People gather in Bellefonte to mourn the impending loss of the Garman Theatre

mmorgan@centredaily.comDecember 31, 2013 

— Patrick North wanted his voice to be heard one more time.

The Bellefonte resident, who has been one of dozens of people trying to save the historic Garman Theatre over the past seven months, brought a large coffin prop to place the front of the Centre County Courthouse, alluding to the death of the building. More than 30 other people braved below-freezing temperatures Monday with candles and signs to show support.

The coffin was a repurposed Halloween decoration from a year ago, he said.

“It seemed appropriate this year to alter some of our Halloween decorations to sort of highlight Bellefonte as a historic graveyard,” North said.

Demolition of the next-door Hotel Do De is underway and the Garman will be knocked down in the coming weeks to make room for a workforce housing proposal from State College developer Ara Kervandjian. He bought the building after his project was chosen over a Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association bid to save the building and turn it into a regional arts center.

Both buildings were badly damaged in a major September 2012 fire.

Though several BHCA members were in attendance, member Mary Vollero said it was not a BHCA-sponsored event. Several locals just decided to get together to show they still care about the structure, she said.

Joanne Tosti-Vasey, a 25-year Bellefonte resident, carried a brick and wore a dust mask at the gathering, saying the mask represents unease about a mold problem in the building. She thinks a tarp should be put over it to protect the community.

“We’re losing these pieces of brick and mortar that represent our Victorian Bellefonte,” she said, adding that the town will lose its historic charm if similar buildings are destroyed.

Another resident, Nancy O. Miller, used to go see movies and shows in the old theater. She has lived in the town since 1970 and said a cultural attraction like the one proposed by BHCA could have been a major draw to the area.

North said he has been impressed with many of the residents of Bellefonte, who have supported the mission, coming out to public gatherings and borough council meetings and signing petitions to save the structure.

He added that it’s heartbreaking to see the buildings on the verge of complete demolition.

“These are iconic, iconic buildings,” he said. “To tear one down when you don’t need to is atrocious.”

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