A group of Hoopeston residents hopes to give the community a sense of how the old downtown movie theater once operated.
The Lorraine Theatre opened its doors in 1922, but closed its doors in March of 2012, suffering the fate of many single auditorium small-town movie houses.
An unnamed buyer recently bought it, and the Lorraine 2, an old store location that was converted in recent years to show movies.
The buyer expects to do some maintenance – then turn both of them over to the Save The Lorraine Foundation in the next few weeks.
Group president and lifelong Hoopeston resident Jim Richards admitted there’s more to be done, namely, raise about $200,000 for maintenance and restoring the Art Deco design.
His memories included a day when vaudeville acts came to town.
"They didn’t have dressing rooms, so what they did, is basically put a ladder – and there’s two tiers on each side, and they went up an built little platforms," he said. "The vaudeville people would walk up the ladder on the side of the thing, go over to the space that they had - which was elevated, above the stage, they would dress in their costumes and change costumes - and walk down and present their program on the stage.”
Richards said his group is open-minded, and needs to rent out the theater for other uses to make ends meet, including theater acts and weddings.
The Save The Lorraine Foundation holds its first fundraiser Sunday, a spaghetti dinner at the Hoopeston’s Fast Lanes Bowling Alley from 12 to 3 p.m.
A re-dedication ceremony on Saturday will showcase a sound from the Wurlitzer Hope Jones Orchestral Organ that experts say has never been heard before.
Music comes out of the 900-pipe organ as Dave Schroder and John Buzard tinker with instrument. While Buzard has just completed the nearly $150,000 restoration project, Schroeder is living out a childhood dream by playing at the theater.
A music teacher at Bismarck-Henning High School, Schroder calls himself a 'closet theater organ freak.' That's due in part to the late Warren York, who rose from the orchestra pit playing the Wurlitzer for more than 20 years.
"He could sit and play anything," Schroder recalled. "He would play it in G-flat or F-sharp, or whatever has the most black keys. I said, aren't you making that awful difficult on yourself? He said if it was good enough for George Gershwin, it's good enough for me."
York passed away last July, but Schroeder said his friend will be there in spirit for the organ's re-dedication ceremony.
Buzard said by adding two ranks of pipes, the Wurlitzer should produce a sound no one has heard since its installation.
"One of the fellows that has acted on our behalf as a consultant told us, 'This is of course after we'd done all our work.' He said, 'You know John, this organ could have very easily wound up in the dumpster for as much work as was really required to bring this back to life,'" Buzard said. "I certainly appreciated that having gone through the process of restoring it all this last year."
Started in Dec. 2010, the restoration was supposed to have been completed in November, but John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders undertook what Buzard calls the equivalent of open heart surgery on the Wurlitzer.
Buzard's staff had to take it apart twice before discovering small cracks in the organ's chest, which meant control air escaped into the atmosphere. He said wind generated below the stage wasn't properly making its way through the pipes.
"What volunteers had tried to do in order to make the organ louder - they'd actually damaged the pipes in order to make them speak louder and the problem was is that the organ never got enough wind from the blower," Buzard said. "From 1921, that 90 year old problem had never been troubleshot."
Virginia Theater Director Steven Bentz said the organ's restoration will also make it more appropriate for new kinds of performances:
"It was really to be an organ that would play under silent movies," Bentz said. "That's different from an organ that's put into a space in kind of a concert hall setting. I think what they're doing - and have done - is bringing that along- making the organ much more powerful."
On Saturday night, award-winning organist Chris Gorsuch comes in from the West Coast to see what a refurbished Wurlitzer can do.
Bentz said there is not an exact playlist as of yet for the two-hour concert, but Gorsuch will accompany 'Liberty' - a 1929 silent film starring Laurel and Hardy. The evening also includes a presentation on the organ's restoration, and an exhibit of Virginia artifacts.
Yay" --- that's the one word on the new marquee installed Wednesday afternoon at Champaign's Virginia Theater.
Workmen used a crane to hoist the sign up to the front of the 90-year-old vaudeville and movie theater. It replaces the old triangular marquee that had hung on the Virginia since the 1940s.
Supporters of that marquee protested the Champaign Park Board's decision to replace it with one resembling the theater's original lighted sign. District spokesperson Laura Auteberry said the 1940s marquee will continue to have its supporters. But she said the new marquee is a better fit.
"We now have three sides of a marquee to advertise on instead of just two," Auteberry said. "And it also opens up the facade of the building itself. You can now see the entire facade with the beautiful windows and all the architectural detail as opposed to the old one that really blocked all of that."
Auteberry said the new marquee makes perfect sense. "It looks beautiful, and is absolutely more architectually in keeping with the style of the architecture of the building than was on there before, which better represents how the building looked and was intended when it was opened in 1921."
The word "Yay" was the only word on the Virginia's new marquee when it was installed Wednesday. Auteberry said the marquee will next be fitted with hundreds of light bulbs and wired for electricity. Soon, it will be advertising the Virginia Theater's next attraction, a Sept. 10 showing of the 1930 movie classic "All Quiet on the Western Front".
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
From AP - News Headlines - October 22, 2010 6:12 PM
Champaign's Virginia Theatre is nearing the end of renovations to its lobby and exterior, and will open again to audiences.
However, the nearly 90-year-old facility will be closing again in the next couple of years for handicapped accessible seating, plaster work inside the theater, and electric work. The $500,000 grant was part of the Illinois Jobs Now capital program.
Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said an exact closure date will be within two years of when the grant is initiated. So it could be as soon as next summer, but she said the key is to avoid conflicting with Roger Ebert's Annual Film Festival in April. The work is expected to take at least six months.
The Park District got half of what it requested for the state grant, so Auteberry said the ADA compliance and other work will have to be pared down.
"So we're going to take a look at what we submitted, which initially included replacement of the current seating and replacement of all the plaster work inside the entire house," Auteberry said. "But it also included some acoustical infrastucture improvements upgrades, and electrical and lighting work on stage."
The next performance this year is the annual Chorale concert on New Year's Eve. Auteberry says the public will notice changes right away, including new carpeting, exterior and interior doors, and plaster work.
The Park District staff is also working with a sign company to take down the old theater marquee, and design for the new one to be put up in the next few weeks. The current work on the Virginia was paid for with a bequest from the estate of the late Michael Carragher, and other private funds.