By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. — The Colonial Fox Theater's facade looks a little bare now, but that's a good thing, says Vonnie Corsini, executive director of the foundation tasked with restoring the historic building in downtown Pittsburg.
The iconic marquee, which has been in place on the facade at Fourth and Broadway since 1959, was removed Thursday morning by a crew with Heikes Masonry and Restoration. Renovations of the theater have been moving ahead of schedule, and removing the marquee will allow for necessary repairs to the façade and for its safety during construction on the new entryway.
“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,” Corsini said. “We need to protect it.”
The theater was built before the height of the traditional movie palace years (1925 to 1930) and between two world wars, it was one of several theaters that anchored Pittsburg’s downtown entertainment and nightlife district.
Among them was the Midland Theatre, located across the street at 416 N. Broadway, which was the original home to the marquee. It 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 fell 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 Historic Register. In recent years, the theater made strides in renovations 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 improvements, including a new roof, tuck-pointing, mold removal, asbestos abatement and fixing crucial 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.
Corsini said the marquee will be carefully stored in a secure place until funding allows the Foundation to restore and relocate it to a proposed expansion she hopes will be built north of the theater.