Albert Theatre is readied for an encore performance
He's had some help from tradesmen, but for the most part Paul Cusson has done the work on the Albert Theater in Berlin alone. (Sara Young-Knox/Union Leader Correspondent)
The inside of the Albert Theatre on Main Street in Berlin is a work in progress, but the outside is picture-perfect. (Sara Young-Knox/Union Leader Correspondent)
Paul and Fran Cusson have taken great care to recreate the details on the building’s facade. (Sara Young-Knox/Union Leader Correspondent)
The theater, which sits near the top of Main Street on the block past City Hall, had been abandoned for decades when Paul and his wife, Fran, bought it in the late 1990s. He's had a couple of plans for the building, and now he's working to make it a family recreation and entertainment center.
A dozen years ago, the exterior needed work to bring it back to its former glory, and the interior, which is still a work in progress, is starting to come together. He recently had foam insulation sprayed onto the walls, and said he can feel the difference. Over the years, working in the middle of the winter in a non-insulated building was a challenge. He's replaced floors, walls, built staircases and helped craftsmen with more specialized work.
The first phase of the project will be the installation of a miniature golf course. He's talking to a company in Pennsylvania on the design of the 18-hole course. Near the back of the building, there will be a platform for birthday parties. He also hopes to have a snack bar.
He hopes to use the basement floor for younger kids, with bouncy houses, a sandbox, pingpong and more. There will be music throughout the building.
The three floors provide about 20,000 square feet of space. On the second floor, there's a 44-foot wall, which could be a climbing wall, but that's in the future.
“I want something that people will come back to a second time,” he said. “I already have a little guy who I transport on the school bus who is waiting for this to open.”
The 11-year-old boy, Cusson said, plans to hold his birthday party in November at the Albert Theatre. He's explained to him that the space probably won't be ready this fall, and the lad has said he's willing to postpone his party until it is done.
“My goal is a moving target,” he said. “My main focus right now is to get the roof done.”
Once a thriving theater, it held a W.T. Grant store from 1957 to 1972. The theater was originally owned and operated by Albert Croteau.
Cusson said the front of the first floor was retail space, with seating for 1,300 above, including two balconies. Entertainment included silent films, orchestras, and vaudeville. The original building was built in 1905 and burned in 1906. It was replaced in 1910, and again was hit by fire. This time, however, the building was not destroyed, and after the interior was rebuilt, it reopened in 1911.
Cusson said steel beams were put in around 1957-1958. In the roof, darkened timbers still bear witness to the fires.
He plans to have the family center open after school and weekends. It's close to the ATV route in downtown, too, which would give visiting families a fun destination when they drive through the city.
When he was first working on the building he had hoped to attract the JCPenney that was across the street. The retailer left town before that could happen. A couple of years ago, he was working with the New Hampshire Charitable Gaming organization, and the theater would have been phase one of the company's casino development in downtown Berlin.
He drives a school bus, which also limits the time he can spend on the project, and there have been family priorities along the way. Still, he's making progress.
“It's slow, so it helps me maintain some kind of physical fitness,” he said jokingly.
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