Celebrating a milestone
SAYRE - When plans for the construction of the 1,200-seat Sayre Opera House were announced in the second decade of the 1900s, its estimated cost was $25,000.
Built on the site of a blacksmith's shop on South Elmer Avenue in Sayre, the opera house - known today as the Sayre Theatre - is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
At the kickoff event for the centennial celebration, which took place on Sunday at the theater, officials from the Bradford County Regional Arts Council talked about how their organization had bought the Sayre Theatre building 19 years ago, when it was at risk of having to be torn down, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading the building.
Today, the Sayre Theatre "is a model community theater," Brooks Eldredge-Martin, emeritus executive director of the arts council, said at the event.
In addition to speeches, the kickoff event included a reception for the public and a performance by the Rodney Mack Philadelphia Big Brass, which is composed of some of America's top brass musicians, according to the arts council.
Sunday's event kicks off a series of community events throughout 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of the theater, including a picnic on Aug. 6, and a grand finale, which will feature a New Year's Eve community celebration at the theater.
When the theater was originally constructed, it showed silent movies and hosted traveling vaudeville acts and other types of live performances, Eldredge-Martin said.
In its early years, people could take an electric trolley to get to the theater.
By the time the arts council purchased the building, it had become a one-screen movie theater, and no longer had the facilities on site for live performances.
"In 1995, when the arts council was asked to buy the Sayre Theatre, it was by that year in much disrepair, and (on the) borderline (of having) to be taken down," said Henry Dunn, president of the arts council's board of directors.
Purchasing and upgrading the building "was a major, major project," he said.
However, the community got behind the venture, including the Sayre Borough Council, which allocated a $100,000 block grant to the project, according to Dunn and Eldredge-Martin.
Dunn touted the fruits of the work that was done. "What a tremendous and great success it (the upgraded theater) is!" he said.
When the arts council purchased the building, it initiated a $400,000 construction project on the structure, creating a renovated lobby, an art gallery, and two 75-seat movie theaters in the building, according to the arts council.
The $400,000 project also reduced the size of building's main theater, known as the Guthrie Performing Arts Center. Today, the Guthrie Performing Arts Center seats 350.
The upgrades started the day the arts council purchased the building, Eldredge-Martin said.
The upgrades included replacing wooden flooring, which was rotted because it was in direct contact with the ground, with poured concrete flooring, and addressing the 200 leaks in the building's roof, he said.
"People had to move (within the building) depending on the direction of the rain," he said.
Through its renovations, the arts council installed facilities - such as stage lighting, theater curtains, and beautiful dressing areas - that have allowed live performances to return to the theater, said Margie Ross, manager of the theater.
Over the decades that the theater has been in existence, it has been the site of "food drives, Christmas movies for kids, toy drives - things we're still doing today," Ross said.
"This is more than a building," Ross said. "It's part of a community, and that's what makes this special."
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.