Efforts are underway to restore the 106-year-old Fox Theatre in Walsenburg. It needs expensive roof repairs, and a 1941 Art Deco-style marquee is now causing structural problems.
“One of the challenges of this building and its problems is that big marquee out there made out of stucco,” said Kate McCoy of Colorado Preservation, Inc. “The building wasn't built to be able to handle that. But it's considered historically significant and so it needs to be preserved and we can’t take everything back to brick.”
The weight of the marquee and signage is pulling on the facade of the building, giving rise to the issues that have created leaks in the roof. McCoy said water comes through the roof into the theatre auditorium, infiltrating into light fixtures and causing other issues.
Volunteers often rush to clear the roof in the winter to minimize the damage, according to Mike Peters, who leads Fox Theatre Walsenburg, the nonprofit that runs the theatre.
“I am always blown away by how many people continue to give their time and energy to the theatre,” he said. “(Like) the volunteers that come rescue the building on Christmas Day when the water main breaks in the front.”
It’s a place that brings the Walsenburg community together, according to Peters.
“So many people have connections to the theatre,” he said. “Whether they're 70 or 80 years old (talking) about their first dates to the 13-year-old kid that comes every weekend now and helps sell popcorn.”
When it first opened in 1917, the Fox Theatre was called the Star Theatre, according to a brief history prepared by Colorado Preservation, Inc. It was designed by Trinidad architects and brothers I. H. Rapp and William Rapp, who were known for their firm’s work on other buildings, including Trinidad’s Fox West Theater and Temple Aaron which is a National Historic Landmark.
In 1923 a Wurlitzer-Hope Jones organ was installed to provide music for vaudeville shows. Six years later the theatre had its first screenings of talking pictures. Then in 1929, just before the start of the Great Depression, Fox Intermountain Theaters Inc. purchased the theatre and changed the name to Fox-Valencia Theatre. It got a complete remodel in 1941, including the current marquee.
Eventually, the theatre fell into disrepair and closed in 1987. The organ was given to a nearby church.
According to Peters, a local man named George Birrer purchased the building and formed the Huerfano Youth and Arts Foundation. He orchestrated a major grant-funded renovation including replacing the then caved-in roof. The theatre reopened in 1992 and it now belongs to Huerfano County and is operated by the Fox Theatre Walsenburg non-profit organization.
According to a 2015 KRCC story the organ was refurbished over the course of six years and returned to the theatre. The interior of the theatre was redone in pinks, greens and blues of the late 20th century.
“You know, what we try to do is use what we’ve got and that's what we're doing. We're making the best of it,” Peters said. “We’ve got to make the place functional.”
Now, along with movies, the Fox Theatre Walsenburg is the venue for all kinds of performances including live music, comedy acts and even trained cats.
Peters said they take the U.K spelling of theatre seriously and to him, it means that the stage shows are critical. “Anything family-friendly, anything that grandma can bring all the kids to is what we go for,” he said.
Future plans, according to Peters, could include an expansion into eSports, a virtual reality arcade in an adjacent building and an outdoor performance venue. The theatre and its operations barely break even, he said, so the non-profit holds fundraisers whenever it can and makes a little money selling candy during movies.
As for the current roof overhaul, the theatre secured a $250,000 grant that will pay for about half of the most urgent repairs, according to McCoy. The non-profit group is applying for more state funds to cover the rest. She said they hope to begin work this summer, but it's not guaranteed they’ll get another grant. If they don’t, they’ll apply again in the fall and look for other funding and look to get the new roof on before winter.
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