Reinventing a Historic Landmark Theater
The Little Theater was built in 1924 in New Haven’s arts district as part of a movement that built smaller, more intimate theaters for the performing arts. Slated for demolition on more than one occasion, the aging landmark was purchased in 1986 — two years after it received status on the National Register of Historic Places — by Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES) Educational Center for the Arts (ECA), a half-day arts magnet high school located around the corner from the theater.
The magnet school has since been using the Little Theater to produce its student plays and special community performances. Increasingly challenged by a shortage of physical space and out-of-date technology, ACES/ECA secured a $5.7-million state grant to modernize and overhaul the 85-year-old building, and the theater went dark in 2010 to allow for the renovation.
A national historical landmark in an urban residential neighborhood, the project team was very careful to preserve the building’s integrity.
Construction included tearing down an older addition in order to build a new one, adding 2,000 square feet to the theater’s original 9,000 square feet of floor area; completely renovating the interior; and adding state-of-the-art lighting and seating.
In June 2014, the venue re-opened with multi-purpose, ultra-modern facilities. New features include new electrical and mechanical systems; high-tech audio/visual equipment; a sound-proof divider on the stage to accommodate two performances/rehearsals at once; platforms that can come down and be raised to create an orchestra space; and theatrical lighting that will enhance performances.
Together, the renovations have created a sophisticated theatrical space that also serves as a first-rate learning and rehearsal classroom for ACES students and the community. With the Little Theatre’s renovation, ACES has been able to preserve the past and link it to the future.