Cara Lytle and Craig Leitner – We were Part of the Wildey restoration project in the mid 80's. (We also went to
prom together in 1973.)
Craig: My first memory was a really bad Andy Griffith movie. I don't remember the name of it, but even at age 6 or 7, I remember being very critical of it. I remember seeing A Hard
on opening night (I'm a huge Beetles fan). I went with my neighbors. It was embarrassing because I was the only guy with this group of girls and they were all screaming and I thought, should I scream too? It seemed pretty weird. In the end, I don't think I did. But I remember seeing
for the first time at the Wildey. I remember sitting in the front row of the balcony center and was overwhelmed because it was such a great movie. Most of my memories were in the 80s when a few of us tried to bring the Wildey back. My friend Cara Lytle and Kate Richards Motley planned the effort around Cara's kitchen table.
Cara: It was so sad that the theater was closing and it had been a theater for so long. We had read articles about the Wildey becoming a warehouse and that just seemed kind of sad. We thought Edwardsville
was such a vibrant city and the Wildey was perfect for an Arts Center. At the time, the State of Illinois had a large grant available for civic centers funded from money that came out of the Arlington Race track near
Chicago. Our hope was to get a base of community people interested and write for this grant to have the Wildey converted into an Arts Center.
Craig: We started by using the auspices of the Madison County Arts
Council (MCAC). A bunch of us joined and became officers of the group to use the MCAC as the vehicle to apply for the grant. Edwardsville, being the county seat, made sense that MCAC would have a base in
Edwardsville. We talked about gallery space and there was gallery space on either side of the lobby on the first floor. It was all based around education.
Cara: The problems we faced were running the
facility with a group of volunteers who took care of the boilers, cleaned toilets, cleaned after the movies, ran the old projectors, came down to the theater in the middle of the night whenever a door would blow open, dealt with
the police, get the movies in and out, clean up – in addition to the fund-raising efforts. We all had regular jobs and were trying o do this in our spare time.
Craig: We raised about $50k in order to move
forward. For a while we made monthly payments on the lease purchase. It was challenging, that's for sure. The problem we faced was that there were repairs needed to make the stage functional. There were no
lights or sprinklers. It was $25k worth of work to the stage to make it functional just for the immediate needs, not including equipment. We had no drapes or current rigging system. But we had a regular
movie series with children's movies on Saturday afternoons every weekend.
Cara: The downtown merchants got involved and helped promote special events including Wildey days when artists would walk down the street.
Craig: We had two Wildey family Christmas shows as fundraisers at SIUE. We had a country French brunch desperately trying to find money. We made money from the movies, but not much. We hired two different
consultants including Mackey Associates in St. Louis as part of the grant process. We also had Peter Sortino who did management planning for us. We had good people, but it was just too expensive. The cost to
develop the proposal was about $25k, which was serious money when you're trying to get the money together to operate and fix up the place. As we were finalizing the application, there was a fire at the Arlington Race Track
(the funding source) so the funding dried up as the State dried up the grant. That pretty much did us in.
Cara: With no light at the end of the tunnel we just couldn't get it going. We had a LOT of
community support, so we were all disappointed after our two-year effort. But it was an amazing effort and demonstrated that the community was very supportive and wanted the Wildey saved. We still believe in the project
and hope that it will re-open some day. It was a great idea whose time had not yet come … maybe the time has now come.