• October 2, 2016

    Newport, RI – Behind the Scenes: Newport Opera House Theater Restoration


    From While the Opera House Theater presents Lost Newport tonight at its partner venue, Jane Pickens Theater, the nearby doors of the opera house remain closed as renovations continue in advance of its December 2017 opening. The revitalization of Rhode Island’s oldest surviving theater building began in spring of this year and involves major structural work as well as finely detailed artistry required to restore the interior’s decorative elements. Wonder what it looks like inside? To find out, we stopped by the Opera House for a behind-the-scenes tour. One of the first things we noticed when looking at old pictures of the Opera House was the mansard roof, an architectural element not there today. “The roof was lost in a fire in 1950s,” explained Ivan S. Colon, the Opera Houses’s head of Business Development. “We are adding back the top floor.” In addition to the mansard roof’s restoration, the addition of the 4th level will include a rooftop garden and atrium.

  • September 23, 2016

    Somerset, KY – DSDC announces plan to restore historic theater


    From the Commonwealth Journal: “Yes! Virginia” is phrase commonly associated with the gift-giving figure Santa Claus.

    It’s also now associated with a wonderful present Somerset residents hope to find under their tree at some future date.

    On Tuesday evening at the Pulaski County Public Library, the Downtown Somerset Development Corporation (DSDC) shared its vision for what a renewed Virginia Cinema theater might look like — and what kind of financial quest it would take to get there.

    “Most everybody here has probably been at the Virginia at some point,” said Adam Richardson, chair of the DSDC Virginia Cinema committee, at Tuesday’s community meeting. “It’s something that we’ve all missed for a long time. Also, there’s a big generation of folks who have never had the opportunity to go to the Virginia.”

    The Virginia Cinema, along with the old Kentucky Theater, was a hub of downtown Somerset activity starting in 1922, built by T.E. Jasper, who named the theater after his daughter. It continued on, even fighting through leaner years after the Somerset Mall opened with its own larger movie theater, until 1994, when the Virginia closed its doors — and, that same year — suffered a devastating roof collapse that left the inside in ruins.

    Work has been done over the years to improve the outer facade of the building, but despite much talk and hope, efforts to fix up the interior and turn the theater into something fresh and viable have failed to produce much fruit.

    However, the DSDC is hopeful the “Yes! Virginia — There Is a Future” campaign can make a successful push for the kind of fundraising needed to make this feel-good story come true, just like something out of the movies.

    The DSDC is dreaming big. Talks with architecture firm Westlake Reed Leskosky have yielded an ambitious plan that would potentially turn the Virginia Cinema and its neighboring storefronts into a unique entertainment complex.

    One key feature is retractable seats. This would allow for plenty of seating when a film is shown or the stage is being utilized, but for a wide open space in case of events that need more room — like a ball (yes, “ballroom” is one of the many possibilities associated on Tuesday with a revitalized Virginia). And they aren’t cheap fold-up chairs either — it’s a state-of-the art system for allowing quality seats to retreat backward into a space underneath the balcony, which would also be restored.

    In fact — despite what Richardson noted were minimalist renderings provided by Kirby Stephens of the KSD design firm in Somerset — the idea is to get as close as possible to the original look and ornamentation of the Virginia, which is listed on the register of historic places and is eligible for accompanying tax credits. Restoring the Virginia with nostalgia in mind will allow those tax credits to be made possible, helping provide some of the crucial funding for the project.

    The theater itself could prove extremely versatile. Long lists were made available of uses the DSDC foresees for a renovated Virginia, including concerts (Master Musicians Festival-associated events were mentioned specifically) and plays, event hall-type functions like weddings and dances, children’s theatre events, and of course films — ideally smaller independent films, the kind that don’t play at the major multiplex, a la Lexington’s Kentucky Theatre.

    Considerations would also be made for concessions and alcohol, and potentially live recordings could be made and sold there. Films would be presented digitally, with up-to-date technology, and there could be officer or presentation space for local arts organizations, with some room available in the adjacent storefronts and on the third floor as well.

    Of course, the basic clean-up and makeover is just part of the plan — or “Phase 1” as Richardson and fellow presenter Dave Weddle called it. “Phase 2” would incorporate the large restaurant space in the next-door building, which has previously held such businesses as Brandywine Studios, The Gondola, and 4 Girls Cafe.

    If an enterprising restaurateur wanted to take over that space and cooperate with DSDC, the vision is to knock out parts of the wall for large garage door-type portals, where traffic from the theater after a show could pour right into the restaurant, or vice versa. Between the two buildings, where there is currently a narrow, empty alleyway, there would be a glass enclosure (perhaps not altogether unlike a smaller version of that in between the two First Baptist Church buildings on North Main Street) that would allow safe movement between the two spaces no matter the weather conditions.

    That would be contingent upon finding the right buyer for the restaurant space, as it was noted that DSDC wasn’t looking to get into the restaurant business. Neither, said Richardson, does anyone there know anything about running movie theaters, meaning that finding the right entity or individual to actually run day-to-day operations at the Virginia would be paramount, likely involving hiring a director.

    Of course, unlike with Santa Claus, this gift to the community won’t come free from the North Pole. There’s a steep price tag attached to this project.

    DSDC provided line item cost estimates just for Phase 1, not including the restaurant attachment plans, for a total of $2,711,500 needed to make the new Virginia Cinema a reality. The steepest cost is for the retractable seating, at $700,000; other six-figure expenses include $200,000 for the clean-out and acquisition of extra space, $200,000 for electrical work, and $250,000 for theatre systems, including audio.

    Richardson also presented a chart breaking down how fundraising would ideally go, with a target amount of $2,800,000.

    DSDC would kick in $350,000 and local governments another $150,000, in this scenario. Federal funding and tax credits would account for another $600,000 (Richardson said DSDC would be able to sell off tax credits to other corporate entities), and naming rights for $500,000 (specifically mentioned were individual parts of the theater, including seats or rooms, up for donations — “We might sell bricks, we might sell shares,” said Richardson).

    Foundations and grants account for $350,000 of the projected fundraising, with the remainder of $850,000 that will need to come from somewhere else — likely, support from a community eager to see the Virginia Cinema come to life again. Thus, the “Yes! Virginia” campaign is being launched to raise awareness and interest in providing the necessary funds to revitalize the theater according to these plans.

    “That’s going to be a pretty significant challenge in and of itself,” said Richardson. “When you break it all down, it doesn’t seem as impossible. … I feel like the amount of money it would take to make the Virginia happen is minor (compared to) the impact it would have for Somerset, not only for downtown but for the community as a whole.”

    That’s because the idea is to make the Virginia something that draws people to downtown as a nightspot and on the weekends. Weddle noted that in the recent past, people have packed up at the end of the work day and left downtown Somerset quiet in the evenings, and with new restaurants, bars and breweries in the area, that’s started to change some, but those entities can feed off each other symbiotically, allowing people to do multiple activities at different locations in the same night out on the town.

    Weddle, who called the facility “a center not just a theater,” said that these plans are a “culmination of 20 years’ worth of work” on behalf of DSDC, which launched the “Save the Virginia” program many years ago just to keep the facility standing so that these plans would even be possible.

    “How do we get the energy back on the street? How do we get people out there after dark?” he asked, “We do not want another false start. … We want to make a concerted effort to bring the Virginia Theater back into the grandeur that it needs to be.”

    Parking issues wouldn’t be a problem in the evenings, with the DSDC parking lot and the judicial center spaces being available, said Richardson.

    He also said that regular operating costs once the hypothetical new Virginia is up and going haven’t been determined at this early stage, but “in order to make this work, it’s got to be self-sufficient.” That could be through its own income or outside grants, or a combination of both.

    “I hope you agree with me that ‘Yes! Virginia, there is a future,’” said Richardson, “but also remember that we need your help to make this happen.”

  • September 19, 2016

    West Seattle, WA – At last the Admiral Theater is set for renovation; City permits in place the landmark will be restored


    From the West Seattle Herald: With all required city ​building permits in hand, upgrades, expansion and renovations of the Historic Admiral Theater in West Seattle will begin in earnest on Monday, ​Sept.​ 19 with completion expected in November.

    Moviegoers will be able to see films at the Admiral during the construction period, according to Jeff Brein, managing partner of Far Away Entertainment, the Bainbridge Island-based group that operates the theater.

    “Our principal goal is to keep the theater open during this process, albeit on a limited basis,” Brein said. “Initially, weekday films will be presented in a single theater, with expanded schedules on weekends. As the project progresses and additional auditoriums are readied we expect the number of movie offerings to increase.”

    Brein and partner Sol Baron have worked with building owner Marc Gartin for several years to plan a history-based renovation of the iconic 1942 theater, for which the Southwest Seattle Historical Society secured city landmark status 27 years ago. The Gartin family purchased and reopened the theater in 1992 after a three-year closure.

    The current two-auditorium footprint will expand to four and will feature stadium seating in two larger auditoriums. Additional enhancements will include new, state-of-the-art digital laser projection systems, a 3D auditorium, Dolby Digital sound systems, new seating with beverage cup holders and upgraded carpeting, concessions area and restrooms.

    “Additionally,” Brein said, “we have been working with the Southwest Seattle Historical Society and plan to reveal and eventually restore the original, interior auditorium murals featuring underwater appliqués that have been hidden since the theater was twinned in 1973. We also have been working together on other improvements, including repainting of the lobby and preservation of its 1942 mural of Captain George Vancouver and other artwork. Other less apparent enhancements will include a revised traffic flow pattern for ticket sales and more open space in the lobby, improved theater floor lighting and an upgrade of the theater’s marquee.”

    The Admiral Theater project team includes Swinterton Builders, CDA Architecture and the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, as well as the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board, which approved the renovation in June. Credit also goes to King County Council member Joe McDermott and King County Executive Dow Constantine, both West Seattle residents, for helping secure a $95,000 “Saving Landmarks” grant from 4Culture last November.

    The Southwest Seattle Historical Society eagerly anticipates the renovation, said Clay Eals, executive director. “We are thrilled that these many improvements will allow the Admiral Theater to thrive well into the future and can occur without harming – and actually exposing and showcasing more of – the building’s historic features,” Eals said.

    “We salute Far Away Entertainment and the Gartin family ownership for their perseverance and heart,” he said.

    “This renovation project and the existence of the theater itself wouldn’t be possible without the grassroots effort that saved it in 1989, and the history of this moviehouse, an art deco masterpiece, is a shining example of how neighbors engaging in the landmark process can add economic vitality to the city while building community pride.”

  • September 16, 2016

    St. Paul, MN – St. Paul’s Palace Theatre renovation budget grows by $1 million


    From The Pioneer Press: Following legal mediation between the city of St. Paul and First Avenue/JAM Productions, the budget for renovation of St. Paul’s Palace Theatre is going up $1 million — again.

    The projected cost of converting the old vaudeville stage into a modern concert hall about twice the size of First Avenue in Minneapolis grew from an original budget of $12 million to $14.6 million last year, requiring a quick cash infusion of $1.7 million grudgingly approved by the St. Paul City Council.

    The new budget will be about $15.6 million.

    “The last budget had contingency (funds) in it,” said St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority Director Jonathan Sage-Martinson. “A couple of things have happened, and we’ve spent that contingency.”

    He added: “Our work will be done in early December. We’re down to the last painting and patching. As we’ve gotten there, we think we’re going to need another $1 million.”

    Among the curve balls: Contractor bids for aspects of the restoration came back higher than expected, and a few unanticipated expenses were added to the design.

  • September 15, 2016

    Cleveland, OH – Restoration begins at Cleveland’s historic Variety Theatre: Look inside


    From The historic Variety Theatre is about to light up.

    On Saturday, Sept. 24, the new marquee on the 1927-built theater at Lorain Ave. and West 118th will be turned on at a street party in front of the beloved theater, closed since the 1980s.

    The marquee is the first step in a planned $15 million restoration of the Variety, which featured everything from vaudeville to classic movies to punk and metal bands over the years. It was metal legends Motorhead, in fact, who got the venue shut down with a court order in 1984 after a plaster- and neighbor-rattling show.

    The 28-foot, 2,280-LED-bulb marquee is far more than just a bunch of lights, though. It’s a literal sign to the world that the Variety’s restoration process has begun.

    “People are so excited when they see the marquee is ready,” says Ward 11 City Councilwoman Dona Brady, who has made restoring the Variety a goal since 2006.

    “I’m just ecstatic about this, it’s been a long process,” says Brady, who grew up in the area attending Sunday afternoon children’s matinees in the 1,900-seat theater.

    “Residents see it as a sign that the Variety is coming back. That’s why I wanted to start the restoration with the marquee. It’s a visible sign to everyone that we are making progress, that the rebirth of the Variety has begun.”

    Just this week, in recognition of that rebirth, the Variety was the winner of the This Place Matters awareness campaign sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Officials hope the award will raise the national profile of this Cleveland gem.

    The new marquee is a replica of the original 1927 vertical blade-style marquee, damaged by a tornado in 1953, not the later horizontal marquee Clevelanders who saw movies at the venue in the 1970s or rock shows in the 1980s might remember.

    The Variety Theatre opened on Nov. 24, 1927, with a screening of Clara Bow’s “Hula.” The Spanish Gothic theater was designed by Cleveland architect Nicola Petti, who also designed the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights.

    Warner Bros. purchased it in 1929 and kept it until 1954, as one of the busiest movie theaters on the West Side. The 1970s and ‘80s were less glamorous for the venue, but no less busy, as it became a second-run theater and finally a concert club. It has sat largely empty for the last 30 years.

    The marquee was paid for by $110,000 in neighborhood-development funding. A $100,000 grant from FirstEnergy Corp. was used to bring electricity to the building.

    The next step in the building’s restoration is emergency repairs to stabilize the roof and prevent further water damage. Brady says the funding is already in place for this, from casino tax money made available to City Council members.

    The councilwoman estimates it will take about $15 million to restore the Variety. That includes the 20,900-square-foot theater area, and everything else in the block-long building at Lorain Avenue and West 118th Street.

    The campaign for the Variety got a big boost last December, when the Ohio Development Services Agency announced it was one of seven applicants in Northeast Ohio to receive an award of Ohio Historic Tax Credits. It received a commitment of $1.4 million in tax credits, “a pivotal piece of financing to move the renovation of the closed Variety Theatre closer to reality,” says Brady.

    They’re currently waiting on the announcement of allocatees for the Federal New Market Tax Credits in November. If all goes well with these, the Variety will have amassed approximately $7.5 million through Ohio Historic Tax Credits and Federal New Market Tax Credits, says Rose Zitiello, executive director of the Westown Community Development Corp.

    When that funding is in place, a new LLC will be created and Westown and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization will take over ownership of the building from the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre.

    Designs call for the first-floor theater area to be sectioned off into a restaurant and entertainment venue. Cleveland restaurateur Tony George, founder of the Harry Buffalo chain and Barley House, has signed on to build and manage the restaurant.

    “We’re just in the design stage and not sure what kind of restaurant it is going to be yet. They gave me the basic white box, and I am working with it,” says George. “I think the restoration of the Variety is a great thing. I was born and raised on the West Side and went there as a kid. The Variety was a great place.”

    The street level will also feature 10 retails spaces, including the offices of Westown Community Development Corp.

    Upstairs, Westown will oversee a movie theater that will screen classics, children’s films and other repertory cinema. Brady says they are not sure of the capacity of this yet, but there are 350 seats in this balcony area now.

    Zitiello says they expect to break ground on the restoration in the second half of 2017. She expects the project will take at least two years to complete.

    That’s nothing, says Brady.

    “People think that the Capitol Theatre and Gordon Square happened overnight, but that took 30 years. … This is going to be a catalyst for the entire neighborhood.”

    The marquee at the historic Variety Theatre will be lit at a street party from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, in front of the theater. There will be family activities and entertainment including Y Music children’s choir from 4 to 6 p.m. and Frank & Dean from 6 to 8 p.m. The marquee will be turned on at 8 p.m. Mayor Frank Jackson and Councilwoman Dona Brady will be in attendance.

  • September 12, 2016

    Northampton, MA – An unexpected find: Academy of Music restores historic scenic curtain


    From the Daily Hampshire Gazette: Time was when all kinds of places had them: theaters, town halls, grange halls, opera houses, or any place else you might stage some kind of artistic performance.

    Scenic backdrop curtains.

    It turns out Northampton’s Academy of Music had one, too, but it had pretty much vanished from view years ago until Academy staff members discovered it two years ago when the building was being restored.

    Now that 103-year-old curtain — evidently the largest known to exist on the East Coast — has been given a makeover by a Vermont conservation group that specializes in refurbishing these historic backdrops. On Tuesday, the Academy will unveil the curtain to the public during an open house from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m.

    “It’s the largest [scenic curtain] we’ve ever worked with,” said Christine Hadsel, director of Curtains Without Borders, a conservation group from Burlington, Vermont. “It’s an impressive work.”

    Hadsel, who with members of her team spent several days in August working on the curtain, said the Northampton backdrop measures 42 by 28 feet. Most of the curtains the group conserves are in the range of 18 by 10 feet, she noted.

    Debra J’Anthony, director of the Academy of Music, said the curtain was designed in 1913 by Maurice Tuttle, a New York painter who created scenic backdrops throughout the United States and Canada. It was first displayed for the public in October 1913 as the main drop curtain for a performance by a theatrical group, the Northampton Players.

    J’Anthony says she believes the painted scene was inspired by Paradise Pond on the Smith College campus in Northampton and by a tower that was part of a local factory and business, Maynard’s Hoe Shop, which was destroyed by fire a few years later. On the curtain, the tower stands alone and is surrounded by trees and framed against a blue sky. The lush scene could pass for a painting from the Romantic Era, with the tower representing an old medieval or Roman ruin.

    A stylized graphic, with abstract motifs that may have been painted on with stencils, lines the painting on three sides.

    Tuttle’s design, Academy staff say, was painted over one side of what had been the theater’s original main proscenium curtain, a blue-and-white striped canvas decorated in floral stencils and hand-painted pinstripes. That curtain dated from the building’s opening in 1891.

    At some point — it’s not clear exactly when — the curtain was taken out of use and stapled to the back of the Academy’s cut-velvet main drape curtain, which dates from 1917, J’Anthony said.

    After Tuttle’s work was discovered, J’Anthony got in touch with Curtains Without Borders; staff from the group made three visits to the Academy to assess its condition and develop a plan to conserve it. A deep clean In mid-August, several members from the group returned to the Academy to start that effort. First job: scrub a century’s worth of dirt and stains from the huge curtain.

    To do that, it was removed from its risers and laid out flat on dozens of rented tables mounted on the Academy’s stage. Staff from Curtains Without Borders, on their hands and knees, rubbed the curtain — made from a cotton muslin, Hadsel said— with specialized dry sponges.

    Curtains from those days, she added, “would absorb a lot of dirt. People used to smoke in theaters, dirt would fall from the ceiling, and it would accumulate.”

    The conservators also planned to clean the backside of the curtain. Additional conservation work included vacuuming, repainting faded sections of the curtain, repairing tears and holes, and trimming ragged edges with iron-on patches.

    “It’s the biggest curtain we’ve ever worked on,” Hadsel said. “It’s quite a job.”

    Her group, started in 1996 as a project of the Vermont Museum & Gallery Alliance, has since surveyed and worked on hundreds of old painted curtains and backdrops in New England and in other parts of the United States. They’ve conserved one at the Majestic Theatre in West Springfield and are scheduled to work on one in Orange.

    “These kinds of backdrops were very popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially in New England,” Hadsel said. “Just about any place that could host a performance had one. Sometimes they’d have a whole set of them.”

    While many of these backdrops featured pastoral scenes, some offered street scenes or interior views of houses; others would contain advertisements, usually for local businesses that supported that arts. Many of these “advertising” curtains are in grange halls, Hadsel notes, as granges used the revenue to pay for the artistic work and upkeep, while town hall curtains were paid for by donations or public money.

    “They’re really great examples of American folk art,” she said.

    She’s cataloged many of the curtains her team has worked on in a new book, “Suspended Worlds: Historic Theater Scenery in Northern New England.” The colorful backdrops detailed in the book recall the era before TV, radio and the internet, when live theater was the main form of community entertainment.

    J’Anthony says the Academy is thrilled to have its painted curtain — a missing piece of the city’s history — back in place. In addition to Tuesday’s free unveiling, it will be available for viewing during future history tours, special events and selected performances at the theater, she said.

  • August 18, 2016

    Cleveland, OH – Ohio Theatre Lobby gets restored to 1920s glory


    From From the world’s largest outdoor chandelier to the marquees and arches welcoming patrons of the arts downtown, the revitalization of Cleveland’s theatre district has been a long time in the making.

    But there was one final piece needed to complete the puzzle, and that piece was the lobby of the Ohio Theatre.

    The last of the five historic Playhouse Square theatres to be restored, the Ohio Theatre was ravaged by a fire initiated by a malfunctioning concession stand machine in 1964. Lost in the fire were the murals, ornamental plaster ceiling, wooden columns and fireplaces, and there were enough resources to undertake the full restoration project.

    “Starting last summer, we took out everything that we had put in,” said Tom Einhouse, Vice President of Facilities and Capital for Playhouse Square.

    “We took out bathrooms and the little foyer lobby and everything else and gutted it back to the walls, back to the brick, back to the underside of the roof, and literally, recreated everything.”

    When the Ohio Theatre reopened on July 8, 1982, it had a modernized look. However, through a generous gift from the Gordon Gund Foundation, and countless hours of research of original renderings, work began on the full renovation in July of 2015.

    The sculpting of plaster for the ceiling took more than 8,500 hours and the murals, which span 30 feet long and 10 feet high, were created by six artists at Evergreene Architectural Arts in New York City. Also, the chandeliers were restored, cleaned and rewired by Bruening Glass Works in Rocky River, and carpets were replicated from original drawings by Brinton’s in England.

    Complete with hand-picked marble from the Vermont and mahogany columns, the new-look lobby took 11 months to fully restore, and now, with the final piece in place, Playhouse Square’s puzzle is complete.

    …And what a picture it has revealed.

  • August 15, 2016

    Edinburgh, TX – Attorney Working to Restore Edinburg Theater


    From An Edinburg attorney is working to restore a movie theater built in 1941. Felipe Garcia said the Citrus Theater has historical significance and brings back memories for him and lots of people in the city.

    “It was pretty much the only building of its type in the city of Edinburg that was air-conditioned besides the courthouse and things like that,” he added.

    The theater, which showed all first-run movies, is across the parking lot from the Hidalgo County Courthouse. Garcia bought it 20 years ago.

    “I’ve tried to maintain it from the standpoint of keeping everything intact that was in there. The chairs, the old projectors are still there,” he said.

    The Citrus Theater was the dream of an Edinburg doctor and his wife. In 1939, in an alleged jealous rage, the doctor shot and killed his wife. He then used the insurance money to build the theater.

    The theater has two balconies and a total of 800 seats. Movie patrons left their marks. There are scuff marks where people put up their feet against the wall near the front row. Garcia pointed out a spot with “circular grease stains, where guys that were there with their dates would rest their heads back there.”

    Citrus murals decorate the theater’s entrance. “During one of the renovation projects, they painted it over, but we managed to restore it,” Garcia explained.

    As for the doctor who built the theater, he included his office inside of it. His exam rooms are still there, and he built a side entrance for himself and his patients.

    Garcia invites anyone interested in learning more to visit the Citrus Theater Edinburg TX group on Facebook. That’s where he shares photos about the theater and its history.

  • August 8, 2016

    Asbury Park, NJ – Lost theaters of Asbury Park: The return of the Savoy


    From the Asbury Park Press: An Asbury Park treasure is coming back.

    The Savoy Theatre on Mattison Avenue is in the process of being renovated by its owner, Sackman Enterprises. The Savoy, purchased by Sackman in 2014 for $2.47 million, was built in 1911 as a stage for live entertainment. When it reopens for business, it will be the oldest operating theater in New Jersey.

    “It was built before there was any sound and lighting systems, so the acoustics are made for not having a sound system,” said Morgan Sackman. “It has a well-built balcony, and it’s a place where there’s not a bad seat in the house.”

  • Stoughton, MA –


    From the Stoughton Patch: After a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker, funds for the State Theater have been restored.

    State Senator Bryan Joyce recently announced that the state legislature has overridden the governor’s veto, restoring $50,000 in restoration funds for the State Theater. The building has stood in Stoughton Center for 86 years and opened in 1927 as a venue for movies and travelling vaudeville-style performers.

    The funds will go to updates and repairs needed to restore the building.