Rowland Theatre plans marquee restoration

October 7, 2012 

Behind a cement mask, a delicate beauty lay hidden for decades.

Workers making necessary repairs to the marquee of the Rowland Theatre in Philipsburg revealed intact remnants of the original steel and glass structure, dating back to the silent movie era.

Though the front had rusted and rotted away, gone like a missing tooth, Art Deco white panes framed in copper line the marquee’s sides.

“It is beautiful,” said Jan McDonald, the borough manager and the director of the theater’s board.

All of it had been covered up by a modern, nondescript facade probably built in the 1970s. McDonald said the construction had deteriorated into a safety hazard. Work began a couple of months ago, uncovering a ghost from the past.

The problem is, the nonprofit theater needs an estimated $60,000 to bring it back to life.

And money is tight.

Declining movie attendance has placed the theater in financial trouble, McDonald said. Branching out to Facebook and other social media, he and other board members are looking to book concerts, plays, dances, receptions, haunted houses and other alternative events for a grand old venue. The 1917 movie palace boasts a restored interior with a lavish foyer, orchestra pit, wide stage, 1,000 seats downstairs and a spacious balcony containing rare double-wide seats suitable for cuddling.

But the public can’t see the dilapidated and unsafe cage ladder to the stage lights. That’ll take $10,000 to replace. To keep showing films, the theater probably will have to convert to a digital projection system at some point.

Despite the fiscal challenges, McDonald said the theater is committed to rebuilding the marquee.

“Because it’s a historical landmark, we have to restore it,” he said.

As fundraising starts, the theater has ripped out the rotten wooden subroof, replacing it with temporary Fiberglass panels that allow light to pour through as it once did.

Until work starts, the side white panels stand, weathered but intact, inviting pedestrians to imagine a time when Model Ts coughed their way up Front Street and the likes of Rudolph Valentino and Greta Garbo graced the Rowland’s screen.

“If we could restore it back to that appearance, it would look great,” McDonald said.

— By Chris Rosenblum

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