By Rick Miller
There’s a void in the West Main Street streetscape in this village bisected by the Cattaraugus Creek.
West Main Street in Gowanda has taken on a different look since the Historic Hollywood Theater marquee was gently removed for restoration earlier this month.
Crews took more than three hours on Dec. 3 to remove the wood-framed glass marquee from the facade of the theater that first opened April 16, 1926. The Hollywood was designed by Leon H. Lempert & Son, Rochester, the firm that designed four theaters that once stood in Olean.
For 20 years, the Gowanda Area Redevelopment Corporation, comprised of scores of volunteers, has methodically restored the theater — one grant and fundraiser at a time.
After being it was removed by a crane and gently loaded on a flatbed trailer, the marquee was taken to Signs Unlimited in Eden where it will be restored — with a digital upgrade — at a cost of nearly $200,000. The sign should be completely restored and ready to reinstall sometime in late March.
“It will look the same,” said Debbie Harris, grant and project administrator for the restoration of the Hollywood. “It will be a little flashier with LED lights.”
The marquee just can’t be too flashy, said Harris. Some of its capabilities won’t be used because they would violate the historic “restoration” protocols. Architect Nancy Redeye of Flynn Battaglia Architects of Buffalo is the lead architect.
The letters on the high-resolution digital marquee will look just like the ones that had to be installed by someone using a ladder, she added.
While the marquee hasn’t advertised movies since it closed in 1992, it has served as a community message board for everything from birthdays to local events. “People in town use it so much they often plan their events around when it is available,” Harris said.
More often than not, the person putting the signs up on the marquee was Mark Burr, president of the Gowanda Area Redevelopment Corporation, Harris said.
Now that the iconic marquee has been removed, another crew will begin working on the exterior front of the Hollywood, Harris said. “They can work in 40 degree days,” she said. “It’s easier for them to do the work now rather than chance damaging the marquee once it’s reinstalled.”
Over the winter, work will ramp up inside the theater, Harris said. There is still much plaster and painting work to be done. Brass rails have been removed and are being refurbished. Balcony seats are being restored, using as much original seating material as is available.
Harris said the group was just notified last week of a New York State Council on the Arts grant to install a Bose surround sound system in the theater.
The GARC also hopes to restore the theater’s organ. The original Wurlitzer Rank 6 organ was sold before the group took over the theater. However, several years ago the New York State Museum put a 1923 Wurlitzer Rank 10 that came from a Schenectady theater up for bid. It was trucked from Albany to Gowanda in about 1,000 pieces.
Burr, the GARC president, has been with the group since the beginning of the theater’s transformation from an abandoned, water-damaged building.
“We’ve signed the last contract,” Burr said. He estimates the theater could be ready to open its doors to the public in as little as a year, while Harris thinks it could be anywhere from a year to 18 months.
Burr said he gets great satisfaction in seeing the end of the tunnel for the two-decades-long project.
Local youth will stage a theatrical summer camp next year that will “fill the theater with high energy,” Burr said. “Once we get the theater done, there will be multiple theater and music camps.”
Meanwhile, there is still some fundraising that remains to be done. The grants often require matching funds or don’t cover the entire cost of a project.