Monday, November 15, 2010

President Theatre

The Meriwether Historical Society met on Sunday, November 14th 2010 and car pooled to Manchester to the President Theatre where members were greeted by Regina Garrett who led the tour of the 1930s Art Deco theatre.
   Garrett began by asking members present who had come to the theatre years ago and Lynda Woodall replied, “It was my mom’s babysitter on Saturday. When it opened at 9 am on Saturday we were here to buy tickets for 10 cents.  We watched the serials, news, movies and then watched them again until 4 pm and it was time to go home.” Lewis Routon and Lib Duncan also said they attended often. 
   Garrett, the Executive Director of the theatre, has raised over $250,000 for the theatre’s restoration since the project started two years ago. The theatre was built in 1935 at a cost of $22,000 and displayed in the store front area are the framed deeds by the parties and bankers involved. The restoration is estimated to cost 1.2 million but, Garrett said, contractors and craftsmen have donated their services so they are hoping to complete the project for less.
   The theatre was originally a Roy Martin vaudeville cinema with the storefront generating revenue.  Movies were becoming prevalent then so the vaudeville period is limited. Historical society members remembered Freckles the Monkey and Officer Don performing live. The memories and tid bits picked up as the restoration progresses are what keep inspired, Garrett said.
   The structure has pressed tin ceilings and has its original terrazzo floor. It is not the usual ornate Roy Martin theatre however and has minimal fancy plaster work. The front rows were set a bit further back than normal to accommodate the patients from the Foundation. The balcony was segregated with bench seating and a separate upstairs entrance used.
   Notably it was one of the few buildings to have air conditioning in the thirties-the water cooled mist system is currently visible through the walls studs.
   The future for the theatre looks good even in these tough economic times.  The plans are to create a flexible facility with the old period look but modern technologies available so that the facility can be used for video conferencing or rented for programs.  In the 1930s, the theatre held 500 people but today’s larger adult size makes 350 seats the comfortable goal.
   Currently the theatre is partnering with the Fox Theatre and planning a workday with free tickets to the Fox for the first 25 volunteers. Also, its non profit status makes tax deductible donations possible.  At the suggestion of Tyrone Elliott and with help from the Arts Council, the theatre has offered the area “an excuse to dress up” and its New Year’s Eve Gala is in its third year.  Held at the Manchester Mill, the room is transformed by Jimmy Mitchem.  This year’s theme is a Night at the Oscars. Caricature artists will be there and photo ops are in place with a delicious meal, band and dancing part of the evening and a champagne toast at midnight.
   The historical society made a small donation to the restoration efforts with a larger donation being planned.  In other business, the Honey Baked Ham Fundraiser was finalized with deliveries to be made Friday, November 19th at the headquarters building.  
   The society heard from Linda Wilburn and the status of the Better Home Town Streetscapes project which is currently out for bid and with construction expected to start the 1st of February and completed in June. The society voted to purchase fourteen 17 inch hexagonal pavers in honor of each of the historical society’s presidents.

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