Classic theatres and movie palaces appeal to a broad range of individuals, from architects, historians and preservationists to those that love cinema and the arts. But once these buildings close, reopening them is virtually impossible. Many have been torn down over the years, while those that survive often do so in a derelict or at best adapted condition. The Victory Theatre in Holyoke, Massachusetts, is one of the happy exceptions. After more than 30 years of abandonment, the Victory is set for a $24 million makeover to see it reopen by the end of 2012. Photographer Matt Lambros was given permission to go in and take a look!
The stunning Victory Theatre opened in 1920 and began its days as a “combination house”, providing both live and film entertainment. It was a thriving venue for vaudeville (variety shows) and silent motion pictures until 1931 when it switched to an all-movie format, consistent with other old theatres that were adapted for cinema audiences.
Despite suffering fire damage in 1942, the single-screen Victory Theatre thrilled moviegoers for almost 60 years before the curtain fell in 1979. The stunning 1,680 seat Baroque theatre has remained empty ever since, but is set to reopen in 2012 following a major renovation, 33 years after its final closure.
Efforts to restore the building began as long ago as 1983, but despite some impressive fundraising achievments the Victory remained in the doldrums. The breakthrough came in 2008 when ownership was transferred by the city of Holyoke to the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts, which is committed to turning the ailing movie theater into a performing arts centre in a $24 million renovation.
After more than three decades of dereliction, Matt Lambros’ photos show the Victory Theatre to be remarkably intact. Vandalism thankfully appears to be at a minimum, although the years of emptiness clearly haven’t done the ceiling and other fine features any good. Nevertheless, Matt’s images tell the story of a grand old theatre that might be in need of some TLC but provides a beautifully ornate canvas to work from. Roll on 2012!