Landmark movie theater enjoys second act

The Criterion Theatre opened in 1932. The ornate, art deco movie house recently was substantially refurbished. The landmark building’s restoration is ongoing. PHOTO BY ROBERT LEVIN

Bar Harbor’s historic Criterion Theatre recently reopened following a $1 million-plus renovation that has brought back much of the landmark Art Deco building’s original 1930s charm.

Featuring a new façade and roof as well as many other improvements to both the interior and exterior — the list of “new” in the venerable art-deco structure built in 1932 goes on and on. Restoration began last November after the Bar Harbor Jazz Festival received an anonymous $2 million donation to buy the building and begin fixing it up.

“We’re just so excited to get people in the building, other than the workers and us,” Jazz Festival President Michael Boland said before the theater opened in early May.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Criterion smells fresh and clean, without a hint of the moldy odors that plagued the building for years. The theater’s carpets were torn out and replicas made of the original 1930s design. The white and black tiles flanking the front have been replaced with more historically accurate red and black tiles.

When movie-goers sat down to watch “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” on opening weekend, they sank back in plush reupholstered seats and enjoyed greater leg room.

Boland said the greatly increased comfort was worth the sacrifice.

“We made the decision that it was more important every night someone is in here for a movie to be more comfortable than just for that rare, one-time show that we needed all 900 seats.”

The owners plan to introduce handicapped access to the second floor balconies eventually and redo the restrooms up there as well. Another project is the installation of new fabric on the walls. These are being remade in the exact style of the old wall treatment. The glass wall sconces also are being painstakingly redone to match the original, Art Deco fixtures.


The Criterion Theatre is located at 35 Cottage St. For more information, call 288-0829 and visit www.criteriontheatre.org.

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]