South Hill Chamber to Tour Renovated Colonial Center
Members of the South Hill Chamber of Commerce will get their first official look at the renovated Colonial Center today. Jeanne Faulconer explains that the restoration of the 1920's theatre building has been a nine-year project.
South Hill's mayor, Earl Horne, will show business leaders around the old Colonial Theatre building, now known as the Colonial Center, after the monthly meeting of the Chamber of Commerce at lunchtime. Horne described the history of the entertainment provided in the theatre there.
Horne: We went to vaudeville, and when vaudeville faded out, silent movies came in, and this theatre went to silent movies. And as silent movies went out, talkies came in and it went to the talking pictures and that's where it stayed until the late sixties or early seventies when it just finally closed up.
The roof over the theatre itself had holes and the stage under it was destroyed by the elements, and the building as a whole had fallen into disrepair.
Horne: The stage when we started on it, the stage itself, the roof on it was completely gone. You actually could see airplanes, you could see pigeons sitting up there. In the auditorium, there was enough pigeon guano to make a fertilizer company.
But Mayor Horne had a vision that the theatre could be saved. He credits the South Hill Civic Group with having the foresight to purchase the building for $80,000 in the year 2000 in a first step to save it, before South Hill took it on as a project. Then donations, gifts in kind, and an array of local, state, and federal monies were sought and put together to pay for the project, which cost over $4 million to complete.
The building is on state and federal historic registers, and the renovation has been done with attention to returning the theatre as nearly as possible to its heyday. A patch of the old tile floor in the grand foyer was discovered under an old refreshment stand, allowing the entire floor in the large entryway to be recreated in rich authenticity. Much of the historic tin ceiling in many parts of the building remained intact, and renovators were able to source matching tin tiles where replacements were needed. The building is rich in lush wood mouldings, period light fixtures and bright windows revealing the three-story view of downtown South Hill. In the theatre itself, the proscenium is richly detailed and painted, the ends of the aisles of comfortable new seats feature the original ironwork and the stage features a small square of wood salvaged from the original stage during the vaudeville era, an idea Mayor Horne got from researching the history of the Grand Ole Opry.
In addition to preserving the history of the Colonial Theatre building, the theatre itself was updated to state-of-the-art functionality. All the sound, lighting, staging and screening equipment has been carefully researched and installed to make the most sophisticated stage productions possible. An adjacent building was donated and updated as part of the project, providing spacious dressing rooms and a green room which are seamlessly integrated into the old theatre building.
Mayor Horne is excited about the cultural and community opportunities this will bring to residents of South Hill and the surrounding communities.
Horne: One thing it's going to bring fine arts here, as far as that people do not have the opportunity to go see other than going to Richmond or to Raleigh that will bring Broadway plays here, bring some of the top-name artists as far as concerts here, will bring local theatre big-time here.
In addition to theatre space, the building will house a welcome center for visitors, two art galleries, a ballroom and several offices. Although final paperwork is not quite in place, Horne is already fielding calls from people ready to rent the ballroom for banquets and meetings, and four community theatre productions are planned for 2011, with auditions as early as January.
The old theatre starts off its new era with a clean financial slate. As Horne says, there's not a penny owed on the 4 million dollar project, it's "solid paid for."
Jeanne Faulconer, WCVE News, South Hill