The Telegraph

December 29, 2010

Coming attraction: Wildey Theatre just months from reopening

EDWARDSVILLE - Alderman Rich Walker is asking for help deciding on the first film and first live performance to be shown at the new Wildey Theatre when in opens April 12, exactly 102 years after it debuted as an opera house.

Anyone with ideas should visit the Wildey website or visit the Wildey Facebook page, Walker said, as he took visitors on a tour Wednesday of the interior work in progress.

He said the theater opened as an opera house with the play, "A Lady At The Helm."  "It was a big production from Chicago," Walker said.

Walker, who heads a City Council committee overseeing the renovation, took visitors on a tour of the interior renovation work Wednesday, a day after the committee approved purchase of new curtains and sound-proof paneling for the building.

"It's a very big, velour flame-resistant curtain, burgundy in color," said Alderwoman Janet Haroian, a member of the committee.

The Wildey panel has been choosing colors and designs for curtains, panels, carpets, seats and myriad other minute decisions.

The decisions go to the City Council, and the latest purchases will go before the council in January.

Workers are busy building walls, installing drywall, and working on heating, air conditioning and ventilation.

Right now, an indoor crane sits in the main seating area, but the more colorful, eye-pleasing Art Deco interior features are still to come.

Walker pointed out one of the new seats that have been ordered but not installed. They are in the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 1930s.

Walker said workers found one of the seats from the 1930s, when the theater last was remodeled. It was behind a wall covering a portion of the movie house that had not been used for decades. The seat was left there after a contractor dismantled some opera seats.

The old seat served as a model for the newer ones, but the newer ones have cup-holders, a more recent invention.  "It's where the past meets the present," Walker said.

The theater will feature three lobbies. The entrance lobby will have niches for displays of historic artifacts from the building's past.  "We have lots of memorabilia with no place to put them," Walker said.  The displays can be changed out periodically.

The restrooms will be in the middle lobby, where photos from the theater's past will be displayed on one wall and posters of coming events will be featured on the other wall.

The inner lobby will feature the concession stand, with the entrances to the lower levels and staircases leading to the balcony. There will be 217 seats on the lower level and 103 seats in the balcony.

A third level will have room for leased office space. There also will be space for retail on the ground level. Walker said two retailers have solid proposals before the committee. The agreements may be ready to go to the full council soon, he said.

The original building also featured space for another business - a funeral home, Walker said.  "The embalming lab was in the basement," he said.

In the near future, the basement will feature changing rooms and plumbing facilities for future performers and space for more mundane maintenance functions. The basement has been waterproofed to protect from minor seepage, Walker said.

So far, much of the estimated $2.9 million renovation cost has been defrayed by community fund-raising events. About 95 people paid $100 each recently to attend a cocktail tour of the building.

The Edwardsville High School Fine Arts Department put on a performance that raised $6,000 for the renovation.

The city has a Community Redevelopment Fund set aside for the project. The revenue is from an entertainment tax, loan proceeds and tax increment financing revenue. No general fund money will be spent on the renovation.

The committee has distributed a sample lineup of events that may be featured, including an "18-and-over night," live music, classic cartoons and matinee movies. Community groups and children's dance and other performing groups also may make use of the theater.

Walker said he still enjoys taking people through the theater after 11 years of actively pursuing the idea, along with Mayor Gary Niebur. Eleven years ago was when he and Niebur went to visit then-state Sen. Evelyn Bowles of Edwardsville, who has an interest in historic preservation.

She helped secure the grant to acquire the building and get the renovation off the ground.

"I still enjoy sharing the building with people," Walker said Wednesday.