A Grand History

This Grand is Your Grand!

Eighty years of a GRAND saga!

It was May 1933. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been President for two months. The country was reeling from the ravages of the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent depression. Unemployment was at 25%, “Bank Holidays” were proclaimed when the banks couldn’t open. Maine’s lumber industry, agriculture, and fishing industries were plagued by economic failure.

On Sunday morning, May 7, 1933, a troubled man set fires that destroyed 130 buildings – most of downtown Ellsworth. Approaching the devastation one problem at a time, the City of Ellsworth began construction of a new and improved downtown. In four years, the rebirth was nothing short of miraculous. A riverside park had been added, the downtown shopping area was redesigned, and major streets were rerouted. In April 1937 the City Council decided to make a major investment in a downtown Ellsworth movie theatre. Designed by Boston’s Krokyn & Browne and built by Bangor contractor William McPherson, The Grand opened in July 1938.

On opening night the marquee sparkled, speeches were made, the entire City Council was in attendance, and the Ellsworth High School Band played before the feature film Holiday, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. The movies shown in the 1930s and 1940s were often classics: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Bambi, Samson & Delilah, and Stage Door Canteen. Patrons flocked to The Grand. As successful as it was as a movie house, by the mid-1950s television was eroding the audience for film. The attraction of the small screen in the living room was tough competition.

In an attempt to offset the lure of television, a boxing ring was installed and The Grand began a regular schedule of boxing matches. Though innovative and well-attended, boxing did not keep The Grand in the black. Ownership changes did little to stem the flow of red ink, through various combinations of film, stage productions, rock ‘n roll, and other diversions were tried. In 1975 a photo-journalist’s article about The Grand in the newspaper caught the attention of local gallery owner Harris Strong. A transplant from New Jersey with a background in theatre, Strong had formed The Ellsworth Players which had been performing in Ellsworth’s City Hall and he recognized the value of The Grand’s stage and seating.

Harris Strong formed the Hancock County Auditorium Associates and on March 24, 1975, a nonprofit was formed and purchased The Grand which was by then in terrible condition. Drains were plugged, the ceiling and walls leaked, vandals had damaged windows and doors, the heating plant almost didn’t work, and wiring needed replacement.

The Associates did the necessary repairs to make The Grand usable again and then added a 12-foot extension to the stage to allow larger productions. At the first performance in “the new Grand” on August 8, 1975, Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary fame performed a benefit concert.

Soon the nonprofit management was seeking more groups to use the theatre. In addition to Strong’s Ellsworth Players, the New Surry Theatre gave performances in the rejuvenated facility. Strong teamed up with his friend Elizabeth Beatty and formed the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Hancock County. Then outside groups began making appearances. Rock stars and The Bangor Symphony enthralled local audiences.

Over the years, many improvements have been made to The Grand. A dressing room and new stage curtains were added, lighting and wiring have been updated, and the furnace was replaced. In 2006 new seating was added, the inside of the auditorium was painted, new restrooms were added, and a new sound and stage lighting system installed. In 2012, the final phase of restoration was completed on The Grand’s historic marquee. The Grand was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 2012.


Q. What’s Happening at The Grand?

A. The Grand is Downeast Maine’s performing arts center, offering live theater, concerts, films, comedy, and educational programs to people of all ages. The Performing Arts for Children program includes school programs and a summer theatre camp for ages 7 to 17. High-definition simulcasts from the New York Metropolitan Opera and London’s National Theatre bring the best of the world to The Grand. Calendars of events are published six times a year and are available by mail to members, on The Grand website, or at the theater.


A. The Grand is a nonprofit organization with a diverse stream of earned and unearned revenue. Approximately 40% of the budget comes from ticket sales, rentals of the hall, and concession sales. The other 60% comes from individual donations, memberships, partnerships, and grants from foundations and local governments.


A. The Grand’s budget is over $500,000 per year which does not include capital projects such as a new roof. It takes approximately $100,000 each year to maintain and operate the over 75-year-old building. Heating costs can be almost half that cost. Over $250,000 goes directly to program support – fees for performers, film rights, sets, ticketing, concessions, and education. The remaining budget supports staff and administration, including computers, office supplies, postage, website, and fundraising.


A. Both members and donors give gifts to The Grand. A donation is a true gift, with nothing expected by the donor in return; it is 100% tax deductible. A membership is a gift to The Grand and The Grand, in turn, gives a gift to the member through discounted tickets, newsletter and calendar mailings, and other member benefits; only a portion is tax deductible. Both types of gifts are important to The Grand.

For information come visit, call us, or send an email:
Telephone: 207-667-5911