By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
The Colonial Fox Theatre’s iconic marquee, which has been in place since 1959, will be removed from its facade this week, most likely on Thursday if the weather cooperates.
Renovations of the theater are moving ahead of schedule, according to Vonnie Corsini, Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation executive director. Removing the marquee will allow for repairs to the facade and for safety during construction of the new entryway.
“Derek Heikes of Heikes Masonry and Restoration informed us that the marquee is in the way of his work restoring the historic brick and terra cotta details,” Corsini said. “Derek said, ‘If we’re going to do this right, we need to take this marquee down. It’ll cost more money to come back later, and you’ll have more damage.’”
Corsini said the marquee would be in harm’s way as construction continues on the front entrance and upper windows.
“The marquee is an iconic historic treasure to everyone who grew up watching movies at the Fox, and it remains a prominent part of our long-term restoration plan,” she said. “We need to protect it.”
The theater was built before the height of the traditional movie palace years (1925 to 1930). Between two world wars, it was one of several theaters that anchored Pittsburg’s downtown entertainment and nightlife district.
One of the others was the Midland Theatre, located across the street at 416 N. Broadway. It was the original home to the marquee.
“It was on the Midland Theatre and had Midland letters on top of it,” Corsini said. “The marquee was moved to the Colonial when they tore down the Midland in 1959 to make way for the Kansas Teachers Credit Union.”
By 1985, the Colonial Fox had closed to the public and had fallen into disrepair. In 2006, a group of volunteers took up the theater’s cause, and by 2008 had earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
In recent years, the renovation made strides with two grants from the Kansas Heritage Trust Fund, grants from the local Pritchett Trust and private donations. The foundation has spent $583,000 on capital projects, including a new roof, tuck-pointing, mold removal, asbestos removal and fixing water issues in the basement that led to interior damage upstairs.
The foundation revealed plans in 2011 to return the theater to the original 1920 look. Those plans include a proposed expansion to the north that has been targeted as the future home of the iconic marquee.
Foundation secretary Stella Hastings said those involved in the restoration project knew the marquee eventually would be removed “in order to bring back the original and extraordinarily beautiful 1920 design.”
“This is sooner than we expected and kind of exciting that we are proceeding ahead of schedule,” she said. “However, we have been planning this for a long time and are eager to share this important step in the evolution to our final look.”
Corsini said the marquee will be carefully stored in a secure place until funding allows the foundation to restore it and relocate it to the proposed expansion.
SUPPORTERS SEE THE COLONIAL FOX as a cornerstone to building a vibrant downtown. The business plan for the 620-seat theater is to present 504 screenings of films per year, including nearly 300 art house (foreign, documentary and independent) movies and 215 classics, and to present 100 live events per year — 77 by local arts groups and 23 by national touring artists.