New Bedford’s Capitol Theater Could Rise Again
The former Capitol Theater building could rise from the ash heap and play a prominent role in reviving a long-neglected section of Acushnet Avenue in New Bedford's North End.
The Community Development Economic Center (CDEC) has joined with the Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE) to revitalize the Capitol Theater, located at 1418-1440 Acushnet Avenue, just north of St. Anthony's Church.
The rehab, expected to cost roughly $6 million, does not involve the restoration of the theater but converting the property for mixed-use purposes, including retail, office space, and a new home for the CDEC offices.
CDEC Executive Director Corrin Williams asked me during a recent tour if I thought they were "crazy" to undertake such an ambitious project.
"Of course not," I replied, expressing my hope to witness the completion of the task. After all, WHALE has a proven track record with restoration projects in New Bedford.
The Capitol Theater opened in 1920. It didn't last long, closing in the mid-1970s. Multi-screen movie theaters and parking issues contributed to the demise of the Capitol. The theater has remained vacant through the years, but it has been utilized for storage as well.
Large, gaping holes in the roof and ceiling have resulted in considerable water damage to the rear interior of the building where the auditorium was located. There were snowbanks in the corners of the concrete floor on the day I visited. The second level located in the front of the building housed office space until the early 1980s. It will become six affordable apartments.
Williams said state and federal grant money has been obtained, but more is needed. She said private donations are also welcome to make the dream a reality. The finished product will bear the name Capitol Theater in one form or another.
I hadn't stepped foot into the Capitol Theater in 50 years until my recent visit. I was immediately transformed to the many Saturday afternoons I spent watching films there as a kid. As horrible as the theater looks in its current condition, it still felt like home.
I wish CEDC and WHALE much luck raising the money they need to revive the Capitol Theater. Here's hoping it will lead to great things for Acushnet Avenue and the near North End of New Bedford.
Oh, and much appreciation to Corrin Williams (CEDC), Teri Bernert (WHALE), Rachel Alison (WHALE), and Ken Raposa (WHALE) for their enthusiasm about the Capitol Theater project and for sharing their vision and a part of my past with me one cold February day. Take a look inside the theater as it currently stands.