HISTORY OF THE HARBOR THEATER
In 1932, Boothbay Harbor’s first cinema, The Strand Theater, was built on property next to what is now the Opera House on Townsend Avenue. It was destroyed in a fire in 1982, and the only movie house in town was the summer Harbor Lights Cinema that operated out of the Meadow Mall from 1985 to 2002. When the lights went out at that theater, Jason Sheckley, a long-time theater projectionist with a summer home in Boothbay, bought it and re-opened it as Harbor Theatre in the summer of 2002.
Boothbay resident Robert Devine (Chief Projectionist for the Armed Services in the 1950’s and former board president of the non-profit Harbor Theater), was instrumental in bringing the theater back. Devine, a retired McDonald’s franchise owner, advised Sheckley in addition to personally remodeling the theater’s lobby before the reopening.
The theater opened with the comedy “Gold Member,” a spoof on James Bond films. Sheckley decorated the lobby with his own collection of vintage posters, film and projector equipment, and a 1950s-style juke box (that never played). For 15 years, he ran the theater single-handedly, taking tickets, serving up popcorn, and always standing at the door to say goodnight to his patrons.
In 2007, Devine and a group of loyal supporters founded “Friends of The Harbor Theater,” a non-profit organization with a mission “to sustain and perpetuate motion pictures on the Boothbay peninsula.” Devine wanted to help Sheckley, who was still commuting back and forth from his regular job in Dutchess County, NY until his retirement in 2011. The group sponsored a Wednesday Night Film Series, renting the theater during winter months from the owner.
Through membership donations, “Friends” installed a new, custom-built movie screen frame and “sound screen,” reconfigured the movie speakers for better sound, re-rigged the golden, remote-controlled “traveler” curtain (formerly installed in The Dover Theatre, Dover Plains, New York), and the black masking curtains which change the screen size by remote control.
Through a donation by The Regal Cinema Co., “Friends” and generous patrons, nearly-new seats were installed in the theater’s auditorium. The seats contain plaques on the armrests identifying patrons who had donated money toward the re-seating project.
Through the help and support of many local businesses, families and individuals, the Harbor Theater continued to run contemporary, classic, foreign and repertory film. In 2012 the theater raised close to $70,000 from community supporters to switch to a digital projector as movie companies were moving toward DVDs.
In 2017, with the threat of higher rent and expenses beyond his control, Sheckley agreed to sell his assets to the Friends of the Harbor Theater, which subsequently changed its name to simply Harbor Theater. Sheckley continues as theater manager, reporting to the non-profit theater’s board of directors.
As a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt non-profit, the Harbor Theater relies on community support for almost 50% of its budget. All donations are tax deductible within the law. New programming will include first-run films, art and independent films, documentaries, special events such as Meet the Director nights and educational and cultural events sponsored by local groups.
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