Beginning the transformation in Penn Yan

The first step of the renovation of the Sampson Theatre has been achieved, at last. After months of fundraising, historical research, design, architectural archeology, and construction, the new doors of the theatre were installed last week.

“It’s the best birthday present I ever got,” said Dean Knapton as the installation was being completed last Friday, Dec. 1. Nor could it be a more appropriate gift. Knapton is the central figure both behind and leading the efforts to bring the Sampson back to life as a performing arts center for Yates County, and has devoted years of his life to achieving that civic goal.

Recently recovered from knee replacement, Knapton himself built an enclosure at the front of the Sampson on East Elm St. and brought in space heaters so the crew from Rochester Colonial would be able to work on the two coldest days of winter so far. But prior to this, Knapton was by far the leader in all the dollars raised for the phased project. With raffles and events, and stage construction for Penn Yan Theatre Company Shows, his efforts are now represented by the new Sampson doors.

Designed by architect Richard Osgood of Bero Architecture in Rochester (but a Penn Yan native) the doors are as close as possible in appearance and construction to what was built in 1910 when the new Vaudeville house first opened for the audiences of Penn Yan. In its later use as a car dealership and tire warehouse, the originals were demolished for a rolling metal overhead door. Now remade of solid mahogany with bronze fixtures, the Sampson’s doors are meant to last for the life of the theatre.

Drawing on the knowledge of historical paint expert Linda Carter Lefko, Osgood and she climbed to the upper stories of the Sampson to examine the original window sashes. Scraping back over 100 years of other colors, road grime, dust, and soot, and then carefully matching multiple samples, they arrived at what they are confident is the original dark teal blue that was chosen by Dr. Sampson himself.

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