By Mark Simonson
The Daily Star
---- — If you haven’t noticed it in the past, this historian often refers to old pop songs for many situations relating to something historic. Being a former radio personality who played the hits, the old job never totally disappeared in my mind. So in that spirit, I’m dedicating this next song to Deposit, regarding the ever-popular State Theatre on Front Street back in the 1980s and early ‘90s. From 1975, it’s Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, with “Bad Luck.”
“Bad luck, that’s what you got, that’s what you got,” were some of the lyrics to a disco beat.
As residents of the region, we should take our hats off to the never-say-die attitude of many people in Deposit, who endured disastrous episodes with the historic State Theatre twice within 10 years, and another big setback in 2006. Each time, the community shrugged off those misfortunes.
Nicknamed the “Jewel of Front Street,” the State Theatre dates back to 1937, built by the Kallet-Comerford theater chain, which operated several theaters in upstate New York.
On Friday night, Feb. 1, 1985, people were enjoying the movie “Remo Williams,” when they suddenly heard a rumbling sound in the attic. The movie was stopped, and the attic was checked. No problems were found, so moviegoers returned. Two hours after the theater closed, the roof collapsed because of the excessive weight of accumulated snow.
That could have spelled the end for the State Theatre. The ruins remained for nearly a year and a half. Some Deposit merchants decided that something should be done to restore the State.
The Daily Star reported Friday, July 18, 1986, “Deposit merchants will kick off a fund-raising drive today in conjunction with the town’s annual Lumberjack Festival, to raise money for repairs to the historic State Theatre.” Carolyn DeNys chaired the committee, which was called “Raise the Roof.” They needed about $40,000 for immediate repairs.
That was just the beginning. The organization purchased the theater in a sheriff’s sale Sept. 1 and had bigger plans for the State. Raise the Roof soon became a nonprofit organization, the Deposit Community Theatre and Performing Arts Center.
By June 1988, the new roof was being rebuilt. In October of that year, the State Theatre became listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The theater facade hadn’t been damaged by the roof collapse. Its classic blue and black Art Deco glass and elaborate marquee had qualified the building for this status.
At last, patrons jammed the 360-seat restored theater Friday, Nov. 25, 1988, for a showing of “Crocodile Dundee II.” Deposit residents were also in for a treat beginning Friday, Dec. 16, with the opening of the movie “A Time to Remember.” During January and February of 1985, most of this film, starring Donald O’Connor, was filmed in Deposit, with smaller segments shot in Sidney, Hancock and Walton. It was to be first released in Deposit in 1987, but because of the roof collapse, debuted instead in Binghamton.
With that disastrous chapter behind, the Deposit group moved on with further restorations. Just weeks before it was to be restored to its former glory, fire reduced the theater to a pile of ashes and four singed walls early Saturday morning, Sept. 24, 1994, only a few hours after a crowd had left a double feature of “Black Beauty” and “The Mask.” The blaze also destroyed an adjacent building and threatened the village hall.
The Deposit Community Theatre and Performing Arts Center wasn’t about to give up, and with the help of many volunteers, the effort to rebuild was determined by October. Once again the marquee had survived the blaze, but needed repair. It was taken down and sent to specialists in Oxford for the work.
A crowd gathered Friday, March 4, 1995 to watch the installation of the refurbished marquee. A forklift was seen carrying it slowly along Front Street.
“When the marquee was about a half a block away a hush fell over the crowd,” theater manager DeNys said. “It was as though everyone sensed the magnitude of the moment.”
Within a few months the theater was opened again. “Casper” was shown Friday, June 16.
Some believe that bad things come in threes. For the State Theatre, the third “thing” came in June 2006, as the nearby Delaware River flooded, filling the theater, covering the stage and every row of seats.
“We’re not done,” DeNys said. “We’re reopening, but we are not done.” New seats were acquired, and the mess was cleaned up, and the State was open again in September.
Here’s another song dedication going out to Deposit. From 1979, it’s Gloria Gaynor, with “I Will Survive.”
This weekend: Eliphalet Remington Jr. needed a rifle for hunting.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.