hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture February-March 2019


A downtown theater reborn

After decades-long intermission, performance space has second act


Elizabeth Miller bought the long-dormant Park Theater in downtown Glens Falls and restored it to its original function as a space for performances and entertainment. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


The activities planned in the coming months at The Park Theater, the newly reopened event space in downtown Glens Falls, range from a bluegrass concert to line dancing lessons, a chamber of commerce mixer and a performance by an improv theater group.

The stately building at 14 Park St. began its life more than a century ago as a thriving cinema and vaudeville house. But by the late 1930s, the structure’s role as a performance space gave way to other business uses, and its original interior was largely gutted.

Now the theater has been reborn, thanks to the vision of local businesswoman Elizabeth Miller.
As Miller recalls, the building’s resurrection has its roots in bagpipe lessons that started more than 20 years ago.

It was 1997 when Miller’s son Ben, then a third-grader at St. Mary’s-St. Alphonsus Regional Catholic School, began learning to play. His teacher was Harold Kirkpatrick, a local plastic surgeon who founded a regional bagpipe corps.
As she got to know her son’s teacher over the years, Miller learned that Kirkpatrick owned the dormant Park Theater and had dreams of breathing new life into the structure. The doctor had saved the building from demolition by buying it in the early 1980s.

When Kirkpatrick died in 2014, Miller found herself on a mission to make sure his dream came to fruition. Kirkpatrick’s family agreed to sell the building to Miller, but that was just the first and easiest step. Miller knew funding and overseeing the theater’s restoration would be a big job, but she rolled up her sleeves.

Miller is president and chief executive of Miller Mechanical Services, a local fabrication company that serves the pulp and paper industry. She was prepared to put up a sizeable amount of her own capital for the theater restoration.

She also applied for a state economic development grant through what’s known as the Consolidated Funding Application program. To qualify she had to show that her enterprise was female-owned, would spend at least $3 million on renovations to be eligible for a partial reimbursement from the grant program, and would use local craftsmen for the restoration work. Miller ended up spending $5 million on the renovation project.

“I’m hoping to get $600,000 back from the grant, but there’s no guarantee,” she said. “The state will reimburse me when it has the funds.”

Having committed so many of her own resources to the project, Miller revealed no hint of buyer’s remorse. Rather, she stressed that she believes in the future of The Park Theater and what it can offer the community.


The renovated theater once again has a stage. The performance space has seating for 250, but the removable chairs allow flexibility for hosting other kinds of events. Joan K. Lentini photoThe renovated theater once again has a stage. The performance space has seating for 250, but the removable chairs allow flexibility for hosting other kinds of events. Joan K. Lentini photo


Mixing historical, contemporary
When it opened in 1911, the Park Theater was the first movie house in Glens Falls. But after it ceased operating as a cinema and performance space in 1935, the building was converted to other uses. For several decades beginning in 1937, it housed the printing press of the local daily newspaper, The Post-Star.

The building’s status as cinema was revived for two brief periods in the past 20 years, but it largely fell into disrepair.

“The building was just a big, empty box when we started renovations in 2014,” Miller recalled. “There was a 1911 furnace in the basement, no stage in the theater, and lots of asbestos.”
Once the cleanup was finished, Miller was free to unleash her aesthetic vision for the building. She ordered custom-made white terra cotta bricks for the damaged columns on the theater’s exterior and enlisted a Bolton Landing artist to design the theater’s doors.

One of the most painstaking parts of the theater’s restoration involved the redesign of the high-relief sculpted faces that hover at the top of the six columns on the walls of the theater. Five had sustained damage over the decades, but Miller sent the intact face to a Buffalo-based company so five new ones could be replicated.

Miller credits her handpicked crew of local contractors, designers and artists for the striking appearance of the renovated interior.

“I wanted the lobby to look like old Hollywood, and very feminine,” she said.
Contrasting the elegant black-and-white decor of the lobby and its curvaceous, cascading staircase to the lower level is the theater’s culinary component: Doc’s Restaurant, named in honor of Kirkpatrick.

With its burnished wood interior and Polo Lounge vibe, it’s hard to believe the space once housed a bowling alley.

“When I bought the building, the downstairs was just concrete walls and metal posts of varying sizes,” Miller said. “I call the Park Theater the house that local talent built. … The craftsmen were just amazing.”

The restaurant now has new flooring, lighting fixtures, custom woodwork and a sound system.
Miller was so happy with the results she held a thank-you party, just prior to last April’s grand opening, for all who worked on the renovations.


Creating a downtown destination
Miller, of course, wanted to do more than simply give the Park Theater a new look. She envisioned a purpose: a place for the community to entertain and be entertained.
She loved the idea of a downtown entity offering dinner and dancing under one roof, which the Park Theater now does thanks to weekly line-dancing lessons.

“I’d love to have a ballroom dance instructor come in a few times a month,” Miller said. “We also have a local artist who does paint-and-sip events, and we’ll be offering a special on Valentine’s Day with dinner downstairs and a paint-and-sip session upstairs afterwards.”

She recently hired an executive director, Peter Hughes, who spent 20 years in the marketing division at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady.

“I did some wonderful things with Proctors, and now it’s time to build from the ground up here,” Hughes said. “Ideally we’d like to see more music, comedy and dance events at the Park Theater. It’s intended to be a space for the community and is a flexible, usable space.”
The theater’s removable chairs seat 250 people, and there is standing-room-only capacity for additional 50.

The venue is drawing praise from performers.
“The Park gives us artistic freedom,” said Laura Roth, a singer who has performed regularly at the Park with Hui Cox, a guitarist who teaches at Bennington College.

“One month we’ll do jazz, and the next time it’ll be something else,” Roth said. “Right before the election, we did protest music and let audience members come on stage in between songs to voice their feelings.”

“We like that the theater lets us take chances like that,” Cox added.
Roth and Cox are wrapping up work on their first album, to be released in the spring, and they expect to return to the Park to promote it.

In addition to arts-related events, the theater is available for weddings and other celebrations. Movies also are shown at the Park Theater, and it serves as one of the venues for the Adirondack Film Festival in October.

“Live music is becoming more regular, and we’ve had a couple of plays performed at the theater,” Miller said.


The sound of bagpipes
One of the first live musical performances at the theater was by Miller’s son, Ben, and his Acadian band, Miller-MacDonald-Cormier. It turns out those childhood lessons from Kirkpatrick ignited a passion, and Ben went on to become a professional bagpipe player who travels the world.

“To be honest, I was quite emotional,” Ben said, recalling his performance in May at the Park Theater. “Seeing all of the hard work my mother had put into that space come to life, and to be sharing our music in the space that was so connected to how my path as a musician began, is definitely a career highlight for me.”

Ben, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said he and his band will return to the Park for a St. Patrick’s Day concert on March 16.

With the theater’s first anniversary approaching, Miller says she’s pleased with the way the theater’s mission is unfolding.

“Word is getting out, and things are getting better all the time,” she said.
And the same can be said for Doc’s. In honor of its namesake, the restaurant features a portrait of Kirkpatrick in bagpipe attire at its entrance.

The restaurant’s menu, developed by chef Mike Squires, features everything from continental fare to vegan dishes. Squires and Hughes collaborate on special events involving dinner and theater, and there’s an outdoor patio for summer dining.

“It’s a leap of faith to put a theater and restaurant downtown,” Miller said. “But the businesses here are supportive of one another: the Queensbury Hotel, Wood Theatre, all the restaurants, the Cool Insuring Arena. … There’s enough for everybody, and we seem to share really well.”

For more information on The Park Theater, visit www.parktheatergf.com or call (518) 792-1150.