Former New Hampshire Movie Theater Hit by Fire

MANCHESTER, N.H. - A city movie theater with a history dating to the silent film era sustained fire, water and smoke damage in a fire Monday night.

Fire companies responded to the Empire Theater on Massabesic Street shortly before 7 p.m. and had the fire under control quickly.

Deputy Fire Chief Alfred Poulin said the cause of fire appeared accidental. Poulin said the fire apparently began inside, just under the roof that had recently been covered with metal roofing.

The building was purchased in 2009 by Formosa Company, headed by Bedford businessman Ming Chang who owns several other properties in the area.

An adjoining corner market, also owned by Formosa, will be closed until the city health department can decide whether the food in the store must be condemned. Chang had been renovating the structure for use as a function hall.

The Empire Theater was built in 1912 as a neighborhood movie house in the silent film era. In the 1990s, the building was leased to Robert Howe of Manchester, who began using it for rock concerts. After some 60 performances, the building department ruled it could be used only for showing movies, not for live performances. The state Supreme Court upheld the city in a 1996 decision.

Monday, one firefighter suffered a minor injury.

For District Chief Poulin, the fire will be remembered as more than another response in a long series of fires through his 30 years as a firefighter.

It was the first fire response for his son Nick Poulin, who was recently reappointed to the fire department after being laid off two years ago shortly after being hired.

"It's great seeing him, it's what he's wanted to be all his life," the senior Poulin said. "I worry when he's inside because he's my kid, but they're all my kids, really."

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