Normal, Illinois Saves Historic Theater

Article excerpt

For half a century, the Normal Theater served as the cultural and architectural focal point of downtown Normal, Illinois.

Opened in 1937, it was the first movie theater in the Bloomington/Normal area built specifically for sound films and also featured the latest innovation in viewing comfort--air conditioning

Time and poor maintenance took a toll on the Art Deco structure, however. In 1991, the Normal Theater went dark when its owner closed the building and put it up for sale. The shuttered theater was becoming, and fostering, downtown blight.

The same year, to save the building from continued deterioration and certain destruction, the Normal City Council decided to purchase the theater and restore it to its 1937 splendor. The town of 40,000 population immediately embarked on an aggressive fundraising campaign involving hundreds of volunteers.

The architects used interviews with early theater employees, studies of the building fabric and photographs and drawings to develop a work plan to restore the community landmark down to the slightest detail. All finish materials match the original appearance of the theater. A detailed paint analysis determined paint colors, and photographs of the original carpeting guided creation of a new custom-designed carpet.

Along with a complete inferior renovation, the project included restoring the theater's marquee; repairing masonry, tuckpointing and stucco; installing new mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems and upgrading the structure to Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

"We're proud of the city council for taking the initiative to buy an old movie theater, have it restored and have it done right from top to bottom," said Assistant City Manager Mark R. …