When you step into the Fulton Theatre, you enter both a performance space and an important part of Lancaster history.
The circa-1852 structure was built on the site of the city’s Colonial-era jail, and the building itself was a point on the Underground Railroad, an armory and a hospital during the Civil War. It opened as an opera house in October 1873 and, like the city itself, saw both prosperity and hard times.
“As the years went by, the Fulton dropped into a second-rate movie house,” said Marketing Director Jon Major. “In 1962, concerned citizens saved the Fulton Opera House from the wrecking ball by raising money to purchase the building.”
It soon was named a National Historic Landmark and, in 1983, the Actor’s Equity Association recognized it as a professional regional theater. In 1995, a major, $9.5-million reconstruction project restored its original, Victorian-era elegance.
Today, the main theater has 658 seats and, five years ago, a smaller, 100-seat stage was created on the fourth floor as the Tell Studio Theater, which often features edgier fare.
My wife and I have made good use of the theater since moving to Lancaster last year. We have enjoyed performances of “42nd Street” and “Chicago” on the main stage and an excellent production of “The Mystery of Irma Vep” in the Tell Studio Theater.
For us, part of the fun of attending the theater is exploring Lancaster itself. We’ve dined at several of the city’s high-quality restaurants before the show.
For instance, right around the corner is Carr’s Restaurant. Tim Carr, owner and chef, bought the restaurant in 2000 and expanded the size of the dining area two years ago. Some of my favorites there include crab cakes, calamari and mushroom ravioli.
“I’m a Lancaster native,” Carr said. “I actually worked at the Fulton several years before I entered the culinary field.”
Carr has seen Lancaster change a lot during that time. Twenty years ago, he said, downtown was “fairly dead.” Then there were challenges brought by the hotel/convention center, which took almost nine years to complete. Now, however, he feeds the ravenous crowds that flock into downtown most days, he said.
The Prince Street Café, which opened in 2006, is another favorite.
“We wanted to see downtown Lancaster have a café that was clean, safe and a fun place for all ages to spend time,” said owner Crystal Weaver.
The owners quickly learned to make bagels, desserts, soups and coffee. The Fulton Theatre crowds, guests from the convention center, and neighbors from the area come in great numbers, she said.
“We were busy from day one,” she said.
Some favorite dishes are baked oatmeal and breakfast burritos as morning treats, smoothies, which have been on the menu since the beginning, and a cookie sandwich—two chocolate chip cookies sandwiching Nutella mousse and dipped in chocolate ganache.
Fortunately for area businesses, the Fulton has become a very popular destination, averaging about 150,000 patrons each year. It now has further expansion plans, as it just began a project to consolidate the entire city block with the theater by the year 2020.
“We’ll be building an expanded lobby space, a larger rehearsal area, more roomy backstage areas, improving audience and performer comforts, and upgrading the mechanical systems necessary for modern, Broadway-quality productions,” Major said.
The Fulton Theatre is located at 12 N. Prince St., Lancaster. For more information, visit www.thefulton.org.