Holly Theatre to open for tours

Holly Theatre to open for tours

Medford residents can step into the past starting this Saturday when supporters of the Holly Theatre begin offering twice-monthly tours to kick start their fundraising campaign.

Supporters of the Holly hope the tours will generate enthusiasm to help them raise the $2.5 million needed to complete the interior renovation of the theater and return it to its former 1930 glory.

"We are going to make it as it was," said Steve Nelson, JPR Foundation board president. "The Holly will be delivered to the people of the Rogue Valley."

The renovation of the outside facade was completed last year, and repairs of cracked structural beams in the ceiling have allowed the removal of columns of timbers that acted as temporary supports. The theater is at the corner of Sixth and Holly streets in downtown Medford.

Jefferson Live!, which operates the Cascade Theatre in Redding, calculates that the cost to restore the Holly will be $3.8 million, slightly higher than earlier estimates of $3.5 million. So far, $300,000 has been spent for restoration of the facade and beam repairs.

To date, $400,000 has been raised or pledged, which includes $300,000 in grants from MURA. The Holly has also received a federal grant for $900,000.

That leaves $2.5 million that needs to be raised through donations, grants and other contributions.

Over the past few months, Jefferson Live! has spent $20,000 to have the interior cleaned, guard rails installed and posters showing what the finished product will look like when completed.

The original Holly had a Spanish courtyard feel with simulated balconies and lots of mood lighting.

The idea is to give people a glimpse of the former grandeur of the theater, which is still far from remodeled.

Tours will be held from noon to 3 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month. They will be first come, first served and free. Up to 25 people at a time can be taken through the building.

The interior is still on the dingy side and will require a bit of imagination on the part of visitors to conjure up the look of the restoration. Posters showing the way it once looked will be on display.

Visitors will see exposed beams, stained walls, faded paint and a generally dilapidated interior. The ceiling still has remnants of wool insulation between the joists.

Visitors should also be forewarned that there are 144 steps to climb in the tour. The building doesn't currently have an elevator, but one will be installed as part of the restoration.

But the tour will show off the size of the 1,000-seat auditorium with stadium-style seating. Because it has no balcony, the seats rise up in a continuous climb to the upper rows.

A small orchestra pit still sits below the stage. The projection booth was state-of-the-art in its day. Film used to be extremely flammable, so the booth has protective concrete floors and steel walls.

Shutters that open for a projector were attached to the ceiling with a lead hook, which would melt in case of a fire closing the shutters automatically.

A large lounge area on the second floor has been opened up after previous remodeling divided it into separate rooms.

The theater even had a "crying room," where mothers could take unhappy babies so that they wouldn't disturb the general audience.

Randy Bobst-Mckay, executive director of Jefferson Live!, said the estimates for remodelling are based on bids received.

He anticipates that it will take until next fall to raise the money and start the interior renovation.

The tours of the cleaned-up interior will be more "friend-raising" than fundraising, said Bobst-Mckay,

He said that he and Meagan Lauing DeNeui, development assistant for Jefferson Live!, will give visitors a behind-the-scenes peek into the history and future of the Holly.

"We want to show our vision to people," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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