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The property is at 892 Carew Street. The building still stands and is now Junction Skate Park:
The exterior can be seen here:
Theater receives face-lift
Group takes pains to restore former glory
By KELLY B. GARRETT
Butler Eagle Staff Writer
August 23, 2004
The old adage, “It’s always darkest before the storm,” may be better changed to, “It’s always the messiest before opening night,” for the Penn Theater and the group that is working to make it into a functioning showplace once again.
The six-member board of directors of the Butler Penn Theater Community Trust, which bought the theater earlier this year, and a handful of volunteers have been hard at work since taking possession of the Main Street Butler building in April.
Board member Bill Smith and volunteer Jillian Ramsay Stern, who is serving as the trust’s technical director, recently showed off some of the work done to the theater since spring.
Deconstruction may be a better word.
The main stage space, now called Lydia Hall, may look to some as if vandals had broken in and spent several days rampaging up and down the aisles. But in order to restore the theater to its former glory, crews and board members have had to clear changes that were made to the 66-year-old building during two earlier renovations.
A false wall that held a movie screen, but hid the theater’s original vaudevillian stage, has been torn down. On Monday crews will begin to remove two drop ceilings that were added at some point in the theater’s past.
“We tried to take down the grid the ceiling tiles rest on, but when that stuff comes down it’s like a knife and we don’t want to ruin the seats,” Smith said.
He said that after the ceilings are down, construction on the theater’s new “thrust” stage can begin. A thrust stage is shaped like a mushroom and can be manipulated into different configurations for different performances.
The walls are practically bare, except for the occasional strip of leftover faux-velvet wallpaper. Smith said they have removed
five treatments from the walls, including two layers of paint.
To make a donation for the renovation of the Penn Theater, or to ask about reserving space, call 724-287-7366, or send checks, payable to “the Butler Penn Theater Community Trust” c/o First Commonwealth Bank, attention Loren Houpt, 100 N. Main St., Butler, PA 16001.
Upstairs, a company called Cinema Consultants from Pittsburgh is working to install two DVD and two 35mm film projectors in the projectionists room.
“The company, like so many others, has been really generous, helping to find inexpensive equipment for us and allowing us to pay installments instead of one large sum,” Stern said.
Stern, a longtime New York City stagehand who retired to Butler six years ago, has been working to whip the smaller, upstairs Bantam Theater into shape.
The trust’s board members want to have that theater open as soon as possible to help generate revenue for the overall project.
Stern has been concentrating her efforts on the Bantam, which will host its first event Thursday with a group of pipe organ enthusiasts who will watch a movie about pipe organs after touring nine different churches in Butler’s slowly forming Cultural District.
Outside, Smith said the trust should have word in about three weeks about what can be done to restore the building’s tile faÃ§ade. A metal-skin faÃ§ade was removed in June for both aesthetic and safety reasons.
“We are talking to tile makers about what can be done to repair and use the original tiles still on the building,” he said, adding that once a decision is made, the faÃ§ade can be completed in about a month.
“We hope to have it done before the winter to avoid water problems,” Smith said.
The trust is moving quickly to get the building open because there is definite interest by community groups to use the space, Smith said.
“We have been contacted by ministers who want to use the theater for Sunday service, a dance studio for a recital, a film festival being planned by an Italian heritage group out of New Castle, and a group of Civil War re-enactors wants to see the Civil War epic "Glory” on the big screen,“ Smith said.
To accommodate these and other interested groups, Smith and the trust are looking everywhere for funding to get the restoration job done.
"I’m filling out grant applications right now and to get it all done we probably need about $1 million,” he said pointing to a stack of forms on a clipboard.
“When we met with the governor (Ed Rendell), he said the state wants to work with us because they like those who help themselves and we have already spent about $250,000 on the theater,” Smith added.
“We are not to the point that we need volunteers, but we do need whatever financial support people can give. It may only be $20 but we can use that for matching grants and every bit helps,” he said.
Smith said the trust is planning to open the Lydia Theater by spring.