- Paris Flash
- Real Estate
This picture, taken from atop the old Sears Building next door, shows the gaping hole left in the top of the Grand Theatre building in downtown Paris after a clogged drain caused the roof to collapse last November. The city filed an insurance claim, but it was denied and litigation continues. (City of Paris photo)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
The Paris City Council has decided that the historic Grand Theater — whose history dates back a hundred years — “is something downtown deserves.”
The council agreed last week to come up with the estimated $69,000 it will take – along with funds from Leadership Lamar County and other donations – to replace the roof, repair the building’s damaged marquee, and turn the building over to a not-for-profit group.
Recently, Mayor AJ Hashmi and District 3 councilman John Wright questioned whether the city should continue to pour money into a building that didn’t even have a road map for what it would be used for.
Wright said no one had explained what the Grand would be used for after it was restored.
The mayor asked District 5 councilman Matt Frierson to research the issue and report back to the council, which he did.
At the end of a 30-minute presentation, Frierson had one question for city manager John Godwin.
“When can we start. Do we have to wait until the next budget?” Frierson asked.
“No, I think you can start right now,” the city manager replied.
“I like your answer,” Frierson said.
Godwin will present his proposed 2012-2013 budget to the council on Wednesday.
The city has already spent $100,000 on electrical work on the theater sign, initial façade work, asbestos abatement and roof repair.
“There is a picture of the roof that was replaced but unfortunately collapsed. It’s quite a big hole,” Frierson said.
Frierson said the Grand has too much historical significance to Paris to destroy.
“And if you demolish the building, what have you really done for the integrity of downtown? Consider the enormous hole. What have you opened yourself up to as to the development of downtown? What are you going to do when you drive by and you just can’t see the end of it?” Frierson asked.
When he finished his presentation, District 6 councilwoman Cleonne Drake said:
“I’m not for tearing it down. Whether it’s the city taking it over, or non-profit, or whomever, I think it needs to be kept. The longer we wait, the more damage being done inside because of this huge hole in the roof.”
City engineer Shawn Napier said the hole in the roof is large, “but parts of it are kind of secured off.”
District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster said: “Well, I’m just totally opposed to tearing it down. We should see if we could find partners to work with. In the past, there were people that would have done that, and I am sure we can find some now.”
Wright said: “I think any responsible property owner, using good judgment, would want to keep his property in the dry. I think we should get it in the dry and decide what we’re going to do with it.”
District 1 councilman Aaron Jenkins said: “Just depends on what it would look like. I went to that theater in the 80s, and I would like to see what it would look like.”
Dr. Richard Grossnickle, who represents District 4, commended Frierson on his report, and on the help given by Napier, main street coordinator Cheri Bedford, and architect Paul Denney.
Grossnickle wondered what the best use of the Grand would be, given that the Paris Community Theater already has “a pretty good facility, although they probably could use a bigger and better one if one could be provided.”
Frierson said he didn’t foresee any competition between Paris Community Theater and the Grand, “but certainly for those events that would be of larger scale … just knowing you have that availability and that option, I think those two facilities would work hand in hand very well.”
Perhaps the Paris Municipal Band could present concerts in the Grand, Grossnickle said.
Napier said the Grand still has a few rows of theater seats that haven’t been abated, but noted that pigeons have made the Grand home for most of the years from 2000 to 2009.
Hashmi said he agrees it makes no sense to tearing down the Grand.
“My second thought is on a long-term basis, I completely agree it should not be the city but somebody else maintaining it, and it should be a not-for-profit organization,” the mayor said.
“It should be for the citizens and residents, whatever they want to do,” Hashmi said.
“I don’t know what its purpose would be, but you know, let the purpose be decided by the people who take it, with the thought that if they are going to take it, try to make it as close as they can to what it once was.”
He added: “I also think $69,000 might not sound like a lot, but you know, there are roads to be repaired, there is infrastructure to be done, so one must be cautious in spending money.”
Then the mayor added: “But my thoughts are, we do all sorts of galas in the city. I think we could certainly do a gala to lower the $69,000 to a lower amount of money. I have no objections if the city ends up spending to begin with, but I think we should do something to reimburse the city for whatever we possibly can.”
Everyone is interested in getting the Grand restored at the earliest and at the cheapest possible cost, Hashmi said.
“I’ll take the liberty of offering my services to arrange a gala to recover some of this cost. I’ll arrange something or another — a big event,” the mayor said.
Frierson said the city had three options:
1. Tear down the building, at an estimated cost of $200,000, which would include remaining asbestos abatement; engineering for demolition; potential damage to adjoining structures; removal of debris; and the intangible cost of a gaping “hole” in downtown.
2. Renovation by the city. Estimates from other facilities around Texas for complete renovation would exceed $750,000.
3. Stabilization of the facility at a cost to the city of about $69,000, thanks to the willingness of the Leadership Lamar County class to make $42,000 available for the effort. Then the building could be turned over to a not-for-profit group of citizens interested in rehabilitating the facility and maintaining it.
“The total time line, if everything goes the right way, whether it’s operated by the city or, in my mind a more ideal fit — partnering with a not-for-profit organization — we could complete that transition by the end of 2013,” Frierson said.
It would be up to the city how it paid for the project, Frierson added, whether by taking money out of reserves, passing a bond issue, or recovering money from the insurance claim that is still under litigation.
“Or, you can make it what it was always intended to be, which is a community project. We have been approached by one group that is very interested in being a non-profit and restoring it to what it once was.”
Frierson said he never personally believed in tearing down the Grand.
The Grand “is something downtown deserves. It deserves to be what it once was. This could mean so much to what is out there, as far as the development and future of downtown,” Frierson said.
“Everybody drives by and sees the wood-covered front, and the barrels, and the sign is mostly covered, and it’s not what we had all hoped it to be,” he added.
The Grand has sat vacant for three decades, and many people who pass by the theater have no idea how big it is.
“It’s amazing how big the facility actually is. It’s an enormous L-shape building,” Frierson said.
From the ticket booth, a long sloped-entry hallway runs south to north, to a twin-cinema theater located in a big, red building on the south half of the block. At the rear of the theater, an exit door opens onto Northeast First Street.
Built in 1912, when automobiles were in their infancy, the Grand attracted thousands of people, who rode special trains into Paris for touring Vaudeville and stage shows.
The theater burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1916 that destroyed downtown Paris.
Within nine months, a new theater — the most modern, up-to-date in all of Texas, opened at the present location. Every new feature of theater architecture was incorporated.
An ample stage was equipped with every requirement needed to present the largest stage attractions on the road.
In 1937, the Grand was completely remodeled, turning the theater into the most modern, up-to-date theater in Texas, with seating for 850. No expense was spared in making the new Grand Theater one of the most modern, most comfortable and most beautiful theaters in Northeast Texas, The only portion of the building that was not renovated or reconstructed were the original side walls and roof of the old building.
The front was constructed of white stucco decorated with orange, red and maroon porcelain strips. It had a conventional marquee that was trimmed in porcelain and extended over the sidewalk the entire width of the front.
Resting on the marquee was a battleship prow type of attraction board carrying channels for the metal letters used to display current attractions at the theatre.
Directly above it and resting against the front of the building was a huge vertical electric sign spelling the word “GRAND” vertically in individual letters. This special textile sign was modernistic in design and was done in metal and porcelain with the color scheme of maroon, orange and red. It was outlined entirely in neon light.
The inner lobby was reached through a set of rust-colored doors paneled in plate glass with a white metal base strip and hardware of the same color.
The walls on each side of the inner lobby contained glass panel frames of a harmonizing color that carried coming attraction posters.
A mezzanine promenade was reached by stairs at the right front of the foyer. Circular mirrors for decorative purposes, deep cushioned settees and refrigerated drink foundations for the convenience of patrons were found on both the lower floor and mezzanine promenades.
Ladies powder compartments and men’s smokers were located at one end of the mezzanine promenade while the new offices of the manager were located at the opposite end.
The theater was complete with refrigeration, the newest RCA sound, acoustical treatment, and indirect lighting.
The new seats were the special floating comfort streamline-type supplied by the International Seating Corporation. They had special cord upholstery trimmed in light tan with blue-gray standards. This light tan trim enabled patrons to easily spot vacant seats in the subdued lighting of the auditorium. They were staggered for perfect visibility and were comfortably spaced.
The auditorium had an orchestra pit, and the stage was fully equipped for the presentation of stage shows. The dressing rooms were repainted and refurbished in anticipation of live shows.
In 1979, Cineplex Corporation, a theater chain with home offices in Marshall, Texas, purchased the Grand Theater. The Grand was then “twinned” in 1980. The balcony was closed off in order to produce a theater upstairs and down. The downstairs theater retained the approximately 400 seats that were originally in the building. The balcony theater retained only 250 seats.
The lobby was modernized, and the ceiling in the downstairs theater was lowered to improve hearing.
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