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Latchis Theatre restores marquee

A visible piece of theater’s recovery from a turbulent year

BRATTLEBORO—Thirteen months after a truck driver, impatient to make it through a congested intersection, drove on the sidewalk and demolished the outer panels of the Latchis Theatre marquee, drive-by movie fans will again have an opportunity to check out what’s playing.

Work began Tuesday morning on the historic theater’s new marquee fabricated by Wagner Electric Sign Co. of Elyria, Ohio, a company that specializes in restoration of old theater marquees.

Local contractors GPI Construction and A.L. Tyler and Sons are also involved with the project.

“With preservation guidelines, we couldn’t stray too far from the original,” said Latchis Arts Managing Director Gail Nunziata. “But we love the plans and hope everyone in Brattleboro will love the finished product.”

The accident, which happened on July 11, 2011, nearly sheared the marquee off the building, but enough of its frame survived for restoration.

Richard J. Belt of Claremont, N.H., a truck driver from Harvey Building Products in Waltham, Mass., was cited for driving on the sidewalk, a non-criminal offense.

Insurance, plus federal funding secured by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., helped cover the cost. Planning and design upgrades were made possible by a Vermont Economic Initiative Historic Preservation Grant from the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.

The new marquee will have stainless-steel borders and art deco decoration. Recreating an original design, blue neon letters spelling “LATCHIS” will top the north and south faces of the reader boards.

In addition to the marquee work, Latchis Arts announced this week that three new organizations have donated to the “Campaign for the Heavens and the Earth,” the $550,000 campaign to replace the 750 seats in the main theater and restore its Zodiac ceiling.

C & S Wholesale Grocers Community Involvement Program donated $1,000, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program came through with a community facilities grant for $17,400.

The Vermont Arts Council and the state of Vermont awarded the project $30,000 though its Cultural Facilities Coalition.

They join the Thompson Trust and Windham Foundation in their funding of the project, which is scheduled to begin in August 2013.

Art deco elements from the theater will be refurbished and reused. Along with the aesthetic changes, accessibility upgrades in the auditorium form a significant part of the project.

This project was to have started last year, but it got delayed by Tropical Storm Irene, which flooded the lower levels of the Latchis complex and destroyed the building’s electrical and heating systems.

The storm caused about $500,000 in damage and forced the theater and hotel to close for six weeks.

The repairs were paid for through a combination of insurance, loans from the Small Business Administration and Vermont Small Business Development Center, and funding from the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Community Foundation.

The last big piece of the Latchis’s restoration and upgrades will be celebrated on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 7 p.m. with a free showing of Singin’ in the Rain, the classic musical comedy starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor. The screening marks the one-year anniversary of Irene and commemorates the Latchis’ conversion from 35mm film to digital projection of movies.

While admission is free, patrons will be asked to make a donation to the Southeastern Vermont Irene Long Term Recovery Committee, whose mission is to identify and assess the ongoing needs of those affected by Irene and to ensure those needs are met.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #166 (Wednesday, August 22, 2012).

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