By Sarah Kinney
Bowling alleys, fires, and Main Street are just a few of the commonalities of Berlin's historical theaters.
Berlin's first theater, The Albert Theater, was built in 1905 by Albert Croteau, an area barber.
Joseph Caron of Nicolet, Canada, the architect that built St. Anne's Church, also built this Berlin landmark.
The theater, located near the corner of Main and Mason streets was considered a rival to big-city theaters, but it got off to a rocky start.
The auditorium seated 1400 people, was four-stories tall, had two balconies, and three fire escapes. A chandelier with sixty lights hung from the ceiling, and it was equipment with a grand piano.
At the time, no Boston theater was considered larger or more well-equipped.
The Albert opened with it's first show "Cousin Billy" starring Francis Wilson, May Robson, and Edith Barker in January 1906. It was followed by "The Little Father of the Wilderness."
Unfortunately, in November 1906, a fire broke out in the lower level of the building where J.A. Garneau sold furniture. There was also Andrew Rozek's store and bowling alleys owned by Clark, Carroll, Bergeron Co. below.
Despite the loss of the building to fire, Croteau was determined and by March 1910, the theater was entirely rebuilt. But again, by November 1910, there was a second fire. However, this fire only damaged the building and did not raze it.
It was again repaired and reopened on Jan. 29, 1911 and operated as a theater until 1955.
Since 1999, Paul and Fran Cusson have owned the building. They began renovating the building with the hopes that J.C. Penny would move to the building.
The Berlin Better Buildings initiative helped cover some of the costs to make the building very energy efficient.
When the J.C. Penny downsized, the Cusson's restructured their plans.
In 2012, Paul Cusson presented his hopes for the building as a multi-part plan to the Berlin Planning Board. He hoped to turn the building into a family entertainment center with activities such as indoor mini-golf, a snack bar, a birthday party area, ping pong, pool tables, a ball pit, a sand box, a small kids' theater, and remote controlled toys.
Berlin's second theater was the Gem Theater located at 135 - 137 Main Street.
Built in 1908, in between the operation of the two Albert theaters, the Gem was first a public building and then opened as a theater in 1909. It was specifically made for motion pictures, which were still in their infancy. Until the late 1920s, movies were silent.
Ethel Pickford and D. Campbell sang and Norris Stevens accompanied them on piano along with the shows.
The stage was also built large enough to accommodate vaudeville shows.
The theater could fit 700 patrons and was made with ornamental pressed steel.
The Gem closed as a theater in 1923 and was converted to a bowling alley. That was short-lived, and in 1924, it became a J. J. Newbury store.
In 1930, the building caught fire, but was rebuilt.
Days Jewelers then had their store in the building until 1968.
In the 1990s, there was another fire and the building was destroyed.
In 1914, the Princess Theater was built at the end of Main Street on Green Square.
John Stewart was contractor for the building. It had a state of the art ventilation system.
The theater originally had one screen and was later converted to a dual cinema.
At the time it was built, the population of Berlin was over 20,000, and more than enough to sustain three theaters. The Princess (also called Royal Twin Cinema for a time) survived the longest out of Berlin's theaters, though sporadically.
D.H. Campbell was one of the first managers of the theater.
The theater closed in the 1940s.
In 1961, it was reopened by John Voudoukis and in the 1970s, William Goudreau purchased it.
From 2006 to 2009, Peter Giannos ran the theater. In 2009, TBA Theaters, who also owned the Rialto in Lancaster, bought it.
TBA closed the theater in September 2011 and in 2012 T.C. Traders of Pelham, NH bought the building.
On Dec. 14, 2013, two juveniles set fire to the projector room around 6:30 p.m. A dozen firefighters responded as the temperature dipped below -12 degrees. The building was encased in ice from the water used to extinguished the fire, which lasted until nearly 5 a.m. the next morning.
On March 28, 2014 Andre R. Martel of Northwood, NH bought the building.
The Princess is the only Berlin theater to never have housed bowling facilities.
By the 1930s, the Princess and the Albert theaters were under the same management. In 1937, the Henry Hard Furbish residence (circa 1880) was bought by the Maine and New Hampshire Theater Co. and turned into the Strand Theater.
It was owned jointly with the Granite Amusement Co.
E. O. Gilbert had managed the Albert Theater, and he was to be the new manager of the Strand Theater.
Erlon Flecter had managed the Princess Theater, and he was moved to the Albert Theater.
Edward Brideau had been employed at the Albert Theater and he was promoted to managing the Princess Theater.
On Oct. 28, 1937, the theater opened to a full house for "Heidi" starring the renown Shirley Temple.
The auditorium was a single story that fit 1000 viewers; the lobby could accommodate 500 people, and the parking lot held 150 cars.
The theater was open until 1961. Ever since, it has been the Berlin Bowling Center.
The three theaters that still stand -- the Albert, Strand, and Princess -- still show traces of their cinematic pasts, but for now the curtain has closed on their operations.
Special thanks to Paul “Poof” Tardiff for sharing his research.