Legend has it that the idea of a music hall and a library for Randolph originated around 1900, in a conversation between Albert B. Chandler and R. J. Kimball, longtime friends and summer residents of Randolph. “You build a library, Kimball, and I’ll build a music hall.” Another party in this conversation may have been their pastor Rev. Fraser Metzger, who felt that the long-term health of Randolph depended upon the creation of basic amenities and services. This was a period of confidence in the future and of optimism about Randolph’s place in it.
In the Randolph of 1900 there existed two Christian churches of similar theologies, on opposite sides of Randolph’s Main Street, and Rev. Metzger (who served both) strongly urged them to combine. It was decided that Colonel Chandler would build a music hall on the site of the east-side church and deed it to the remaining church on the west side, now Bethany. On the same site the Colonel also built a Parish House, at the expense of Bethany, from which to carry out its mission in the local community. The beams and oak interiors from the demolished church were built into the Parish House, now the Chandler Gallery; the stained-glass windows and organ, into the structure of Bethany. The church bell still hangs unused in its belfry, at the rear of the Gallery roof. Colonel Chandler donated the finished Music Hall to Bethany on his birthday, August 20th, in 1907.
For about 25 years afterwards Chandler Music Hall was a busy place, under the management of Bethany member and local arts promoter Edgar Salisbury. Plays, concerts, lectures, silent films, operas, political meetings, and school events made it a real treasure for the Town. But the cumulative impact of the 1927 flood, the stock market crash and Great Depression, World War II, and the advent of home entertainment such as radio and TV combined to turn the hall into an echo chamber of memories.
By the end of World War II Bethany’s congregation realized that only by converting the Music Hall to public ownership could its purpose as a community arts and educational facility be continued. Bethany therefore offered it to the Town, which hotly debated accepting it because this “white elephant” might cause expense to taxpayers. By a narrow margin a motion to purchase the Music Hall for the price of $1.00 was passed in April of 1947. However for the following 20 years the Music Hall continued to stand empty and disrepair began to set in.
Then came 1968 and, as part of a Parent-Teacher Association effort to raise money, Randolph Singers was organized. Its first production, The Pirates of Penzance, was performed at Chandler Music Hall. In the words of a producer, “…it was a nightmare.” Because Chandler needed so much electrical work and was in such poor condition, the next two Singers’ productions were held at Randolph Union High School. But at the urging of their new stage director John Jackson, the Singers moved back to Chandler starting with their February 1971 performance of Brigadoon. Despite an antiquated heating system, a bad roof, and cracks in the walls through which the snow blew (it had to be swept from the stage!), what started out as an adventure and a big risk turned out to be hugely popular.
This and other successful local musical productions recruited many new individuals to a Chandler restoration effort. The Town then delegated management of the building to a group of Town-appointed Trustees, active in the Randolph Singers, and entrusted them with the restoration of the hall. A new roof, electrical work, painting, restoration of the original stenciling, and code and accessibility work were financed by Federal and State programs and by the ongoing efforts of the Singers themselves.
(See a 1970’s Oxydol Commercial featuring Chandler Volunteers as part of the restoration)
In 1972 “The Friends of Chandler Music Hall” was formed as a fund-raising organization, but soon recognized that to restore the deteriorating facility it was necessary to start with solid programming in order to build community support and secure other funding sources. Therefore in 1977, under the leadership of Martha Ostlund, the Friends became the non-profit Albert B. Chandler Cultural Foundation, with the perpetual missions of bringing cultural events and arts to the community once again and raising funds for the building’s care.
When the Music Hall was transferred to the Town in 1947, the Parish House built by Colonel Chandler had been retained by Bethany Church for youth programs. But when a building more conveniently located on the west side of Main Street just next door to the church became available in the mid-1970s, a property exchange was proposed. The Lamson-Howell Foundation and Chandler’s volunteers raised the money to purchase the west-side property for the Town, and in late 1979 Bethany swapped the Parish House to Randolph in return. A sign reading “Cultural Center” was then placed above the door of the building now known as the Chandler Gallery.
During the course of the 1980s, running the Music Hall and Gallery became a major job. In 1991, through the generous support of local benefactor Bill Markle, the part-time paid position of Director of Program & Fund Development was created and filled by Laura Morris. With the addition of hourly box office and cleaning staff over the years, this role gradually grew into a full-time Executive Directorship now carried out by Becky McMeekin. During this period, while the Chandler Foundation was responsible for the programming of events, the Trustees continued to be in charge of the care and upkeep of the Musical Hall and Gallery. But as both groups were working toward the same mission, they merged on Valentine’s Day 2002, with the surviving organization named Chandler Center for the Arts. Betsy Cantlin was hired as Chandler’s Community Outreach Manager in September 2006. A long-term automatically-renewable lease between the Town and Chandler approved by the Selectboard in April 2002 gives official control of the facility to Chandler Center for the Arts.
This history was excerpted from the 1982 75th anniversary booklet of the Chandler Music Hall and Cultural Center. For more detailed historical information, we refer interested readers to Not a Bad Seat in the House: Albert B. Chandler and His Marvelous Music Hall, a centennial year history and celebration written by M. Dickey Drysdale, with contributions from Marie Kittel, Greg Sharrow, and Marjorie Ryerson and generous assistance from John Lutz.
Copies of the book may be purchased by calling the Chandler Office at 802-431-0204.