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As Maryland Theatre is renovated, shows must go on

March 13, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

Piece by piece and with little fanfare, the historic Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown has undergone a major renovation in the last 2 1/2 years.

Driving the structural and cosmetic improvements is a $175,000 grant from the state, said Pat Wolford, director of the South Potomac Street theater.

Although the grant was awarded back in 1991, the theater couldn't start spending the money until it spent an equal amount of its own money on state-approved projects.

The theater didn't meet the threshold in 1996, mostly because it was suffering financially. As of this week, all but about $25,000 had been spent, Wolford said.

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Most of the work has gone largely unnoticed.

"When people came in, they just didn't realize the place was torn up all the time," Wolford said.

The work was broken down into a series of small projects so the theater never had to close.

Victorian-style decorations on the loges, or box seats, were repainted over time. Light fixtures were replaced one by one.

When the seats were reupholstered, using inmate labor at the prison complex south of Hagerstown, it was done piecemeal so the theater never missed a show.

Many of the most important improvements were done out of public view.

The 1915 theater got a new roof, new boiler and electrical upgrades. A small water line coming into the building was replaced with a larger one to handle the demand on toilets flushing during intermissions.

Backstage, there are new ropes and a hydraulic lift.

In addition to the state grant, the theater has received a lot of community support for the improvements.

A private donor bought new curtains for the loges and Washington County Gaming Commission grants paid for a bathroom renovation and a new stage curtain.

The theater is in the process of renovating the downstairs women's bathroom. The men's bathroom will be renovated this summer.

"We've fixed everything we can put a finger on," Wolford said.

The theater is operating in the black and the future looks bright, she said.

Big-name acts such as comedian George Carlin and country singer Collin Raye have enjoyed sold out shows. The theater just signed Willie Nelson for a May 16 concert.

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