Fox Theatre Work Makes Progress, Opening Date Uncertain

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Although work to restore the Fox Theatre to its art-deco glory continues, the grand opening date is currently unclear as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused multiple disruptions in the restoration process and large gatherings of people are still deemed unsafe.

“We have had a couple of setbacks and were not totally sure what the new open date is going to be — it’s kind of dependent on the COVID-19 regulations. We want to make sure we open when it makes sense to open and when we’re going to be profitable,” said Executive Director of the Fox Theatre Scott Stolarz.

At the start of the pandemic, construction on the theatre was halted for 10 weeks. Stolarz said that finding enough local contractors and having access to the right supplies has been a challenge that has slowed down the process. 

Thinking back to the state of the theater earlier this year when the floor needed to be ripped up and the HVAC system needed replacing — all of those large pieces of the puzzle have been put in place. The restoration process is still moving along as the floor is being prepared for the installation of over 730 red-velvet seats and details about the original paint colors are fleshed out.

The historical preservation specialist working with the Fox Theatre is working on figuring out what the original stage curtain looked like. There are a few photos from the 1950s but the team is going to have to make an educated guess when it comes to the color since all of the photos are in black and white. 

“The best part of the process is the community involvement and the excitement we get from people outside of the building,” said Stolarz. “It was kind of amazing when we took the plywood off of the front of the building for the first time. It was about every day that we had to go out and clean all the glass to get all of the forehead marks off. Everybody’s looking in and trying to see the theater.” 

EverGreene Architectural Arts, a company specializing in restoring historic theaters, has taken paint samples to determine the original colors of the walls. EverGreene artists completed painting the ceiling of the theater earlier this year. 

One of the most recent additions to the outside of the theater is the metal ticket booth that is a recreation of the original. Stolarz said he is excited that the people driving down Tower Ave. can see a bit of progress. 

The uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic also impacts the future of the live entertainment industry and the ability of the Fox Theatre to book talent when the restoration is complete.

“The music industry is at about 90 percent unemployment so there’s a lot of uncertainty around when those artists will start going on tour again,” Stolarz said. 

As many independent theaters around the country did not survive the pandemic, Stolarz said that, in a roundabout way, the Fox Theatre is fortunate to have been under restoration during the pandemic so that they can have a strong reopening when things start to return to normal. The Fox Theatre restoration process is being funded through various sources including Centralia’s lodging tax funds, private nonprofits, historic preservation grants and community donations.

Stolarz said that once the theater is open and selling tickets, it will generate a lot of economic activity for the community at hotels and local bars and restaurants. The Fox Theatre has estimated about 15,000 tickets sold in the first year and over $1 million dollars in economic activity. 

“We’re still chugging along and moving forward and we’re excited that we are able to do that,” Stolarz said.

More information about the Fox Theatre restoration process, updates and photos can be found at the theater’s Facebook page — www.facebook.com/CentraliaFox. 

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