New Canaan Now & Then: The Playhouse

In 1922, when the New Canaan Playhouse was built, current day Elm Street (then Railroad Avenue) was vacant land, except for one resident on the south side.  A group of local men, The Village Improvement Company, recognized the need for a playhouse.  Their proposal included the opportunity for each and every resident to become a stockholder. 

The cupolaed building was designed by local resident, Calvin E. Kiessling. Kiessling’s design, the red brick and white trim, suggesting a  modified colonial structure, established the style for the future buildings that eventually filled in both sides of Elm Street. The building had a frontage of 58 feet on Railroad Avenue (Elm) and extended back 100 feet with flanking passageways on each side used in conjunction with the fourteen exits in addition to the exits off the main lobby. The original plans also called for two stores at street level. The auditorium itself was originally 56 feet wide and 76 feet deep, with a seating capacity of 400.

Podcast: First Selectman Kevin Moynihan on The Playhouse

This week, on 0684-Radi0, our free podcast (subscribe here in the iTunes Store), we talk to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan about The Playhouse, which has been closed since March 2020. The Town Council is to hold meetings at 7 p.m. on June 23 and 29 to solicit public input on plans to bring in a new operator for the Elm Street movie theater. 

Here are recent episodes of 0684-Radi0:

Town Puts Off Vote on Agreement with New Operator of Playhouse Movie Theater

Saying they need more information, members of New Canaan’s legislative body on Monday night put off a vote on an agreement with a prospective new operator of The Playhouse movie theater downtown. The Town Council took no action during a special meeting on a letter of intent that would still be subject to legal review and Board of Selectmen approval. Though the Council didn’t name the prospective new operator—it met out of the public eye, in an executive session, claiming a “real estate” exemption—one attendee of the meeting who remained during the closed-door session was the head of Montclair, N.J.-based Cinema Lab. According to the company’s website, it takes on projects for “community-based” theaters “that are significant to the towns they serve.”

“Incorporating both tent-pole studio films with uncommon alternate programming,” the Cinema Lab website says. “We believe in a technology-first experience where the guest is in control.

Town Seeks To Direct Federal Funds Toward ADA Work at Playhouse in Hopes of Reopening

New Canaan’s highest elected official said this week that the town soon will decide whether to allocate $750,000 in federal funds toward readying The Playhouse for a new movie operator. 

Getting the iconic Elm Street theater back in operation is “one of the biggest economic developments we could do locally” with the first tranche of nearly $6 million in federal funding that New Canaan is getting under the America Rescue Plan Act, according to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan. The $750,000 would be combined with $850,000 already built up through a fund for the 1923-built Playhouse, and together that would be enough “to do all the repairs and code compliance that we need to do to get The Playhouse back in operation,” Moynihan said during the Board fo Selectmen’s regular meeting, held Tuesday at Town Hall and via videoconference. 

“We are working with potential operators who are coming in but we can’t reopen until we have a code-complaint building and refurbished building,” he said. The Board of Finance and Town Council are expected to review and vote on preliminary recommendations for how to spend about $3.5 million of the federal funds that the selectmen discussed during their meeting. Once approved, the town could start appropriating funds in October and November, Moynihan said. “Every town and city is doing this differently and they are making their decisions,” he said.