Saturday, November 26, 2011

Flynn Theater, 153 Main Street, Burlington, VT

1930 Program cover
The Theatre Historical Society lists the opening date of the Flynn in Burlington as Nov. 26, 1930; designed by Mowll and Rand. Built by John J. Flynn.
Floodlights danced across the sky above Burlington to herald the arrival of Vermont's newest and largest "entertainment palace". By 7 pm on the night before Thanksgiving, a long line of people waited for the new Flynn Theatre to open its doors, thankful for the arrival of a magnificent, state-of-the-art facility in which to enjoy both touring stars of vaudeville and the increasingly popular "talkie" motion pictures. (Movies—the "silents"—had been around for a quarter of a century, but the "talkies" were barely four years old.)
Holding special golden tickets and leafing through a beautifully printed opening night program guide, Vermont Governor John Weeks and Burlington Mayor J. Holmes Jackson were among the dignitaries who addressed the opening-night crowd and enjoyed a Wurlitzer organ recital by local musical legend Art Brown. The evening also featured the screening of three adventure and comedy shorts and the full-length feature film, the comedy Big Money, starring Eddie Guillen, Robert Austin, and James Gleason. Following the show, invited guests of the new theatre’s founders retired a few doors down Main Street to the Park CafĂ© to continue the celebration over a banquet of turkey with all the fixings.
The new entertainment complex—built at a cost of $500,000—was the brainchild of entrepreneur (and theater namesake) John J. Flynn and his investors in the Queen City Realty Company. Originally designed for vaudeville—with the largest proscenium in the state, a sophisticated "fly" system for set changes, sloped floor seating, excellent acoustics, and a central downtown location—the Flynn's focus shifted quickly to film as the Golden Age of Hollywood dawned and "talkies" became the rage. Newsreels became a major news source for theatergoers in those days; those same film aficionados "followed the bouncing ball" to sing along with their favorite Hollywood musicals. Our Gang comedies were popular fare and Hollywood icons including silents-to-talkies greats Anita Page and Lillian Gish, sultry Veronica Lake, John Wayne, and Humphrey Bogart graced the Flynn screen in those early days, in films ranging from War Nurse to The Big Trail to The Maltese Falcon.


The Flynn is the anchor for the downtown fine arts scene. Run as a nonprofit and housed in a wonderful Art-Deco theater dating to 1930.
The Flynn was designed for the live performances of vaudeville.

After operating for more than 40 years under the aegis of the Maine and New Hampshire Theatres Corporation, the Flynn Theatre was sold to Raydon Cody in 1972. Seven months later, the theater changed hands again when it was acquired by Merrill Jarvis of the Merrill Theater Corporation, a longtime Vermont company that operates the Roxy and Ethan Allen cinema complexes in Burlington to this day. When Jarvis took over the Flynn, he found the original curtains and "fly" system for set changes still in place after many years of disuse. Recognizing the Flynn's potential for live performance, Jarvis replaced the large, fixed movie screen with a moveable one, renewing the theater's capability for presenting live theater and music. Less than two years after Jarvis took over the Flynn, live performance returned to the theater for the first time in many years.

It was "rediscovered" by the Lyric Theatre group in 1981. Restoration of the grand old Vermont theater—a hallmark of Art Deco design and architecture—began in earnest as soon as the Flynn Theatre group took over the building on July 1, 1981. Basic system upgrades and the addition of a rear stair tower were completed by the end of the year. Calamity struck in January 1982: the theater sustained serious water damage from burst sprinkler pipes, closing down operations.

The second phase of community-funded renovations from 1982-84 included the addition of backstage dressing rooms and bathrooms; enhanced stage lighting; installation of a large loading ramp and door to better accommodate major touring productions; theater-wide rewiring; restoration of the proscenium arch; installation of a new roof over the main lobby; renovation of office and ticketing spaces; and repainting of the main theater walls with documentation of the historic stencils so essential to the theater’s Art Deco splendor. In the midst of these efforts, the Flynn was recognized by the Art Deco Societies of America as one of the country’s 10 most important Art Deco restoration projects.
Restored to its original art-deco interior, the Flynn Center now houses MainStage (the original Flynn Theatre) and  FlynnSpace (a smaller, intimate performing arts theatre).

A $1.5 million, five-year capital campaign, launched in 1985, was highly successful, fueling significant improvements in the Flynn's physical plant, including restoration of the main lobby, more than 1,000 restored seats on the main floor, new draperies, acquisition and clearing of an adjacent lot for improved show loading, new exterior doors, and rest room improvements. As the 1990s dawned, the vast roof over the main theater and stage was replaced. The building adjacent to the Flynn at 147 Main Street was acquired at this time, allowing expansion of the Flynn's administrative offices and creation of additional space for burgeoning educational activities such as masterclasses and workshops.
The Flynn Theater had a Wurlitzer theater organ opus 1200 style "H" special. No date is given. Status of organ: sold.


Jerry performed here on 12/6/83 early and late shows.

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