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Restored Pa. theater will be jamboree's new home

September 09, 2000

Restored Pa. theater will be jamboree's new home



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


MERCERSBURG, Pa. - "The Star Theater presents ..."

Starting next June 1, that announcement will be heard every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon, when Jim Bailey's "Country Music Jamboree" opens on its new stage in the refurbished New Star Theater in Mercersburg.

The theater first opened as the Star Theater in 1919 to show silent movies.

Bailey, 53, of Chambersburg, Pa., has been producing his live country music show at the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg for four years. He bought the little movie theater at 23 W. Seminary St. earlier this year. He is renovating it, which will take all winter, and will open with his first Jamboree show in June for its summer-long run.

The Star shifted to talkies when they came out in the late 1920s and continued to show movies until 1984, said Jeanne Rader, who with her husband, Philip, owned the theater for more than 22 years.

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Catherine Myers is 80 years old. She owns the house next door to the theater. She was on the sidewalk last week watching Bailey working out front.

"I used to go to the movies here all the time" she said. "Sometimes I went to the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, but it was better here. You were closer to the movie and the sound was better."

The Star has 280 seats, the Capitol nearly three times that many, Bailey said.

The Star's concession stand sold fresh popcorn. Ticket prices were $2.25 for adults at the time the theater closed, Rader said.

"The coming of cable to town and VCRs were the two things that killed it," Jeanne Rader said of the theater's closing. She doesn't remember the last movie that was shown.

The Raders bought the theater from Raymond Myers, who owned it since 1920. Meyers played the pump organ that accompanied the silent movies.

It was renamed the New Star Theater after restoration by Paramount Interiors in Philadelphia following a devastating fire in the early 1930s, Rader said.

The brocade tapestries that Paramount installed over felt pads on the sides of the interior for acoustics are still in good condition and only have to be steam-cleaned, Bailey said.

The same is true of the embossed tin ceiling.

"All I have to do is clean it," he said.

"It broke our hearts to think of breaking up that interior," Rader said. "We're thrilled that Mr. Bailey bought it. It's been our dream that someone would used this beautiful old building as it is."

Bailey is a remodeling contractor in addition to being a country music promoter. He is doing most of the restoration himself.

The structure is sound, he said. His biggest cost will be new rest rooms for patrons up front and a 16- by 40-foot addition on the back for dressing rooms, a lounge and rest rooms for the performers.

Much of the work is cosmetic, including painting, refinishing floors, installing new aisle carpets, restoring the stage curtain and reupholstering the seats, which Bailey will also do himself.

The theater will also get central air conditioning.

The A-boards out front that held posters for current movies and coming attractions will also be restored, he said.

Bailey has painted the front of the building, including the marquee, and has replaced the broken concrete sidewalk with bricks. Three neighbors talked him into redoing their sidewalks with bricks at the same time.

Bailey's Country Music Jamboree buses patrons to the Capitol Theatre in package deals that include the show and dinner. Patrons come from the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas and from Pittsburgh as well as the Tri-State area, he said,

Bailey has an arrangement with a Chambersburg bus company to bring patrons to the Wednesday and Saturday afternoon matinees. The same show plays all season with the same repertory cast to different audiences.

The show is done in costumes and features the traditional country music of the likes of Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves and Ray Price, Bailey said. He emcees and performs.

He has his own lighting and sound equipment, which he will transfer to the Star. The theater's deep stage will lend itself to live shows, Bailey said.

"The Jamboree is in its ninth year," he said. "We started in Gettysburg (Pa.) and outgrew two theaters there. That's why we moved to the Capitol.

"Leaving the Capitol will be like leaving home, but it's time to have our own theater," he said.

Bailey paid $70,000 for the Star and expects to spend $250,000 on renovations.

The theater will be made available to local groups for productions, assemblies and town functions, he said.

Bailey is also considering bringing movies back to the Star during the winter. The projection booth is still equipped with two carbon-arc projectors he wants to restore to working order.

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