ELLSWORTH, Maine — By the end of August, it’ll be 1938 all over again underneath the marquee and tower of The Grand theater.
On July 16, workers will begin to restore The Grand’s iconic marquee, capping off seven years of restoration work that has seen the theater put on the wait list for the National Register of Historic Places.
The marquee once sported teal and aqua-blue art-deco trim with red neon accents. Restoration will peel away the maroon paint that covers the original metal and restore the trim and neon lights.
The Grand is perhaps the most distinct feature of Ellsworth’s downtown skyline. The Main Street theater opened in in the late ’30s as a movie house and in the 1970s was equipped for stage productions.
In 2005, the dressing room, stage curtains, lighting and wiring were updated. In 2006, new seating was put in the theater. In 2007, new proscenium curtains were dedicated in memory of longtime stage director Ken Stack.
Then, in 2010, the tower was refitted with the same vitrolite colored glass that had given it its original ’38 sheen. Over the years, the glass had fallen off and been replaced, in some parts, with painted plywood.
Zoe Scott, executive director of The Grand, said the historic restoration separates The Grand from many other theaters across the country.
“Old theaters like this one are either torn down or they go for new bling,” she said. “But we’re going to go for just what it was.”
The only exception to the restoration work is the installation of electronic leaderboards on the sides of the marquee. Scott said the 21st century touch is compliant with historic preservation guidelines because the metal-hooked letters used to promote shows and movies no longer are made.
“It’s either get electronic leaderboards or reinvent the wheel with those metal letters,” she said.
The restoration work has been funded by competitive grants, the city’s Facade Restoration Fund and the proceeds from the annual “Runway Grand” fashion show. Restoration of the tower and marquee will total about $200,000.
On Tuesday, passersby on Main Street spoke positively about the restoration work at the old theater.
“The Grand is really holding its own in this part of Ellsworth,” said Susan Smith of Deer Isle, who was shopping across the street at John Edwards’ Market. “I think it’s wonderful in today’s world … People travel all over to see old things like this.”
The Grand has been named a City Historic Landmark by Ellsworth and Scott says she has worked through the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to get the theater on the National Register of Historic Places. Nomination papers have been filed and Scott says The Grand meets all the criteria.
“We’re on the wait list,” she said. “All we need now is the plaque.”
On Sept. 7, The Grand will hold a special screening of “Singin’ in the Rain” and a party for the finished tower and marquee.
“We’ll be aglow for the first time since 1938,” Scott said.