Transform the Times
The Fulton County Courthouse holds the distinction of being one the most recognized structural landmarks in the downtown area, but the iconic marquee of The Times Theater is surely a close second. Though the distinguished signage has seen better days, it has been a fixture on Main Street since the 1940’s, a neon beacon for a vintage movie-house whose history stretches back to the Roaring Twenties. On Valentine’s Day, 1924, the Char-Bell Theater opened to a packed house in Rochester. Though not the town’s first theater, it quickly proved to be the most popular. An 800-seat capacity venue, the Char-Bell featured the silent films and vaudeville acts of the day, in addition to other live performances over the years. In 1941, the theater changed its owners and its name, becoming The Times Theater, and the new marquee followed soon after. The Times remained almost continuously in business afterwards, changing owners periodically, and remodeling and updating their equipment and amenities as the era and the viewer’s tastes changed through the years. They continued to feature live events, such as dance recitals, through the 1960’s, and in the 1970’s, the auditorium was divided in order to have two active screens to offer movie patrons more choices. The new century brought new challenges as audiences’ entertainment choices began to expand. Cable television, home video, and the internet led to less interest in paying for something that could be experienced in their own living rooms. The movie industry responded by introducing and utilizing new technologies, but the cost prohibitive updated equipment and the dwindling audiences were a one-two punch that The Times was unable to recover from, and the theater closed its door for good in January of 2014.
In 2016, The Times Theater revitalization project was born when a group of Rochester citizens agreed that the Main Street mainstay could be restored as a community arts center. After organizing as a not-for-profit entity, the group began some of the preliminary work on the venue’s interior, and have been exploring ways to attain the funds to make their dream a reality via donations, grants, and other fundraising initiatives. “You too can help The Times Theater Inc by making monetary donations, or volunteering your own time for the group,” said Renee DuBois Frenger, head of the theater’s board. “If we all put our heads together, we can build a community we all want to live in and be proud of.” Minor obstacles, including weather related setbacks, have been temporary hindrances to the project’s progress, but with dedicated board members and enthusiastic support from the community, The Times Theater group continues to push forward. The goal is to have the theater open, even in limited capacity, as soon as possible, with the aspiration of a fully functional venue by the 100th anniversary of the theater’s existence coming in 2024. But the spirit of the project is greater than simply resurrecting the building, as the desire to ‘Transform The Times’ is as much about ushering in an era of artistic engagement in the community. “Our goal is to ‘inspire interest and participation in theater and other arts by providing diverse and artistic experiences for all ages,’” Frenger said, quoting the project’s mission statement. And with history at it’s back, and people devoted to seeing it through, there are surely brighter Times ahead.