It was early February in 1961 and a majority of the best talent in Lewiston-Auburn was hard at work rehearsing for the Auburn Exchange Club’s blockbuster show.

Exchange-O-Rama ’61 would mark the send-off of the Auburn Theatre on Feb. 24-25.

I save programs from hundreds of amateur and professional performances that I have seen over the years. A copy of that show’s program brought back memories of good friends who took part in it, as well as nostalgia related to that fine old theater that once stood beside Auburn Hall.

The club’s newspaper advertisements called it the “swan song” for the soon-to-be-demolished theater, and it promised a return to the days of vaudeville and slapstick comedy.

The flashing marquee lights were turned on again for the last time on the weekend of that show. The theater had been locked and dark since 1954.

The show’s program included a photograph of the Auburn Theatre’s familiar vaudeville backdrop curtain. It was a huge painting of a downtown intersection, and signs on the buildings included Union Square Taxi, F.A. Clough Insurance, Olfene’s Market, Fogg’s Leather Store and Maine School of Commerce.

There also was a photo of eight high-stepping Evelyn Dyer Clark Dancers who opened the show with “Top Hat and Tails.”

There was a picture of Dick Gammon adorned with pigtails and Alex Lobozzo behind a very large mustache doing their comic rendition of “Sweet and Lovely.” Another picture featured the Bergeron Barbershop Quartet of Ray, Louis, Frank and Andy.

The program was strong on solo vocal numbers of the day’s popular songs, including “A Thousand Stars” by Vicki Smaha; “Vaya Con Dios” byEdith Gagnon and Claudia Goudey; “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” by Marsha Harris; “Melody d’Amour” by Marie LaPierre; and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Beverley Brown.

Novelty numbers abounded. They included a humorous routine by well-known storyteller Morris Ruttenberg.

Channel Caron performed “The Great Fire Eater.” Charles Garey entertained with “A Man With a Banjo.” Joseph Cloutier sang “Old Man River.”

Other dance numbers were presented by Bonnie Murray and Rachel Despines with “Spanish Castanets;” Lorraine Perrault with “Polka Time;” and Lois Camire with “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

Members of the Scarlet Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps performed “Jealousie.”

Among other musical numbers were Nestor Simones singing “Because;” Maurice Morin singing “You’re My Everything;” and Nancy Angell singing “Tico Tico.”

Nancy Bates presented “Broadway Bound;” John Bennett with “At the Grand Piano;” The Chorals offered “Rock ’n’ Roll Time;” Al Tavares performed “Mammy;” and Harold Purington played an accordion medley.

The program listed two familiar local bands that accompanied performers. It was Cliff Lachance and his Orchestra on Friday night and Lloyd Rafnell and his Orchestra on Saturday night.

George Orestis was master of ceremonies and there was a guest appearance by The Merrymanders a cappella group from Bates College.

A website says the Auburn Theatre opened in 1928 with “Excess Baggage” starring William Haines, followed by a Lon Chaney movie, “While the City Sleeps.”

Its seating capacity was listed as 1,750.

Lewiston’s movie houses had been successful in the early decades of the 1900s and residents of Auburn were hoping to get their own theater.

William P. Gray, the successful operator of Lewiston theaters, was persuaded to participate in construction of a hall in the Shoe City and he agreed to put $100,000 into the effort.

The site, a city building at Court Street and Mechanics Row leased by the American Legion, was chosen. It was known historically for an old house in which Mrs. Ora Davis and her sister operated the city’s first millinery.

When it opened, the theater’s cost was more than $200,000. Its beautiful lobby sported brightly colored coats of arms, but its prize possession was a theater organ said to be the best in New England.

The old newspaper ads, right up to the closing, heralded “Five Big Acts of Vaudeville” every weekend.

The Auburn Theatre also will be remembered for screening 3-D films in the early 1950s when audiences wore special cardboard glasses. Among those films that showered the audience with vintage virtual-reality flaming arrows, spears and falling boulders and buildings were “House of Wax,” “Bwana Devil” and “The Charge at Feather River.”

The Auburn Theatre was demolished in the early 1960s.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]