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Bristol's Plans for Pastime Theater

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Taking future of Pastime Theater from ideas to plans

A Cambridge architectural firm has been meeting with members of the community to envision a refurbished theater that will be "an experience in itself."

BY ALEX KUFFNER

Journal Staff Writer - Friday, May 28, 2004

BRISTOL -- Architectural plans for the Pastime Theater's transformation from a cinema to a nonprofit performing arts center could be ready by the end of the summer.

The Pastime Theater Foundation hired an architecture firm last month and has been holding sessions with residents and town officials to brainstorm ways to refurbish the 1930s Art Deco building on Bradford Street.

It's been a slow process. Since the foundation bought the building for $340,000 last November, its members have spent a lot of time fundraising and trying to figure out whether their ambitious ideas for the theater are feasible.

"We've been talking about how to get from ideas to real plans," said Gary Watros, director of communications for the foundation. "What we want to create is a theater that's an experience in itself."

Deciding how to do that will depend on a meeting with architects from Wilson, Butler, Lodge Inc., a firm based in Cambridge, Mass.

The foundation chose Wilson, Butler, Lodge from seven applicants last month because its members were impressed with the firm's experience in theater design and renovation.

"They have deep knowledge of how you go about creating something special," said Watros.

According to its Web site, the firm led renovations to the Academy of Music in Lynchburg, Va., and designed the Boston Ballet School in Newtonville, Mass., and the Bushnell Theater, in Hartford, Conn., among other projects.

In an interview during the application process, architects from the firm had recommendations on sound and lighting systems that would be appropriate for the Pastime, Watros said. Some of those ideas will be fleshed out over the summer and detailed plans are expected by September.

The designs should help fundraising efforts. Watros said the foundation isn't only trying to raise money for the renovation of the theater. It's also looking into setting up an endowment that could supplement proceeds from ticket sales and rental fees.

"Too many theaters have fallen through because they can't make enough money," Watros said.

The foundation is also working with Don Hirsch, a consultant who led the restoration of the Paramount Theater in Rutland, Vt., and the Barre Opera House, also in Vermont. Hirsch will guide the foundation through the process of planning, fundraising, construction and operation of the theater.

Watros said it's unclear how much the renovations will cost, but past estimates have been as much as $1 million.

The Pastime was originally housed in the 1785 Congregational Meetinghouse. It started showing movies in 1912, sharing room with the Bristol Opera House.

When the meetinghouse burned down in 1934, the current building that's home to the Pastime was built in the same location. It continued showing movies there until last June.

From The Providence Journal

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