51 Walden is a non-profit organization which was founded in 1972 under the name Friends of the Performing Arts in Concord (FOPAC). Our mission is:
To maintain a venue at 51 Walden Street and provide an environment where individuals and groups involved in music, drama and other arts may perform for the enjoyment of the community
The name of the organization was changed to 51 Walden in 2015.
Carole Wayland, the executive director of 51 Walden, works closely with the Board of Directors to manage and maintain the building. 51 Walden provides liaison with the resident performing groups, and hosts special events such as the Veterans Day coffee, a New Year’s Eve party, Waltz Night, an Evening with Amanda Carr, and often a community Messiah Sing in December.
The resident groups are The Concord Band, The Concord Orchestra, and The Concord Players, and there is a dance studio which is rented to several instructors who teach classes ranging from creative movement for children to ballroom dance.
The resident groups collaborated for several years to present semi-staged performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas: The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore and The Mikado. In March of 2010, there was a rollicking performance of Die Fledermaus. Opera and Broadway Showstoppers, a show featuring the outstanding soloists from previous FOPAC productions, was performed to a very appreciative crowd in April of 2011. A fully staged performance of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors was presented to a sold-out audience in December, 2011 and again in 2012. In celebration of its 40th anniversary in June 2012, FOPAC produced Puccini’s opera La Bohème to great acclaim, and in June 0f 2013, there was a lavishly costumed, outstanding performance of The Merry Widow. Giuseppe Verdi’s much-loved opera La Traviata received three standing ovations from capacity audiences at performances in June of 2014.
Opera51 was organized in the summer of 2014, and produced Donizetti’s comic opera L’Elisir d’Amore, another triumph. Gounod’s dramatic opera Romeo and Juliet was performed before an enthralled audience by Opera51 on the weekend of June 10-12, 2016. In December of 2016 Opera51 presented Amahl and the Night Visitors again, this time with a talented boy soloist, Owen Reimold. Opera51 presented the very funny Metropolitan Opera version of Fledermaus the weekend of June 9, 2017. All three performances earned a standing ovation from the appreciative audience! Then we pivoted to the dramatic grand opera Faust, by Charles Gounod. Once again, audiences were riveted, this time by the stunning portrayal of an old legend. In June of 2019, Bizet’s ever popular opera Carmen was performed three times to a full house.
History of 51 Walden
The building now known as 51 Walden was constructed in 1887 to serve as the town armory. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a commemorative brass plaque was unveiled at a ceremony on Veterans Day, November 11, 2007.
Concord architect John Chapman drafted the plans for a Town Armory in 1887, which included a head house and drill shed. It was built in the shingled Queen Anne style, with overtones of the Romanesque. A fire damaged the building in 1912, but the town repaired the structure in 1920 and renamed it The Veterans Building.
In 1922, eminent Boston architect C. H. Blackall designed a stage, which was constructed at the back of the building. The total cost of $11,900 was shared by the Town and the Concord Players, which were founded in 1919. The stage is a smaller version of the stage in Boston’s Colonial Theatre; it includes a fly tower that allows scenery to be moved in and out easily by means of counterweighted rigging. Complete with proscenium arch, is raked from back to front, which helps audiences to view performances.
For the next fifty years, the Concord Players used The Veterans Building for theatrical performances. The Concord Minutemen and the American Legion had offices in the building as well, and at various times dog training classes were conducted on the site. Though some modifications and repairs were made over the years, the facility deteriorated and was actually slated for demolition in 1958, but Town Meeting failed to approve sufficient funds to tear it down. Despite its condition, the Concord Players continued to stage its performances in the building for the next decade, and the structure also functioned as a youth center.
In 1972, FOPAC was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) Massachusetts charity with the goal of renovating the building and operating it as a center for the performing arts. Funds were raised and the lobby, dance studio and main hall were reconfigured for public performances. In 2015 the name was changed to 51 Walden, which leases the building from the town for $1 a year, and is responsible for management, repair and maintenance.
In April of 1975, 51 Walden was dedicated as Concord’s permanent Bicentennial Memorial, and a commemorative plaque was affixed to the entrance to the building. FOPAC, with the support of many local businesses, sponsored a gala in April of 2000 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the designation. Billed as a gift to the people of the Town of Concord, the celebration featured a performance by pianist and composer Paul Sullivan and the Atlantic Clarion Steel Band from Blue Hill, Maine.
In the mid-seventies, the Concord Players built a workshop in the back of 51 Walden to construct scenery and work on sets. The Concord Orchestra has installed acoustical panels for the music stage as well as a reverberation enhancement system to improve the building for musical performances. FOPAC modernized the bathrooms in the mid-nineties, and the Players raised money to reinforce the proscenium arch and replace the grid and counterweight rigging system on the drama stage.
As a result of these efforts, the 112-year old structure was sufficiently sound for most uses as a performing arts center. However, the drama stage floor, which had not been upgraded since 1922, became significantly worn and bowed. Concerned about the integrity of the stage, the Concord Players had a stage floor analysis performed by D.M. Berg Consultants in June of 2004. The structural engineer’s report noted a deficiency in the live-load bearing capacity required by the current Massachusetts building code. This condition made the stage unsuitable for use by groups with large numbers of performers, such as the Concord Orchestra Pops, the Acton Chorus, and large-scale dance productions. Several major musicals put on by the Players required special coverings or treatment to make it usable. In order to make the stage safe for all of the productions that take place in 51 Walden, structural repair recommendations were made.
Concord architect Dan Broggi drew the plans for renovating the stage and green room, and a contract was awarded to Aberthaw Construction Company. During the summer of 2006, the contractor removed the floor surfaces, sub-flooring and support columns, and replaced them with a 3-part system on framing members recommended by D.M.Berg. Renovation of the stage floor necessarily impacted the surrounding spaces—the stage extension (thrust), green room, workshop, access stairs, stage rigging, bathrooms, etc. Therefore, in addition to removing and rebuilding the stage, the green room underneath was rebuilt with support at load-bearing walls instead of the original support columns. This allowed for much better use of the space where performers dress, put on makeup, and wait until they go on stage. The project enabled ADA access to the green room. Wiring, plumbing and sprinkler systems were brought up to code and the new stage, which has a trap zone and paint trap, was constructed with a fire-rated sub-floor and finish.
The stage renovation project cost $239,092. Through private fundraising efforts, including an exciting dance show Don’t Stop the Rock produced by Karrie Stang and a concert performance of Pirates of Penzance conducted by Alan Yost, FOPAC and the Concord Players raised $120,000 to help pay for the project. FOPAC received $60,000 in Community Preservation funds in August of 2006, and another $60,000 for fiscal year 2007.
An application to put 51 Walden on the National Register of Historic Buildings was initiated in 2003 by the FOPAC Board. In April of 2004, the Massachusetts Historical Commission determined that 51 Walden is eligible for such listing and the nomination was submitted on September 15, 2005. The Concord Historical Commission supported the National Register application, stating that 51 Walden is “a structure worth both preserving and recognizing as part of our town’s historical heritage.” A commemorative brass plaque was unveiled at a ceremony on Veterans Day, November 11, 2007.
In the winter of 2008, we refurbished our musician chairs with assistance from the Sudbury Foundation, which awarded FOPAC a $2000 grant. In 2010, FOPAC received $75,000 from the Sawyer Trust, which is administered by Concord’s Comprehensive Sustainable Energy Committee. With this grant, we were able to install two new modulating condensing gas-fired boilers, replace windows in the lobby, insulate and air-seal the building, and restore the windows and fans above the drama stage to help exhaust hot air and provide better circulation in the hall. We are very grateful for these grants, which have enabled us to make much-needed improvements to the building.
51 Walden Today
The current 10-year lease was signed on July 1, 2014. 51 Walden has fulfilled its mission far beyond that which was envisioned by its founders. It would be difficult to find a town facility in Concord that has a more joyous public purpose than 51 Walden. Nearly 500 people come to the building each week for rehearsals and dance classes; this diverse group includes three-year-old ballerinas, ballroom dancers, and musicians and thespians of all ages. Audiences for performances frequently number 300 or more.
The Concord Players mount three major productions a year with multiple performances of each play. Recent seasons have included Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone, and The Sound of Music. The Players’ staging of Little Women is regarded by many as Concord’s Passion Play. The Concord Orchestra plays a dozen concerts each season including a Family Concert and two Pops weekends. In October 2005, the orchestra performed Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with legendary pianist Russell Sherman. The Concord Band recently commissioned a piece by James Curnow and premiered Israeli Folk Suite by Elliot Del Bargo. These are extraordinary performances taking place in our small town, and they add immeasurably to our quality of life. Admission prices for most events are kept to a reasonable $20 to $30 for adult tickets, with a discount for seniors and students.
Additionally, many events are held without charge to the public. On Veterans’ Day, FOPAC hosted a coffee at 51 Walden for participants in the town’s flag retirement ceremony, keeping alive the connection to the Concord Minutemen and the veterans who once used the building. FOPAC has hosted the Drum and Bugle Corps of the Naval Academy, which traveled several times to Concord from Annapolis to march in the Patriots Day Parade. The Concord Players staged a free performance of Our Town in 1985 in honor of the 350th birthday of the Town, and for years they have performed the play Welcome Winter, a mini version of Christmas Revels, in conjunction with Concord’s tree lighting ceremony. This event attracts many young families and is also free to the public.
The resident performing arts groups pay quarterly fees to 51 Walden according to their use of time, space and utilities, which contributes to the expense of operating 51 Walden. In addition, every year 51 Walden sponsors special events such as Waltz Night, An Evening with Amanda Carr, and semi-staged performances of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado, and Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss to raise funds. A loyal subscriber group contributes about $25,000 annually to the operation of 51 Walden, and many citizens donate labor and materials to keep the historic building and landscaping looking attractive.
51 Walden is a treasured resource for the greater Concord community; it is used by hundreds of musicians, dancers, and thespians of all ages each week. Our audiences are treated to a wide range of concerts and plays throughout the year. If you’d like to contribute to the operation of the building, please make your check payable to 51 Walden and mail it to P.O Box 251, Concord, MA 01742. For further information about how you can help, contact the 51 Walden office at (978) 369-7911, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.