|Blueprints of Proposed Theatre, 1928|
Thursday, December 4, 2003
THURSDAY, DEC. 4 TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
So I've Heard Column
Memorabilia collector James J. Manzi continues to amaze me, coming up with material relating to segments from this corner. He seems to enjoy read and find.
Webster's downtown movie houses, gone with the removal this summer of the Liberty Theatre, provide a case in point. "I think I've got the blueprints for one of those theatres," Mr. Manzi said after Florence P. Lucas of Webster and A. Lee Dudek of Chandler, Az., registered movie time recollections.
It took a while but friend Jimmy produced a set of architectural plans for a theatre, dated March 6, 1928 and drawn by Funk & Wilcox of Boston.
The date on the prints and the theatre's proposed alignment created more questions than they answered. Webster had two movie houses for decades, the State Theatre and the Liberty Theatre, and lots of area people remember them.
Built as the Steinberg and the Coster, the film venues were in place well before 1928. It seems Mr. Manzi has schematics for a theatre that was never built.
The blueprints read: "Theatre Building, Webster, Mass." The drawings placed the proposed venue behind the Tracy Block, between the Larchar-Branch and Tiffany Buildings, and with access via Tracy Court. Street line identifications include the Racicot Block, or what is now The Commerce Insurance Group headquarters building.
Going from there takes a bit of imagination because the Tiffany amd Tracy buildings are no longer in place. The properties sat on the double lot where Commerce Insurance Group built a one-story office structure a few years ago. Stand on the south side of Main Street, look down Tracy Court, take a scan of the Commerce properties, and you'll have an idea of the proposed theatre site.
Had things materialized, Webster would of had three theatres behind three adjoining blocks--Tracy, Larchar/Branch, and Holden. I reviewed newspaper microfilm for the three months before March 6, 1928 and for three months after the date, and couldn't find even a line about a new theatre.
The town didn't have any building regulations at the time so there wasn't any reason to file plans at municipal level for the theatre or, for that matter, anything else. Old town department records aren't easy to decipher, but no one inquired about water or sewer service for the proposed movie house.
Yet, somebody spent a fair sum to produce the blueprints Mr. Manzi now holds. They're to scale, with seating for 1,204 movie goers, 854 at orchestra level and 350 in the balcony. Backstage dressing rooms, a grand foyer, an advance tickets booth, large cloak rooms, and other amenities were proposed.
The blueprints were in an old trunk bought years ago from the late Floradora
The blueprints show a millinery shop, a jewelry store, the theatre marquee and a shoe store within the redesigned Tracy Block. A business census was published at the time but 1924 was the closest to 1928 that I could find.
This says Floradora Racicot ran the millinery shop, Theodore Michaels ran the jewelry store, a party named Phelps ran the shoe store, and 241 Main Street was the entrance to the upper levels. William Intas had a tailor shop, and optometrist John H. Stafford and Arthur H. Racicot had offices on the second story. The upper floor, designed as a home for builder George Tracy and his family, was a rooming house, run by Eva Moreau who, it turns out, was Mrs. Arthur Racicot.
For an aside, Dr. Stafford has been a major league pitcher with the Cleveland Indians. His son, Paul Stafford, now lives in Southbridge.
The Phelps store had sales on one side and a shoe repair shop on the other, according to the 1924 business census. The repair section is missing from the drawings, suggesting this space would hav
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