February 28, 2002
By Betty VanNewirk
Frostburg is a community in which people work together to achieve common goals. We have a swimming pool dug by hand by volunteers, a library that began with curbside contributions, a museum where donated artifacts have been organized and exhibited by volunteers; the list goes on. Now we have a community auditorium – the final payment on the Palace Theatre mortgage was made in February!
From the time when Dreamland, a nickelodeon, was opened on that site in 1906, the theatre was a focal point on Frostburg’s Main Street. It was touted as the most beautiful movie house west of Baltimore; it attracted large audiences with Penny Night; and the popcorn tasted as good as it smelled in the lobby. It couldn’t, however, compete with theaters that could hire one projectionist to serve four screens, and it closed its doors in December of 1981.
More than two years later, while the building was deteriorating behind its for sale sign, Meg Faulk wondered whether it would be possible to acquire it as a community auditorium. Out of curiosity, I took the question to the real estate agent, and suddenly Meg, her daughter, Gretchen, and I had each written checks for $200 to obtain an option on the property.
In the next few months we checked with building contractors (yes, the building was sound), with bankers (yes, they would lend us a percentage of the purchase price), and with people of Hagerstown and Frederick who had bought old movie theaters. We accepted Hagerstown’s advice to incorporate as Citizens to Save the Palace Theatre, but we rejected a suggestion from officials in Frederick. There we were advised to identify the wealthy people in town, invite them to a cocktail party, and promise to rename the theatre in honor of the person who made the largest contribution. But Frostburg is not Frederick! Instead, we turned to ordinary people, inviting anyone who pledged $10 a year to become a member of our organization. Larger donations promoted the giver to the status of “Sponsor” or “Benefactor.”
Money was raised in other ways as well. The Frostburg Community Theatre replaced about ten rows of seats with a temporary stage and put on a series of plays that brought money into the ticket booth. Benefit movies (16mm versions) were profitable. Jazz combos and barbershop choruses were fund-raisers and admission fees were augmented by the sale of popcorn and soft drinks in the lobby. The Spates family, who owned the property, generously allowed us to use it while we attempted to raise the money for its purchase. We paid for the utilities, but they came to our rescue when the furnace balked, or the lettering on the marquee needed to be changed.
In spite of skeptics who thought we’d never make it, we were able to buy the theatre in 1987. Payments on the mortgage could be made from rentals of the second floor apartments, which were renovated with new heating systems, stoves, refrigerators, and carpeting.
It is impossible to count the number of people who have been involved in the Palace project. Boys from the vo-tech school rewired the theatre, gaining experience beyond what they would have had in an ordinary classroom. The old marquee was used as a pattern for a new one, made by the Kenney Signs Company. Updated restrooms, handicapped accessible, were installed. Fraternity members from FSU manned the concession stand in the lobby, changed the lettering on the marquee, and polished brass fittings on the doors. Still others contributed to a telethon, stuffed envelopes for mailings, vacuumed up spilled popcorn, and scraped chewing gum off the floor.
The Frostburg Palace Theatre has a board made up of volunteers, and three trustees, representing the Business and Professional Association, the Mayor and Council, and the citizens of Frostburg. It is strictly non-profit. Now, after 15 years, we have made our last mortgage payment. The Palace belongs to the people of Frostburg! Any suggestions about how YOU and your neighbors can use and enjoy the facilities will be very much appreciated.
But first, we want to have a gala mortgage-burning ceremony. The people of Frostburg are invited to come together at the Palace on Monday, March 18, at 8 o’clock to celebrate.
Frostburg volunteers have done it again!