Though we feel it's vital to focus a great deal of energy on the sustainable future of The Waldo Theatre, we are very proud to preserve its history while we're at it.
In 1935, Carroll T. Cooney, a wholesale lumber dealer in New York City with long family ties to Waldoboro, decided to build a state of the art movie theater in the town. He commissioned architect Benjamin Schlanger for the project. Schlanger, considered a leader in contemporary theater design, participated in the design of New York’s Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and many other iconic buildings.
Schlanger designed the Waldo Theatre with an Art Deco interior and a Greek Revival-style façade with seating for 400. Many local families took part in the theatre’s construction, which was overseen by Master Builder L. Myron Neal of Friendship and Master Carpenter Clyde Winchenbach of Waldoboro. Cooney installed projection and sound systems identical to those in Radio City Hall, and the theatre soon became renowned for its acoustics, earning it a reputation as Maine’s Little Radio City. The theatre was described by the Association of Motion Picture Owners of America as one of the best designed small theaters in the nation.
The Waldo opened its doors on December 9, 1936 with a screening of “Pennies from Heaven,” charging 35 cents a ticket. For the next twenty years, the theatre was the region’s premiere motion picture cinema, with shows offered almost every night of the week. The ascendance of television let to the theatre’s eventual decline and, in 1957, the Cooney family decided to sell the building. Soon after, the theatre’s doors closed, except for periodic use as a Masonic Hall.
After languishing for more than two decades, the theatre was purchased by Dr. Edward Kitfield and his wife, Lydia in 1981. The Kitfields used the left side of the building as a doctor’s office while renovating the building for live theatrical use. They then placed the theater on the market in the mid1980s.
In 1986, the Waldo was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That same year, pianist, record producer, and philanthropist Frances “Kitty” Fassett purchased the theatre and established it as a non-profit organization. During her tenure, an executive director position was created, and a green room, office space, kitchen and dressing rooms were added. For the next twenty years, the theatre was a beloved and successful venue for live community theatre, concerts, and other forms of entertainment, contributing to the cultural and economic vitality of Waldoboro’s downtown and the region as a whole.
In 2006, Kitty Fassett gifted the theatre to the non-profit, Waldo Theatre, Inc. The organization operated for eight years, but did not have the capacity to maintain a level of funding that would support building upkeep, programming, and staff, and the theatre was once again shuttered in 2014. The building fell into a state of disrepair and, in 2017, was placed on Maine’s List of Most Endangered Historic Places.
Recognizing the value of this iconic building and what an asset it is for the region, late in 2016, area residents came together to create a new board and chart a new way forward. In the past year, our focus has been on strengthening the organization’s capacity, stabilizing the building, assessing restoration needs, developing a strategic plan, and preparing for a capital campaign. We are extremely excited by growing community support and the potential to make the Waldo Theatre a thriving arts center in our region.