The Show Will Go On!
The Wayne Theatre Alliance has raised $800,000 over the past four months and was recently approved for a $6 million loan to finish the renovation of the Wayne Theatre, a historic downtown landmark, officials announced this week. “What we have just done is the biggest fundraising campaign by a nonprofit in the city’s history,” said Clair F. Myers, executive director of the Alliance. Although approved, it will take some time before The Wayne Theatre Alliance is ready to close on the loan. In fact, closing on the loan might not happen until December, Myers said. “Construction will start right after that,” he said. “I would expect that we would be in construction mode by January.” Once under way, construction is expected to last 12 to 15 months. The total cost for the project is expected to be about $9 million, Myers said. The Wayne Theatre Alliance has already spent $2 million preparing the inside of the building, including rebuilding the facility’s wooden balcony with steel, shoring up the foundations, installing an elevator pit and making the building handicapped-accessible. The $6 million loan will pay for finishing the restoration of the inside. The Alliance has already completed the restoration of the front façade, including the marquee, taking it back to 1926. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Myers said. “We’ve been working for months and months to get to this stage.”
A historic undertaking
The Wayne Theatre made history on Jan. 18, 1926, when Cols. Carl Loth and James Patterson opened the doors on Waynesboro’s first vaudeville/silent movie theatre. Seeking to take advantage of the post-war boom, the management gutted and expanded the original auditorium in 1949, effectively doubling the seating. After the building caught on fire in 1980, the owners remodeled the auditorium and divided it into two theatres. Twenty years later, management shut down the business. “The people that owned the Wayne Theatre closed up in 2000 and sold the building to the city for $1,” Myers said. “It was mostly to get it off their books.” City officials talked about tearing down the building and replacing it with a parking lot, Myers said, but the city’s cultural commission rallied to save the building and created the Wayne Theatre Alliance to oversee the revitalization of the Wayne Theatre. “The real move to make this happen started in 2006,” Myers said.
When complete, Wayne Theatre will not just be a movie house, but a center for entertainment and conferences. And it will have a modern feel to it. “It will not look like 1926,” Myers said. “And the reason for that is we have no drawings and no photographs.” The Wayne Theatre will not be competing with area movie theaters, Myers said. “It is not going to be the Zeus,” he said. Instead of showing blockbusters such as The Avengers, the Wayne Theatre will show classic, independent and foreign films. It will also not be competing with the 300-seat Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, which focuses on Shakespeare productions. “Their pride is the fact they are the only attempted replication of an indoor Elizabethan theater,” Myers said. Plans for Wayne Theatre include hosting a variety of theatrical performances. “There is no other theater at the present time that will have the kind of support for a full range of activity,” Myers said. The past is not a good judge of what the Wayne Theatre will bring to downtown Waynesboro, he said. “Waynesboro is on the cusp of becoming a new place,” Myers said. “It’s not an industrialized town anymore. Those years have passed. It is reforming itself.” Wayne Theater will hopefully be a catalyst for that new Waynesboro, he said. “We’re not done and still have work to do,” Myers said. “But we are on the way to doing what we always said we would do, which is have the best, intimate, small performing arts center in the Valley.”