When Proctors first opened in December of 1926, the place offered nonstop entertainment throughout much of the day. "Movies at 1, 4, 7 and 10 p.m.," blared The Gazette advertisement, "and vaudeville acts at 2:45, 6 and 8 p.m."
Things have changed since then, and Proctors has had its share of ups and downs. Fortunately, the dark days are a distant memory, and now the place seems to have as much buzz about it as when Frederick Proctor opened the venue the day after Christmas 91 years ago. Tonight at 7, Proctors will hold its 90th Anniversary Gala in celebration of its long history of bringing entertainment to Schenectady.
Here's a look back on some of the more important and interesting events in the long history of Schenectady's iconic theater, which until 2011 was known as Proctor's Theatre, with the apostrophe.
April 8, 1912
Before he built his own theater at 432 State St., Frederick Proctor rented a new venue at the northwest corner of State and Erie Boulevard 14 years earlier and called it Proctor's Theatre. When the new Proctor's opened in 1926, the older building became the State Theater. It sat 1,675 people.
April 14, 1925
Ground is broken for the new theater, designed by architect Thomas Lamb.
Dec. 26, 1927
Proctors opens at noon that Monday, allowing people to just come in and check out the building before the entertainment started at 1 p.m. with a silent film called "Stranded in Paris," a comedy starring Bebe Daniels. The place seats around 2,700 people.
Sept. 2, 1929
Frederick Proctor dies, having earlier in the year sold the theater to the Radio Keith Orpheum Corp. for $16 million.
May 22, 1930
General Electric engineer Ernst Alexanderson offers the first public demonstration of television, broadcasting a live orchestra performance from GE headquarters about a mile away onto a 7-foot screen set up in the crowded theater at Proctors.
Proctors thrives throughout much of the time period, hosting some of the biggest acts in entertainment such as Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, to name a few. However, as television becomes a bigger part of American culture in the 1950s, things change. Proctors becomes primarily a movie house and finds it hard to compete with new theaters in the suburbs.
After years of slow decline, Proctors is seized by the city for nonpayment of taxes. Officials schedule demolition, but a group of citizens led by Katherine S. Rozendaal comes together to save the theater. Their group, the Arts Center and Theatre of Schenectady, known as ACTS, raises money and puts in hours of volunteer time to spruce up the venue and keep it from falling into disrepair.
Because of ARTS, Proctors is able to reopen on Jan. 3, 1979. Mayor Frank Duci calls it "a significant, historic moment," as he hands the keys of Proctors to Rozendaal, who in turn gives Duci and the city $1 to "purchase" the theater. Later that day, magician Harry Blackstone Jr, whose father had played Proctors 40 years earlier, performs in front of a sold-out theater. Dennis Madden takes over as executive director, becomes mayor of Scotia in 1986, and leaves Proctors in 1988.
Fundraisers are held to keep Proctors afloat, and in 1984 the theater celebrates its fifth year as a not-for-profit. Also, the Golub family donates a 1926 Wurlitzer organ, nicknamed Goldie, to Proctors.
Aug. 21, 1988
After Madden resigns, Gloria Lamere, who had been executive director of the Albany Coliseum, takes over that position at Proctors.
After a near decadelong series of improvements, Proctors can boast a new roof, stage floor, refurbished dressing rooms and air conditioning. Also, in November of that year, Schenectady mayor Al Jurczynski and his Albany counterpart Jerry Jennings schedule a task force to look into the feasibility of a merger between Proctors and The Palace. After an initial meeting, enthusiasm for the idea wanes, and any discussion of a merger ends.
Lamere dies. Under her leadership, Proctors continued to offer plenty of top-notch entertainment and increase its profile.
Philip Morris's first day as executive director is March 4. Two month later, on May 5, general manager Fred Daniels announces a 2002-2003 season consisting of 50 shows, including "Miss Saigon" and "Riverdance."
April 7, 2005
Morris announces a $40 million expansion project that will allow Proctors to host large productions that had been too big for its stage. At the same news conference, he also announces that "The Phantom of the Opera" will arrive in Schenectady in May of 2006 for a monthlong stay. Morris calls it "the biggest news to hit downtown Schenectady since F.F. Proctor opened up the theater."
Proctors finishes construction of the GE Theatre and the Fenimore Gallery, as well as an expanded lobby and cafe area.
Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany merges with Proctors
For the first time, Proctors hosts a monthlong tech rehearsal for a national touring production, "Ghosts: The Musical."
Proctors overtakes operations of Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs.
Proctors has an annual operating budget of $22 million, and now lures more than 650,000 visitors through its doors each year to more than 1,700 events. The Addy, a new performance and rehearsal space, is created on the third floor.
Sizing up Proctors
Along with the main theater, Proctors has five other venues in its State Street building. They are the GE Theatre, Underground at Proctors, Fenimore Asset Management Gallery, Robb Alley and The Addy.
Other organizations also use Proctors on a regular basis. Here are some of those groups.
The Eighth Step, Capital Repertory Theatre, Universal Preservation Hall, Empire State Youth Orchestra, Schenectady Symphony, Northeast Ballet, Schenectady Greenmarket, Classical Theater Guild and the Story Circle at Proctors.