Renovated 1920s theater, reborn as The Marigold, aims to bring back ‘vaudeville vibe’
EASTHAMPTON — If the walls at 84 Cottage St. could talk, there’s no doubt the 100-year-old building would have a lot to say.
Over the years, the 1920s-style vaudeville theater has been home to a custom furniture maker, a porno theater, a tattoo parlor, and of course, the former Majestic Theater.
The grandeur of the space that features pressed tin walls and ceiling has been revived with the spotlight shining on the venue’s newest tenant, the Marigold Theater, Bar & Cabaret.
The Marigold opened to the public in February, showcasing a number of acts, including Latin jazz and piano karaoke, a large dance floor, and craft cocktails, with and without alcohol. The venue’s owner, Glenn Alper, says he has made “significant investments” in an effort to bring back the vaudeville vibe, with variety shows as well as live musical performances.
“I’d like the Marigold to be the entertainment hub of Easthampton that will evolve into what the community needs,” Alper said.
During the summer of 2020, Alper, who’s from Northampton, said he found himself in a self-reflective state after spending a lot of time working alone at his musical instrument store, Birdhouse Music. One day, he hopped in his car and took a drive to Easthampton, where he stumbled upon a “for rent” sign in the storefront of the Cottage Street space.
“I have such a love for the 1920s — the music, the art, the culture — there was no option not to (rent it),” he said.
The original Majestic Theater was built in 1910 by Henry Walz. The venue presented vaudeville acts, variety shows, burlesque and other styles of performances, and had box seats, a balcony, a stage and a capacity for more than 800 people. According to the Marigold’s website, the former theater also had six bowling lanes and a shuffleboard court in the basement. William Friel ran the theater and paid Walz a rent of $75 each week in 1912, the website notes.
The Majestic burned down on Feb. 4, 1922 and was rebuilt in 1923 by Stefan Rapalus, according to Alper.
For nearly six decades, the theater screened movies, starting initially with silent movies, and it showed pornographic films during the 1970s and ’80s.
In the early 1990s, a commercial youth club called The Kitchen Sink offered Friday night dances to teenagers, according to a Gazette report published on Jan. 3. 1994. It closed after two months due to a lack of customers.
In 2001, Jo Roessler of Nojo Design purchased and renovated the theater, raising and leveling the sloped floors. He also restored the tin ceilings and several architectural accents.
Roessler adapted the former theater into 10,000 square feet of workshops and storefronts, and included his furniture studio, Nojo Design; Keith Woodruff’s KW Home store; cabinetmaker Peter Garlington’s studio; Helena Sullivan Photography; and a countertop materials showroom called On the Surface.
After Nojo Design moved out of the space, Off the Map Tattoo moved in. The tattoo parlor transformed the main hall of the venue into several cubicle-like spaces with vinyl flooring that were more suited for the business.
As the latest tenant, Alper says the restoration process has evolved with the theater itself leading the direction. On a recent tour, he described some attempts at renovating the space where some ideas “just didn’t make sense” with the atmosphere he was looking to present.
“The theater has had a lot to say,” he said. “I’ve been looking to create a more refined version of the same thing … something timeless, but amplified.”
Inside, patrons are welcomed with preserved architectural elements including the gold-toned tin ceiling and hardwood floors that include markings where the movie theater seats were once situated; along with a newly constructed sound booth on one side of the room and a new wooden stage on the opposite side, backed with a whitewashed brick wall.
Throughout the main space are several cabaret tables and a few vintage couches.
Alper praised the city departments and employees and overall community for their support and encouragement along the way.
“It has felt more like a partnership with the city,” he said.
Considering the well-established Majestic Theater in West Springfield, Alper said he decided to rename the space after something natural and positive: a marigold.
The Marigold also now features a bar with organic, fresh-pressed juices as well as alcoholic beverages and “mocktails,” courtesy of Amherst-based Old Friends Farm.
While the space itself sets the stage for much of the atmosphere Alper was looking to create, he said part of the reason he entered into this new business was that he was looking to redefine what normal is now.
“I want to provide an experience that is expansive, I want to be able to provide an experience that is better than it was before (pre-pandemic),” he said.
So far, the Marigold has hosted a range of acts including the Butterfly Swing Band, Brother Sal’s Blues and the Ed Byrne Quartet. Primarily, Alper is looking to showcase regional talent, extending on occasion beyond the confines of Massachusetts.
Currently, the theater is hosting between three to five performances each week — some of which include a cover charge — with varying hours. Coming performances are listed at marigoldtheater.com.
The Marigold Theater also will serve as one of several venues as part of the Easthampton Film Festival, from May 26 to May 29.
In working to achieve his goal of the “entertainment center of Easthampton,” Alper said his entertainment listings will continue to evolve based on the community’s response. The venue has a capacity for 175 people and tables can be shifted to accommodate more participatory events such as salsa and swing dances. Requests for bookings can be made through Marigold’s website.
With the help of his 9-year-old daughter, he also hopes to provide a few shows for family audiences.
“I want to provide shows that interest a broad age/mixture of people. I also want to offer shows where people can participate in some way,” Alper said. “There’s no limit on the amount of joy you can experience.”
Emily Thurlow can be reached at email@example.com.