Curtain ready to rise on restored 'Roxy'

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Debut in March

The show, as they say, must go on.

Ironically, what nearly appeared to be the end for the historic Roxy Theater in Alta was the show, "In the Beginning."

Work on that community theater play was going on last spring, when actors arrived to fund the hall flooded. A leak repair had failed - badly.

"I could hear the water dripping and turned on the light, and thought 'oh no,'" Carol Huntzicker, director of "In the Beginning" said of discovering the ruined stage, curtains, and walls at the Roxy. The community theater relocated to the auditorium of South Elementary School in Storm Lake for its performances, but the Alta School District, which now controls the theater, decided not to give up on the historic but heavily-damaged venue.

With an insurance settlement and nearly $11,000 in unexpected volunteered donations in hand, they began work to replace the stage and flooring, four water-ruined walls, paint, plaster, lighting.

Brad Nesbitt, one of the Alta teachers who has long supported the Roxy, figures that at least a third of the theater interior has been replaced in the process since work began last summer.

Just this month, 10 new chandeliers have been added, which will give enough lighting options that the theater can now be used for all sorts of school events and community meetings, Nesbitt said.

Tile is being installed on the lower level, with new restrooms and a new makeup area.

The Roxy will officially raise a curtain on a new era in March, with the Alta High School spring play to christen the new stage.

Some donation money is left over, and will be applied to make the theater disability-accessible, hopefully with a lift added to the south entrance.

Out of chaos emerges a landmark that is better than it was before the water disaster.

From a goal just to see if the building could be made useable, emerged something more ambitious. "Our goal now is to brighten it up and make it a very useful facility for all kinds of things," Nesbitt said. "It's always been a great performance theater, but now it's a lot more than that."

Many people stepped forward, without being asked, and offered funds. One former Alta student sent $2,000. "People have been great. A lot of them remembered being involved in plays or attending the theater there and just wanted to help it out," Nesbitt said.

No one seems to know when the Roxy was built. School officials guess it to be a hundred years old. Land and tax papers filed with the courthouse are marked as old as 1900, but officials note that in the early days of the last century, if a building date was unknown, the year 1900 was often plugged in.

Pauline Conard of Alta recalled that a contest was held to determine the name of the theater. Financial troubles plagued many managers of the theater and it changed operating hands repeatedly, to great community concern, until it was finally closed in 1940. Minnesotan Elmer Svendsen arrived and reopened the theater, going personally to Omaha every month to choose and buy films to show. He was operating successfully for two decades before the popularity of TV shut it down for good in 1961. The city eventually gained ownership, and passed it to the schools. The community theater troupe came on board in 1991.

In Alta, excitement is building for opening night 2006. Break a leg Roxy, you grand old dame.

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