The Stanley Theater is an important example of the great, first-run movie palaces constructed during the golden decade of the American motion picture industry. Designed by Thomas W. Lamb, one of the foremost theater architects of his day, the 3,000-seat Stanley is the finest and last remaining of six such structures which once served the city of Utica.
The theater site comprises what were, prior to 1927, two residential lots, each occupied by a stately Victorian brick home. In November of 1926, the property was purchased by the Stanley-Mark Corporation, which then controlled more than 250 theaters in the east. The new owners announced plans for the demolition of existing buildings after the first of the year and the construction of a combined commercial building and first-run movie theater patterned after the Mark Strand Theaters in New York City and Brooklyn. The proposed 4,000-seat theater was to have been the largest in Utica and Central New York.
On August 29, 1927 an $800,000 building permit was issued to Utica Properties, Inc., a Stanley Real Estate Holding Corporation, for the construction of a theater at 259-261 Genesee Street. It was to be of steel frame construction with brick masonry exterior walls and structural clay tile partitions. The general contractor was M. Shapiro and Son, Engineers and Builders, of New York City. Foundation excavation, by Utican Sam Cittadino, and concreting progressed through the fall of 1927, and on November 22 contracts for the heating, ventilating, refrigeration and sprinklering were awarded to the H. J. Brandeles Corporation of Utica.
Local participation was announced early in December with an exclusive lumber and millwork supply contract going to the Charles Kellogg and Sons Company, which had a 100-year history in Utica. Other local subcontractors included the American Hard Wall Plaster Company, Langdon &Hughes Electrical Supply Company; and Charles Miller & Sons Plumbing Supply Company. At this same time it was announced that overruns were expected to bring the total building cost to $1,600,000.
Work progressed rapidly, and by early January, the 2,000,000 pound steel frame, supplied and fabricated by Bethlehem Steel, was nearly complete. Work had begun on the roof with its five huge trusses, the largest of which weighed 32 tons and spanned 127 feet. As the construction team rushed to enclose the building, other building features were announced: the projection booth would contain three projection machines, two spotlights and one stereopticon; and the building would be wired for both the Warner and Fox sound systems.
By the 20th century, handcrafted ornament had largely given way to pattern book equivalents, and plastering contractors who could expeditiously produce custom molded, decorative plaster were in short supply and great demand. The F. H. Schneider Company of Syracuse, one of the best of these experts, was signed to a $100,000 plain and ornamental plastering contract.
Utica natives Frederick H. Schneider, and Gustav H. Hackwith, were in charge of the work on the Stanley. James Seton, considered one of the best plasterers in Central New York, served as plastering foreman. In early February, as the Genesee Street facade was being erected, Uticans were treated to their first glimpse of ornamental terra-cotta in the baroque style which, it was announced, would be carried throughout the building interior.
The interior decoration contract was in the hands of the Rambush Decorating Company of New York City, well known theater interior specialists of the period. Their work, under the tasteful guidance of Harold W. Rambush, Sr., included the selection of all furniture, lighting fixutres, carpeting and fabrics, and the design and fabrication of all draperies. Also included in their contract was all of the lavish decorative painting and gilding of the ornamental plaster.
The Chesterfield style was chosen for the important furniture appointments and $20,000 worth were obtained locally through Markson Brothers Furniture. Gilded brass and iron light fixtures with back lighted, stained leaded glass panels, and multiple tiers of clustered candelabra were designed and fabricated by the firm of Weinstine and Company of New York. Bronze door hardware, manufactured by Yale, was supplied by the Bauer Hardware Company of Utica.
The Stanley Theatre opened September 10, 1928 and has been the premier showplace for Central New York ever since.
The Central New York Community Arts Council, Inc. purchased the Stanley in 1974. As of 2004, over $ 5 million has been spent on its brilliant restoration. Since its purchase, CNYCAC has upgraded all mechanical, electrical, and safety systems and is continuing to provide technical improvements to accommodate the many touring shows and artists that appear at the Stanley.
The elegant Stanley lobbies are the site for many receptions and meetings throughout the year. It has also become a local tradition for wedding parties to have their photographs taken on the grand staircases in the lobby. (Legend has it that one staircase was designed to resemble the grand staircase on the Titanic ocean liner).
For nearly a year, the Stanley Theatre was closed for renovations. Construction started in July 2006, and $11 million has been spent on construction costs for the project. The theater reopened Thursday April 3, 2008 with a performance of the St. Petersburg Ballet's “Romeo and Juliet.”