The Bearsville Theater. The countdown to opening is on…

Well, it’s been a while…. When I started making these notes back in January, we had two months ahead of us before the re-opening of the theater for the Writer’s Festival. Then came a snag, a re-think, and now—with less than five weeks to go—it’s all hands-on deck. No less than twenty-five people are working six days a week to be ready for Bookfest on March 26 and then a public re-opening over Easter.

What’s going on? During the past week we have focused upon creating the best possible First Impression – our entrance, lounge and bar. 

The theater is a well-known gem of mid-century modern architecture.  Created by two men from two completely different walks of life: master builder, Paul Cypert, and world-famous acoustic designer and architect John Storyk. Each had their own crew, both entirely in service to “the Baron of Bearsville,” Albert Grossman. The theater tells the story of their wonderful work

What have we done to their handiwork?   We resisted a luxury make-over and “re-do” for the sake of it, and—by the standards of most “structural rehabs,” we changed very little, so the sleek, clean look and sound of the bar area survives. In fact, I think it glows with natural color.

The oak floors are being re-sanded and stained. The acoustic ceiling has been repaired from all the water damage. The unbelievably massive (how does it stay there?) 2 x 3 foot mantlepiece lintel has been cleaned and spruced up—while still running a good twenty feet beyond the grand fireplace–designed by Sally Grossman at her husband’s request. We’re told that   the giant beam was hand-adzed by the Grossmans’ first carpenter and friend, David Boyle, who personally picked the giant Douglas Fir on the shoulder of Mead’s Mountain less than two miles away. And I believe that Sally G. based her lava rock fireplace design on General Washington’s hearth at his headquarters (without volcanoes) in Newburgh.

Today, the fireplace remains exactly as it was, washed down and spotlighted again to show it off.  And as I write, John Storyk’s surrounding wooden wall panels are being cleaned and re-stained, too.

So while leaving the bones in place, we’re adding a touch of mid-mod color and some luxury as well. Teal colored drapes for the windows and the interior walls, plus a starry starry night sky above on the interior ceiling. The drapes regalize the iconic mid-century modern spaces, but haven’t messed with the beautiful grain of native wood, the high, arching ceiling, or the stunning picture windows with their grassy banks of sycamores, maples, and tulip against the peace of the Sawkill Creek…  

Yes, we’re trying for a ‘less is more’ approach but that still takes some doing. After all, there are decades of dirt and faded finishes to scrape away. But underneath these tatters lies the gold…

And the bar is the bar – no need to do away with that.   We’ve dressed it up and are providing a little glamour with under-lit shelves and a teal frame for the window space.  And—true to mid-mod style—we’re bringing in comfortable, functional seating for every occasion. As well as a permanent stage in front of the far windows, for smaller events. Thank you Caroline Gleeman for your donation of a magnificent 100-year old Steinway Grand Piano.  You may be certain we will put it to good use!

Surprisingly, the core of the building – the auditorium and stage have been the two easiest spaces to work with. After, that is, we replaced the rotten floor and joists (damaged by the water sloshing in through the side doors over so many years) and installed proper drainage.  Next? We removed the frayed, faded stage curtains and the accumulated technical debris.  (Among which rumors of Janis Joplin’s old amps unfortunately proved untrue.) Then?   We excavated ancient cables, redundant equipment and a sad ‘n sorry upright piano to find Pure Stage Space! Soon to be filled with another concert grand and a new back line…and some live musicians.

As a child my mum and dad took me to the old English music halls and concerts of our Midlands town of Leicester. So I’m indulging my nostalgia to bring a little bit of that to Bearsville.  It comes in the shape of two old gods, sitting like sentries on either side of the stage. 

Fred and Stanley were rescued from a junk yard, and quickly brought back to their former glory with gilt and true grit by the amazing Lindsey Tipler, decorator and miracle worker.  Fred and Stanley will light the sides of the stage with art deco flaming sconces in hand, while deep piled velvet drapes gather beside and behind them. 

Over the last several months, a tireless Robert Frazza has ripped out and replaced the entire sound and lighting system, changing out 100% of what went before. OK, I admit it’s difficult for most of us to understand the details.  But with a multi-decade reputation for excellence behind him, and specs pre-approved and tested by Woodstock’s finest— we know we will have a great sound coming off that surprisingly large stage, filling our famously intimate hall.

Then, where Robert’s mastery and Fred and Stanley all meet—high up there in air—we’re hanging 4 gorgeous crystal chandeliers above the seating area.  Next? Another survivor of a lost era– a slightly larger antique crystal chandelier to cascade a gentle glow over the stage for those times when the spotlights go dim and we bring out the acoustics.   

All this will hang from our best inherited feature: the balanced sound quality of John Storyk’s famous ceiling, designed (and with installation overseen) by the man who gave us the Electric Lady Land Studios, (as well as the legendary “Studio A” [or is “B!?]  a mile away at Bearsville Studio.)  New in-set lights, nestle into the ceiling and freshly painted charcoal colored walls and alcoves.  And– all right a bit more English….. Peacock feathers and golden stars inside two alcoves: 1.) Our wizard sound-engineer’s lair at the back of the auditorium, underneath the balcony; and 2.) the nook at Fred’s feet leading to the stage.

There’s more…

The basement is connected to the main entrance by what has been called the most perfect if unusual set of stairs in the Hudson Valley, created by Paul Cypert…  No changes there.  But we HAVE changed the bathrooms downstairs 100%.  The ceilings, walls and floors all suffered from decades of drip.  I think you will love them.   Lindsey the magican, artist Mike Dubois, and designer Gwen Seigel are taking us all on a magic carpet ride – a color-cloud- fantasy redecoration. From frumpy and functional to fabulous and far-out, come see them, honoring the great and the good of our past and current musicians.

Speaking of which, we want our local and visiting touring artists and musicians to think of the Theater as their favorite east coast venue.  Life on the road is tough, so we are building the dressing rooms and the private artist spaces in a way that is both practical and pampering.  We want to inspire them with the history and the spiritual nature of Woodstock, and to help them relax and prepare for their performance.  So there are home comforts such as a fully functioning kitchen and laundry, high tech office facilities, and an especially spacious and, in parts, spiritual green room in which to relax and socialize. 

The many, often invisible, technicians, sound engineers, and support people such as roadies, are the VIP’s who have made Bearsville what it is over the 30+ years of its history. We are celebrating them on our basement walls, and reaching out to our community for as much history as we can gather.

So, 37 days til opening day – Woodstock Bookfest.  Yikes.   The next week will focus on the furniture – comfortable seating! – and the construction of our Woodstock Wall….plus a decision has to be made about our mini recording studio.  …more on this soon…

Join the Conversation


  1. Please remember to cut the holes around the trees that grow through the back deck bigger . The trees are being strangled.
    Thank you they are beautiful trees!

  2. Wow, Wow and Wow!!! This is incredible!!! Thank you sooo much for reviving and improving the Bearsville Center!!

  3. Very excited and looking forward to this amazing restoration. Thank you for your vision and hard work.

  4. I wish there were more photos. The descriptions of what is happening made me extremely curious to see it all. But there are only a small handful of photos that don’t show much. Any chance of sharing more? Overall I am so grateful this is being done ~ it needed it ~ and I cannot wait to walk through those doors to see it all.

  5. Lizzie, you are amazing, Albert Grossman could not have dreamt of a better person to take over. I can’t wait for the opening and to attend many fabulous events, including, of course, Woodstock Film Festival events! Good luck with the final stretch!!!

  6. A million thanks to you and your team for the love and attention that you are pouring into this beloved , historic community space.

  7. Yes, David Boyle hand-adzed that massive beam, on the lawn in front of the Peterson House, so everyone driving by could watch. He also carved the double-side walnut sign for the Bear Cafe.

  8. Thank you, Lizzie!… and Robert Frazza! We at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum are so excited to hold our Beaux Arts Bash there on Saturday, April 25th, 2020. It will be a fun cocktail party and DJ dance party. Come by to support the arts in this glorious Woodstock icon.
    Joan Clancy

  9. Sounds good — only hope the seats will at least be more like the ones in its first incarnation.

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