Coolidge Corner Theatre, a longstanding staple for the Brookline community, is now accepting public donations for its multimillion dollar expansion project — which includes two additional theaters and a community center.
The current expansion project, known as “Campaign for the Coolidge,” began about 10 years ago and is expected to finish in early 2023, Beth Gilligan, Coolidge Corner Theatre’s deputy director, said.
The “once-in-a-generation transformational project,” according to the campaign’s website, will include a “Community Education and Engagement Center” — a multipurpose space that could be used for classes, catered events, trivia nights and film clubs, Gilligan said.
The space will also be used for rental for community use, as well as two additional theaters, a media library and a new Centre Street entrance that opens into an atrium with many improved amenities.
“It’s been a long road but we’re so thrilled that it’s finally coming to fruition,” Gilligan said.
The project has faced many challenges since its conception, including problems with initial plans, choosing an architect and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, through thick and thin, the project has now reached 90% of its campaign goal, and the theater is calling on the public to help with the construction phase to see it through to completion.
According to Gilligan, the $12.5 million expansion is funded primarily by community members, family foundations, the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s “Cultural Facilities Fund” and help from state legislators.
“It’s mostly been Coolidge supporters of every stripe stepping forward to really support our vision, who understand the role that theater plays in the community and their lives,” Gilligan said.
Coolidge Corner Theatre first opened in 1933. In the late 1980s, the theater came close to financial ruin and was going to be redeveloped, but Brookline residents came together to prevent this from happening, which resulted in the founding of a nonprofit organization.
Gilligan, who has worked at the theater for almost 13 years, said it has a long history as a “beloved icon” for the Brookline community.
“It has a very long and storied history, and I think there’s a lot of affection for it,” Gilligan said. “A lot of people have memories of coming here as a kid.”
When the pandemic hit, the community once again banded together to show support for the historic theater, according to Gilligan.
“We were really floored by just the outpouring of love that we received from everyone during the pandemic closure,” Gilligan said.
Ronnie England, freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, grew up in Brookline and feels the area has a strong sense of community.
“They’ve made an effort within the past few years to make community spaces like the Brookline Teen Center,” England said.
England recalls going to the Coolidge Corner Theatre with her family, and she thinks the new additions and changes will provide “a nice space for people to gather.”
“I think the community education space is really exciting to me personally just because it’s so unique,” Gilligan said. “The future of the institution in many ways is just to be able to gather people to talk about film and to connect over that.”
Renderings and floor plans for the new project are available at campaign.coolidge.org. The project will also include a new entrance, which Gilligan described will complement the old entrance with a “21st century Art Deco spin.”
Despite these changes, the project will still preserve and restore the theater’s original entrance.
The project is “committed to maintaining the unique character of our existing historic theater and has worked closely with the architect (Howëler + Yoon) to ensure a seamless and respectful integration of the old and the new,” according to a press document released by the Coolidge Corner Theatre in June 2021.
England said she was very glad the theater’s authentic feel will be preserved.
“I think part of its charm is the old-timey-ness of it, which has made it such a significant part of Coolidge Corner,” England said. “It’s like a little landmark.”