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The Enchanted Playhouse Theatre Company’s nearly two-year odyssey to find a new home after it was booted from The Main Street Theatre has come to an end.
And it turns out the venerable children’s theater group won’t have far to move: Its new home is the Visalia Fox Theatre, just two blocks west of The Main Street Theatre in downtown Visalia.
“We are so happy to call the Fox our new home,” said Shanna Meier, president of the Enchanted Playhouse’s board of directors. “It’s a beautiful place, and its history is so long.”
The first Visalia Fox production, “Prince Caspian,” debuts in October.
“I think this links with our mission to be a community theater space,” said Erin Olm-Shipman, executive director of the Visalia Fox. “The Enchanted Playhouse is a community treasure, not only for audiences but for all the performers who’ve appeared in shows of the years.”
The Enchanted Playhouse’s decision on a new home came down to the Visalia Fox and Rotary Theater on the campus of Redwood High School, Meier said.
The Fox proposal was chosen because it made the most logistical and financial sense for the theater group, Meier said.
The move to the Visalia Fox will mean some major changes for the children’s theater group, though.
The Main Street Theater would typically host nine Playhouse public performances over a three-weekend run, plus several shows for schools.
In contrast, The Fox will host four public performances over one weekend, plus several shows for schools.
But because the Fox is so much larger — about 1,200 seats compared to about 400 at The Main Street Theater — total audience numbers should stay about the same, at least in theory, Meier said.
Rehearsals will also now have to take place at another venue, as well as set construction, Meier said.
“We will definitely have to make some adjustments,” Meier said.
Another challenge for the new space: The Playhouse’s actors will have to learn to project their voices for a much larger venue or actors will have to use microphone amplification, Meier said.
Visalia Fox staff is prepared to work with The Enchanted Playhouse to overcome all those challenges, though, Olm-Shipman said.
Losing its home
The Main Street Theater opened in 1949 as the Visalia Theatre, showing John Wayne in “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.” Its Quonset hut auditorium originally seated more than 600, says one history.
The Enchanted Playhouse, which formed in 1992, moved into the downtown theater in 1997.
The city of Visalia took over The Main Street Theater after it declared eminent domain on the property in 2004.
In 2004, Restoration Inc., a Visalia-based church, made a $600,000 offer to buy the Main Street Theater from its private owners after the Enchanted Playhouse failed to come up with enough money to purchase the building on its own.
Concluding that a church of any kind would be an inappropriate use of the building on Main Street, the Visalia City Council voted to condemn the property under eminent domain, halting Restoration’s intended purchase while it was in escrow.
That led to a three-year legal battle after the owners of the theater challenged the city’s eminent-domain action, asking more than $868,706 in compensation, including reimbursement of attorneys’ fees. That was later reduced to $672,000 in 2007.
Sometime in 2017, the city of Visalia decided to sell the theater.
In 2018, JR Shannon, a local developer, beat out other bidders to buy the Main Street Theater with a $515,000 proposal. Shannon plans to house two restaurants in the complex bringing up to 150 jobs to downtown.
An enchanted new home
For its first theatrical season at the Visalia Fox, The Enchanted Playhouse will only mount two productions, instead of the usual four, Meier said.
“We wanted to make sure any wrinkles are ironed out before we go back to our full season,” she said.
The theater company plans to do a second show for the 2019-2020 in March 2020, and then ramp of the schedule to four shows in the 2020-2021 season.
The Visalia Fox Theatre opened in 1930 as a single-screen movie theater. In 1976, the auditorium was split into three screens. In 1996, the then three-screen theater was closed and the Visalia Fox was put up for sale.
Shortly after, a nonprofit group was formed and started raising money to buy and restore the landmark theater. After a successful fundraising effort, the restored single-auditorium theater reopened in November 1999.
Since then, the theater has hosted a variety of live music acts, comedians, performances and movie screenings.
The Friends of the Fox, a volunteer board, now oversees the nonprofit venue.
Growing up in northern New York, a land of harsh and snowy winters, summer days were a gift to be enjoyed outdoors. The summer of 1974, however, will forever be seared in my memory as the summer we spent glued to the news. The entire country was riveted by the Watergate drama unfolding in Washington, eager to learn the truth and reclaim our government as a beacon of hope and opportunity rather than a den of corruption and opportunism.
Those of us who came of age during the Watergate era again feel the weight of that period in our history—rooted deeply in constitutional consciousness—with the issuance of the Mueller report.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, many people were willed away from the sidelines and onto the ballot by the desire to restore faith in our democracy. Like many of my freshman colleagues in the most diverse Congress in history, I felt called to serve because I knew we had a duty to reclaim our government. We knew the American people deserved better.
Today, I serve as the vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee. As I undertake the heavy task of digesting, analyzing, and reacting to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, that duty to country is front of mind. The report is incredibly dense—certainly not tweetable—and shows a presidency founded on opportunism, lacking in understanding of history or the functions of government, and devoid of respect for public service or the rule of law.
Despite what the president and his allies have claimed, this report is not the end of the story. It is a road map to guide Congress’s next steps.
The special counsel directs Congress’s attention to four areas of inquiry: obstruction of justice, coordination by the Trump campaign with the Russian government, 14 ongoing criminal investigations, and the president’s refusal to provide forthright answers to the special counsel’s questions.
Investigating each of these four areas demanded lengthy and thorough work by the Mueller team. But with Attorney General William Barr refusing to be transparent about the totality of that work, including the underlying evidence, Congress must recover and review this evidence in order to fulfill its constitutional duties and restore the American people’s faith in both the process and the results of that process.
The evidence this report presents, preserves, and alludes to, and the misleading way the attorney general delivered it to the public, leaves many questions unanswered. That is why the committees of jurisdiction must continue to conduct oversight. Congressional hearings are not just grandstanding; they allow for serious testing of evidence—an essential part of constitutional oversight. Congress, and through it the American people, must question witnesses and review evidence, not for partisan reasons or political theatre, but to examine the harm done to our democratic institutions by this administration’s lack of transparency and integrity, and determine the consequences.
Our approach must be methodical, fair, and transparent—taking no options off the table. Our democracy has been tested before, but the serious implications of the Mueller report demand an appropriate response from Congress.
Given the stakes, we should not rush to impeachment. Impeachment is a process that cannot be undertaken for the benefit of one political party, nor should it be taken off the table out of fear of political fallout. It is the last and worst—but sometimes necessary—option, when other paths have failed.
Mueller’s statement that he believed he was legally prohibited from recommending criminal charges against a sitting president is an invitation to other government institutions to take action.
As Congress’s oversight continues, any attempts by the president to hinder investigations or run out the clock must be challenged. No one is above the law. While Mueller issued his report with the understanding that he could not charge a sitting president, that does not insulate the president from congressional inquiry or prosecution once his term is complete. Given the possibility of post-presidential indictments under this guidance, Congress or the courts may need to act to suspend or toll relevant statutes of limitations in the interests of justice. This moment in our history undoubtedly qualifies as an extreme circumstance.
Seldom do we look to the darkest days of our history for reassurance of our democracy’s strength. Memories of the summer of 1974 ground me in the seriousness of what we face as a country. Chief among my memories of that time are not those of a president’s fall from grace, but those of the courage displayed by the journalists who kept us informed, the diligence of the independent counsel and his team in their investigation, the unrattled moral compass of members of Congress as they followed the evidence, and the American people’s desire for information and vindication of their democracy.
This is not a time for easy answers and hashtag solutions, although our most tweetable founding father, Ben Franklin, told us that our Constitution created “a republic, if you can keep it.” The responsibility of safeguarding our democracy does not rest solely with Congress. It is a responsibility shared by all of the American people. It is my hope that as we separate facts from slogans, the American people demand no less than they deserve.
MY recent mention in Hidden Henley of the Maharajah’s Well at Stoke Row has prompted a response from reader Laureen Williamson.
She recalls that it was almost exactly 40 years ago that Thomas Octavius reported how the well and its cottage were saved from demolition thanks to a campaign by villagers to restore them.
Laureen, who lives in Bell Street Mews, Henley, says the two well properties, opposite the village garage, hid an extraordinary history which started in India around 1830 and only came to light when she researched them in detail to help the restoration appeal.
She takes up the story: “I had known the well since 1960 and in particular I knew Michael Reade, the then Squire of Ipsden, which until 1952 included the Stoke Row hamlet in its parish.
“Mr Reade’s great grandfather Edward Anderdon Reade had become a long-term friend of the Maharajah of Benares (now Varanasi) while working for the East India Company as lieutenant governor of the North Western Provinces.
“Unknown to the Maharajah, Mr Reade gave India a well and orchard in 1831 (that’s another story) and some 30 years later the Maharajah returned the gesture to England (another story!)
“The upkeep of the well and cottage was supposed to be through the sale of cherries from the adjacent orchard as the water was free to all and the resident warden lived rent free on a salary of £1 a year, rising to £2 if the cherries yielded £10 profit.
“In 1972 the resident warden died, having lived there since 1893. The last regular water was drawn about1939 but piped water did not reach the warden until 1950 so she ‘borrowed’ water from a neighbour as the well’s ‘ropes’ had rusted.
“Times were changing and the cherries were now food for the birds rather than profits for the cherry pickers and the well’s funds.
“By 1975 the well and cottage were in a very poor, even dangerous, state and Mr Reade was considering their demolition as restoration was costly.
“At this point a few residents decided to see if he would support village efforts to raise the cash to save them. He agreed and allowed me to enter the cottage, probably the first person to do so for more than three years. When I saw the effects of the late warden relating to her long history as warden just rotting on the creaking walls and floors, I collected them carefully and, with appropriate permissions, had them preserved by the Oxfordshire museums service and eventually deposited all of them in Oxford for study and safe keeping.
“The fund-raising committee got itself into gear and the first ever Stoke Row Steam Rally in 1981 behind Giles Farm was organised by Stoke Row builder Maurice Robins and chums.
“It was a colossal success and is still run today but for other charities.
“Funds flooded in and all Stoke Row residents worked tirelessly for the cause. The actor George Cole and his wife Penny, who lived locally, organised a magnificent music hall spectacular at the Kenton Theatre in Henley and many smaller efforts helped the cash come in. Everyone worked really hard.
“Once the restoration was complete, Mr Reade decided the charity needed to release his family from its management so the Charity Commissioners amended the trust deed and Stoke Row Parish Council became its manager through a well committee.
“All this was 40 years ago. Thanks, Thomas, for reviving the memories.”
After helping rhythm and blues stars like Patti LaBelle grow, the Uptown Theater is finally about to get its own shine.
The Uptown Theater closed as a venue in 1978, but a $10 million fundraising effort is pushing forward with a goal of reopening the entertainment palace by fall 2020.
The interior of the Uptown Theater at 2240 N. Broad Street.
“Our goal is to open the Uptown in installments,” said Linda Richardson, president of the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation.
“The Uptown is historic, so there is some historic preservation that has to occur, which means keeping some of the things in the building at the level they were at or close to in 1927,” Richardson said.
“We’ve completed about 60 percent of the restoration of the infrastructure. Our first goal is to open up the lobby for our final 90th anniversary event in October. We’re on target for that goal of having a soft opening of the Uptown so that people can come into the lobby of the Uptown to celebrate its 90th anniversary.”
With ticket lines in its heyday that went around the block, the Uptown Theater was a sobering reflection of the community of color that it served.
“The Uptown and its performers came at a time when there were not a lot of amenities, so many of the stars in the early days were not able to go downtown and eat and the restaurant scene was very different back then,” Richardson said. “It was quasi-segregated, so a lady in the back of the Uptown used to sell dinners and all of the stars would go and get dinners from her. Her name was Miss Pearl.”
A chandelier hangs above the lobby of the Uptown Theater.
Fortunately for the Uptown’s patrons, the theater had a consistent stream of top rhythm and blues acts during its heyday. “We have a lot of older musicians that got their start here that come in and reminisce about their time at the Uptown,” Richardson said. “One time someone was doing a film on Patti LaBelle so she came in and told us how in between shows she would heat up hot dogs with the lamp in the dressing room. That’s how she ate. There are a lot of personal stories that people have.”
Peeling paint on one of the over-2,000 seats in North Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater gives a view into the theater’s past.
In addition to a rich legacy of hosting top music acts, the Uptown has the distinction of being one of only three private buildings in Philadelphia with its own subway stop.
“A couple of years ago, Verizon called and said they were doing re-cabling and that there were actually some livewires underneath our building,” Richardson. “I asked if they could open up the door so we could investigate and found that The Uptown had a subway stop underground that people could take northbound and come up into the Uptown. We contacted SEPTA and they had no record of a subway being underneath the Uptown, so we called one of our members involved with the SEPTA community board. We found an engineer that had the old plans, so we copied them and gave them to SEPTA..”
A recently-re-discovered stairwell in the Uptown Theater leads to a subway stop on the Broad Street line that specifically serviced the theater.
John Golden, public information manager for SEPTA, confirmed the existence of the long-forgotten Uptown Theater’s subway stop.
“When the subways were being built, owners asked for direct connections to subway platform levels,” Golden said. “A number of stops on the Broad Street Line have connections to adjacent buildings. Adjacent buildings had the benefit of providing access directly to the subways. Most of these entrances were built when the subway tunnels were built.”
A second-floor room in the Uptown Theater is part of the first-phase of the building’s refurbishment.
Richardson is hopeful that the Uptown can help a new generation of creatives forge the same memories that stars like Patti LaBelle had. “We want to make it so that younger performers and producers can have their stories to tell and have a way to make money and become well known.”
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on the restoration project of Bluefield’s historic Granada Theater.
BLUEFIELD — When several Bluefield residents came together in 2012 to embark on a journey to restore a piece of the city’s history, they knew the project would not be easy.
The Granada Theater on Commerce Street opened its doors on Jan. 2, 1928, when only silent movies were being made and provided entertainment to countless area residents for 50 years before closing in the late 1970s.
It was also constructed with a stage for live performances during a time when vaudeville acts and big bands were popular.
Skip Crane, treasurer of the group who formed the Bluefield Preservation Society to begin the restoration project, said the first movie shown in the Granada was a western, “Rose of the Golden West,” starring Mary Astor and Gilbert Roland.
Not only did the theater entertain with movies and create memories for generations of residents, it also was a place visited by many celebrities in its heyday, including the British Oscar-winning actress Greer Garson and Tommy Dorsey and his band.
Spanky and the Gang visited and filmed a show using about 100 local kids and the Three Stooges made an appearance.
Doris Kantor, BPS board member, said Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby visited the city.
Bluefield was called the “Little New York” in the 1930s and 1940s, Crane said, often a train stopover between major cities in the Northeast, Midwest and the South. The city was a well-known place.
In the 1934 Clark Gable movie, “Red Dust,” Jean Harlow tells Mary Astor she once lived in Bluefield, W.Va. and asked Astor’s character if she had been to Bluefield.
At one time, the Granada was one of four theaters in the Bluefield area, and the only left.
Another popular historic theater was the Colonial on Princeton Avenue, but it had to be demolished in 2009 after the collapse of the nearby Milner-Matz Hotel damaged it beyond repair, so that piece of history was gone forever. The Skyway Drive-in in Brushfork and the State, also on Commerce Street, are long gone.
Julie Hurley, vice president of the BPS, said the group did not want to see the Granada meet the same fate.
“It is vital we do not lose that part of our history, our culture,” Hurley said last week at a fundraising kickoff in front of the theater.
Tom Cole and Cole Chevy donated a 2018 Buick Cascada to be raffled. Tickets are $100 each and only 1,000 will be sold for the $37,500 convertible.
With that money as well as other money raised during 2019, the Shott Foundation will match the total for this year over the next three years, which will be enough for the rest of the $2.5 million needed for the project..
Hurley hopes to have the work complete by the end of 2020.
“It would be fabulous to have the grand opening in January 2021,” she said, the anniversary of the original opening.
But a lot work must be done first.
After the Granada closed, it was used as a bar for several years and the tiki bar is still inside.
Hurley said the theater fell into disrepair through neglect in recent years and parts of the ceiling and wall were damaged after copper thieves left a hatch open on the roof and water came in. A plaster relief on the wall will have to be replicated because of the leaking.
But the “bones” are there, she said, and Bill Huber, a Marion architect who restored the old theater there, came on board to help out.
When the group, which also includes President Debra Ammar and Gail Satterfield, formed in 2012, one of the first steps was to make sure they acquired the building.
The Development Authority of Greater Bluefield made that happen by buying the theater at auction in 2013 on behalf of the BPS until they could raise enough money to purchase it, which happened in 2017.
“The reason that the board purchased the building was to make sure that it is preserved,” authority member Charlie Cole said at that time. “We would like to see it preserved and become functional. The authority would like to see it become a functioning part of downtown.”
“They (the development authority) did a very generous donation on a portion of it for us,” Hurley said.
In the meantime, the BPS achieved a charitable organization status (501 3-C) and started the process of applying for state and federal tax credits and for grants related to the work at the Granada. All the work done, since it’s an historic structure, also has to be approved on both the state and federal levels, which has been accomplished.
Fundraising efforts began as well, including the opening of the Blue Spoon Cafe nearby on Commerce Street.
The restaurant first opened in October 2015 as a business incubator venture by (BPS). Operated by volunteers with the BPS and others (Hurley was the chef), the goal was to build up a clientele and then sell the business to an entrepreneur to raise money to restore the theater.
Ammar said the key was providing excellent gourmet food (from scratch) that customers could not find anywhere else and at a reasonable price.
The formula worked as the restaurant became a popular lunch spot with a regular clientele, and the business was sold in 2017 to Nicole Coeburn.
Work has gradually progressed on the theater, including replacing the roof.
Hurley said the next steps will be some demolition, asbestos abatement and HVAC system.
But with the money being raised now, that work can start soon, she added.
Another original piece of history with the theater has been returned as well.
A Wurlitzer Style EX, Opus 1790, theater organ left the Granada years ago and was taken to the Evans Theater in Indiana, and from there it was transferred to Huntington and installed at the Keith Albee Theater.
A mutual friend of Crane and Thomas Lester of Bluewell, former Bramwell resident Bob Edmunds, discovered the organ while teaching at Marshall University in Huntington. It became available when the Keith Albee’s original organ was found.
The organ was returned to Bluefield in 2015 after it as disassembled. It will be reassembled by a group that specializes in that work, Crane said.
“We’ve been told it sounds like a big carnival carousel,” Ammar said. “All the bells and whistles come with it. It has a xylophone, drum beat, cymbals, hand bells, and what they call a whoopee horn.”
Hurley said the organ will be used when silent films are shown, as it once was.
One of the goals is to show many movies, she said, including classics, foreign films, indies and documentaries, a variety that will appeal to everyone. Live musical and comedy performances will also be on the stage, including dinner theater, with the second floor filled with tables and a catering kitchen.
The theater will seat about 500 on the main floor and another 220 on the second floor, depending on the renovation and space available after the work is done.
The Granada was the only theater in the area to have sharp sloping behind the main seating area, providing seats in more of an amphitheater style for moviegoers.
“We are excited about the programming for this facility,” she said, “to be able to bring films to the big screen with digital equipment.”
Guests organists will be invited in to perform for silent movies. The organ will be reassembled in the theater’s orchestra pit.
Hurley said so many people saw movies at the Granada over five decades the BPS is collecting memories.
“What is so important to so many people are the great memories (of the Granada),” she said. “We want to send out a plea to people to send in their memories. It could be first date or a first kiss.”
Those memories will become part of the Granada’s history, she said, and be shared during tours.
People can also purchase plaques to be placed on seats for $500 as well as have rooms named in honor of someone.
The theater will not only provide a quality film and performance venue to entertain residents, it will also drive tourism, Hurley said.
A restored Granada will provide a destination as well as preserve and showcase a piece of local history that is priceless.
“It will tell our story,” she said.
Anyone who has memories or donations can send them to the Bluefield Preservation Society, PO Box 4044, Bluefield, WV 24701.
Raffle tickets for the Buick Cascada can be purchased from BPS members as well as at the upcoming Cole Chevy Mountain Festival May 29-June 4.