Theaters

  • September 6, 2016

    Rockland County, NY – Rockland’s drive-in theater signs evoke past

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    From the Journal-News: Their last picture shows were nearly 30 years ago, but signs of Rockland’s rich drive-in-movie past live on.

    Two iconic signs – for The Route 303 Theatre in Orangeburg and the Rockland Drive-in Theatre on Route 59 in Monsey — advertise theaters that are long gone. The 303 drive-in closed in 1988; Rockland, a year earlier.

    Their surviving signs are more than landmarks, they’re a reminder of a time when everyone liked Ike and Rockland was more rural, less suburban: More “Music Man,” less “The Secret Life of Pets.”

    There are still signs of life where Rocklanders spent summer nights looking at flickering images from the comfort of their wood-paneled station wagons, kids in their pajamas crowding the back seats and plunking quarters on the concession-stand counter for something sweet.

    •In Orangeburg, the Route 303 Theatre sign was recently refurbished, its bright red arrow restored to its former glory, advertising Organic Recycling’s nursery. •In Monsey, the Rockland Drive-in sign and its massive screen survive, as does perennial talk of plans to develop the 23-acre site. A decade ago, there was talk of putting up a Wal-Mart there. Now there’s a plan for a 600-unit housing development spread over more than three-dozen buildings. •In Blauvelt, on the site of the long-gone Nyack Drive-in, Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill has announced plans to build a $37-million factory, world headquarters and distribution center. It will occupy a spot on Route 303 where a driving range replaced the 9-hole golf course that was part of the Nyack Drive-in. The drive-in’s screen only came down in recent years, when FedEx moved its massive plant onto the site.

  • Greensburg, PA – Greensburg’s Palace Theatre marks 90th anniversary

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    From TribLive: Terry Reese remembers setting off a burglar alarm as he stepped into the empty Palace Theatre in 1990.

    “It wasn’t an auspicious beginning,” he recalls, laughing. Reese was on the board of the Greensburg Garden and Civic Center, which had just bought the former vaudeville and movie house.

    A lot has changed since then. The Garden and Civic Center became the Westmoreland Cultural Trust, and Reese is chairman of its board. And on Friday, the Palace celebrated its 90th birthday.

    Twelve local lawmakers and officials spoke at the theater to mark the occasion.

    “The Palace Theatre is a beautiful cultural treasure in Westmoreland County that is absolutely worth celebrating,” said Erin Molchany, director of Gov. Tom Wolf’s southwestern regional office and a former state representative. “In a world of technology, texting and Twitter, the Palace Theatre serves as a reminder that art and music bring us together in a deep and valuable way.”

    The theater opened in 1926 as the Manos Theatre. Its name was changed in 1977.

    The cultural trust recently completed a $750,000 renovation to fix cracking plaster, replace the awning, restore the box offices and update the electrical work and plumbing.

    Among its finest architectural and artistic features are the beautifully restored murals of fairy tales painted by acclaimed Chicago artist Louis Grell; a Vermont marble staircase that leads to the theater’s second floor, which boasts golden Grecian marble; classic black-and-white checkerboard floors; and Spanish inlaid tiles.

    “I love this place. It brings so much into this community,” said state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield.

    The theater received a congressional citation, a citation from the state House of Representatives, proclamations from the city and county and a plaque from the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

    “If Greensburg is the cultural hub of Westmoreland County, which I think it is, then I think it’s fair to say that this is the key spoke in that hub,” county Commissioner Ted Kopas said.

    Commission Chairwoman Gina Cerilli recalled her connection to the theater from growing up in Greensburg.

    “Growing up, coming to the Palace or being on the stage felt like Broadway to me,” she said.

    A recent study by Mullin and Lonergan Associates of Pittsburgh shows the Palace boosts the Greensburg economy by about $9 million annually.

    “The economic impact that the Palace and the cultural trust have is measurable. Those (numbers) are significant, but what is immeasurable is the impact it has on our memories,” said Chad Amond, president of the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce.

    The Palace will keep renovating and expanding its reach as it approaches its centennial, Westmoreland Cultural Trust President Mike Langer said.

    “We think that we will have the opportunity to continue to grow, both in the number of shows and the quality of shows,” he said.

    In terms of physical improvements, the trust wants to rehabilitate the apartments on the upper floors that once housed performers at the theater, Langer said. These would be rented out to permanent tenants. The trust wants to create a community room in the theater, though that is likely a few years away, he said.

    On that first day in 1990, the Palace’s new owners faced an uphill battle, Reese recalls.

    “The theater was totally decrepit,” he said. “Now, we’ve got a lot to do still, but the old girl’s in pretty good shape.”

  • September 3, 2016

    Derby, CT – Inside an Abandoned Connecticut Opera House With a Jail Beneath its Stage

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    From Atlas Obscura: Discovering an abandoned, beautifully preserved opera house from the 19th century is thrilling enough. But imagine finding an old opera house that, for some mysterious reason, has abandoned prison cells hidden underneath the stage.

    One such curious and beguiling building can be found in Connecticut. It completed its last production in 1945 and has been closed ever since.

    Derby is officially the smallest city in Connecticut (at least, according to its own town leaders, who took that superlative as the town motto). Quaint, pleasant and friendly, and covering an area of just over five square miles of New Haven County, Derby has a current population of just over 12,000. The first mystery is why the smallest city in the state even had an opera house in the first place.

    The answer is the the Industrial Revolution. Found at the intersection of the Housatonic and Naugatuck rivers, Derby was ideally situated for the new water powered gristmills that saw companies flock to the area, manufacturing everything from hoop skirts and corsets to brass items and pianos.

    As Derby became more prosperous in the latter half of the 19th century, it did was many other self-respecting boom towns did in the U.S.; it built itself a grand, ornate opera house. Civic pride was tied to this kind of patronage. In Iowa alone, over 1,500 opera houses were built following the Civil War, almost all of which today, have been closed down and repurposed, torn down, or lost to fire.

    And with so many opera houses being built, competition between neighboring cities was fierce, with local rivalries demanding that their new opera house had more gilt, crushed velvet and chandeliers. One such rivalry centered around this part of Connecticut. Just a few miles north of Derby is the town of Ansonia. Flush with money from its prospering copper industry, Ansonia, then a borough of Derby, built an opera house in 1870, despite having a population of just over 3,000. Not to be outdone, the officials of Derby (population also just over 3,000) sought to build one of their own. In a classic case of one upmanship, Derby hired the prestigious architect Henry Edwards Ficken, one of the creators of Manhattan’s illustrious Carnegie Hall, and the architect of Coney Island’s steel pier and the Bronx’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

    Ficken designed the building in the Baroque Italianate style, complete with striking terra cotta exteriors and a stained glass cupola towering over the small town’s square. The building is so striking it was the first building in all of Connecticut to be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1968.

    Walking into the abandoned opera house today, the interior is a striking as the Florentine exterior is beautiful. A ground floor and two sweeping balconies, decorated with intricate wrought iron work, slope down to the old orchestra pit, with the 60-foot stage framed by a grand proscenium archway. The interior has remained surprisingly pristine in the cool dry air, just covered in a layer of dust that has gathered since the local fire marshall closed the doors for good in 1945. The opera house was named for local piano manufacturer, Charles Sterling. Evening entertainment in the Victorian home usually involved a home upright piano, and those found in parlors throughout America more often that not were made by Sterling in Derby. The Sterling Opera House opened its opulent doors in 1889, marking the occasion with a presumably less than cheery performance of James A. Herne’s play Drifting Apart, a temperance driven melodrama about the evils of drink.

    That the first production in the opera house wasn’t actually an opera was not unusual. Indeed, in the countless of opera houses that sprang up all over the U.S., operas were generally rare. The entertainment offered was more commonly popular theatre, old time variety shows, vaudeville shows and public lectures, acts that traveled the country by the new prospering railroads that themselves fueled the boom towns.

    The Sterling Opera House proved a roaring success, hosting performers of like Harry Houdini, Lionel Barrymore, John Phillips Sousa, and Amelia Earhart who gave a lecture there at the invitation of the local Woman’s Club in 1936. When pioneering director D.W.Griffith premiered his groundbreaking (and horrifyingly racist) film The Birth of a Nation, it was shown at the Sterling, much to the delight of Derby and presumably to the chagrin of Ansonia. (The rivalry between Derby and Ansonia was so intense that a petition was circulated in Ansonia to vote to become a separate town, a status it was granted the year Sterling Opera opened.)

  • August 30, 2016

    Columbia, MO – After 100 years of rich history, Hall Theatre’s future waits in the wings

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    From The Missourian:
    In 1916, finding entertainment in Columbia was difficult. With only a few small theaters and the advent of modern entertainment still decades away, Columbia offered little in the way of diversion.

    On Aug. 28, all of that changed. The Hall Theatre, a large, ornate playhouse on Ninth Street, opened, and for 35 cents, everyone in Columbia could see a motion picture, catch a vaudeville act and listen to one of the state’s best orchestras.

    Not only did the Hall Theatre bring a new place for entertainment to Columbia, it invigorated the downtown culture by bringing fresh talent to town.

    One hundred years later, the Hall Theatre remains standing, but only as a relic of its former self. Empty and unused since 2013, the theater hasn’t presented a show in 45 years.

  • August 26, 2016

    Springfield, MO – Springfield’s Palace Theater will show first-run movies, change names

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    From KSPR.com: The Palace Theater in Springfield’s Chesterfield Village will soon show first-run movies.

    Owners are renaming it as the Premiere Palace. The change starts Friday.

    Here is what you can expect. You will pay $4 for matinees. Evening movies will set you back $6.


    News release:

    The Palace Theatre will become the Premiere Palace, a discount first-run movie theatre, starting on Friday, Aug. 26. The Premiere Palace will show weekly new releases at a discounted rate. Ticket prices will be $4 for matinees, children (ages 3 – 12), seniors and students. The evening price for adults will be $6.

    “The people and city of Springfield have been incredibly supportive of the Palace since it opened,” said Warren Theatres president Bill Warren. “We are looking forward to giving the opportunity to see new movies, the weekend they open, at a discounted ticket price.”

    Online ticketing will be available soon after opening. The Premiere Palace will accept cash, Visa, MasterCard and Discover.

    The Premiere Palace is at 2220 W. Chesterfield Boulevard.

  • Philadelphia, PA – Watch drones race inside the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House

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    From Curbed Philadelphia: About a month ago, a group called the Philly Quad Squad went inside the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House to race drones for a segment on CSN Philly’s 700 Level Show. True, the 2:45-minute video is more about the drone racing than the opera house, but it still allows viewers to sneak a unique peek through the space.

    Take a very fast tour of the theater yourself:http://philly.curbed.com/2016/8/22/12582820/drone-video-philadelphia-metropolitan-opera-house

    Developer Eric Blumenfeld, who owns a stake in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House, has plans to turn it into a major music venue after a $35 million renovation.

  • Lafayette, CA – New Owners Ready to Resurrect Park Theater

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    From Lamorinda Weekly: A trio of partners are excited to bring new life to the historic Park Theater in Lafayette, which has been closed for more than a decade. Armed with a business plan and a sense of urgency after learning that a developer was interested in the property, local residents Cathy and Fred Abbott, along with partner Alex McDonald, recently signed papers to purchase the theater property that comes with a small, narrow rectangular parking area in the rear. Cathy Abbot said she “figured it was now or never.” If all goes according to plan, escrow should close in early 2017. Shortly afterward, with the help of additional investors, the group hopes to begin an estimated $6 million of renovations. Their plan is for adaptive re-use of the 64-year-old building to feature movies, performances, and music by partnering with a variety of local entities for everything from comedy shows, educational lectures, independent films and more. The partners envision a beautiful structure that celebrates the art deco streamline moderne style, possibly including a living wall of plants on an upstairs rooftop deck and bar that would serve beer on tap and locally sourced wine. Grassroots efforts in the past to reopen the beloved landmark were never able to make a go of it, due to a variety of factors: the difficulty in making enough money to support the business with one screen in the age of the multiplex, significant structural issues, non-handicap accessible bathrooms, and of course parking constraints that don’t meet the current city code. Many residents had high hopes when rumors of Fenton’s Creamery taking over swirled in 2011, but they never materialized. The trio are well aware of the significant amount of investment it will take to allow the building to be open for business after a walk-through with a structural engineer. “Alex, Fred and I want to create something that is kid- and senior-friendly, a place where everyone feels welcome,” Cathy Abbott said. “We think it would be great to have a Battle of the Bands for the local high schools, a place for nonprofit benefits and private rentals,” said the Acalanes High School graduate, who went on to get an MBA from UC Berkeley. “We believe we have figured out a plan that will allow the theater to be a successful and sustainable business that adapts to the times and provides a magic mix of entertainment options for people in the local area.” Fred Abbott is an international law professor, specializing in trade, public health and intellectual property; he’s also a fan of science fiction and film noir. Originally from Scotland, Happy Valley resident McDonald is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who says he is committed to showing movies again at the theater. They acknowledge that a number of things will need to come together to get this project off the ground: finding the right architect that could restore the theater and make it more functional, working with the city about parking, and especially finding investors to breathe new life into the vintage gem. Noting that the city recently purchased a nearby parking lot, and with plans for alternative transportation, Cathy Abbott hopes for a compromise on parking, especially since a renovated business would bring vitality and additional tax revenue to the city. Built in 1941 and opening its doors with a screening of an Abbott and Costello film, the popular theater entertained generations of Lamorindans. Fast forward to 1987 and the Park Theater was taken over by Allen Michaan’s Renaissance Rialto Films. But over time, it wasn’t profitable, so it closed for good after more than 60 years in business in September 2005 with “Cinema Paradiso” and “Amelie.” Stanley Middle School student Joel Braunstein made a six-minute documentary film on the history of the theater, including information from the city’s point of view. To check it out on YouTube, go to www.YouTube.com and type in “The Park Theater Movie” in the search box.

  • Jackson, WY – Old theater now an empty shell

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    From the Jackson Hole News and Guide: The oldest theater building in the town of Jackson is now an empty shell as an ambitious renovation project brings the old structure up to current fire codes.

    But what will happen next in the old Teton Theatre is a mystery to all but those involved in the deal. Robert Gill of the Gill Family Trust, which owns the building, won’t spill the beans.

    “I don’t have any information for you as far as what it’s going to look like,” Gill said Tuesday.

    Unveiling a new use and design is up to the future tenant, he said. His job is to get the building ready for use.

    Passers-by on North Cache have noted a flurry of demolition work inside the building, phase one of the building’s restoration.

    Town records hold permits and reports with notes about some details, but no plans are on file for reconstruction of the basement, first and improved second floor.

    Closed for years

    Right now there isn’t much floor per se — just dirt, rocks and a pile of debris visible when exterior plywood is removed. Construction crews go about their work inside as pedestrians mill past outside.

    Gill said the walls were torn down to the bare rock, which was shot-coated with a layer of concrete to make a solid building even stronger. When the roof trusses were exposed they were also found to be solid. Gill said the town had suspected the trusses were some form of “cowboy” engineering — but they were in fact legitimately manufactured trusses.

    The theater opened in 1941. It was built by Bruce Porter, who also constructed and ran Jackson Drug just up the street. Porter had started showing movies in the space above his store in 1922.

    The building was an early landmark, with its stone exterior and location just off Town Square. The premiere of the classic and locally shot movie “Spencer’s Mountain” was shown there, with an after-party at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.

    In the 1980s the theater got a renovation that included a snack bar and new seats. In the old days people would buy snacks at the corner drug store before going to the movie house.

    Its marquee is still attached, but serves now as a political endorsement sign.

    The theater closed Sept. 30, 2012, after a Sunday showing of the movie “End of Watch.”

    Speculation about its future has been rife — and fruitless.

    A liquor license was transferred to the 120 N. Cache St. address in 2012, but no restaurant opened there.

    A tobacco shop located for decades in the building lost its lease in June and relocated just blocks away to the north.

    After four years work could finally begin on the building’s second life.

    “A lot of the problem is it’s difficult to do things in town because of the cost,” Gill said.

    While permits can be pricey, “That’s nothing compared to the housing fee.”

    And while he said there are fond memories of the place as a single-screen movie theater, times have changed.

    “It had really run its course a long time ago,” he said.

    Traffic delays

    Gill seemed disappointed in his dealings with officials.

    “I was hoping the town would be a little more helpful,” Gill said.

    The project will have a few impacts, but mostly during off hours.

    Roadway early birds may find some detours between Labor Day and Memorial Day as large structural members such as columns and beams are delivered.

    A report by Josh Kilpatrick of Nelson Engineering, on file with the town, estimates it may take as many as 14 separate days to get that work done, “and will necessitate temporary three-hour closures of North Cache Street.”

    The report states that a three-day advance notice will be given for 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. closures of the road between Deloney and Gill.

    “New construction will commence after Labor Day and following the demolition phase,” the report read.

    A window installation on the street side of the building will necessitate a covered walkway for pedestrian protection as rocks are removed from the facade.

    Another traffic and parking disruption will take place as infrastructure for a new water and fire suppression system are installed beneath the pavement between Sept. 20 and Oct. 15.

    Some parking spaces on the west side of the street will become a travel lane during part of that work.

  • August 24, 2016

    Waynesboro, VA – History: The Cavalier was Waynesboro’s ‘Other’ Theater

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    From the News Leader: Between 1920 and 1929 Waynesboro movie-goers enjoyed three movie theaters all within a mile of each other. But the youngest, the Cavalier, was considered the bad boy of the three.

    The city’s first was the Star Theater, located at 544 West Main Street, in a building that still stands. A former Presbyterian Church, the structure was bought and converted into a theater in 1922 by Col. Max Patterson and Carl C. Loth, film impresarios who were eager to capitalize on the booming 1920s movie business. The small, spartan Star played silent films with piano accompaniment probably provided by Wenonah School music teacher Frank Vanderherschen. In 1925 the Loths started constructing the Wayne Theatre just down the hill, and the Star closed when the Wayne opened in 1926.

    While not an extravagant “movie palace” like those built in larger cities, such as the Byrd and Lowes Theatres in Richmond, the Wayne was still considered “lavish,” and a distinct improvement over the Star. A pipe organ – also played by Vanderherschen – provided accompaniment to the silent films until talkies arrived in the late 1920s. In 1929 the Wayne installed an “RCA high fidelity” sound system, and the first commercial sound film, “The Jazz Singer,” was a sensation, with lines reportedly stretching up the hill.

    Buoyed by their enormous success with the Wayne, Patterson and the Loths incorporated, then built another theater at the other end of town at 307 West Main Street to better serve eastside and Basic City. They held a contest to name the new cinema, which was won by Eva Yount for her suggestion the “Cavalier Theatre.”

    While the Wayne was designed and operated as a luxurious first-run movie house, the Cavalier was more of a rowdy adult recreational destination, with films and live shows that reflected its earthy atmosphere and blue-collar demographic. With a capacity of about 900, the interior walls were painted cinderblock, a luncheonette served up fast food until after midnight to cater to shift workers at nearby Stehli and DuPont, and a bowling alley (with cigar smoking encouraged) operated in the basement. Since there were no automatic setters, local boys earned pocket money in that hot, smoky basement setting pins after every roll.

    Historian Curtis Bowman in 1967 described the distinct aroma upon entering the Cavalier (also nicknamed “the flea bag” and “the scratch”) – “a mixture of disinfectant, perspiration, cigar smoke and cooking food … the proximity of rest rooms to the entryway did not help.”

    After the 1941 flood ruined the Cavalier’s basement bowling alley, the Loth Corporation – consisting of President Max Patterson; F. R. Loth, vice president and manager of the Wayne; J. Ellison Loth, secretary and manager of the Cavalier; and Col. C. C. Loth, treasurer and manager of the bowling lanes and the luncheonette – built the Cavalier Lanes on Federal Street. On February 23, 1952, that building was completely destroyed in a five-alarm blaze. The Cavalier Theatre frequently featured live shows by traveling movie stars and performers, especially cowboys. Actor Billy Barty, film’s first “little person,” appeared in 1938. The following year, Roy Roger’s singing group the Sons of the Pioneers appeared in person, and happily posed for pictures with star-struck locals. The Three Stooges stopped by in the early 1940s. Johnny Mack Brown brought his horse on stage to do tricks.

    Throughout the 1950s the Cavalier maintained its “PG-13” reputation as an eastside hangout, showing more provocative grade-B horror, western and juvenile delinquency films. The former basement bowling alley was sometimes used at this time as a shooting range.

    As a result, many Waynesboro parents refused to allow their children to attend the more risqué movies shown there – so of course, many teens dropped off at the more reputable Wayne would sneak three blocks to the Cavalier.

    In 1964 the Loth Corporation sold the theaters to the B&K Virginia Corporation, then in April, 1966, Davidson Theaters in Washington D.C. acquired the Wayne Theatre on a long-term lease but passed on the Cavalier, which was forced to close. The building was purchased and torn down by Advance Auto.

    Despite being gone for 50 years, the lowly Cavalier still had the distinction of being the last movie theater built within the city limits of Waynesboro until Zeus Theaters opened in 2010.

  • August 22, 2016

    Allegan, MI – Historic Regent projector gets rebuilt for display at theater

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    From the Allegan Co. News: A piece of history is returning to Allegan’s iconic Regent Theatre.

    The theater’s film projector for at least 70 years is being rebuilt for display by Lake Allegan resident Michael Huth.

    For more than two years, Huth has disassembled every piece, cleaning, repainting and rechroming and then reassembling the subassemblies.

    “Plans are to put it in the lobby for all to see the history of film,” he said. “It’s a magnificent piece of machinery you might see at Henry Ford Museum but it will be right here in Allegan.”

    The projector became obsolete after the Regent, along with movie houses across the country, were forced into digital conversion in order to receive first-run movies. The last movie the old projector played using 35 mm film rolls was “Hunger Games.” It was also the first movie played on the new digital projector Dec. 4, 2013.

    To get the old, 6-foot-tall film projector removed from the projection booth, it was disassembled in five or six sections. That’s when Huth noticed it was about to be lost forever.

    “I didn’t want someone to heave it in a dumpster so I volunteered to restore it,” he said.

    Like the community members before him who restored the theater itself back to its original glory, Huth said he has a fondness for the Regent, it’s architectural art deco style, and that it’s locally owned.

    Living in the area for the past 20 years, he’d like to find out more from old-er-timers about the projector—when it was installed and when it was modified to Dolby. He wants to list that information along with names of projectionists on a plaque for display.

    “There were originally two projectors used, and feature films came on five to six reels,” Huth said. “After playing Reel 1, the projectionist would switch to Reel 2 on the other projector and, if he was really good, the audience wouldn’t notice.”

    At some point in time, the second projector became obsolete when splicing began to be used. Using a platter 6 feet in diameter, the film was spliced together into one roll and then the splices were broken up to rewind the film back up into smaller rolls.

    “I’d also like to know the time of conversion for that,” he said.

    Huth scavenged some of the parts from the second projector to make one that was operable. The lamp housing will be lit underneath with LED lights to show the engraved glass and how it would look while it was running.

    Today, movies arrive on a hard drive that plugs into the projector’s processor.

    Huth has an engineering background working 33 years in machine design making printing presses at Rockwell in Chicago before retiring.

    “I didn’t know there was a Rockwell in Allegan until I moved here,” he said.

    He continues to split his time between Allegan and Chicago where he is involved in set design and playwriting for live theater. In Allegan he owns Whisper Ridge bed and breakfast. It includes a refurbished 1893 wooden caboose on Lake Allegan.

    Another volunteer in the project is West Michigan Painting, a body shop on Ida Street.

    They’re doing all the painting,” Huth said. “I turn stuff into them, they paint it and turn it around.”

    Huth has even called Henry Ford Museum to get tips on how to clean nameplates and maker decals without stripping them with solvents.

    “I think people who aren’t interested in mechanics will stop in their tracks to look at it,” he said. “It’s all bright and shiny with a black gloss and has been rechromed.”

    The project is about three-quarters complete.

    “I am hoping for completion by the end of the year,” he said.