Since 1926, Proctors, a beautifully restored historic theatre located in the heart of downtown Schenectady, has presented the very best in entertainment for New York's Capital Region.
At the turn of the 20th century, Frederick F. Proctor, known as the “Dean of Vaudeville,” managed many successful theatres throughout the eastern half of the United States. In 1919, the strength of General Electric and the American Locomotive Company added to a population increase of over 80,000 people in Schenectady, NY, which influenced F.F. Proctor to build a larger, more grandiose theatre in the “uptown” business area. Soon after, he purchased the real estate at 432 State Street in Schenectady, and in 1925, construction began on what promised to be Proctor’s most sensational vaudeville theatre.
Design and Construction
To design his new theatre, F.F. Proctor hired the famous architect Thomas Lamb. Lamb’s Italian Baroque style and Egyptian influences would be showcased beautifully in the elaborate designs that illuminated the new vaudeville and movie theatre. On April 14, 1925, ground was broken for F.F. Proctor’s new theatre. Onlookers observed the construction progress every day for a year and a half, as steelwork was put into place and framework was covered with brick and roofing. The interior included an ornate plaster ceiling and moldings, gold accents, plush carpeting, a giant chandelier, and an elaborate ceiling mural created by the famed Danish painter, August Lundberg. An arcade with shops, businesses and a side entrance to The Carl Company department store was built with the theatre, and extended from State Street through to Smith Street. When the theatre was completed, the total cost of construction totaled $1.5 million.
The Curtain Goes Up
Opening day on December 27, 1926 attracted more than 7,000 paid admissions, beginning with the purchase of the first ticket by twelve-year-old Michael Riccio. Those entering the theatre for the first time were overwhelmed by their surroundings. Huge chandeliers hung from the gilded ceiling, tapestries covered the walls, an imported Louis XV marble fireplace graced the mezzanine, a Mighty Wurlitzer theatre organ stood ready to accompany silent films, and faux marble columns enhanced the splendor of the new theatre. Backstage, 18 spacious dressing rooms, each with a private bath, awaited anxious performers. The feature film on opening day was a seven-reeler, “Stranded in Paris” starring Bebe Daniels, and was paired with five vaudeville acts. A matinee performance cost 35 cents, and an evening show was 50 cents.
During the 1930s and 40s –the Golden Age of Hollywood and the Big Band era—Proctor’s new theatre flourished. Movies like “King Kong,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Gone With the Wind” drew crowds that numbered in the thousands. Music greats like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington graced the mainstage, as did comedians Bob Hope and Red Skelton. Blackstone the Magician and tenor John McCormack were also among the many notables performing on stage during this era.
Although movies learned to talk in 1927, the sound was not perfected until the early 1930s. It was this improvement that caused the decline of vaudeville, which died out in the 1940s.
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