Embassy Embarks on Architectural and Marketing Studies

posted by Ross Melnick on August 25, 2005 at 7:02 am

LEWISTOWN, PA — The following email was sent by Paul T. Fagley:

“Embassy Theatre Embarks on Architectural and Marketing Studies

With a $15,000 Historic Preservation Grant from the Commonwealth and the same amount from a bequest from the late Helen Price, Lewistown¹s Embassy Theatre is ready to take another step toward its eventual rehabilitation and reuse. The Friends of the Embassy Theatre, a Lewistown-area non-profit organization, are completing architectural and marketing studies, which will provide a foundation for future decisions and investments involving theatre preservation, restoration, and maintenance.

Located on Lewistown’s Monument Square, the Embassy was constructed in 1927, designed as a scaled down version of a Broadway “picture palace” theatre. Films were last shown in 1981 and, 10 years later, the Friends of the Embassy purchased it at an auction. The group reached a major milestone in 2003 with the reconstruction and illumination of the theatre¹s magnificent marquee, often referred to as the Marquee of a Thousand Lights.

The architectural and marketing studies are being overseen by the SEDA-COG Community Resource Center (CRC), which has long been involved with downtown Lewistown’s revitalization efforts. In 2003, SEDA-COG prepared the Monument Square Development Plan, of which a key element is restoration of the Embassy Theatre.

Through SEDA-COG, Altoona architect Raymond Goodman is preparing a Historic Structure Report, which will document existing conditions, define the scope of the Embassy’s restoration’s needs, and establish design guidelines and principles. Cost projections will be included in a feasibility study the architect is preparing, as will funding and financing options as part of a long term capital improvements program.

According to Tom Grbenick, Chief of SEDA-COG’s CRC, “As far as the roof, windows, front façade, and marquee, these exterior features of the building are in good shape. We need to take a closer look at the rest of the building, at its structural condition and decorative features.”

As for re-use of the Embassy, numerous ideas have been considered. The Friends' web site (www.embassytheatre.org) suggests a combination theatre and community arts center hosting classic and older movies, concerts, children¹s theatre, and similar events. The feasibility study will identify target markets and marketable uses, and define a programming concept for the facility.

Last Spring, under SEDA-COG’s direction, students from Bucknell University in Lewisburg gathered data relative to new uses for the Embassy. They compiled demographic information about the Lewistown area, and analyzed relevant socio-economic traits. Two student groups conducted focus groups and personal interviews with representatives of area clergy, schools, businesses, and local government. A third student group looked at census data and potential service areas to draw people from.

According to Paul Fagley, president of the Friends, “We appreciate and thank the people in the community who agreed to be interviewed. They gave us good ideas and insights to help guide development planning for the theater.”

In the coming months, SEDA-COG will explore these market segments in detail to determine specific needs and interests of the community as they relate to the theatre. As Grbenick pointed out, “The overriding purpose of this project is to get the theatre back into use and operation. A stately, historic building on Monument Square is only one objective.”

The Friends of the Embassy owns an undeveloped lot at Market and Main streets, adjacent to the Embassy, and this is another matter to be considered in the architectural and reuse studies. It may serve as the site for a complementary structure or addition, or it may be leased to raise funds to support the theatre¹s restoration and use.

The findings of the various studies will be published as they are completed. Final recommendations, including the proposed capital improvements program, are expected to be completed by March, 2006.

In addition to the architectural and marketing studies underway, the Theatre recently benefited from the work of the local Mifflin County Veterans Association who provided labor to refurbish the marquee¹s ceiling with materials with finish work provided by local contractor Jim Steele. Other work to install up lighting to the Theatre façade was completed by Lepley Electric.

The Embassy also was able to reduce its debt owed to a consortium of local banks thanks to a generous contribution of $10,000 from a Theatre booster from Juniata County. The Friends are hoping others will come forward with large contributions as these plans are completed and give specific direction to the project.

Other projects including replacement of the banding on the Embassy façade base and replication of the original walnut display cases are slated for work in the near future, aided through a matching design challenge grant for exterior improvement through Downtown Lewistown, Inc. and the PA Department of Community & Economic Development.

More information on the Embassy project, the theatre’s history, and upcoming events can be found on the Embassy¹s website at www.embassytheatre.org

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