Quincy News

Renowned theater architect gives input on Washington Theater renovation efforts

A view of the Washington Theater in downtown Quincy on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019.
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 11, 2019 12:01 am

QUINCY -- Killis Almond knows a thing or two about restoring and renovating historic theaters. As an architect, he has been involved in the restoration of more than 70 historic theaters throughout the country.

Among his most recent renovation projects were the Goodwill Theatre in Johnson City, New York; the Sarasota Opera House in Sarasota, FlA.; and the Texas Theater of San Angelo, Texas. On Tuesday, he turned his attention to Quincy's historic Washington Theater, which opened in June 1924.

"I've done projects in big towns and small towns," said Almond, who participated in a telephone call with members of the Washington Theater Commission on Tuesday afternoon. "I've done projects in towns much smaller and much bigger."

In its early days, the theater was a frequent destination for traveling vaudeville acts, various music groups, stage shows and films. The theater closed in September 1982.

In 2000, the Quincy City Council formed a redevelopment commission in hopes that the commission would raise enough funds to restore the downtown theater to as close as possible to the original 1924 condition.

To date, the commission has spent $750,000 on the exterior of the theater.

"We have solidified the foundation," said Brian Heinze, who is the current chairman of the theater commission. "We have put on a new roof. We have done a lot of work that has prevented any further damage to the theater."

In 2005, it was estimated that the renovation and restoration of the theater would cost $6 million. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to do the same work in 2019 would cost approximately $8,072,501.

Heinze said no public funds, including tax dollars, will be used for the restoration of the theater. Instead, the theater commission is relying on the group's ongoing fundraising efforts, renting the theater for private events and donations from the public.

On Tuesday, Almond outlined the next step of work that should be done to the theater. The next step for the theater is to add restrooms, install fire sprinklers, update the electrical wiring in the building, and add a modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. The next phase of improvements should also focus on improving the theater's handicap accessibility and to modernize the theater's dressing rooms.

Almond acknowledged in the phone call that he would have his work cut out for him if he is selected as the architect for the restoration of the theater.

"Getting all the modern things you need to fit into an old Vauldeville theater is nearly impossible, but it can be done," Almond said.

Both members of the theater commission and Almond discussed how the theater could be used in the future.

"To me, having a movie theater that only operates as a single screen theater is a financial non-starter," Almond said. "To me, the theater has to serve other users and other purposes. I am very sure that a single screen theater can't produce the kind of funds necessary to pay the heating and air conditioning bills."

Some have suggested that the theater be restored as a single movie theater, while others say the theater should be a multi-purpose space capable of hosting a variety of events .

"We want to be a stop along the way for shows heading to Sioux City, Des Moines, Memphis, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and beyond," Heinze said. "(The Washington Theater) can be so many things. We are only going to be limited by our imagination when it comes to the possibility of what this theater can be used for."

Officials envision the Washington Theater being the venue for live music concerts, for stand-up comedians, for ventriloquists, for corporate events, for art shows, for live cooking demonstrations, weddings and private receptions.

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