Suffice it to say the interior of the Fox Theatre today looks nothing like the grandeur of yesteryear, or even last year.
Construction crews have been hard at work since springtime ripping most of the historic performance venue down to its studs and completing infrastructure projects such as installing a new HVAC system and building a new electrical system from the ground up.
Thanks in large part to a $1 million grant from the city of Centralia, leaders of the Historic Fox Theatre Restorations nonprofit are starting to see their vision for a grand reopening in September 2020 through the plaster dust and exposed support beams currently dotting the room.
“I think we’re past the point of convincing the community it’s a worthwhile project,” said Scott White, president of Historic Fox Theatre Restorations. “To say the project is inevitable I think is fair at this point. We’re not there yet, but we’re as close as we’ve ever been.”
White and project manager Jamie Kaiser walked around heavy equipment and a pile of ceiling diffusers ye to be installed as part of the HVAC system Thursday as they gave an update on the restoration. It’s been about a dozen years since the city of Centralia bought the historic theater that first opened in 1930.
Getting the electrical grid up and running is the top priority right now, Kaiser said, because it will allow them to finish and power on the HVAC system. Doing so will help keep the interior of the building at a consistent temperature so workers can continue re-plastering the ceiling and start restoring the entrance plaza to its original splendor, complete with ticket booths.
In order to avoid the clutter and cost of scaffolding inside the theater, a false floor was built between the uppermost rows of seating and the roof so crews could access the ceiling.
We’re doing the non-glamour stuff now,” Kaiser said. “Nobody wants their name on the roof or an electrical panel.”
The current phase of the project is slated to wrap up in June, with the final one set to begin soon after. That will include installing seats, light fixtures and the technology needed to operate the theater.
People who do want their name attached to the theater project still have the opportunity to sponsor one of the new seats for $1,000. The tax-deductible sponsorship includes a plaque on the seat and the right of first refusal for tickets to the first season of events once the Fox Theatre reopens.
White said about 100 seats have sponsors to this point. He expects the rate of local contributions to increase now that people can see real progress being made.
“We’re about $2.5 million from the finish line,” White said. “There will be a request for capital improvement funding at the state level, but we’ll still need to raise about $1.5 million or so with grants, local donations, selling advertising and such. It seems weird to say, but I don’t think it would have helped us to get all $7 million when we first started, because we wouldn’t have had to think and play out every decision. We could have made so many bad decisions, but instead we’ve had to think through everything and be good stewards of every dollar.”
EverGreene Architectural Arts, a contractor based out of New York City that specializes in restoration of theater decoration and design, is slated to recreate the original ceiling decorations, paint colors, carpeting and anything else it can turn back to the 1930s once the restoration effort enters the homestretch.
As the finish line starts to become visible, White has begun working with a pair of consulting firms to determine the best sorts of shows for the Fox Theatre to host once it is back in operation. The firms help by providing market research, calculating expenses for different types of acts and even with booking performers.
“We want to do some unique things here,” White said. “I’m excited to see what we can do music wise, theater wise, and otherwise bring people from Portland and Seattle here to see things that just happen at the Fox.”