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SCA / Palace Theatre History

Stamford Center for the Arts (SCA), a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) cultural arts organization, is dedicated to serving as the regionʼs premier center for the performing arts. SCA owns two facilities: the renovated and restored historic Palace Theatre (61 Atlantic Street) and the state-of-the-art Rich Forum (307 Atlantic Street), within four blocks of each other in downtown Stamford, Connecticut.

The Palace Theatre, a 1,580-seat Thomas Lamb-designed vaudeville house, was acclaimed as “Connecticutʼs Most Magnificent” when it opened in 1927. It was restored and re-opened in 1983 for live theatre, opera, dance, and concerts, plus art exhibitions in the Sackler Gallery. A multiphase Palace Improvement Project has already provided the Palace Theatre with a deeper stage(larger than Broadway-sized), new dressing rooms, wardrobe and costume maintenance facilities, as well as other technical-support facilities and improved services. The second phase of Palace Improvement Project includes the Richard & Hinda Rosenthal Concourse, Roslyn & Leslie Goldstein Foyer, Roslyn & Elliot Jaffe Café Teatro, Jean A. Rich Foundersʼ Room, Carolyn & Robert Neu Grand Stair, Hiddlestone Suites, Marilyn & Lawrence Gochberg Box Office, Sky Bridges from the new addition to the mezzanine and Sackler Gallery levels, Grand Tier, other function areas, state-of-the-art box office, elevators, coat checkroom, and additional restrooms on the main and upper levels. Still to be completed on sub-street level are the Amy Rich Theatre, a 150-seat studio theatre with dressing rooms and wardrobe facilities, and the Pitney Bowes Learning Center.

The Rich Forum, which opened in 1992, included the 757-seat Truglia (proscenium)Theatre, the Leonhardt Studio, the glass-enclosed main lobby and reception area (Mercede Promenade) that also served as an alternative performance/display space, and the box office. The Rich Forum is currently leased by NBCUniversal as a television-production studio. Renovations to the space included extensive state-of-the-art television studios created to accommodate multiple television productions with live audiences and extensive office and technical support space.

In addition to a full season of cultural and entertainment events, the Palace Theatre is also home to the Ballet School of Stamford, Connecticut Ballet, Lumina String Quartetʼs Chamber Music Institute, Namaskaar Foundation, Stamford Symphony, and Stamford Young Artists Philharmonic.

For more information about how to contribute, contact Lisa Colangelo, Development Coordinator at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 203-517-3426.


History

Stamford Center for the Arts (SCA), a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) cultural arts organization, is dedicated to serving as the regionʼs premier center for the performing arts. SCA owns two facilities: the renovated and restored historic Palace Theatre (61 Atlantic Street) and the state-of-the-art Rich Forum (307 Atlantic Street), within four blocks of each other in downtown Stamford, Connecticut.

The Palace Theatre, a 1,580-seat Thomas Lamb-designed vaudeville house, was acclaimed as “Connecticutʼs Most Magnificent” when it opened in 1927. It was restored and re-opened in 1983 for live theatre, opera, dance, and concerts, plus art exhibitions in the Sackler Gallery. A multiphase Palace Improvement Project has already provided the Palace Theatre with a deeper stage(larger than Broadway-sized), new dressing rooms, wardrobe and costume maintenance facilities, as well as other technical-support facilities and improved services. The second phase of Palace Improvement Project includes the Richard & Hinda Rosenthal Concourse, Roslyn & Leslie Goldstein Foyer, Roslyn & Elliot Jaffe Café Teatro, Jean A. Rich Foundersʼ Room, Carolyn & Robert Neu Grand Stair, Hiddlestone Suites, Marilyn & Lawrence Gochberg Box Office, Sky Bridges from the new addition to the mezzanine and Sackler Gallery levels, Grand Tier, other function areas, state-of-the-art box office, elevators, coat checkroom, and additional restrooms on the main and upper levels. Still to be completed on sub-street level are the Amy Rich Theatre, a 150-seat studio theatre with dressing rooms and wardrobe facilities, and the Pitney Bowes Learning Center.

The Rich Forum, which opened in 1992, included the 757-seat Truglia (proscenium)Theatre, the Leonhardt Studio, the glass-enclosed main lobby and reception area (Mercede Promenade) that also served as an alternative performance/display space, and the box office. The Rich Forum is currently leased by NBCUniversal as a television-production studio. Renovations to the space included extensive state-of-the-art television studios created to accommodate multiple television productions with live audiences and extensive office and technical support space.

In addition to a full season of cultural and entertainment events, the Palace Theatre is also home to the Ballet School of Stamford, Connecticut Ballet, Lumina String Quartetʼs Chamber Music Institute, Namaskaar Foundation, Stamford Symphony, and Stamford Young Artists Philharmonic.

For more information about how to contribute, contact Lisa Colangelo, Development Coordinator at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 203-517-3426.


History

Part I – The Grand Opera House and The Strand Theatre

The present home of the Palace Theatre was first the site of the Grand Opera House during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Grand Opera House was constructed in 1892-1893 by Mortimer and Dr. Philip H. Brown, a dentist who occupied an office on the second floor of the building.  The Opera House was for some years the only playhouse in Stamford.  It opened to the public on December 1893.

In 1904, two disastrous fires occurred in Stamford.  The Town Hall was destroyed in January, and the Grand Opera House suffered the same fate in November of that year.  The building was completely gutted, only the exterior walls remaining.  The estimated damage exceeded $44,500.

In 1885, the Burlington Arcade Building at 73 Atlantic Street was completed.  It is the current site of the Kiwanis Park, adjacent to the Palace Theatre, which opened up in 1968.  The Arcade Building was a glass-enclosed “shopping center,” which housed many of Stamford’s most exclusive stores.  The Arcade Building was also home to the Strand Theatre, which opened its doors to the public on December 11, 1914.  Mrs. Mary Vuono managed the 400-seat theatre for six years until her husband Mr. Charles D. Vuono stepped in and purchased the entire building, giving Mrs. Vuono the control and artistic freedom she had been holding back for years.

Part II – The Strand Theatre and Vuono’s Palace Theatre

The Stamford Advocate reported on July 20, 1920: “A real estate deal involving more than $200,000, and the largest transacted for years, was consummated this morning, with the sale of the former Stamford Opera House and the Arcade Building to Mrs. Charles D. Vuono, proprietress of the Stamford Theatre.”

With this mega real-estate purchase, Charles D. Vuono had given his wife Mary total control of The Strand Theatre, which she was managing at the time, and of the Grand Opera House building, which would later become The Palace Theatre.  Mrs. Vuono didn’t waste any time in making improvements to her newly acquired treasures.

On February 23, 1921, plans for alterations to the Strand Theatre were approved.  It was going to be expanded from a 400-seat house into a house seating 1,400 people, by the addition of a balcony and extension to the rear of the building.  The Strand Theatre is the current site of Kiwanis Park, adjacent to the Palace Theatre, which opened up in 1968.

The new Strand Theatre opened its doors on November 23, 1921 with the motion picture, “The Old Nest.”  With the success of the Strand Theatre, Mrs. Vuono engaged Thomas Lamb as the architect to design and build the Palace Theatre, where the Grand Opera House once stood.

The Palace Theatre opened on June 2, 1927 at 8:30PM.  A headline from the Stamford Advocate on June 3, 1927 reads: “HUNDREDS TURNED AWAY, UNABLE TO OBTAIN TICKETS, AS THE NEW PALACE THEATRE OPENS DOORS.”

Vuono’s Palace Theatre, as it was called at the time, was hailed for its architectural beauty, acoustic excellence, perfect sight lines, and seating comfort – what today would be called “state-of-the-art.”

Part III – Mary C. Vuono: A True Visionary

If it weren’t for Mary C. Vuono, there might never have been a Palace Theatre and Stamford’s audiences might never have experienced “Connecticut’s Most Magnificent,” as it was dubbed when the theatre opened on June 2, 1927.

She was born Maria Miceli in Potenza, Italy, on March 23, 1882, and moved with her family to Brooklyn, NY, the following year.  At age 19, she married Charles D. Vuono, co-founder and president of the Vuono Construction Co. in Stamford, CT.

Mr. Vuono was a very successful businessman at the time, but Mrs. Vuono proved she could be just as successful.  In 1915, she rented space to open the Strand Theatre in the Burlington Building, the current site of Kiwanis Park.  It did so well that she purchased the entire building.  She remodeled and expanded the Strand Theatre, but Mary Vuono wasn’t done.  In July 1920, she decided to buy the building next door as well, which would become the Palace Theatre seven years later.  “Imagine being a woman in those days, and an Italian, and doing all that… She was amazing,” said Irving Vuono, a grandson of the Vuonos, to Jerry Zezima, a staff writer in an interview for a Stamford Advocate article in 1995.

The vaudeville show for the opening night of Vuono’s Palace was promoted as “a program never before equaled in the history of the theatre.”  It was truly a huge event.  The Palace was the place everyone talked about in Stamford, and they couldn’t wait to see it.

Some of the artists that Mrs. Vuono brought to the Palace include Will Rogers, Lucille Ball, the Three Stooges, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Hattie McDaniel, Olsen and Johnson, Red Skelton, Jackie Cooper, Ed Sullivan, Eddie Albert, Buster Crabbe, Donald O’Connor, Paul Whiteman, Jimmy Dorsey, Blackstone the Magician, and opera star Biniamino Gigli.

Mary Vuono was a pioneer in the city of Stamford, perhaps the best-known businesswoman in this city.  She was years ahead of her time.

Mary owned the Palace until her death in 1978.

Part IV – End of the Strand Theater

Mrs. Mary C. Vuono opened the Strand Theater in 1915.  It was a successful venue that featured vaudeville acts and silent movies, often combining the two for epic entertainment days for area residents.  It was also the first “talkie” movie house in Stamford, making the downtown of this thriving city the place to be for the new motion picture phenomenon.

Mrs. Vuono capitalized on the momentum of the Strand Theater’s monetary gains and popularity to build the Palace Theatre, right next door to the Strand in 1927, and the two existed side by side for many years despite the bright new elegance of Vuono’s Palace Theatre, as The Palace was known at the time.  The kinds of artists being presented changed a great deal between the 1930s and mid 1950s; from the vaudeville era and silent movies, to hosting live theater companies, and later as a jazz and rock & roll concert venue.  Finally, in 1966, the Urban Redevelopment Commission decided as part of its program to take down the once beloved Strand Theater.

The Strand Theater is the current site of Kiwanis Park, adjacent to the Palace Theatre.  First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, dedicated the park in 1968 during the inauguration ceremony and pressed the switch that unleashed the fountain.  That fountain was removed when the park went through a transformation in the early 2000s during the Palace Theatre renovations.

Part V – Hartman Theatre Company and 1980s Restoration

From 1975 through 1980 the Palace Theatre was home to The Hartman Theatre Company, a regional theatre company that produced classic works as well as world premieres.

The theatre went dark from 1980 to 1983, when it was purchased by Cultural Resource Associates.  Since the theatre had fallen into disrepair throughout the years, a major restoration began under the direction of Dovetail, Inc., restoration specialists of Lowell, Massachusetts.  The restoration and renovation design was completed by Stahl Associates, Inc. and Roger P. Lang, AIA., Architect, Associated Architects of Boston.  The theatre was rededicated on December 14, 1983.

Part VI – Lobby Expansion and Renovation 1999-2003

A major expansion and renovation phase was put into motion in 1999.  The four-story building that housed the small lobby was completely torn down, leaving only the façade.  The lobby was reconstructed to include two levels, a Grand Staircase to connect them, and the Jaffe Café Teatro.

The process included community-wide input thus engaging the public to participate, encouraging and allowing a truly cooperative effort which resulted in a facility not only for entertainment, but for theatre arts education including writing, direction, scenic design, and performing.

This initiative is a testament to the dedication of F.D. Rich, Jr., the Stamford Center for the Arts Board of Directors (lead at the time by President Michael J. Cacace), the generosity of countless corporations, individual donors, and the continued support of the City of Stamford and the State of Connecticut. The expansion and renovation was completed by Frank Mercede & Sons, Inc. in 2003.

Special thanks to the Stamford Historical Society and the Stamford Advocate for their help and support in putting together this historical piece.