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Historical theater revamps as up-and-coming concert venue

The Westcott Theatre is located on Westcott Street, just blocks from Syracuse University

The Westcott Theatre is located on Westcott Street, just blocks from Syracuse University

Written/Produced by Lara Bryn Greenberg

Syracuse, N.Y. – There are many different names for the same building on Westcott Street: The Westcott, The Westcott Theater, The Westcott Cinema and The Harvard Cinema. Nowadays, it’s called The Westcott or The Westcott Theater, and it’s one of the go-to concert venues in Syracuse.

The theater opened as The Harvard Cinema in 1926, and for more than eighty years, it showed independent and foreign films on a single screen.  But in October, 2007, this historical building closed down. Then-owner Nat Tobin kept the theater alive for more than ten years—along with his other building, The Manlius Cinema.

“Between utilities and rent, [The Westcott Cinema] was draining the profits of both theaters, and the only way that I felt that art as a medium in Syracuse could survive is if I gave up that theater and concentrated on Manlius again,” Tobin said.

But it didn’t take long for the space to be picked up by someone else.

Dan Mastronardi is in charge of booking bands in Central New York.  He shares his company, Hollerback Productions, with his partner Sam Levey. The two completely renovated the space themselves.

“It was long and tedious. It was not as expensive as most people would think because we did all the work ourselves,” Mastronardi said. All that work included tearing out seats and installing a 36-by-16 foot stage and a bar. The venue now has a maximum capacity of seven-hundred people. They generally have one hundred to two hundred guests per show, but have sold out at least a dozen times Mastronardi said.

Venue connects S.U. campus with Syracuse community

As a concert venue, The Westcott adds to the neighborhood—providing the “Westcott Nation” with a venue that Syracuse University students and community members can enjoy.

“It’s a big step to open a venue. And they’re taking those steps and they’re still improving things as we go now a year out,” said Ulf Oesterle, owner of Aux Records and host of iROCK at WKRL in Syracuse. He praised the venue for its closeness to the community, explaining that “the fact that you can just head out and see a show just down the street that’s national acts, that’s great.”

Oesterle explained that it’s an all-age venue. Meaning that while it has a bar, most of the shows allow people under the age of eighteen to attend. He said that makes parents feel more comfortable about letting their children go to shows and mingle with students from the nearby SU campus. He said it’s a nice spot where people are “looking out for each other.”

But the theatre is also a launching pad for new talent. Though Mastronardi brings in national touring acts, he usually has local Syracuse and Central New York bands open for them. This gave him his first piece of national press coverage on the music site, Jambase, which has information about bands, concerts, and tours.

Other local venues can’t compare

Adam Gold frequents the theater to see concerts and perform with his band, Sophistafunk. He also owns his own venue called Funk N Waffles on Marshall Street near the SU hill. It’s a coffee shop and waffle restaurant that books bands to play at night. He said he would never be able to book bands like The Westcott because his café is small and simply can’t hold the national touring bands that The Westcott gets.

“I’m really glad The Westcott’s here. You know, there’s really no venue like it in this city. And I think we really need it to help build the music scene,” Gold said.

Adults and teenagers alike packed the theater in early October when Gold and his band opened for the band Soulive. The unusual, yet comforting venue brought a well-balanced combination of young and old music lovers. And that’s exactly what Mastronardi said he aims for.

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