“A bit of Broadway dropped onto Main Street, Lewiston,” said a lady as she stepped from a taxi at the entrance of the New Lewiston Theatre, Thursday night.

That’s how hundreds of L-A residents celebrated New Year’s Eve a century ago. It was opening night at an opulent addition to the abundant entertainment venues of the Twin Cities at that time.

“There is no finer theatre in New England than this,” declared the Lewiston Evening Journal’s report of the event.

The story was packed with vivid descriptions of the audience, the huge curtain and the first show performed in the building, soon to be known as the Strand Theatre. Probably many L-A residents who, like me, grew up in the mid-1950s, also have fond memories of Saturday matinees at the Strand in its sunset years.

That opening night was certainly a memorable occasion.

“A genuine New Year’s Eve,” the reporter said. “There was a sting in the air which made wraps necessary and gave a tingle to the face.”

The highly anticipated theatre, built at a cost of $150,000, was brightly lit. Crowds began arriving at 6:30 p.m., and doors opened at 7 p.m.

The sold-out audience began arriving earlier than expected. Before curtain time at 7:30 p.m., it was necessary to stop taking tickets at the door “in order that the nimble young women who acted as ushers be permitted to seat those who were already in the foyer.”

The story described their “appropriate uniform of gray with a pretty little lace cap,” and it praised their “brisk, business-like and polite manner” as the new theatre’s 2,800 seats filled.

There was a large floral horseshoe gift from Great Department Store (later known as Peck’s) at the left of the stage.

Local dignitaries, including the mayors of the two cities and their families, filled the four boxes, left and right of the large stage.

The show was a combination of vaudeville and movies. There was a live act between each reel of the picture show, a format that was followed in the early years. On stage that night were acrobatic acts and music from “Demarest, the eccentric musical genius at the piano,” and songs by the “Tyrolean Troubadours, direct from their triumphant tour with William Jennings Bryan.”

This beautiful building at Union Square, not far from Peck’s, was known as the Lewiston Theatre for almost five years. By the 1920s, it was named the Strand Theatre. A large marquee was added over the sidewalk, but the highest point of the façade always proclaimed “Lewiston Theatre” in concrete script.

Many memorable film titles ran across that marquee, but it was the western movies of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and others that thrilled Saturday matinee audiences of many young people during that era. They may recall the 12-cent ticket prices, which was approximately the cost of opening-night seats more than 50 years earlier.

To young eyes, the Strand still presented a splendid display. Its lobby featured large photos framed behind glass with the coming week’s attractions. The tile floors of the lobby probably were the same as those shown in the 1915 photos, and the chandeliers were also likely the original fixtures.

Those shows that excited kids of the ’50s were a far cry from the sophistication of the New Lewiston Theatre. There was always an episode of a serial story with a cliffhanger ending.

The afternoon audience was mostly loud and unsupervised. The balcony was steep and pretty scary for younger patrons. It was learned early that you should sit under the balcony and far enough back so that you would not be showered by popcorn from pranksters.

The Strand hosted several personal appearances by film stars. Western actor “Wild Bill” Elliott greeted his fans in July 1952, when he passed out autographed photos at the next-door Levasseur’s Service Station. My wife, Judy, remembers taking her younger brother to meet the star. She also remembers that kids could get a ticket to the Strand by bringing used wire coat hangers to Beal’s Laundry and Dry Cleaners in Auburn.

Another film star who visited the Strand was Robert Francis, a headliner in “They Rode West,” which was showing there in the winter of 1954.

By the summer of 1960, the newspaper ads for theaters in L-A showed that the Strand was doubling up with the Lisbon Drive-In with the same playbill. Not long after that, the Strand was no longer listed, and the building was demolished.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be emailed at [email protected]


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