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In 1890, Ransom Bradley dreamed of building a magnificent theater in downtown Putnam. Two years later, on July 16, 1892, he purchased property on the corner of Front and Livery Streets. Designed and constructed by Charles H. Kelley of Putnam, the Bradley Playhouse was completed on January 29, 1901. A 1901 Putnam Patriot article describes the building:
"From the main entrance on Front Street, a 10-foot wide corridor leads up to the ticket office. This space is all decorated with [The Bradley Playhouse interior] leaded glass, theatrical figures in white and gold, and a tile floor at entrance. The theatre is to have 973 opera chairs, four boxes with white and gold chairs, and not a poor seat in the house. On entering the theatre, at the rear is the foyer, check room for coats, and ladies' and gents' toilets and a marble drinking fountain. Each box in the foyer is fitted with plate glass mirrors. Each side of the foyer arch is a 6-foot stairway to the balcony floor and rear balcony. The theatre is decorated with...papier mache and colored old rose, green, ivory-white and gold. All draperies are of green, boxes and balcony rails are brass. The balcony front is decorated with a festoon of cupids in white and gold and the boxes in ivory and gold. Carpets are dark red. All seats are in mahogany with Moroceonie seats. All have wire hat racks under and nickel numbers and letter to each...The building is a thing the city should be proud of and a vote of thanks should be given to Mr. Bradley for building such a fine playhouse for the use of the public."
The new theatre featured national touring companies fresh from Broadway with such hits as "Uncle Tom's Cabin", "The Soul Kiss", and "The Red Mill". The Bradley also featured silent films complete with piano accompaniment until 1928, when the first talkie was presented. The movie "Buffalo Bill's and Pawnee Bill's Wild West and Far East Show" featured Buffalo Bill in his final public appearance.
During 1911, the playhouse featured several benefit nights in order to raise money for the newly established fire department in Putnam. On one of these evenings, the contributions of 1,095 attendees raised a "grand" total of $0.75. Three years later the theatre needed that fire department, as two fires began just 14 hours apart. After the fires, the interior of the playhouse was rebuilt, with the increased popularity of movies influencing the renovations. The thrust of the stage was removed, the orchestra pit was covered over and the balcony remodeled.
In 1984, the Northeast Repertory Theatre was formed, bringing live performance back to the Bradley with a six to eight show main season. The current organization, incorporated in 1991 as the Theatre of Northeastern Connecticut at the Bradley Playhouse (TNECT), gained non-profit status in 1992. In 2004, we made contact with the great-nephew of the original "Bradley". Ransom Bradley's namesake and his family were delighted to learn that the Bradley Playhouse still bore his name and carried on his work. The family visited the playhouse and attended a reception in his honor, at which young Ransom Bradley was made a lifetime member of TNECT.
The playhouse has been known by various names through its history. Postcards announcing a production of "The Old Homestead" in 1922 refer to the Putnam Opera House. Later, the playhouse was called "The Imperial". In 1927, Morris Pouzzner renovated "Putnam Theatres, Inc." According to the Putnam Patriot, "Superlatives are needed to describe the remodeled playhouse...from roof to cellar nothing has been neglected that could give comfort and pleasure." On December 9, 1937, a short circuit caused another fire, which soon became an enormous blaze. Fortunately, a specially designed asbestos curtain dropped, containing the fire to the stage area. It was noted at the time that of all the curtains so designed, only three had functioned as intended when fire struck. The playhouse sustained thousands in damages, including the loss of all scenery, properties, and "talking picture apparatus."
Soon crews were hard at work making repairs and enhancements. The most noticeable improvement was the grand marquee extending over the sidewalk, which lit up the whole street corner. In 2007 our campaign to reconstruct that famous sign concluded successfully. Our new marquee has made the Bradley Playhouse a focal point in Putnam’s downtown revitalization. TNECT members and supporters have spent countless hours in physical improvements to the building. Our goal has always been to restore the Bradley Playhouse to its full glory. We've refinished the display cases in the entryway with gold leaf and restored our 1927 glass chandelier. Given our history of building fires, you'll be glad to know that we've installed modern smoke and and fire alarms throughout the playhouse, and fully comply with all state and local safety codes. The Bradley is completely accessible to all our patrons, with a wheelchair lift and upgraded restroom facilities.
Recently TNECT faced our toughest setback ever -- a large section of our ceiling suddenly caved in. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the incident forced us to cancel our holiday show, the biggest production of the year, and threatened to destroy our always precarious financial solvency. However, our many supporters rose to the challenge, notably Tom and Kathy Borner, and Tom and Peter Thurlow of Hilltop Construction, and the misfortune became a blessing. Our beautiful theatre ceiling was restored, our lobby was renovated, and we reopened in time for our most successul year ever!
We thank our supporters for their patience, especially Mr. and Mrs. Borner for their continued support and assistance. We, the TNECT members and Board of Directors, hope to provide our audience with greater accessibility and many more years of entertainment and drama here at the Bradley Playhouse.