DANVILLE — A new mural on the ceiling inside the Fischer Theatre highlights some important dates in its history using Roman numerals.
There’s 1884 for when the Grand Opera House first opened; 1912, when the structure was renovated by Louis Fischer; and now 2019 for the restoration and addition to the building this year, thanks to Julius W. Hegeler II.
Westville High School graduate Nate Pollert, 17, designed and painted the mural after being asked by Jeanne Dunn, wife of the theater’s Vermilion Heritage Foundation board member Chris Dunn. She worked with Pollert through Danville Light Opera and learned he was an amazing artist, Chris Dunn said.
Pollert, too, said he was previously involved with the Fischer, attending shows there and fundraisers.
“So when I was asked to contribute such a major part to the renovation, I couldn’t believe it," Pollert said. "They gave me pretty loose guidelines; plenty of room for me to create freely. They just wanted it to feel like it was a part of the building itself.
“The Roman numerals are the emphasis of the mural but there are some other hidden things that I put in place of my signature. I felt like this project was bigger than me so I didn’t sign with my name,” he said.
The mural is 10-feet by-15 feet and was completed in about two weeks as Pollert stood on scaffolding to paint on the auditorium ceiling.
“It’s a significant piece of work. He did a wonderful job,” Chris Dunn said.
In addition to the mural, a grand opening has been set for Sept. 21 and the theater is searching for an executive director.
A grand opening performance by The Lettermen has been announced as renovations inside continue to make the theater grand once again.
The Lettermen are Tony Butala, Donovan Tea and Bobby Poynton. Their first hit in 1961 was “The Way You Look Tonight,” and they are known for their signature letter sweaters.
The Lettermen have 18 Gold Albums worldwide, more than $25 million in record sales and five Grammy awards.
There will be more details to come, but there will be a large tent set up in Palace Park also for the event and a dinner catered by the Beef House. There are several ways one can become a donor to be among the Friends of the Fischer.
The foundation board would like to have around 220 live performances and films shown each year at the newly renovated Fischer.
Plans continue to be made for having up to approximately 900 seats in the renovated theater, updated lighting and a new sound system, which will include speakers at the seats high above the stage. Carpet already has been chosen and work continues throughout the building on the flooring, walls and loge boxes.
The new elevator is now operational, and part of the second floor which once was office space is now opened up for a multi-purpose event room that some are calling a “ballroom” for weddings and other events. The upper floors once housed offices and retail space such as for the May Belle Cook Beauty Shop, the Boston Academy of Music and the Knecht Apartments.
MIX OF OLD, NEW
Darrel Jacobs, who is assisting with the project and recently took some people through the Fischer on a tour of the renovation work, said “there are a million parts that have to come together” for the renovation.
Jacobs said 25 Dumpsters of old material already have been removed with the renovations.
When completed, it will be about a $10 million donation from the Julius W. Hegeler II Foundation. Restoration is being led by Offutt Development as the general contractor.
Former board member Raj Karinattu recently took a tour of the theater renovations. Karinattu said in her 20 years on the board, “we never got this far.”
Some outside work continues to be talked about, including keeping Harrison Street north of the theater closed or make it one-way for an unloading area for the theater and also sitting and break area for show attendees.
Some nearby buildings also have been discussed to be demolished for additional parking.
Chris Dunn said there will be a mix of new and old materials inside the renovated Fischer Theatre.
They didn’t want to deviate from the history, but they also wanted to include LED lighting and other updates.
“We never expected it to be where we are at, starting then,” Dunn said about when renovations first started about two years ago.
“It’s been a real blessing and a wonderful surprise to be here witnessing (and) to see an almost finished theater,” he said. “We’ve tried to be faithful to the original design.”
To oversee the theater once reopened, the board is seeking a full-time executive director. They’ve had four people respond so far.
A recent newsletter about Fischer Theatre renovations said: “Currently original arched doorways are being restored so that you can easily walk from the theater mezzanine floor (second floor) into this bright window-filled space in the front of the building. While in most cases we have put back original features, in this case we removed walls and created an open space to make room for event space, concession space and meeting space. After being a closed-off space for many years, you can now access this versatile area from the mezzanine, the elevator and the south staircase ... it’s amazing!
“Like the outside of the building, the entire auditorium became wrapped in scaffolding all the way up to the 40-foot ceiling. This scaffolding allowed drywall brought in through an upper story window to be installed, painting and the installation of a lighter exact replica of the carved trim where original trim work had been lost. We will challenge visitors to tell the difference between the old and the new. During the demolition portion of the work, original colors of the 1884 structure and later renovations were uncovered and used in the planning of the paint scheme for the entire building. A shift here and there occurred but for the most part these colors were perfect and are now being used throughout the theater. Volunteers and painters have braved the very top floor of the scaffolding to paint the base coat color and the gold accents on the trim. The result is stunning.
“Years ago volunteers packed up some beautiful original stained glass lighting and put it in storage in hopes to use it in a restored theater. We recently unpacked this lighting, matched it up and are in the process of cleaning it and bringing it back to life. This lighting will be used along with the two remaining original brass sconces that were saved from the building. We know more of the original lighting must be out there. Many items were sold during the Kerasotes sale of features and fixtures inside the theater in 1982. We recognize that people who may have these gems would be sad to give them up but have hopes that people who purchased items from that sale will come forward and want to see them returned to their rightful place in the theater."
To contact the foundation board and for more information about the project, visit the website https://fischertheatre.com or its Facebook page.