CONCORD, N.H., Jan. 8, 2012 — During Sunday morning’s NBC News-Facebook Debate all eyes were on the candidates, but there was something in the debate hall not visible from the TV screen.
Bright lights directed on the stage seemed to ignore the hall’s hand-painted Egyptian-motif interior that seats more than 1,300.
“The lighting is screwing it up,” said patron Victor Montana, pointing to the etchings in the ceiling.
“It was built in the 1920s when the Cleopatra phase was around,” he said describing New Hampshire’s largest performing arts center, which first opened in 1927.
But nearly 15 years ago the Capitol Center for the Arts here was swarming with pigeons. It was a staple in the Vaudeville theatrical circuit of the 1930s and a top movie house and concert hall for Concord’s art lovers. But over the years the theater slipped into disrepair and in 1989 was closed.
“It was pretty much abandoned,” Montana said, ” [and] now it’s become one of the better venues in the state.”
But with the help of $4.2 million in donations, the theater was restored, in part using 250 local volunteers who contributed 3,000 hours of service.
Nicolette Clarke, the executive director of the center, said that a community effort began in 1995 to restore the venue, now home to frequent Broadway productions although never a debate.
“There’s never been a televised event in Concord,” said Clarke.
She said preparation for the debate started in July, but all the details had to be kept quiet.
“The tricky part was the date was not settled until Nov. 2,” she said.
The candidates were kept next door while the press was housed in the building across the street. Clarke said that production began setting up on Tuesday and so much electricity was required that there was a generator in the parking lot.
Richard Stewart, who has been a volunteer usher for seven years, watched the previous night’s debate to prepare for volunteering Sunday. Stewart said it’s wonderful that the debate was held at the center.
“It ensures its longevity,” he said.