Those attending movie screenings in the Russell Theatre will now have a comfortable place to sit.
Marcia Toncray, with the Russell Theatre Board of Directors, said new seats were installed during the past week, with work finishing on Thursday evening.
“The seats came from the UK Gatton College of Business and Economics Auditorium. Marillia Design and Construction made arrangements for us to come and pick them up,” she said. “They were being removed, so different places were going in and getting truckloads. I went in two different days and brought out truckloads.”
According to Toncray, the seats becoming available was perfect timing.
“It was all meant to be,” she said. “It all happened so quickly. Here they were available and we did it. We had help from several people.”
Up until recently, the seats in the theater were aluminum chairs, according to Toncray.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “I told my son that there is no need for a Mother’s Day gift, because this is the best thing that’s happened to us. I think it will be a big draw. People didn’t really want to come, and I can’t blame them, because the chairs were aluminum and not very comfortable.”
The next project is to have heat and air conditioner installed in the building.
“Our main goal right now is to get heat and air in here so we can use it year round,” she said.
Toncray said the board is hoping to eventually restore the Russell Theatre, but currently the goal is to keep the doors open.
“It costs $25,000 a year to just keep the doors open,” she said. “That’s for insurance, utilities and everything that needs to be taken care of annually. The group tours from riverboats and the movie showings help to make that happen.”
When the original group, which saved the theater from destruction, bought the building in the 1990s, it faced the immediate need to get a roof on to prevent further damage to the ornate interior.
In the ensuing 20-plus years, the group has replaced the mechanical systems in the lobby; restored the lobby; restored and updated the restrooms; restored the Venus statues; re-installed the projection screen; restored the marquee; repainted the facade; completed asbestos abatement; and installed new windows on the storage building adjacent to the theater. In addition, a projector for the theater was donated and installed. Most recently the storage building was cleared and part of the floor replaced.
According to the theater’s website, “The Russell featured a Mediterranean garden theme, with painted facades of lush landscaping, stone and plaster balconies hung with Spanish shawls, and faux Lombard trees and trailing ivy to add to the effect. Plaster statuary adorned both the lobby and the main floor of the theater. The ceiling, which was painted a dark navy blue to mimic a night sky, twinkled with tiny lights.”
Now, in order to restore the building to that original condition, the board needs around $2.5 million.
Toncray said they have searched for every option to raise that money.
“We’ve reached out and looked into grants,” she said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the grants are for construction. We’re not building something, we’re trying to restore it.”
There are several movies planned throughout the summer months, but the May schedule of movies includes Frozen on May 11 at 2 p.m., All the Kings Men on May 18 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Brave on May 25 at 2 p.m. and Back to the Future on May 25 at 8 p.m.
There will also be a concert with Makenzi Thomas on June 28 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and meet and greet tickets are $25.
For more information on efforts to save the theater or to donate visit http://www.russelltheatre.org.