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Victorian Grandeur, Renewed

It sits at the center of Round Lake village, like the axel on a wheel of circular roads wide enough for just one vehicle to pass by at a time. The Round Lake Auditorium looms over the quaint original Victorian homes that closely surround it, looking like a modest wooden cathedral erected in the midst of a little girl’s doll houses.

At first the edifice seems unsightly, with the chipped paint on the building’s exterior, but if you look at it long enough it’s easy to appreciate its architectural splendor. The high, pointed roof sits atop walls with hundreds of tiny glass windows, while a bell tower protrudes among the tree tops. If you were to scrape at the wood exterior long enough you would reach the building’s original coat of burgundy trim, 120 years old.

But don’t let the chipped paint fool you: In the past year, $45,000 has gone into restoring the historic auditorium, which had major problems with stabilization. Lake resident and auditorium artistic director Edna Van Duzee received grants and was able to add iron rods to the roof and wooden beams to stabilize the walls.

The jewel of the 300-seat auditorium is a floor-to-ceiling organ boasting the title of the oldest and largest “three manual tracker” (that’s organ-speak) in the country, largely unchanged and still used. The 10-ton instrument is regarded one of the top 10 organs in the country by the National Historical Organ Society.

Van Duzee’s been working on the maintenance and restoration of the building since 1965, so this latest effort is nothing new: “I got a grant from the state for a new roof because it was leaking and I thought if it leaks on that organ, we’re in trouble.”

With the money left over from the grant, Van Duzee replaced broken windows with GE Lexan “glass” (it’s actually a very strong form of plastic), and emerald and gold-stained glass was added to the windows surrounding the organ.

Just as important as the roof work were the structural problems with the organ’s setting. The massive instrument was beginning to tilt backwards, seemingly rising up from the floor, so Van Duzee led the effort to put a new foundation under the organ.

Volunteer Billy LaRue has taken on the role of fundraiser. Since December he has put in countless hours by working to put together a musical benefit this weekend (Saturday, July 9) from scratch, including an all-star lineup of 17 folk and bluegrass acts, most of whom are performing for free. Proceeds raised from the concert will go toward painting the exterior of the building, an estimated $30,000 job.

“Most of the artists are donating their time because they believe it’s an important cause. A lot of local businesses have helped out too,” LaRue said. Namely, Midnight Printing of Cohoes has provided use of their services, while Latham Home Mortgage Network has donated money. “We need all the help we can get,” LaRue adds.

Make no mistake that after exterior painting there is still more work to be done. Van Duzee plans on painting the interior, fixing up the concrete floor, and refurbishing the stage by oiling the natural wood. She also hopes one day to get a new wind system for the organ. “I think all the renovations will be complete in my lifetime,” said 84-year-old Van Duzee.

“The building is now structurally sound, but it will always be an ongoing process,” says Round Lake Mayor Dixie Lee Sacks. “The auditorium is the center of the village and a lot of people are working very hard to restore it.”

In addition to the re-opening concert, the Round Lake Auditorium will offer many other culturally driven programs this season. The Village Players have already started rehearsing for their dinner-theater murder mystery scheduled for the end of this month. An organ concert series is also scheduled for early August. “The programs are really what attract people,” Sacks adds.

—Jess Bellack


Super Punk Circus Freak Out
photo:John Whipple

The Big Bang Cirkus, a group of traveling players who do punk-styled sideshow acts a la Jim Rose, made two appearances in the area recently. On June 22, they did their thing for a family audience at Albany’s Free School (pictured). Thing was, their act isn’t really family-friendly: Neither the shoot-the-BB-pistol-in-the-pants trick nor the loud punk music accompaniment went over well. The Cirkus performed in a happier (and more appropriate) venue the following night (June 23) at King’s Tavern in Saratoga Springs.




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