“It was built to be grand and inspire,” said Aaron Young, managing director of the Fulton Theatre in downtown Lancaster. Famous for its grand Victorian elegance, the 163 year old facility is believed to be the oldest continuously operating theater in America. For first time visitors, the Fulton’s rich theatrical history is readily apparent.
“For us, it’s really important that when people come here they have a sense of awe and history and grandeur,” said Young.
Throughout its history, the Fulton has hosted some of the greatest names in American theater and many notable speakers. Performers today say they can feel the presence of the greats who performed on that very stage in the past. Names like Sarah Bernhardt, George M. Cohan, Lillian Russell, John Durang and Mark Twain.
“Actors playing here now get to share their art with, and still feel the presence of all the great performers who have been here,” said Young.
Like any theater operation, there have been great years and lean years. Economic pressure from competing theaters and movie houses in the early 1900s triggered several restoration projects. The theater’s most notable change involved a massive architectural makeover in 1995 that gained top national honors in the world theatrical production.
But, while the Fulton Theatre is well known for its entertainment presence, many do not know of the building’s mark in American history. The theater is built on the stone foundation that once housed the Lancaster jail, site of a 1763 massacre of Conestoga Indians held there for their own protection.
That infamous historical note aside, theater officials are delighted that attendance today remains consistently strong in an era of self-entertainment devices and social media mania.
“I think our souls yearn to get together with people and have a shared experience,” said Young. “I think that keeps live performance going and going and going.”