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Revitalization Of Historic Theatres Plays Starring Role In Downtown Development

Crump Theatre Facade

The facade of the Crump Theatre in Columbus is in need of repair. (Steve Burns, WTIU/WFIU News)

A historical theatre sits abandoned in the heart of Indiana’s architecture capital. Indiana Landmarks recently added the Crump Theatre to its list of the 10 Most Endangered Places in the state.  But, it’s far from the only historic theatre that has been in need of saving.

The Crump Theatre has been around since the late 19th century, but an Art Deco update in the 40’s gave it the striking façade that today could use some love.

“It is today, one of the most visually interesting things you see coming through Columbus,” Richard McCoy says. “That’s because it has this really interesting façade.”

Crump Marquee tight
The dilapidated facade of the Crump Theatre in Columbus. (Steve Burns, WTIU/WFIU News)

McCoy is the director of Landmark Columbus, a local organization that raises awareness about the city’s design heritage. He says the community is divided about wanting to preserve the Crump Theatre.

What Landmark Columbus has done, sort of quietly, is continue to think about what would be the highest and best use of this building,” he says. “And one of the things that we’ve found recently is that Columbus wants a performing arts center.”

McCoy says the building needs a lot of work. It’s more than just busted seats and peeling paint, the building is deemed not safe for use by the fire department. But saving the theatre is about more than just bringing it up to code.

You know, there’s some technical things that an architect could work out,” McCoy says. “But it’s also really the business plan and thinking about who really is the champion of it, who owns it, who runs it?"

Hutch Shumaker is the spokesperson for the Columbus Capital Foundation, which owns the building. It estimates repairing and restoring The Crump could cost up to $10 million.

“Maybe we ought to look at spending some community dollars and some private dollars to make sure the people who want to do creative kinds of things have an opportunity to do that and a venue in which to do it,” Shumaker says.

Shumaker says that despite the large price tag, the Crump Theatre is the perfect place to create a modern performing arts venue. He says it’s a shame the theatre has set empty since it closed in 2014.

“And, quite frankly, since that point in time, it’s lacked a champion,” Shumaker says. “A cheerleader who says ‘I’m taking this on and we’re gonna put a group together and move forward with planning and fundraising' and all those kind of things.”

Other Indiana Theatres Have Stories Of Success

A lot of small communities in Indiana are looking to restore their historic downtown theatres, as a kind of spark to ignite a city-wide renaissance. For Spencer and its Tivoli theatre, that’s exactly what happened. Robert White is the Board President of Owen County Preservations.

tivoli theatre
The Tivoli Theatre has helped bring life back to the city's downtown. (Zach Herndon, WTIU/WFIU News)

“It’s kind of like a wildfire, the positive things that have happened from the restoration have just been amazing,” White says.

The Tivoli opened its doors on New Year’s Eve 1928 and it survived a lot between then and when it closed in 1999, including two fires in the 1980s.

White says the community banded together to get the pigeon-infested building back in shape, but they ran out of money. That’s when Indiana Landmarks reached out to the Cook group, which has a facility in town that employs around 700 people.

Cook jumped in and provided the funds to repair and restore the theatre and reopen its doors.

And just as the community played a role in cleaning the theatre up, many residents are helping to keep it running. There are roughly 150 volunteers who help maintain and staff the space.

White says collaboration between the non-profit Indiana Landmarks and Cook helped turn the page on the city’s downtown.

“In the 80's most of the shops in the downtown faded away, and there wasn’t much in the downtown area, it kind of become dead," he says. "When the theatre was restored that showed that life could be back down in the downtown area around the square."

With the same goals in mind, to bring back life to a sleepy downtown, folks in Franklin came together  to drum up the money and labor needed to bring the Artcraft Theatre back to life.

Artcraft Theatre exterior
The Artcraft Theatre's Art Deco facade has been carefully restored. (Steve Burns, WTIU/WFIU News)

The theatre was built in the 1920s, but the opulent Art Deco marquee added in late 1940s gave it the face, that it still wears today. Rob Shilts, Executive Director of Franklin Heritage, says the theatre was a big part of adding more life to the city’s downtown.

“The city created the Franklin redevelopment commission and that helped restoring facades and helping other businesses get their places fixed up," Shilts says. “So it started to snowball, that’s the exact phrase.”

When Franklin Heritage took ownership of the building back in 2004, it was in need of a lot of care. The ceiling had collapsed and the building was condemned

The state awarded Franklin a $50,000 matching grant to help restore the space, but that didn’t come close to covering the costs. It was the partnership between the government and community that made the project a success.

“We’re just adding on to the history. We’re caretakers for this. We want to make sure that younger generation will see it and say we have to keep this town going and this is what is going to drive it,” White says.

And when you take a look at the block where the theatre sits, the impact is clear. The restoration helped build up all of the nearby shops and ignite the local economy.

The question in Columbus: could the same thing happen there?  Shilts says the key to success lies in finding the right champion. 

“You have to be a cheerleader. You have to be a motivating force and you have to get other people behind you.”

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