Two double boxes and four singles flanked the stage on the orchestra floor. There were eight more at the balcony level. Cherubic statues, illuminated from the rear, topped the boxes. The decor was rococo with a color scheme based on Nile green. Orchestra and balcony seats were upholstered with green leather. There was a large cartouche in the center of the proscenium picturing reclining figures with lyre and tambourine….The marble subway from Congress Street ran some 300 feet long. In later years when the Preble House was demolished and replaced by the Chapman Building, an arcade ran from Congress Street to B.F. Keith’s main lobby and thence out to Preble Street. It was lined with shops and restaurants. The new house played vaudeville, Kinetograph movies and had its own stock company.’ Theatres of Portland, Maine, pp. 13-14, Don King, 1987. ‘Keith’s Theatre closed in 1933…reopened for brief periods after RKO gave it up. It remained dark from mid-April through October first of 1934. It was reopened for the last time by a Boston based company which had been successful with a cut rate revival film policy called 'Proven Pictures.’ But even the combining of stage shows with the oldies and the installation of new soft seats did not attract sufficient patronage. Keith’s closed permanently in 1938 at 30 years of age. In 1939 Portland’s Chamber of Commerce, together with local businessmen, leased Keith’s and renamed it the Civic Theatre. It was completely refurbished. Its stage area was brought up to date. A new marquee was installed at the Congress Street entrance. The grand opening on November 20 featured the San Carlo Opera Company.‘ ibid, p. 25-26.Portland Maine History 1786 to Prese 'By 1941 the Civic’s cultural adventure was abandoned. The house was leased to an out of town motion picture chain. [Zeitz] Movies, vaudeville and stage shows were successful once again.’ ibid p. 27. ‘Harry Zeitz…[owns New Bedford, Mass. theaters] and the Portland (Me.) Civic…Zeitz was in the first world war and son Carl is in France. Son Robert is in school. He is a member of the American Legion, the Zionist Organization of America, Tifireth Israel and Variety Club. He makes it a point to see all his shows. (1945 Motion Picture Showmen, MGM, with photo) Civic seats 1500

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