Sunday, May 9, 2010

From 1980: Theater Asks for Space in Vacant School

This article is from exactly 30 years ago today, published in the Hartford Courant on May 9, 1980. It was written by Gary Weiss.

The Oddfellows Playhouse was started in 1975 by four Wesleyan students: Alida Jay, Nat Needle, Sandy Cohen, and Amy Bloom. Thousands of students, mostly from Middletown, have taken classes, participated in the Summer Circus, or been part of a theater production.

Oddfellows remains a thriving theater program for youth from Middletown and surrounding communities, and is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year with a Birthday Gala Celebration June 17th at St. Clement's Castle.
[Thanks to Matt Pugliese for the photos of early Oddfellows performances. ]

Organizers of the Oddfellows Playhouse made a plea Thursday night for space to relocate the children's theater in a vacant city school, drawing a noncommittal response from members of the Vacant Buildings Study Committee.

The nonprofit children's theater, which puts on performances with up to 1,000 local children each year, must vacate its present quarters in a building owned by the Redevelopment Agency by the end of the month. The Oddfellows have asked to move to the vacant Stillman School on Loveland Street, but this is contrary to a recommendation by Mayor Michael J. Cubeta that the school house several city agencies.

Marvin Farbman, an attorney and member of the theater's board of directors, said he understood the mayor's desire to convert the vacant building into an annex to City Hall and said that a solution might be to provide sufficient space for the children's theater at the school but to assign that extra space to the Commission on the Arts and Cultural Activities. The Oddfellows would therefore be under the aegis of the commission because it is "part of the
municipal arts scene."
The committee took no action on the request and decided to discuss the matter at its next meeting, after touring the Stillman School building.

Committee Chairman Sebastian Gallitto said he sympathized with the theater but added that providing space for the theater could "leave the door open" for requests from other private groups. A similar sentiment was expressed before the meeting by Cubeta.

In other action the committee tentatively set a deadline of June 22 for development proposals for another vacant city school building, the former Central School on College Street. The Common Council voted Monday to advertize for developer proposals.
Oddfellows Playhouse took its name from the building on Main Street which first housed the group. That building was at the corner of College and Main Streets, and was the home of a fraternal community service organization named Odd Fellows. I think the Odd Fellows Hall now houses Thai Gardens, but I have not been able to confirm this (I would be grateful for a reader's correction or confirmation).

The Stillman School building is on Loveland Terrace. A few weeks after this article, The Vacant Schools Building Committee rejected the Oddfellows request, claiming that this would open the floodgates for other organizations and churches to request space in Stillman. Stillman was used for a few years as space for municipal offices, and was called the Stillman Municipal Annex. Three years after rejecting Oddfellows' proposal, the Vacant Schools Building Committee, led by its new chair, Vinnie Loffredo, decided to sell Stillman School. The Democratically controlled Common Council approved the sale, over the strenuous objections of Mayor Cubeta. It was sold to a developer who renovated it into apartments.

Meanwhile, the Playhouse remained itinerant for another 14 years. Their request to the State for space in a building at Long Lane School was rejected in May of 1980 by the Department of Children and YouthServices. OddFellows relied on temporary offices, and spaces in churches and schools until 1994, when it acquired and renovated its current building (photo at top), under the leadership of Betsy Morgan.


Eye M said...

Yes indeed the Oddfellows Hall (where Thai Gardens is now) was the first home of Oddfellows Playhouse. And in the end the city let Oddfellows have an office in Stillman School for a short time until Trinity Church generously offered to take them in.

Melissa Schilke

joseph getter said...

Does anyone have any stories or information on the prior uses of the Washington St. building that has housed Oddfellows from 1994 to present? Thanks in advance.

Bill Warner said...

It was previously owned by SNET and was used for office/switching equipment. The city assited in the acqusition with a significant CDBG grant to Oddfellows.

Anonymous said...

The Washington Street building looks like the old American Legion hall to me.

Mr. Fixit said...

The present Oddfellows home was the home of the American Legion for a number of years.

It was financially supported (and perhaps purchased for the A-L) by Muriel McCormick Hubbard, Grandaughter of Cyrus McCormick (International Harvester) and John D. Rockerfeller Sr.

She lived in a mansion on Westfield St. (Lone Tree Farm), now McCormick Drive. Her mansion at that address fell into dereliction some years after her death (1959)and was razed. A housing development can be found there at present (a very sad end for Lone Tree Farm :-(

For more info re Mrs. Hubbard, see: