Historic Sampson Theatre gets William C. Pomeroy Foundation Marker
Saturday, November 6th was an exciting day for one of our 2013 Five to Revive! Preservation Outreach Coordinator Becky Timmons took a ride down to Penn Yan in Yates County for the Penn Yan Theatre Company’s unveiling of the William G. Pomeroy Foundation historic marker at the Sampson Theatre on East Elm Street. As a highly visible anchor in Penn Yan’s village commercial district, the Sampson Theatre is one of the most important historic theaters in the Finger Lakes region. Its exceptional historic and architectural significance and preservation potential made it the perfect candidate for our first set of Five to Revive properties back in 2013.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Sampson Theatre, built in 1910, is architecturally and historically significant as a rare surviving example of a vaudeville house/movie theater in Penn Yan. The theatre was designed by local benefactor Dr. Frank Sampson, a prominent physician and surgeon who was assisted by consulting architect Frank Harrison. For its first 20 years, the Sampson was the center of entertainment and live stage productions in the Penn Yan community. The theatre had two balconies and twelve boxes and could seat over 900, with a large stage that could reportedly accommodate elaborate scenery. Although other theaters were subsequently built in Penn Yan, the Sampson was the first building specifically built as an entertainment center. Between 1915 and 1928, the theater also served as a movie house, showing both silent films and, slightly later, “talkies.” More info about our 2013 Five to Revive listing can be found here.
With increasing competition from other theaters in the community, the Sampson was converted into an indoor miniature golf course in 1929. In 1936, a change in ownership resulted in a new use for the building: an automobile garage and showroom. Between the 1970s and early 21st century, the building served as a warehouse for tires. In 2004, the former theater was acquired by the Penn Yan Theatre Company (PYTO), members of which are in the process of restoring the building to its original character and use as a center of the performing arts. Since 2004, the theater roof has been replaced and new front doors have been installed. The new mahogany doors were designed by Richard Osgood, Jr. of Bero Architecture and Rochester Colonial to match the original 1910 doors (more info about the doors here). There are also plans to repair the brick masonry and concrete walls, and to restore the wood windows.
In 2013, PYTO received a Landmark Society Preservation Grant Fund to help create a Master Plan for the Sampson Theatre. The Master Plan was completed by Bero Architecture in 2015 and includes a restoration of the façade, front canopy, and original wood windows. Further plans call for a newly constructed annex that will house the lobby, restrooms, set and costume shops, and classroom spaces (see more of the future plans here). Over the years, PYTO has received a number of grants from local, regional, and national organizations to support their revitalization efforts. Most recently, the Theatre received a $1 million grant through NY State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant Program.
The Pomeroy Foundation marker solidifies the importance of this historic landmark, and will hopefully help PYTO achieve their goal of returning the theater to its original use as a center of entertainment in the region. We look forward to seeing what’s in store!