What started as a transformation has now become a complete restoration, and Crown Theatre owner Brad Strom couldn’t be happier.
A hydraulic lift currently sits just inside the old theater’s entrance as masons continue to restore the facade’s original brickwork. The old wooden front on the theater at 19 N. Court St. in Crown Point has now been completely torn off, revealing brick that was in surprisingly good shape, Strom said.
The building’s big surprise, however, is contained on the inside. In July, an electrical problem came up, so workers started to pull down the walls to get to it. As they did, they discovered a fully intact, hand-crafted barn ceiling extending the theater’s length.
Strom and the team decided the approach of salvaging as much as they could cosmetically just wouldn’t do. Sure, it’s added considerable expense to the project, Strom said, but there was also no way he could ignore what they found.
“We knew we had to strip the entire building,” Strom said. “The tongue-and-groove on the ceiling is intact, and so is the brick on the walls. This building is in such good shape, we have to do it right the first time and restore it to its original self.
“From a 12-foot ceiling to this grand structure, it feels more like one of the ballrooms in Chicago.”
That meant going back to the city to see if it could provide some assistance. The Redevelopment Commission in July awarded Strom $40,000 out of its $100,000 facade grant budget so Strom can replicate the original building facade with two large glass doors and two windows on the bottom level.
Strom said he has yet to approach any historical societies for assistance, but he hopes to enlist their assistance on a new marquis for the building front next year. Meanwhile, a new fund-raising effort for the theater is about to go online, and based on social media response, Strom hopes its going to take off.
“We ended up having to tear out all the seats because they were just rotted through. I would never let my kids sit in them, it was that bad,” he said.
“There are a ton of people who’re so excited and have some sort of attachment to the building; we get at least 200 messages a month on (social media) asking how they can help. “Rather than just have them send a check, this is the way for them to get involved and have a tangible thing.”
Strom said his hope is to be open for a New Year’s Eve celebration. He said he’s not behind schedule by any stretch, and credits his crew for their hard work.
“I think the most time we took off was around the 4th (of July), right?” said Vickers Construction owner Sam Vickers. “I’ve been working on the Square for (more than) 20 years, and I have never seen a ceiling like this. It’s probably the only one down here, and it was built with pride – that’s for sure. We’ll clean it and clearcoat it, and let its natural beauty shine.”
And as neighbors come by to see what Strom and crew are up to, he suspects he’s got them thinking about doing a bit of restoration themselves.
“Everything looks great down here, but I’ve had people inquire about how they should start their own restorations,” Strom said. “It’s a positive domino effect. The more businesses come together, the more it increases value.”
The best part of the job, he said, is the reaction of passersby when they see how far the theater’s come, though. He hears it all the time.
“People didn’t expect to see this facade because no one knew what was there,” he said. “I keep saying, whether you’ve been in here 100 times or never stepped foot in the place, when you come in when we’re done, you’re going to be wowed.”
Michelle L. Quinn is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.