New Hampshire Missing Places: State Theatre of Manchester

Manchester's State Theatre being built. Photograph copyright by Dan LaRochelle, used here with his permission.

Manchester’s State Theatre being built. Photograph property of Dan LaRochelle, used here with his permission.

Manchester New Hampshire’s State Theatre was built on the then most important street in the city, at 1118 Elm Street on the corner of Baldwin or Washington (now called Wall Street).  It reportedly opened to a sizable crowd on Thanksgiving Eve, 27 November 1929. [However the Manchester City Directory for 1930 showed only the Palace and Park Theatres as being active in the city].  At the State Theatre’s introduction, reportedly movies with sound were first brought to the city. The State Theater’s art deco facade was considered one of the loveliest in New England. What we do know for certain is that by 1931, evidenced by the photograph directly below, the State Theatre was a well known and popular landmark of Manchester.

August 1931 photograph of the State Theatre, Elm Street, Manchester NH. Photograph property of Janice Brown.

August 1931 photograph of the State Theatre, Elm Street, Manchester NH.  The marquis says “An Entertaining Laugh Hit with William Haines in ‘Just a Gigolo‘ Also Comedy Cartoon and Fox News. (Just A Gigolo was released in 1931). Photograph property of Janice Brown.

There is much discussion about who was the architect of the State Theatre.  John Eberson is the most likely candidate, and indeed the State Theatre shows up on his official listing of buildings that he was involved with.  However “Hutchins & French,” a then well-known architectural group in Boston is listed on John Eberson’s official records.  Perhaps Eberson consulted with them on the State Theatre project, or vice versa.  Another famed architect, namely Victor A. Rigaumont also worked on the theatre.  A catalog issued in 1935 has an entry for a copyright issued to architect Victor A. Rigaumont for …additions to State Theatre at Manchester, N. H., for M. A. Shea and associates.” It is dated April 12, 1935.  5332, 5333 Design no 635-A.” [This does not provide any indication of what the 1935 additions were.]

As early as 1934 and in the 1942-43 Motion Picture Almanac, the State Theater in Manchester is listed as part of the Shea Circuit, run by Shea-Chain Inc. & Affiliates of 1540 Broadway in New York City. In 1942 were other Manchester theaters run by Shea at the same time–the Palace, Strand, Crown and the Vitaphone along with two theaters in Nashua. [Locally the theater was shown in directories as the State Operating Company, later the Interstate Operating Company.  These were local subsidiary names, but still part of the New York “Shea Chain” of entertainment facilities].

By 1962 the Shea-Chain subsidiaries included the Manchester Crown, Lyric, Palace, State and Strand Theatres along with Pine Island Amusement Park, and two theatres in Nashua, the State and Daniel Webster. [Note that State Theatres, Inc, State Operating Co., Colonial Theatres Co., Fulton Shea Theatre Co., Newark Amusement Co., were subsidiaries of the original Shea-Chain Inc.].

The Shea Company itself was begun by Maurice A. Shea. The Times Recorder (Zanesville Ohio) – 21 October 1940 reported his death: “Maurice A. Shea Dies in New York. Funeral services for Maurice A. Shea, 60, operator of motions picture houses… were held Monday morning in New York city. Burial also was in that city. He died Saturday at the Harkness Medical Pavilion in New York following a brief illness. At various times Mr. Shea was manager for Will Rogers, Elsie Janis and Vernon and Irene Castle.”  Shea operated a theater enterprise with entertainments in New York, Ohio, Pennyslvania, and New Hampshire, and at his death he left a net estate of $1,068,003 an appraisal showed. (His gross estate was valued at $1,198,587). In the 1950s a dispute arose among the beneficiaries on how the estate and distribution was being handled.

Everyone who speaks about the theatre seems to have fond memories, from patrons to employees. The interior was lush, seated 2,130 customers, and except in one case where the theatre’s furnace apparently ceased working during a chilly showing of Dr. Zhivago, was warm and comfortable. William Mannion Jr.’s recollection: “I was an usher at the State and the Strand theaters in the 50’s. The State Theater was on The west side of Elm street south of Bridge street. The exits of the theater were on a small side street on the south side of the theater. The side street led down to the J.J. Moreau annex which burned down in a big fire. The theater had a very large lobby with the concession stand in the very center. The restrooms were on the balcony level accessible via two large staircases, one on each side of the lobby. The ushers used to get a kick out of sending the new concession girls to get the candy from the storage room under the stage because to get there they had to pass thru the air shaft for the air conditioner which had a massive fan that blew the air thru the shaft at around fifty miles per hour. Scared the hell out of them.”

There were several managers of the theater during its lifetime including (but not limited to) :
Bernard L. Kearney (listed in 1940 Manchester City Directory as manager)
Fenton D. Scribner (Listed in 1941 Manchester City Directory as manager; August 25, 1955 Nashua Telegraph: Governor Lane Dwinell signing proclamation designating Sept 1 to September 15 as “Jimmy Time” and uring the people of its State to support the Jimmy Fund Drive. Looking on is State Chairman F.D. Scribner, manager of the State Theatre in Manchester).
Edward J. Fahey (manager 1118 Elm St in 1942-1949);  Nashua Telegraph, Oct 16, 1956 page 13: Edward Fahey Heads Theaters in Manchester. Edward J. Fahey has been appointed general manager of The State Operating Co. which embraces the State, Strand, Palace and Variety Theatres, the Pine Island Drive-In Theatre and Pine Island Park in Manchester, according to announcement by Gerald Shea, president of the State theatre interests. The announcement was made following a meeting of the board of directors in New York. Fahey joined the Shea company in 1933, serving as manager in Nashua, and was transferred to Manchester in 1941. Previously he had managed theatres for the New England Theatre Co. Paramount Theatre Co. and Warner Brothers Theatres.  In 1954 he was appointed manager of the Fulton Theatre in Pittsburgh, Pa, but when the Shea company purchased Pine Island Park, he was recalled to take over the project, as he had previously operated an amusement park before entering theatrical business.  Fahey will make his headquarters at the State theatre in Manchester.
Edward Bernard Hickey (Manchester NH Directory: 1964 E. Bernard Hickey manager state theatre)

Sadly the theatre was demolished in 1978, but one part remains–the statue head, an Art

"Muse of Comedy," the art deco head originally from the State Theatre in Manchester NH, now sitting on the campus of St. Anselm College.

“Muse of Comedy,” the art deco head originally from the State Theatre in Manchester NH, now sitting on the campus of St. Anselm College.

Deco representation of the Greek muse of comedy. “I remember when Arnold Green donated it to the college [in 1981],” Reginald Gaudette said in an interview for the Anselmian, the St. Anselm College yearbook . The statue is now in a slightly different position than when he was a student. It moved over about 10 yards due to the installation of a new lower quad in front of the Dana Center last summer. The statue, an Art Deco representation of the Greek muse of comedy, was moved very carefully in three pieces. It now faces the south side of Dana Center, with its back to Davison Hall.

History of the State Theater in Downtown Manchester NH.

Narrated by the great Fritz Weatherbee.


Unbreakable Comb Blog: Theater Project

More Photographs of the State Theatre, Manchester NH

Facebook: State Theatre Then And Now

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3 Responses to New Hampshire Missing Places: State Theatre of Manchester

  1. Max Shea says:

    I am a descendent of Maurice A. Shea. His untimely death led to a 15-year war between his heirs and the trustees of his estate The Shea family lost their fortune and in the 1960s the movie theater business M.A. Shea made thrive from the twenties through the forties was all but kaput. My uncle did inherit the crumbling residuals of the business and did own a few remaining theaters into the seventies. One of them was State Theater. We lived nearby Manchester in the seventies and I do have a childhood memory of seeing State demolished. Whether or not my uncle had a head for business is immaterial for the moribund condition of the company. Furthermore, with the rise of the Interstates and the shopping malls in the sixties, the shoe box style cinemaplexes by the highway reigned supreme by 1978, and the majestic downtown theaters of M.A. Shea’s time were a thing of the past.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Thank you for commenting about this story, Max. I tried to stick just to the facts that I could learn, but I was aware from subsequent newspaper clippings that the attorneys and administrators appeared to be the only people making money from Maurice’s estate. I agree, your uncle probably inherited in-town movie theatres when the industry was free falling, and down-town Manchester was in a down swing.

  2. Pingback: The Darker Side of Manchester NH’s Pine Island Park | Cow Hampshire

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