From the 1860s through the turn of the century, the town of Bangor was nicknamed the “little Broadway of the North.” At the time there were between seven and nine opera houses in the city, all of which sat upwards of 2,000 people. Today, only one remains.
The Bangor Opera House, now home to the year-round Penobscot Theatre Company, is the last remaining opera house in this former theatrical hub in northern Maine. First built in 1889, the opera house has lived many lives since then, but stands today as the jewel in the crown of Bangor once again.
Not long after it was built, the 19th-century opera house was destroyed in a fire. It was rebuilt in 1920 as an Egyptian-art deco vaudeville house that hosted celebrities like Oscar Wilde and Mae West.
Then in 1953, the building was turned into a cinema house and the entire 30-foot-tall proscenium arch became a giant movie screen. It operated as a movie theatre until the 1980s (the last movie shown here was Ghostbusters 2) and was transformed yet again, this time into a Pentecostal church. When the Penobscot Theatre Company finally purchased the building, it was in terrible disrepair. The theatre company has inhabited the building since 1999 and has done a remarkable job in restoring it to its former glory.
Nowadays the theater company offers behind-the-scenes tours of the Bangor Opera House. They take visitors backstage to learn little-known facts about the history of the theater, which is built into a cliff with the first two rows of seats underground, is equipped with hidden passages, and still uses the original floor, grid, and rope mechanisms. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its turbulent history, the opera house is also well-known as a haunted locale. It reportedly has three ghosts in residence and has been featured on ghost-hunting television shows.
Know Before You Go
The theater company offers tours of the building to groups of no larger than 10 for $25 each. Each tour takes about 45 minutes and can be scheduled by calling the box office. Additionally, public backstage tours are offered once a month as indicated on the website. Participants must be able to walk up flights of stairs, squeeze through fairly narrow passageways and should not be afraid of heights. It is best to arrange tours in advance. Parking is available on the street.