Curtain to rise on restored theater

Carroll arts center offices slated to open Jan. 21

January 10, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Anyone walking down Westminster's Main Street can see signs that the old Carroll Theatre is being restored. The faM-gade, in recent years flat and nondescript, includes a three-sided marquee that is a nod to the theater's heyday.

Less visible is the work inside, where a performing arts center with galleries, a stage and classrooms is taking shape.

A key piece of the project was completed this week: 263 seats were installed in a theater that will feature plays, dances, musical performances - and movies.

"We're not sure the public understands that inside we're working furiously," said Sandy Oxx, executive director of the Carroll County Arts Council, which is scheduled to move into the restored theater in less than two weeks. "We're dealing with a historic restoration, so you can't just knock it down and start from scratch."

In this last flurry of work before the arts council staff's scheduled moving date Jan. 21, more than a dozen workers paint walls and decorative molding, install floor tiles and carpeting and refinish floors.

"In just one day, you can see what huge chunks are being done," Oxx said.

The theater was built in 1937 as an art deco movie palace. Until its sale to the Church of the Open Door in 1988, the theater showed thrillers, blockbusters and films noir to generations of Carroll County residents.

During that time, the building lost its marquee, and its 702- seat theater was divided into two theaters. The city bought it for $310,000 in 2000. More than $1 million has been collected through government grants and private donations for the renovations.

The building will provide the arts council 14,000 square feet - 10 times the space the council occupies at the Winchester Exchange building.

An exhibition gallery is immediately behind the lobby. Oxx said the first show, scheduled for April, will be a celebration of Maryland artists, with the arts council in every county nominating one artist to represent it. She said Carroll wants to acknowledge the construction of the center as a statewide effort.

Oxx is seeking memorabilia from the theater's past to decorate the lobby, offices and glass displays that face the sidewalk.

"The memorabilia is in people's heads," she said. An arts council board member is gathering memorable experiences from people who used to go to the theater or work there, which will be converted to video and shown during the center's grand opening in April.

Oxx's office will contain a more tangible link to the building's past: a row of the theater's old seats.

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