Wilbor Theatre

83 Water Street,
Eastport, ME 04631

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Wilbor Theatre

The Wilbor Theatre was located in Eastport, on the coast near the New Brunswick border. It opened March 16, 1942 with 750 seats. The opening movie was “Bahama Passage”. It was closed in 1972 when the wharf it was located on collapsed into the sea.

Contributed by Ron Salters

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on April 1, 2007 at 9:19 pm

The Eastport Theatre opened around 1941 (its not listed in the 1941 edition of Film Daily Yearbook;published in 1940, but is in the 1943 edition with a seating capacity of 500). The 1950 edition of F.D.Y. gives an address 83 Water Street, Eastport, ME and a seating capacity of 530.

Here is a vintage postcard view:

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on April 1, 2007 at 9:23 pm

Correction….It opened as the Wilbor Theatre, not the Eastport

mainecentralrailroad on December 10, 2010 at 7:39 am

I lived in Eastport, Maine from 1951-1959. I was a 1959 graduate of Shead Memorial High School. I found a listing online for a Henry Norman Lank, sea captain from Campobello, New Brunswick, Canada, who died in 1945. There was a statement in his obituary which said that he had attended the opening of the Wilbor Theater in Eastport on March 19, 1942. Of further note, Capt. Lank was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sailing mentor.
From the time we moved to Eastport until the theater’s demise, Marjorie Nutt was the owner and manager. She sold the tickets from a booth placed in the center of the tiled foyer and attached to its rear wall. There were two sets of front entrance doors to access the foyer from Water Street. Patrons would enter by the doors on the left-hand side and proceed to the ticket wicket (window). The popcorn machine, ice cream freezer and candy counter were located against the wall on the right-hand side of the foyer. After a show the patrons would exit through both front sets of doors. There were two sets of inner doors, one on each side of the ticket booth, which gave access to the viewing hall or auditorium. When each show started, those inner doors would be closed as the lights were dimmed. On either side of the screening stage, left and right wings, there were two fire exits. The aisles of the theater were carpeted. As one entered the theater, the rear corridor aisle to the right led to the restrooms built behind the right façade of the theater. The rear corridor aisle to the left led to the door and stairwell to the projection room and the door to the manager’s office. There was a main central aisle and two side aisles, one along the left wall and the other along the right wall. Sometime during the 1950’s a Cinemascope wider screen was installed.
George Nott was the projectionist and custodian. He had his own small appliance and radio repair business located in a shed attached to the rear of his home at the corner of Middle and Boynton Streets (since demolished and replaced by a self-serve laundromat). George, his wife Thelma (née Chute), a daughter named Jelaine and a son called Paul are all deceased. Paul was a classmate of mine. Jelaine’s husband, Roger Conti, still lives in their home on Middle Street. Roger’s grandmother, Ada Conti, lived all alone in that house and was in her 80’s when we lived in Eastport. She had come over from Italy and still spoke English with a strong Italian accent.
The films shown at the Wilbor would be delivered from Bangor, Maine by truck. There were other movie theaters in Washington County in the city of Calais, and the towns of Lubec and Machias, for certain. Eastport is the only other city in Washington County, by the way. At one time there may have been theaters in Princeton and Woodland (Baileyville). The Calais Drive-In was located near the boundary between Calais and Woodland on U.S. Route One. Reels for a particular film would be rotated around the various theaters in Washington County. Each theater would await its turn as a film made the circuit from theater to theater.
The Wilbor Theater regularly would show three single feature films a week. Each would be accompanied by Movietone News, cartoons, shorts, documentaries, and previews of coming attractions. There would be one matinee showing and one evening showing, daily, on the following schedule: Sunday and Monday / Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday / Friday and Saturday. In order to please the children and draw huge numbers of them, westerns and comedies with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Ma (Marjorie Mains) and Pa Kettle, etc. would be shown on Friday and Saturday. When we first moved to Eastport, the admission prices were as follows: Matinee – Child (under 12 years), 12 cents; Adult, 30 cents. Evening – Child (under 12 years), 30 cents; Adult, 65 cents. About the time I entered high school in 1955 the prices were raised, all under a dollar, the matinee price for a child became 30 cents, for example.
Television didn’t have any impact on attendance until the late 1950’s. The only station which could be received in Eastport was Channel 4 (CBC) from St. John, N.B. It began about the time I entered high school in 1955. Channel 4 would offer several hours of programming each day. Every year they would increase the programs by several hours. At the end of each broadcast day, a Royal Canadian Air Force jet would fly over Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific as the strains of ‘O, Canada’ could be heard. This would be followed by a very solemn rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’ as the crowned bust image of Queen Elizabeth II would appear on the screen. Patrons for the Wilbor Theater would come the mile across Passamaquoddy Bay in their fishing boats from Campobello Island and Deer Island, N.B. The citizens of Dennysville, West Pembroke, Pembroke and Perry were definitely in the commercial orbit of Eastport and the Wilbor.
Mary Riley, a younger lady and former Unitarian minister, lived with Madge Nutt in Madge’s large, historic house on the corner of Shackford and High Streets. Today this house has been re-modeled and has become a bed and breakfast inn known as The Chadbourne House for a military officer who once owned it. Mary ran the concessions at the Wilbor Theater until she moved to Portland at the end of the school year in 1958. She had a daughter, Isabel, and a son, John. Isabel was another classmate of mine until they moved to Portland.
In the summer of 1959 I worked for Madge Nutt by manning the concessions until I left to enter the University of Maine at Orono. At the time, Madge was about 72 years old. Not long after I left Eastport, I dare say sometime in the early 1960’s, Marjorie Nutt would close the theater and her home in the fall so that she could spend the winter at The Eastland Hotel in Portland. She would return to Eastport in the spring and re-open her home and the Wilbor. She continued this pattern until her death.
The Wilbor Theater at 83 Water Street, Eastport, Maine was built on a wharf (pier) which extended out into Passamaquoddy Bay. On February 2, 1976, a disastrous Northeast storm, which produced extremely violent gale winds and huge waves totally demolished a good number of wharves on pilings along the Eastport waterfront, including the former Eastern Steamship Wharf, Custom House Wharf, S. L. Wadsworth & Son Ship Chandlery Wharf, as well as the Wilbor Theater which, quite literally, collapsed into the cold, deep sea water of Passamaquoddy Bay. The site on Water Street is now called Overlook Park.
For more information, consult The Quoddy Tides Institute in Eastport, Maine.

Respectfully submitted by
Thomas H. Moore III
Bingham, Maine

mainecentralrailroad on December 10, 2010 at 9:23 am

I have done a bit more research on the Wilbor Theater in the softbound book titled The Island City, A History of Eastport, Moose Island, Maine by John ‘Terry’ Holt, published in 1999 (Eastport 200 Committee). Wilbor A. Shea, an insurance salesman started up the Acme movie theater in 1908. He began showing films regularly in the Memorial Opera House, located on the top story of Memorial Hall (built in 1869) on Boynton Street, in 1908 in competition with his first theater, the Acme. Shea spent a lot of money remodeling and renovating the Memorial Opera House and two days before its grand re-opening, the building was consumed by fire in January 1913. The lower floor contained a primary school. In 1915 Mr. Shea bought the Star Theater, which had opened in 1912 over the Roseland dance hall in the Frost Block on Water Street. Shea renamed the Star, the Toy Theater. Willy Hicks and his son Harold ran the Toy Theater for Shea. When the Toy Theater closed in 1917, admission was a nickel. A William Tooze built the Imperial Theater in 1915 at the corner of Shackford and Water Streets. His children assisted. Steve Tooze was pianist. Frances sold tickets. George collected tickets. Joe played drums. The films changed daily and often there were vaudeville acts from Saint John, N.B. Shows ran every day except Sunday. Mr. Tooze sold the Imperial to Armando Conti in 1921. Conti ran it briefly before selling the Imperial to Wilbor Shea, who died in 1926. After Mr. Shea’s death, his wife Nellie continued to operate the Acme and the Imperial. The Acme, the Red Men’s Hall and the Market Wharf Building were destroyed by fire on Nellie Shea’s 81st birthday in March 1941. She had closed the Imperial for renovations and new equipment, but was able to re-open it two weeks after the Acme burned down. On the site where Red Men’s Hall and the Acme had stood, Nellie Shea began construction on a new, modern theater to be called the Wilbor, obviously named for her late husband Wilbor A. Shea, and which would seat 750 patrons. The Wilbor Theater actually opened on March 16, 1942, notwithstanding my first comment in which I noted that Capt. Lank of Campobello was in attendance the opening night. He was undoubtedly one of the first patrons. The feature film when the Wilbor opened was ‘Bahama Passage’. One hundred people stood at the back of the theater to see the first show. Three hundred more stood outside in the street for the second show. When Nellie Shea died, her much younger sister Marjorie Nutt took the helm. Madge was a most assiduous theater manager and possessed quite a sense of showmanship. She would personally go to Boston to cajole and dicker with the distributors at the booking houses and convince them that she ran the finest movie theater north of Boston. Consequently, she felt she deserved to have her Wilbor Theater get top billing. More often than not, films would play weeks and months before they did at the Bangor theaters. Madge did not countenance anything but the highest quality feature film. Whatever was left of the Wilbor Theater after it and its wharf collapsed into Passamaquoddy Bay in the Nor'easter of Groundhog Day in 1976, was torn down in 1980. At the moment I am unable to offer a precise date for Marjorie Nutt’s death.

Respectfully submitted by
Thomas H. Moore III
Bingham, Maine

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 25, 2010 at 7:08 pm

The comments posted above by Thomas H. Moore III constitute as fine a history of a small-town cinema as I have ever read anywhere.

TLSLOEWS on December 25, 2010 at 7:16 pm

I agree Ron,very nice history of the Wilbor Theatre.

geni523270 on July 22, 2012 at 11:09 pm

I, too, worked at the Wilbor Theatre in Eastport, Maine, while I went to Shead Memorial (class of ‘66)and Madge Nutt was still the owner/manager. For two or three summers, which were the only times it was opened since it had no heat, I worked in the concession stand for a percentage of the take and the ability to see the movie once I closed the stand for the afternoon or evening, which sometimes was relatively early if there weren’t many patrons, especially during the week and during cold snaps in the weather. My family was also allowed to attend the movie occasionally for free as long as I worked there. Madge was a real sweetheart to me and I liked working for her even though I made very little income. It was a great place to keep in contact with friends in the summer. I wonder how much Madge actually made by running the movies for us by that time since she still only charged .35 for the matinee and .65 for the night show and from her “profits” she paid to stock the concession and pay the projectionist. I sometimes think she only did it to provide the younger generation with something to do and because she liked young people in general. She sold the tickets to the movie and maintained order if anyone got rowdy even though she was getting on in years by this time.

By the time I worked there, the red velvet seats were worn and some were damaged, and, as I said there was no heating for cold days, but I really miss seeing the old theatre when I come home, despite the beautification to the former site. It was a part of my history and my home. I have my own memories and the memories that were passed on to me by my parents — like the time my father sneaked out behind the theatre to smoke and a whale surfaced and blew on him.

My first memory of going to the movies was at the Wilbor at night with my parents and sister and of the fog rolling in, and believe it or not I still remember that the movie was “Gypsy Colt.” Does that date me, or what? This was shortly prior to my father leaving for Korea.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 3, 2015 at 10:06 pm

An item in the “Rep Ripples” column of The Billboard for January 3, 1942, mentioned the new theater under construction in Eastport, Maine, that was to be named for Wilbor A. Shea. It said that Shea had for many years had dramatic repertoire troupes traveling through Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

A 1911 book called Monarchs of Minstrelsy, from ‘Daddy’ Rice to Date" (scan at Google Books,) by Edward Le Roy Rice, has this biographical sketch of Wilbor Shea’s father, who was also in show business:

“Pete Lee (Shea) was conceded to be one of the greatest tambourinists in minstrelsy; as a comedian, he was excellent.

“As early as February, 1858, he was touring with Pete Lee’s Empire Minstrels.

“He joined Buckleys Serenaders in the 6o’s, and continued with them for several seasons.

“August 28, 1871, he made his first appearance in Philadelphia, as a member of Simmons and Slocum’s Minstrels.

“He was also prominently identified with the companies of Morris Brothers, and Sharpley’s. In 1872 he opened Bishop’s Opera House in St. Johns, N. B., renaming it Lee’s Opera House, and conducting it for several years.

“His last professional appearance was about 1878.

“A son, Wilbor F. Shea, is manager of the Memorial Opera House, Eastport, Me.

“Pete Lee was born in Cambridge, Mass., January 6, 1838; he died in Eastport, Me., October 11, 1896.”

Betzee on July 19, 2016 at 12:07 am

Every time I visit Eastport with my now 80-something father he recounts seeing “Gone with the Wind” at the Wilbor with his older brother.

hdudley1999 on March 14, 2017 at 8:27 pm

The read Mr Moores comment None of the wilbor theatre was lost to the storm but some of the roof. This is why the owner at the time a gentleman from Conneticut decided to tear the building down.

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