Campus News

Work to Begin This Fall on Bowdoin Theater Complex

Story posted July 15, 1998


Bowdoin College will begin work this fall on renovations of historic Memorial Hall, home to Pickard Theater, and on the construction of a new, adjacent experimental theater.

Construction is expected to begin in early September. Bowdoin hopes to occupy the renovated and expanded space by January 2000. The Brunswick Planning Board gave final approval to the project at its June 23 meeting. The $9.5 million project will renovate the 116-year-old, 18,000-square-foot Memorial Hall building, improving the theatergoing experience for the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities and providing modern facilities for Bowdoin College theater and dance students and faculty. The 18,000-square-foot new experimental theater and tower will remind theatergoers of a "pavilion in the park," with walkways, an automobile drop-off zone, and a multipurpose lobby area.

The new theater portion of the project will include a single-story building sheathed in dark green glass with a stone-like base and topped by a lead-coated, copper-hipped roof. Below ground will be the 150-seat experimental theater, faculty offices and a conference room. Connecting the new building and Memorial Hall will be a 2-story, glass-enclosed atrium-like lobby that will serve theatergoers as an entrance to either the experimental theater or Pickard Theater. A 3-story, glass-enclosed tower will hold an elevator and stairwell to provide access to the office level of the experimental theater, the Pickard Theater main seating and balcony areas and the third floor of Memorial Hall.

A kiosk-like structure on the northwest corner of the new building, near the Bath Road/Park Row intersection, will contain clear glass walls with space for promotional material for productions in both theaters, and provide a second means of egress from the experimental theater. A new stair tower on the east side on Memorial Hall allowing access to the lower, main and balcony levels of that building. Construction will also add a three-car-length drop-off zone on Bath Road and walkways leading to the theater entrances.

The renovations to Memorial Hall itself will provide upgraded facilities in all areas of theater production. The ground floor, which will be accessible from both Pickard and the experimental theater, will house a new theater rehearsal space, new dressing rooms, renovated bathrooms, and a scene shop, the latter of which will be used primarily by Bowdoin College students and faculty. The third floor of Memorial Hall will be converted from a scene shop into offices and a dance rehearsal space. Air conditioning is proposed to be provided throughout the building. In addition to the back balcony seating, two side balconies, seating 40 each, will be constructed. Total seating in the renovated Pickard Theater is expected to be about 610. Pickard Theater is used by Bowdoin for theatrical classes and productions, music performances and lectures. The theater is also the home of the Maine State Music Theatre, which each summer stages a popular series of musicals there, attracting thousands of visitors to Brunswick and the region. Memorial Hall was constructed during 17 years from 1866 to 1882. In 1889 U.S. Army Gen. Thomas Hubbard, of the Class of 1857, donated several large bronze plaques that now hang in the building's ground-floor lobby in honor of those from Bowdoin who served in the Civil War, including Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Class of 1852) and Oliver Otis Howard (Class of 1850). Barry and Oblio Wish of Palm Beach, Fla., have contributed a lead gift of $5.2 million to Bowdoin to support the renovations and expansion. Barry Wish is a member of Bowdoin's Board of Trustees and its Class of 1963. Additional fund-raising for the $9.5 million Memorial Hall/Pickard Theater project is currently under way.

During construction, the theater will not be used by either Bowdoin College or Maine State Music Theatre personnel. Project architects are Grieves Worrall Wright & O'Hatnick Inc. of Baltimore.

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