The older picture depicts the Bath Opera House at 68 Centre St., just months before its demolition in 1971. Built in 1913, the Opera House was originally attached to the Alameda roller-skating rink, built in 1882. It was the center of a huge array of activity in the city for decades.

The Opera House held a combination of silent movies and vaudeville shows. The first-ever show was the “The Sunshine Girl,” starring Julia Sanderson and Joseph Cawthorne, a song-and-dance style vaudeville show.

Those early days of the theater often saw big-time acts coming to Bath, including some of the most expensive shows ever seen in the state. One show reportedly featured a diving act using a massive tank of water set up on stage and other elaborate set pieces.

Other regular shows were sing-alongs, where adults and children followed cues on-screen to sing to music.

In the days of silent movies, when ambience was provided by in-theater bands, some of the employees apparently got creative, according to the Coastal Journal’s Jan 7, 1971 issue: “Once, when a silent war movie was playing, an ingenious stage crew lent a little realism to the film by roaring a motorcycle engine whenever airplanes flashed across the screen.”

A key feature of the Opera House’s operations were the nightly raffles. A variety of business tie-ins would be run throughout the week, sending lucky patrons home with groceries or other goods.

The most popular by far was “Bank Night,” a contest in which the lucky winner would receive a whopping $50 (quite a sum for the time). The contest required the winner to be present, leading friends to frantically call the winner in the hopes they could sprint down to receive the prize before the time was up.

By the late ‘60s, the Opera House had fallen into a terrible state of disrepair. Television and more advanced movie theaters rapidly put an end to the business of the Opera House. Openings were sporadic, heat was often turned off, and the inevitable decay of an empty building set in.

Efforts by the Bath Area Chamber of Commerce to save the theater fell apart in 1971. A developer purchased the building and attempted to lease it, but found no occupants.

In the end, the building was torn down in October and early November 1971. Reports at the time indicate the Opera House’s proximity to other buildings and sturdy construction made it tough work.

But by Nov. 16, 1971, the last bits of the building were torn down, and the land was graded into a parking lot, where BIW Five County Credit Union is today.

Special thanks to the Patten Free Library’s Sagadahoc History and Genealogy Room for assistance. Early editions of the Coastal Journal are preserved on microfiche and archived at the library.

Additional information provided by the Bath Historical Society.

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