In June 2008, a devastating flood swept through a Midwestern city and overtook a historic 1928 theatre that lay directly in its path. The theatre was flooded to an elevation of approximately eight feet above the main street level outside of it, filling the auditorium and completely flooding basement areas. Almost all of the historic elements of the theatre were severely damaged by water, debris, and extended flood recovery efforts that followed, and mechanical and electrical systems were completely destroyed.

This particular theatre has long been recognized as a cultural icon in the community; holding a special place in the heart of many residents and the surrounding area. The charge to the architect was to ensure that the theatre would be restored in a manner that honored the building’s rich history and cultural significance while creating a multipurpose venue suitable for symphony, theatre, opera, organ recital, community productions, film, and community gatherings. Elements of significance in this theatre that exemplify craftsmanship and its unique importance include the following:

• Elaborate and highly articulated plaster forms and details on nearly every interior surface.

• Flawlessly executed marezzo scagliola plaster designed to simulate stone.

• Radiant aluminum leaf, paints and glazes in sophisticated color combinations and patterns.

• Grand crystal chandeliers and delicate stained-glass light fixtures, all hand crafted and assembled by highly-skilled artisans.

• An iconic “one-of-a-kind” Wurlitzer organ featuring a finely detailed and extravagantly decorated console which historians have referred to as a “singular work of art”.

A faithful restoration required a thorough understanding of the original construction, the technology and techniques behind the craftsmanship, and the resources available today to re-create such work to the highest degree of authenticity. Some of the world’s most respected historic specialists were invited to join the team. This team also enlisted the participation of highly-skilled craftspeople and artisans to execute the work.

A major hurdle to the recovery and restoration process was flood residue and mold growth left behind by receding flood waters. Due to this damage and the removal that had to occur to mitigate mold and any other hazardous residues, widespread restoration of plaster and paints was required. Extensive analysis of the plaster and paint throughout the building was conducted to identify the original paints and glazes used in 1928. Though many of the solvents and suspensions are not commonly available or utilized today, it was possible to simulate the formulas and techniques using contemporary methods and materials. Ornamental plaster details were recreated using historic drawings and photographs, and by making molds from areas of the building that were not affected by the flood.

The marezzo scagliola columns in the “Hall of Mirrors” lobby were completely recreated. There are only a handful of people in the country today who are skilled at this particular artisanal form. The columns were recreated in a nearby warehouse under controlled conditions and carefully installed at the site.

The light fixtures of the theatre were among the building’s most striking elements. Specialists assessed and catalogued each fixture before sending them to a restoration specialist. An organ consultant guided efforts to protect remaining elements of the one-of-a-kind organ that, while adversely affected by the flood in some way, were able to be restored and reused. An exhaustive national search was conducted to locate vintage parts and pieces that adhered to the criteria required to faithfully restore and recreate flood-damaged portions of the organ console and blower in both appearance and function.