Theater at the Fort Gets a Show Stopping Renovation
Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
Photos provided by Theater at the Fort
Since the Theater at the Fort reopened two years ago after a 30-year absence, the charmingly historical building has undergone an array of improvements. But their largest renovation is underway right now. An outer vestibule is under construction, creating an inviting, climate controlled entryway to the theater for guests.
When the theater was built in 1929, a roof was built above the entryway to shield guests from rain and snow, but there was no enclosed outer vestibule. Through the years, the need for shelter from the elements became apparent, and sometime in the forties, the area was enclosed to create a lobby.
Age took its toll on the area. The concrete slab that was never intended to bear the load of the enclosure caused the whole structure to shift. To make matters worse, two of the large front windows were cracked and broken causing a safety issue.
“The walls were separating so badly that you could see daylight through the corners,” says Executive Director of Arts for Lawrence, Judy Byron. “Not only did the safety hazards render the addition useless, it wasn’t climate controlled. Without insulation, heat or air conditioning, the lobby was only comfortable in ideal temperatures during the Spring and Fall.”
When the theater reopened two years ago, many renovation projects took priority. But, it became obvious that having a vestibule would be essential to the facility.
“It’s our first impression to the public,” Byron says. “It’s the ideal space to showcase artwork and upcoming show posters.”
The crew discovered something else adding to the urgency of the vestibule project.
“As soon as we moved to the theater in October 2015, we ripped out the indoor/outdoor carpet that was in that vestibule and saw that it was a mold breeder,” Byron says. “So, before the ribbon cutting open house, I painted the word,“Imagine” on the floor, in hopes others would be able to imagine what the space could be in the future.”
Arts for Lawrence got right to work and submitted renovation design to the Fort Harrison Reuse Authority and the Indiana State historic architect for review.
“Since the theater is an historic structure in the historic district of Fort Benjamin Harrison, we couldn’t vary the renovations much at all,” Byron says. “But, we were happy our proposal was approved to include replacing the side windows with solid walls, so we can display large show posters outside and artwork on the inside.”
The vestibule will be insulated and climate controlled and will include a marquee for which Arts for Lawrence is still raising money. The area will also feature some faux painting on the side entry doors, a tribute to the history of the building, and a bar will be available offering beer and wine.
The vestibule project was made possible through a $28,000 Capital improvement grant from The Lilly Endowment through the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) Summer Youth Program Fund (SYPF). This capital grant coincides with another grant from multiple CICF funders for Summer Youth Programs.
“Arts for Lawrence’s Summer Art Camp is extremely grateful for the support from both Lilly Endowment and Christel DeHaan Family Foundation,” Byron says.
With the vestibule construction project well underway, Arts for Lawrence is looking ahead to its next project. The organization has submitted another capital improvement request to fund a patio on the east side of the theater that would connect the Sterrett Center and the theater to the handicapped parking.
“The new patio opens the opportunity for more arts-based events, experiences and installations taking place outdoors,” Byron says. “The area is shaded by a beautiful, mature Ginkgo Tree and is a healthy distance from vehicular traffic.”
Arts for Lawrence received a donation of a piano that is not quite suitable for concerts, but it can be used for practice and it’s tuned and on casters.
“With a patio adjacent and without steps from the theater, this piano can be rolled outside for public use,” Byron says. “We hope it is a space that the community is drawn to whether its during intermission of a show, or when they’re just passing through the Fort Harrison neighborhood.”
Check out artsforlawrence.org for all the upcoming events. The website has a full calendar of upcoming shows for the theater. You can also find ways to volunteer your time for the arts programs or make a donation. Theater at the Fort is located on main street in the Fort Benjamin Harrison area at 8920 Otis Avenue, Lawrence, Indiana.