You might compare the West Point Community Theatre to a classic car.
It carries a lot of history and still bears the grace of earlier days. And in recent times, the local theater group has been the engine behind the building’s restoration.
Today, area residents look forward to a $1.5 million project in which the building’s interior and exterior is being refurbished. Plans are to have the work done by next year.
Just this week, 240 new theater seats were installed on the newly refinished maple floor in the main auditorium.
A Thursday night fundraiser is planned during which tickets to the movie, “Taken 2,” will be sold for $25 each, the cost of which includes pop and popcorn. The event is one of several which have taken place during the last four years in a building that’s housed theater productions — including musicals, weekend movies and monthly documentary-discussion group events.
The 100-year-old building, named to the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1911 at a cost of $17,000. Administered by the West Point Cadet Band, the building became a place for music and performing arts and a place for wedding receptions, dances, lectures, club meetings and school functions.
The City of West Point bought the building in 1945 and remodeled it four years later. Dances, featuring area orchestras, were a regular form of entertainment in the 1940s.
In 1968, the theater group formed and 1,000 people came to see two performances of its first production, “Harvey.” More than 40 years later, the group continues to stage spring and fall productions.
Efforts to restore the building at Main Street and Anna Stalp Avenue began more than four years ago.
At one time, there was talk of razing the building, something that would have cost $90,000.
Some local residents didn’t want to see the building torn down.
“This (restoration) project was started because a few people in this town — and me being one of them — decided this building needs to be saved, because it was an old, beautiful building and another reason is because the theater needed a place to call home for their productions,” said Jerry Hugo, WPCT board president.
Restoration began in 2008.
“When we first started, we tore out the wall to the balcony that was previously in there. They walled that up in the ’70s. We tore out a ceiling and exposed a domed area in there,” he said. “We’re rebuilding the balcony and making it bigger than it previously was. It will seat 97 people.”
Other work was done.
“We put on a new roof, new windows, tuck-pointed the outside,” Hugo said.
A storm drainage system was put around the building’s perimeter.
Now, the building’s interior is being completely remodeled. The front lobby will be redecorated and a new concession area and restrooms built. A new lobby area in the basement will double as a small art gallery and new office, a board room and a women’s restroom will be added. A new elevator will go three levels — from the basement to the main floor and balcony. The heating and air conditioning systems will be replaced.
The main auditorium’s walls and ceiling have been repainted and stenciled.
Six crystal chandeliers will be installed.
When finished, the theater’s main floor and balcony will have 335 seats. A new marquee is being designed for the theater’s front.
“We’re probably looking at a year before it’s all done,” Hugo said.
The theater has been closed since the end of August, but will open at 7:30 p.m. for Thursday’s fundraiser. “Taken 2” with Liam Neeson also will be shown Dec. 21-23. “Wreck-it Ralph” is planned for Dec. 28-30. Movies draw people from 14 communities.
In the last few years, the theater has provided various types of entertainment, typically a comedy, such as “The Odd Couple,” in the fall and a musical, like “Oliver” in the spring.
The theater also has had weekend movies for more than three years — selling some 60,000 tickets. The same movie runs four times in a given weekend. Volunteers take tickets, run the concession stand and clean the theater; about 150 area residents volunteer.
“We run about 48 weeks of movies,” said George Wimmer, board member. “It takes a lot of people. We have community groups that help us. We have businesses that will staff the volunteer list for different nights and weekends.”
Volunteers range from age 14 to mid-70.
“We provide entertainment for kids and families,” Wimmer said. “Our mission is to be a family friendly entertainment place in northeast Nebraska. The other part of our mission is to promote the performing arts and education.”
The theater group provides scholarships and schools are just beginning to have one-act plays and speech contests here.
Other events include:
* Missoula Children’s Theater productions involving 50-60 area children. Those events are sponsored by the West Point Community Arts Council.
* PBS Community Cinema documentaries along with discussions on the third Thursday of each month. The events are free to the public. West Point is just one of three communities in the state to offer this.
* The Great American Comedy Festival is set for Jan. 26; comedians try out and proceed to further competition if they qualify. This is the third year for the event.
Wimmer wants to see even more events come to the theater. Randy Davis, who has appeared in various productions, hopes to see a young area actor someday appear on the silver screen.
In the meantime, theater group members continues to promote building improvements.
“We want to make it a proud, grand old lady,” Davis said.