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Group says theater's future looks bright

January 14, 2003|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG - At one time in its past, Chambersburg boasted four theaters that staged live shows, but now it's down to just one.

But renovations and expansion of the Capitol Theatre promise to keep it thriving for another generation, supporters say.

Amid hammering, sawing and drilling inside the new adjacent arts center, members of the Capitol Theatre Center Foundation announced Monday the start of the public phase of a $2 million endowment campaign to ensure future operations at the theater.

"The theater is a valuable resource. Its expansion as a regional arts center will increase its importance," said William Snell, chairman of the Capitol Theatre Center Foundation.

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So far, $1.1 million has been raised, including a $500,000 grant from the Woods Foundation and a $250,000 matching grant from the Chambersburg Area Development Corp.

Work began on the South Main Street theater last spring with the demolition of three adjacent buildings. The new center is going up in its place, but its facade is similar to what was there in 1864 following the burning of Chambersburg.

The plastic and scaffolding were removed earlier this month, revealing a new brick facade that makes it appear as if there are still three buildings there, instead of one large two-story facility connected to the existing theater.

"The window and cornice style is similar to 1864. This will re-establish the Victorian charm of this part of Main Street," said Paul Cullinane, executive director of the Capital Theatre Center Foundation and Downtown Chambersburg Inc.

Once completed in May, the Capitol Theatre Center will house Chambersburg Area Council for the Arts, Caledonia Theatre Company, Chambersburg Ballet Theatre School and Chambersburg Community Theatre.

The expanded facility will have additional management and box office space, a larger lobby, a coat room, a gift shop and a new concession stand.

"We have the ability now to do just about anything that we want to do for the community," Cullinane said.

A "black box theater" on the second floor will remain unfinished until further funding can be raised. The room eventually will be used for meetings, recitals and plays.

Chuck Nelson, president of the Capitol Theatre Foundation, called the renovations a "rebirth."

"We think the very best is yet to come," said Tom Hanks, operations manager of the Capitol Theatre.

Hanks said the foundation will begin a direct mail campaign later this week, soliciting donations from thousands of county residents.

The Capitol Theatre Center Fund was established to develop an endowment for sustaining operations of the center. About $100,000 is required each year to meet the annual operational shortfall that ticket and concession sales will not bring in.

The Capitol Theatre opened Feb. 3, 1927, as the flagship theater for the Pottstown Theatre Company. The first major redecorating was in 1948.

In 1980, Gordon and Marlene Madison purchased the decaying movie palace and worked to bring it back to its original glory. Downtown Chambersburg Inc. bought the theater in 1996.

The Capitol Theatre is closed while contractors tear apart the existing lobby and continue work throughout the facility. A grand opening gala is planned for June 7.

Donations to the endowment can be made to the Capitol Theatre Center Foundation, 159 S. Main St., Chambersburg, PA 17201.

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