Rehabilitation Past Present Future:
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Rehabilitation Past Present Future

The St. Lawrence Church is a remarkable structure that has been an integral part of the historic fabric of the Munjoy Hill neighborhood in Portland, Maine since its original construction in 1897. The building was (is) comprised of two sections, the Sanctuary and the Parish Hall, built simultaneously. The rehabilitation and transformation of the St. Lawrence Church into the St. Lawrence Arts Center has been planned as two phase to coincide with the two halves of the building - the parish hall and the sanctuary. 

In 2001 the St. Lawrence Arts Center opened the highly popular 110 ten seat Parish Hall Theater which is consistently booked a year in advance. It has played host to many hundreds of performances with tens of thousands of people enjoying a huge variety of arts, cultural and community activities. The Parish Hall Theater offers artists and performers a venue equipped with the state-of-the-art lighting, sound and visual technology.

The St. Lawrence Arts Center strives to make the Parish Hall Theater as accessible as possible by charging an affordable rent and entering into collaborative
revenue agreements with users like 50-50 splits of door proceeds. The Parish Hall Theater also hosts many other uses for low-cost or free, including local community and civic forums, art openings, and clothing swaps.    

In 2003, the St. Lawrence Arts Center successfully transitioned from an all volunteer to professionally run organization with the hiring of a full time salaried executive director and theater manager. The 11 member Board of Directors oversees the staff who manage the fund raising and the programming of the Parish Hall Theater. Revenues consist of income from the theater, including ticket sales, concessions and rent from theater groups and performers, benefit concerts, the
sale of merchandise including the popular Greetings from Area Code 207 CD’s, house parties, art auctions, raffles and more. The Parish Hall Theater also relies on a bi-annual fundraising appeal and grants to meet its mission of arts & culture, neighborhood & community and historic preservation.

The Sanctuary, unoccupied since 1986 and only sporadically used by the former congregation for many previous decades, suffered from deferred maintenance issues resulting in water infiltration through various roof and wall areas. Thanks to generous funding from Jane’s Trust, the St. Lawrence Arts developed conceptual plans and budgets for rehabilitation of the Sanctuary portion of the facility into a 400-seat auditorium. Surveys of performance organizations, producers, and performers in the Greater Portland area indicate a need for a mid-sized venue in the Greater Portland area. Our plans to create the Sanctuary Auditorium as Phase II of our renovation of St. Lawrence Arts expands our ability to promote affordable, accessible entertainment and culturally enriching artistic experiences for the community and fill the need in Greater Portland for a medium sized auditorium.

During the spring of 2006, the primary roof trusses of the sanctuary portion of the St. Lawrence experienced a partial collapse.  The condition caused substantial damage to the other portions of the roof and to the masonry walls in the sanctuary. St. Lawrence Arts engaged Structures-North Engineering, one of New England’s preeminent engineering consulting firms in the field of historic preservation, to implement shoring measures to stabilize the structure and ensure its safety.

Upon further assessment, it was determined that the integrity of the structure was at risk and, as a result, the Sanctuary portion of the facility was dismantled in 2008.  Significant materials were salvaged from the site, and the rehabilitation then transformed into a major reconstruction project.  Prior to dismantling, the existing conditions of the sanctuary auditorium were reviewed and measured drawings were meticulously prepared.

The program for the Sanctuary, developed in discussion with the St. Lawrence Arts Board of Directors, include a 400-seat auditorium for a diverse offering of visual performances, a lobby serving both the Sanctuary and Parish Hall, an upper function room integrated with the roof providing sweeping views of Casco Bay, and a multitude of support spaces such as concessions, catering kitchen, green room and workshop space. 

The Parish Hall Theater will also be modified to allow a slight increase in seating capacity to 120 with flexibility to allow for multi-functional use including its current primary theater use. The facility will have a well-integrated accessible entrance and an elevator to serve all public areas of the building.

St. Lawrence Arts received a conditional rezoning in 2010 to proceed with its vision of creating a dynamic performing arts center on the site of the former Sanctuary. The organization is working with David Lloyd of Archetype Architects to design a modern building and ulimately a new landmark where the former landmark once stood.