After a century: New development at property will close Darien Playhouse

If approved, it would mean last curtain call at the Darien Playhouse.

The new owner of the playhouse property plans to redevelop the theater space into retail and apartments, according to plans filed with the Planning & Zoning Commission and Architectural Review Board.

The Darien Playhouse is just over a century old according to Darien Historical Society Historian Kenneth Reiss.

It was built in the 1920s, along with the building to the west of it and the one-story, “colonial” strip of stores across the Post Road.

According to Reiss, the building won an architectural prize at the time, and for most of its life, it was a full-sized movie theater with the entrance in front under the marquee.

The application, filed under the name Darien Place, says it intends to “repurpose the existing Darien Playhouse Theater to first floor retail and second floor apartments.” It also says the theater is “no longer a viable business.”

“Significant changes, including the proliferation of on-line movie streaming services, have had a dramatic effect on the viability of many traditional movie theaters,” it says.

The Darien Playhouse property, located at 1077 Boston Post Road, was bought for $11,300,000 in January — the town identified the buyer as an entity called Darien Place, with state records listing the firm’s manager as Jon Vaccaro. Vaccaro, who has done previous development in town, told The Darien Times he plans on giving the back of the building a facelift.

According to the application, the rear facade will be replaced with new storefronts facing the parking lot, the trash enclosure will be moved from the rear of the building and parking spaces will be added as part of an effort to “provide a more pedestrian-friendly area around the rear portion of the building.”

The plan calls for the tenants aside from the theater to stay, and the addition of four apartments from 689 to 875 square feet and a common area.

The playhouse property was previously purchased in January 2003 by Thomas Golden and Arthur Collins and the building was renovated to add more retail space and move the entrance to the theater, which was reduced from 530 to 300 seats, with 150 per theater. Like then, the current redevelopment plans intend to keep the historic marquee.

The Darien Playhouse opening night was described in a column by Lou Volpicelli in The Darien Times in 2007 to celebrate the reopening of the theater after the previous redevelopment.

“It is Sept. 29, 1929. The town of Darien welcomes the opening of the Darien Playhouse. It premieres the motion picture, “River of Romance,” starring Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Mary Brain; two young talented actors, with good speaking voices. It is a talking picture! Three years young, the ‘Talkies’ are the rage.

“Also on the bill for this gala opening night, were Laurel and Hardy plus a news reel with a sound track! Film producers soon learned that a beautiful face or a great profile might not qualify the actor unless he or she had a good speaking voice,” he wrote.

The Playhouse is not the first small theater to close or change hands. Norwalk’s Garden Cinema, an art house theater, closed its doors in June. Just this week, Ridgefield’s Prospector Theater announced it was taking over the Wilton Bow Tie Cinema. Showcase Cinemas in Bridgeport showed its last movie in January.

The redevelopment, if approved, will be another revamp in downtown Darien, across the street from the long-planned Corbin District by Baywater Properties. In January, Baywater head David Genovese gave the update of his project to The Darien Times, saying he plans to start work in March or April.

Vaccaro told The Darien Times that the proprietor of the Darien Playhouse is interested in offering movie showings in other accommodating locations in town, including the Town Hall auditorium. One example could be the annual holiday movie showing and toy drive held at the playhouse, sponsored by the Darien Youth Commission, the Darien Human Services Department and the movie theater. First Selectman Jayme Stevenson told The Darien Times she had not been contacted about the idea but would be open to the discussion.