Benefactor gives new curtains for Ellis
Wednesday, January 15, 2014 12:00 AM
A substantial donation to the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Arts Council will fund new curtains for the historic Ellis Theater as part of an ongoing restoration project.
Arts Council President Tim Moore said the new black velvet curtains will arrive in mid-February or early March.
The funds for the curtains were provided by a donation from the late Lebrun Hutchison, whose grandfather, Henry Bell Hutchison, built the theater in 1926.
Lebrun was a council member and avid supporter before his death.
"When I last saw him some years ago he gave us $3,000 to help with the restoration," Moore said. "He told us he left the Council some money in his will."
The $3,000 went towards paying off the note for the recently restored lobby.
Hutchison had hoped that his show of generosity would spark an interest in the community to match his amount, Moore said.
"That spark did not happen," he said. "We received a little but not much."
Moore was alerted to the latest $14,000 donation last week when he received a call from Arts Council Executive Director Sharon Deweese.
"She got the letter with the check and called me," he said. "I was shocked. It is a blessing because we never thought he left us that much."
Moore added that most of the Arts Council members had forgotten that Hutchison had left them the money, saying "it slipped out minds."
He said the money will go towards the curtains, which are being made by a two seamstresses in Dixon, a new motorized system to open the curtains and a new ice machine.
The original opening system broke several years ago.
The curtains will be black in order to match the interior of the theater.
The current curtains have become worn and torn over the decades and pieces come off with every movement.
The new curtains will go up before the next Arts Council's production, "Seussical the Musical," is presented in March.
The curtains are the newest part of the theater to receive an upgrade.
The theater received a donation from Liz Goldman to restore the marquee this past summer. Mrs. Goldman and her husband J. C. decided to make the donation prior to his death in December 2012.
The marquee restoration cost more than $19,000.
The marquee, which had hung in disrepair for years, received the much needed makeover days before the taping of the fifth season finale of "The Marty Stuart Show."
Moore said now the plan is to focus on replacing the seats inside the theater.
The Ellis still has the original red and wood backed seats which were used when it was strictly a movie theater, Moore said.
"The only thing keeping the springs from showing is a layer of red tape," he said of the condition of many of the seats.
The plan is to bring in a consultant to look at everything and help us with the layout, type of seat, etc., Moore said.
He added that he would like to install larger seats to better accommodate patrons.
Currently the theater has 501 seats total with 340 on the floor and the remainder in the balcony. Adding bigger seats would cause the theater to lose a third of its floor seating capacity.
"We'll try to keep as many as we can to utilize the room available and maybe expand out a little," Moore said.
The Arts Council's "wish list" for renovations also includes improvements to the exterior of the Ellis.
Pink and blue-green tiles, dating back to the 1950s, on the front exterior of the building are cracked and broken.
"I would love to take the tiles off and expose the brick," Moore said. "But with the laws on restoring historic buildings we may not get to do that."
He said that when it comes to renovating historic buildings, guidelines under the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Commission only look back 50 years. The Ellis Theater, stemming back to the 1920s, originally had a brick front.
However, Moore said, the Arts Council could replace the tiles with newer ones in different colors.
New carpet and running lights, and overhead lights are also needed, Moore said.
Since the Ellis' days as a movie theater, it has red, blue and white lights from the top of the more than 30-foot ceiling.
Other items on the wish list are new ice and hot dog machines.