In 1932, the Criterion Theatre opened to rave reviews and eager crowds. George McKay, the theatre's founder, was larger than life. After being released from federal prison following his conviction for bootlegging, George decided to "go legit" and open a theatre. Nothing George did was ever on a small scale, and The Criterion was meant to be just that, the criteria against which all other things could be measured. Full of art deco glamor and glitz, it was an achievement of its time, and today remains one of only two art deco theatres to survive in Maine. The Criterion is also one of the few cinemas that retains its original house, without having been split or divided.
BJ (Betty) Morison and her husband bought the Criterion from the McKays in 1968 and BJ ruled with an iron fist. Famously, she would stand at the entrance demanding people spit gum into her open palm while taking their tickets! BJ was a great steward of the space for many years. She left the space more or less unchanged from its original construction.
The theatre was sold two more times in the intervening years, first to private ownership and then to a non-profit organization. Sadly, circumstances were unfavorable and the theatre soon fell on hard times. Market changes and damages to the building meant it was dark for many years - and at one point faced an uncertain future. Fortunately, one of the theatre's former owners, Michael Boland, rallied forces and organized a new non-profit entity. Seeing the role the theatre played within the heart of the community, one generous donor stepped forward and with a gift of $2 million ensured the theatre's salvation! Work began immediately to secure the building and restore the interior to its former glory.
Now, restoration and renovation almost entirely complete, The 1932 Criterion is once again a shining jewel of art deco architecture, proudly bringing the very best in movies, children's theatre, drama, comedy and live music to downeast Maine. With a dynamic performance schedule, community engagement and an ever growing group of devoted members and volunteers, it seems certain that this establishment will be entertaining visitors for many generations to come.