Efforts to return the historic Gloria Theatre in downtown Urbana to its past glory as in full swing.
“It’s a strong part of our community and our community’s memories,” said Dave Smith, who is spearheading the renovation work. “We have really no other venues for live performances and large business meetings.”
The Urbana United Methodist Church bought the building from Chakeres Theatres in February. The original idea was to hold Sunday outreach services there, Smith said. But as time went on, the thinking moved to giving something back to the community and a three-month feasibility study confirmed the economic viability of renovating the structure and reopening it as a multi-use facility.
A non-profit group — the GrandWorks Foundation — which has a board of directors comprised of local community leaders, was formed to oversee the renovation and the church now has only a minor role in the project.
“(The theatre) is one of the oldest in the state,” Smith pointed out.
It dates back to the Vaudeville era, when local entertainer Billy Clifford built it in 1904 for $80,000. The three-story Clifford Theater was one of the first to use electric stage lights and also included space to house actors and a 65-foot high addition in the back for raising sets.
Fire severely damaged the building in 1918 and some repairs were made. Warren Grimes bought it in 1940, Smith said, and reopened it on Christmas Day, 1941 as The Gloria Theatre, a two-story facility that featured state-of-the-art projectors that are still there. Grimes named it the Gloria Theatre, after his 5-year old daughter.
Chakeres Theatres purchased it in the early 1970s, Smith said, and split the large screen into two smaller ones.
Smith characterized the current renovation work as “fairly superficial, because the building is in incredible shape.” The building was remodeled about five years ago by Chakeres, which rebuilt the tower and put in all new seats, carpet and wall fabric.
The first phase of the work has been preparing the screen for use and making the downstairs ready for fund-raising efforts, like a musical on Jan. 9-10, 2015, which is based on the history of the theatre.
Second phase efforts will include transforming a part of the building that became a retail store into a cafe that Smith said could possibly be used for dine-in theatre events.
In the third phase, they will look at remodeling the second floor, including a large room that could be used for catered events, business meetings and wedding receptions.
“We are taking this a step at a time,” Smith said, “so we can raise the money (to pay for each phase of the work).”
He added, “By the time we’re done, we will have a state-of-the art facility” that will include digital projection, 3-D capabilities and a very large screen.
A kickoff for the fund-raising campaign will be held Dec. 13. The Champaign County Preservation has committed to match donations made by Christmas Day up to $5,000. Donations can be made online at grandworks.com or by mail at GrandWorks Foundation, P.O. Box 38128, Urbana, OH 43078.
Smith believes The Gloria Theatre will help continue the trend of people spending more time in downtown Urbana, especially with “the really nice restaurants” that have opened in recent years.
“It all ties together for sure,” he said.