Watching a national touring production on the main stage at Proctors can be a thrilling experience, but as Marilyn Sassi will tell you, there’s a whole lot more to see and enjoy about the historic 1926 building at 432 State Street in downtown Schenectady.
“People love to hear about how well Proctors is doing, especially when a lot of other old beautiful vaudeville theaters have been demolished,” said Sassi, who will be in charge of the Mr. Proctor’s Birthday Walking Tour Sunday at 10 a.m. “People are fascinated by the story of Proctors, how much it cost Mr. Proctor to build in 1926; he spent a million and a half dollars on it, and they also like to hear the success story, how it successfully turned around downtown Schenectady.
Those questions and plenty of others will be answered by Sassi and her team of volunteer tour guides on Sunday.
“We’ve been doing an annual public tour in honor of Mr. Proctor every year on his birthday for the past five years,” said Sassi. “We’re going to meet in the arcade near State Street and then split up into groups,” said Sassi. “Everyone will listen to a short history segment and then people will get guided to certain areas of the theater. We’ll see the main stage, we’ll go to the crossover area, the section that was recently constructed for loading and unloading purposes; so an 18-wheeler can drive right up and unload all the props, and we’ll take an elevator ride up to the second floor. People will get to see the entire theater.”
Mr. Proctor is Frederick Freeman Proctor, born on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1851. He was a successful show business entrepreneur with 53 different theaters around the country. Proctors, the one at 432 State Street, was his last.
“People ask us, ‘why Proctor’s?’ but they don’t realize that in 1926 Schenectady was the city that lights and hauls the world, “ said Sassi. “And Proctor spent a lot of time in Schenectady after he built this one. He had an apartment with black and white tiles on the third floor and it’s still there. He had a large family home in Larchmont, an apartment in Manhattan, and a summer complex near West Point with two man-made lakes. But he was in Schenectady a lot because he loved it here.”
Proctor died in 1929 at his home in Larchmont. He had also built an earlier theater in Schenectady back in 1912 that was also called Proctors, located on Erie Boulevard, until he constructed the current venue on State Street.
Keeping straight all of the Proctors history is part of Sassi’s job along with the Proctors’ History Committee, which is chaired by Audrey Hughes, who worked for the theater back in the 1980s.
“When I first started I knew nothing about the history of Proctors,” said Hughes. “But we’ve done a good job of collecting all of the history and we have display cases in the arcade about our history, and we have a small museum on the second floor. We have wonderful volunteers, around 15-20, and we meet once a month. We’re very lucky to have Marilyn and Pam Dodds. They’ve done a great job of archiving and documenting this building’s wonderful history, and our goal is to eventually put everything up on the computer. We also want to make this a place where people can come and sit and do research, whether it be about Proctors, vaudeville or architectural history.”
If you can’t make Sunday’s special event, there are tours held once a month on Tuesday’s following the organ concert. Free tours are available for groups as large as 300 or as small as two people, and are wheelchair accessible.
“People can check the organ concert schedule, but you can also contact Proctors and set up a tour,” explained Sassi, who is much more than just a history buff, having been the curator at the Schenectady County Historical Society and the Van Alstyne Homestead in Canajoharie as well as having taught classes at Hudson Valley Community College and Schenectady County Community College. “If someone is really interested, we can set up a tour and do that person by themselves. We used to have more regularly scheduled tours, but as Proctors became more and more popular and booked more shows, it got harder to get into the theater for a tour.”
Proctors Walking Tour
WHEN: 10 a.m. Sunday
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St.