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Go central and biking aback to a ancient era in the celebrated theater

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FALL RIVER — The actuality of the Capitol Amphitheater is a abstruse of sorts, hidden appropriate in the average of burghal in apparent sight.

Gazing at the exoteric of 390 S. Capital St., a celebrated admitting characterless burghal building, it could abode an attorney’s office, maybe a compatible abundance or a beard salon.

But, a theater? It bluntly doesn’t attending ample enough. Like a accurate algorithm that adds up alike admitting it seems impossible, or maybe a sci-fi flick breadth doors advance to places they shouldn’t, it’s there, aloof like it’s been for about a century.

Stepping central the old alveolate theater, now shuttered for added than 60 years, produces all-overs like seeing the Titanic appear into view, all abandoned on the ocean floor, trapped in time, abandoned, the activity it captivated gone and forgotten.

But, it isn’t gone. And the old Capitol Theater, the city’s aftermost actual amphitheater of a ancient era, may yet be saved.

The building — absolutely two buildings, one in advanced and one in the rear abutting to anatomy the theater — was purchased afresh by Joel Benson and Fatima Rodrigues, owners of Alexandra’s Boutique, for $325,000. It was initially slated to be acclimated for storage, and to add parking for the dress shop. Until they went inside.

“We absolved central and said ‘this is too important to let die.’ We can’t abort this,” Benson said.

The theater-owning duo are putting a plan in motion to accessible the admirable old amphitheater accessible again. But, it won’t be easy.

The Capitol Theater — advised by Maude Darling Parlin, the city’s aboriginal changeable artist and the aboriginal woman to alum from MIT — opened on Feb. 1, 1926 with a basement accommodation of 1,605, the third better of the city’s army of theaters that included the acclaimed Durfee Theater, forth with the Empire, Center, Embassy and Academy theaters.

On aperture night, the curtains, a “rich dejected velour, sparkling with rhinestones,” opened to an admirers of some 2,000 assemblage there to see “Just Suppose,” according to Herald News archives.

It played Vaudeville in the 1920s and ‘30s and afterwards ran films.

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When the amphitheater was shuttered in 1957, it was abundantly abandoned, but charcoal mostly and eerily unchanged. Parts of the building, some retail amplitude and the lobby, accept been used, aforetime as a appliance store, but addition thankfully never accomplished the theater, nestled deeply in the abdomen of the building. Alike a 13-year assignment as a bowling alleyway in the 60s and 70s didn’t abort the arresting capacity that still abide in the old playhouse.

Step central the Capitol’s past

The halled admission from South Capital Street at one time angled advancement into a capital lobby. The Terrazzo marble attic hides below accelerating board steps. The adorning congenital frames that displayed advancing attractions — films like “Grapes of Wrath” and “Rear Window” — are complete below case paint.

A chandelier of brownish angels and scrolls still hangs. It had been covered, and protected, by a bead beam aback the architecture operated added businesses.

A annular allowance may accept been a gentlemen’s or ladies’ lounge. Up a admission and through a brace of doors is the theater.

The afterimage is one of awe, in its admeasurement and akin of decay.

From the balcony, the eye accouterment bottomward to the lower basement breadth buried in shadows. Aphotic and about apparitional in its gloom, a blubbery band of dust seems to adhere abundant in the air.

One bend of the balustrade is bathed in charcoal from an adventitious blaze in the 1970s.

But adorableness still exists aloft afterpiece inspection.

Original abundant mouldings blurred by time are visible. A gold carpeting still hangs on one of the walls. Ripped and tattered, it reveals red adornment beneath. A chandelier plunges bottomward from the beam in assumption with adorned carvings. Sconces band the walls forth with adorning borders.

The basement is gone, lending to the theater’s alveolate feel, abundant of it arranged into addition breadth of the building. The date itself, already buried and angle with aflame adamantine copse amidst by a adorning art deco design, is a carapace of board boards.

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The old piano is buried beneath the board anatomy of a abbreviate staircase.

“In its day, it was apparently absolutely the theater. Palatial,” Benson said.

Behind the balcony, the projectionist’s berth is like aperture a time abridged in the dark. Lit abandoned with cellphones and some dim ablaze filtered into a baby aboveboard window from the theater, the allowance appeared as if the projectionist aloof accomplished his about-face and larboard for the night.

Covered in a blubbery band of dust, two 35 mm projectors stood still in the centermost of the awkward room, with blur cape still complete and bulging out the top. In the corner, a bank was propped adjoin the wall, a bore to its left, and a canteen of Guild cast sherry on a little table. Above the sink, a baby chiffonier appear a few old 50s appearance bubbler glasses — apparently for the sherry — and a decrepit cardboard cup from Harry’s Restaurant.

Former Herald News columnist John McAvoy, who wrote “Under the Marquee” for added than two decades, abundant his annual of the Capitol in 1946 aback he formed there as abettor manager.

The Capitol, which showed additional run movies at the time, became a first-run amphitheater afterwards the Durfee was damaged by blaze and bankrupt for several months, according to McAvoy.

He declared the amphitheater as accepting a “large date and two floors of bathrobe rooms.” It was accepted for its love-seats and abundant orchestra ladies allowance with its annular lounge and art-deco decor.

The approaching of the Capitol Theater

Benson would like to see the amphitheater alternate to its above celebrity as a cogent actual anatomy in the city.

He said the activity will be done in phases, if it can be managed at all.

The aboriginal appearance will be to accompany the building’s bluff aback to its 1920s celebrated appeal, including acclimation the white adobe panels, the entrance, additional attic windows and marquee, which is absent.

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An breadth to the ancillary of the anteroom will be adapted into a brawl and amusing break dresses cool store.

Benson said they’ll abide to accomplish Alexandra’s Boutique as a conjugal destination, and will acceptable advertise its abatement dress boutique added up South Capital Street.

Benson said he will additionally seek to abode the amphitheater on the National Register of Actual Places, which offers acceptance and may accomplish it easier to admission canning grants.

Architect Richard Ventrone of Ventrone Architecture in Scituate, Rhode Island, has been retained to admission the architecture and will aftermath a plan, including an all-embracing abstraction of the façade restoration.

Benson will seek allotment to restore the theater. Ventrone has beatific an address to the Community Canning Committee to administer for Community Canning Act admission allotment this year, although the borderline has past.

Benson is additionally gluttonous abatement from the burghal and abutment for his plan. He said the taxes abandoned are added than $20,000 a year — a lot for a currently abandoned building.

Benson is not the aboriginal to anticipate a apology of the old amphitheater gem.

The architecture was purchased by Donna and Glenn Medeiros in 2006 for $600,000. They started a non-profit alignment and set about accession donations, but affairs fell through over the accomplished few years and the architecture was put up for sale.

Benson said he realizes it’s a huge undertaking, but added it’s accessible to accommodate the architecture as has been done with the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford. That amphitheater was additionally the aftermost of its affectionate in the city.

“We don’t alike apperceive how to run a theater,” Benson said. But, that little annihilate will be formed out in the future. Benson said they’d acceptable appoint a administrator to baby-sit the theater.

He said the Capitol Amphitheater could be an important allotment of a added awakening accomplishment of the city’s burghal and could accompany in added shops, confined and restaurants.

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“Fatima and I are both entrepreneurs,” Benson said. “If anyone can cull it off, we can.”

Email Deborah Allard at [email protected]

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