GOWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – About an hour south of the Buffalo metro area, a dedicated team of people is bringing a historic theater back to life.
Gowanda’s Historic Hollywood Theater, which was built in 1926, hasn’t seen much action in the past few decades.
It will have a grand reopening this summer. The restoration project is nearly 24 years in the making.
“We’ve been incredibly successful getting grants, and getting support, and little by little, we’re back in 1926,” said Deborah Harris, the grant and project administrator.
The original theater was an opera house that burned down. Harris said businessman name Richard Willhelm rebuilt a theater a couple of years later, and that is what has been brought back to its former glory.
“That’s kind of why you see all the beautiful ornate detail, which is kind of weird for a hometown theater, because it was really special to him and the community,” she said.
The theater was open until the early 90s, then fell into disrepair. Toward the end of that decade is when efforts to fix it began.
“I believe this is a significant piece of infrastructure. It’s both on state and historic registries, and that provides a real focal point, this is our community,” said Mark C. Burr.
Burr is the president of the theater. He and the many teams involved have made every effort to reimagine the Hollywood Theater the same as it was in the Roaring 20s.
The original light panel remains on stage. Five phones, once used to communicate throughout the theater, will be restored. And a 1920s Wurlitzer organ they acquired is comparable to the original, and it will be fixed up for the orchestra pit.
Within the walls, some modern technology will allow for theatrical lighting and improve the production quality of future acts.
“Essentially, it’s a 1926 building with very 2020 mechanicals and theatricals systems that are going to be installed as part embedded within the infrastructure of the building,” Burr said.
Harris believes this theater can spark revitalization in Gowanda.
“Arts is what’s bringing back to life rural America right now. All these little communities where industry has left, you find them coming back to life through the arts, and I really do see that happening here,” she said.
“To review what was here in 1926 and how important that theater was in that social fabric…it’s very rewarding,” Burr said.
Burr and Harris hope to bring in all kinds of shows: rock bands, musicals, choirs, movies, and more. The outside marquee will also be restored to shine on West Main Street. The grand reopening will be this July.
“The people here have a heart for this theater, and there’s no way they wanted it to go. And that makes a difference. That makes a big difference,” Harris said.
Erica Brecher is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.