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Pequot Lakes Historical Society

History of the Cole Memorial Building

by Karen Bye

This building was an important one in the civic life of Pequot Lakes. It was built on land donated to the town by AL Cole's daughter in memory of her father. He had been a pioneer businessman, who is credited with building the first store in town.

Work on the Cole Memorial Building was done by the WPA, with Tom Chapin as General Building Foreman. It was begun in 1936 and completed in 1937.

It was intended to be a civic center and it did serve that function from the early time through the present day. The building was on a large parcel of land that could accommodate gatherings of good size, plus parking for the horses and buggies. It was used extensively by community groups for bazaars, festivals, picnics, etc.

The interior had a 400 seat auditorium with a fully appointed stage and two dressing rooms. Traveling entertainers and speakers performed there in the early years, and school graduations were held there as well, as the school had no auditorium.

The building was heated by a coal furnace in the basement. Along with room for coal storage, the full basement also had two bathrooms with showers, which were available to the public. Two meeting rooms were downstairs, as well, and these were used by the Town Council and the Commercial Club.

From the start, the building was expected to pay for its own upkeep and that wasn't happening with the occasional vaudeville show. A steady source of income was needed, and in 1941 it was decided to turn the place into a "show hall." This enterprise was spearheaded by Chick Everhart and Henry Bye.

Stadium seating was installed, with cushioned seats. The village paid for the seating and the Commercial Club handled the remodeling. A projection room was built and Jim Johnson signed on as projectionist. The story is that the booth became so unbearably hot that he would crawl through a trap door and sit on the edge of the portico roof while the movie ran. Many local young people from that era count as their first jobs either selling tickets, ushering, selling popcorn, even cutting grass at the Lakes Theater.

Business declined in the early 60s, and the theater closed, but in its twenty years it contributed to many civic improvements, such as paved streets and the funding of a Tourist Bureau building and the Pequot Lakes Clinic.

Today, the Cole Memorial Building is leased by the Pequot Lakes Area Historical Society. Their museum is located in the basement and has been a labor of love for the founding members of that organization during an arduous reconstruction effort.

The upper floor is home of the Senior Citizens Center whose activities keep the old building alive most days of the week.

Historical information taken from Les Tweed's, Boyhood Memories, (available at the museum).

Arrangements to visit the museum at another time can be made by calling one of the Board members. Click this link for more contact information on the Pequot Lakes Historical Society.

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