Colony plan good compromise

By Gary Abernathy - [email protected]

The latest plan in regard to the Colony Theatre seems like a good middle ground between trying to salvage the landmark and demolishing it completely.

Most residents who express their dismay at tearing down the building base their desire to preserve it on fond memories they have from years past. Mostly, they seem to hate the idea of driving past the Colony, which opened in 1938, and not seeing it there anymore, even if no one can come up with a viable, revenue-generating plan for the theater even if they had the half million dollars necessary to refurbish it.

About a year ago, the city – which has ended up with the theater after decades of private ownership by the Chakeres chain and then attempts by non-profits to manage it – reached out both locally and outside the region asking anyone with a plan to save and manage the Colony to step forward. Now, city leaders are faced with either proactively taking the theater apart, or standing by and watching it take itself apart piece by piece.

At first, there was talk of demolishing the entire theater. But a practical problem emerged that makes preserving the façade a better idea. As described last week by Darin Schweickart, an architect with the DS2 architectural firm, the walls of the front part of the theater are shared by businesses on either side, making significant structural changes difficult if not impossible.

So the Property, Maintenance and Restoration Committee is recommending that plans be pursued to repair and preserve the façade, including a return to the Colony’s original look when it featured a different style of marquee and a taller sign than exists today.

In recent years, the marquee of the Colony has been used to advertise upcoming city events or share messages about new services, and it’s been an effective tool for those purposes. People’s eyes are automatically drawn to a movie marquee, and continuing the current practice makes sense.

The façade, in this case, is defined as the very front of the building – where movie posters were once displayed announcing upcoming features, and where people lined up at the free-standing ticket booth – to just beyond the glass doors where patrons entered the theater. New public restrooms are being considered as part of the plan, to be available for the various uptown events that happen throughout each year.

What would be demolished, then, is the huge auditorium itself, with a parking lot taking its place.

What’s interesting is what could be done between the façade and the parking lot. One plan under consideration would take the area from the front glass doors to the part of the facility where the concession stand existed and make it an attractive walk-through, perhaps in open-air fashion, in essence creating a small park with benches and other amenities.

So, people would park their cars in the new lot and walk into the uptown area through an attractive atrium-type space leading past public restrooms and onto the sidewalk on North High Street, with the refurbished façade maintaining the look and feel of the historic theater.

City officials have been tackling the Colony issue with the input of several local residents, including historical society leaders, and especially, among them, Avery Applegate. Avery, with the help of others, led the effort to remove and preserve the eight large murals that adorned the walls of the auditorium, a painstaking job that was just finished on Thursday.

Those murals are now safely packed away in boxes, awaiting new homes. Avery would like to see some of them returned to the Colony as part of its new look. She and others have various ideas for appropriate places for other murals based on their respective themes, but they might also consider inviting organizations to make a pitch for why their facility would be a good home for a particular mural.

Change is often sad, but there are times when there are simply no other options. For many residents, the idea of driving along the 100 block of North High Street and not seeing the familiar Colony Theatre was as depressing a thought as today’s reality of driving along West Main Street and not seeing the majestic façade of the old Hillsboro High School.

In truth, the nostalgia for most people likely begins and ends with the ability to glance to the left or right as they cruise by the theater and simply see it still standing there, as opposed to having any desire to actually go inside for movie watching, concerts or other programs. Various efforts were tried in recent years, unsuccessfully, to attract crowds through everything from showing old movies to featuring local artists in concert.

So the plan to preserve and restore the façade of the theater, while finding more practical purposes for what lies beyond the portion of the building that is visible from the street, seems like a good compromise. Even if city council adopts the committee’s recommendation to proceed with the first phase of preserving the façade, agreeing on the following steps will include more discussion, cost estimates and public input.

But maintaining the Colony’s visible presence as a movie theater located in uptown Hillsboro seems like a nice idea, even if, like the movies once presented there, it’s only an illusion.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.

By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]