Palace Theatre finds space to grow in former Manchester church

New Hampshire Union Leader
July 06. 2018 10:23PM
The former St George's Church at 516 Pine Street in Manchester is set to be sold. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — It takes a big closet to hold 10,000 costumes and all the sets and props that go with them, but the Palace Theatre has found just that in a shuttered church on Pine Street.

The Palace Theatre Trust recently paid $470,000 for the former St. George’s Church at 516 Pine St., where it hopes to one day also stage more live performances.

“I foresee different types of performance art,” said Peter Ramsey, the theater’s president and CEO. “Can you do Shakespeare there? You probably could. That’s something you couldn’t do at The Palace because you couldn’t sell 800 tickets.”

Over the next year, Ramsey said, Palace workers will consolidate and organize the costumes, sets and props stored at the Hanover Street theater and three other locations it rents, saving money and offering greater convenience.

“We are hoping over the long term to expand our offerings to the youth of Manchester,” he said, be that as audience members or as performers.

Once a place of worship for hundreds of Catholic Franco-American families, the church most recently was used by the Dialogue Church, according to city assessing records.

It now has neither pews nor an altar. 

The church was built in 1954, city records show. The original church burned and was rebuilt. It was shuttered in 2002 when its parish merged with nearby St. Joseph parish.

Adele Boufford Baker, who called the parish her own for more than 60 years, remembers the church fondly. It was where she was baptized and made her first communion and confirmation. She was married there, and it’s where funeral Masses were held for both her parents.
The wardrobe shop at the Palace Theater is bursting at the seams with costumes. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)

When it closed, “I think it was a sad day for everybody because of all the history,” said Baker, a former executive director at the Franco-American Centre. “These churches, little by little, are disappearing.”

But Baker also sits on the theater’s advisory board and supports the theater’s purchase and repurposing of the space.

“I don’t have a problem with that at all if they are able to have their own space, because I think they’ve been renting space,” she said.

After St. George’s closed, Baker recalled, the building hosted a theater company and a museum for the Diocese of Manchester.

Mike Reed, president of Stebbins Commercial Properties, represented the Palace Theatre Trust in what he termed “a great purchase for the size of the building, which was over 30,000-square-feet.”

Travis Warner of the Bean Group represented the Dialogue Church in the sale. He said the Dialogue Church has relocated.

“They occupied the basement, which had gone through a renovation,” he said.

Ramsey said the Palace Theatre plans to store at least 15 production sets, each valued between $15,000 and $25,000, at the new space.

“You hate to throw it away,” he said. “We rent them to other theaters.”

Props and other items also will be housed there.

Wayne Robinson, chairman of the Palace Theatre board of trustees, said theater executives have been looking for storage space for years.

“Based on the size of the building, it was a real no-brainer,” Robinson said.
The former St George’s Church at 516 Pine Street in Manchester has been sold to the Palace Theatre Trust. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)


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