LACONIA — Nineteen years after going dark, the lights are back on at the Colonial Theater, where tradesmen and artisans are working to restore the 105-year-old building to its former grandeur.
On Tuesday, a crane and a bucket truck were deployed to remove the iconic blade-style sign from the front of the building and lower it to a waiting flatbed trailer. City Councilor Bob Hamel said the sign will be restored by Advantage Signs of Concord. The exterior of the marquee is in such poor shape it cannot be salvaged, Hamel said. Using the damaged exterior panels as a pattern, the sign company will manufacture a replacement that will be wired with an LED lighting system.
During a Monday night meeting, Hamel told the council that while the $15 million project was proceeding, some contractors are shorthanded as a result of the pandemic or have been unable to obtain certain materials. Those unforeseen issues likely will push back the scheduled one-year completion date by several months, he said. Since January, legions of workers have been working to return the venue to its former showplace status.
Last June, Meredith developer Rusty McLear announced his intent to build eight to 10 “market-rate” apartment/condominiums on the second and third floors of the 51,000-square foot brick building. On Tuesday, as crews wrestled the sign off the building, workers in Tyvek suits and respirators could be seen in the upper floors removing rotted window frames and boarding up the openings. The upper floors have been stripped down to the bare studs.
The project also calls for the renovation of four storefront units. The city has committed $8.1 million to the project, one of the largest historic preservation projects in state history. In February, the city council formerly recognized the efforts of former Mayor Ed Engler in championing the project by naming the theater’s auditorium in his honor.