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Rebirth of the Marquee

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Introduction

The greatest thing about the new marquee is the community involvement that went into it. Many businesses and individuals had a hand in it's rebirth, donating time, materials, or equipment, or providing these at a reduced cost. As a consequence, the price tag was much lower than expected. The Friends recreated the marquee for about $45,000. That may sound like a lot, until you consider that we received quotes from out-of-the-area companies as high as quarter of a million dollars!


Removal and Documentation

When the Friends purchased the theatre in the summer of 1991, the marquee was in very bad shape and had sections in danger of falling. Over the next several months, the marquee and its ceiling were removed. The panels were stored inside for a time.

Volunteers begin removal of the marquee. Photo credit: The Sentinel

In the fall of 1992, the panels were measured and documented. Several photographs were taken to document the original panels, and scrapings were done to document the original colors. Paint schemes lines could still be seen under layers of paint. All of this was recorded. The panels were then put into long-term storage in a nearby unused building. Over the years, the panels disappeared, and what happened to them is unknown.

Section of the front panel showing the left sunburst. Notice the advanced corrosion along the bottom edge. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

Photo of one of the letters. About 1942, they were converted to neon tubing. The sockets for the tubing can be seen in the bottom of this letter. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

View of one of the side panels. The fancy notch on the left is where the panel fit over coping details on the building. The "L" shaped notch was for the transformers for the neon tubing, which was placed over the original chase lights (area in green), which were covered with stainless steel. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

Documentation took several days. Each of the light bulb holes were measured to get accurate details for eventual replication. Hundreds of measurements were recorded and notes were taken on any possible. Historic photos were examined for details as well, such as the ones in the previous chapter. Unfortunately, all of these photos showed only the front of the marquee. One photo that "came light" at this time illustrated the end panels, and also showed that the original letterboars were "reversed lettering."

In this blown-up of a section of a 1941 photograph, the reverse lettering on the end panel can be seen. Shortly after this photo was taken, the letterboards were changed to back-lit solid letters. If you're interested, "That Hamilton Woman" starring Vivian Leigh and Laurence Olivier was playing on the screen. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

Finally, conversations with knowledgeable local citizens, like the late Bob Hambright (The Movie Man) helped to answer many of the questions that could not be answered in other ways. Enough information was gathered, now came the hardest task - raising enough money to rebuild it.

A "light up the marquee" campaign was initiated to sell the light bulbs (similar to a "buy a brick" campaign) was initiated to raise money to rebuild the marquee. Unfortunately, although many were sold and a lot are still available, sales were never strong enough to raise sufficient monies to do the marquee. The other option was to secure a grant, but the Friends needed to build the project up to a point where we could go for the money sufficient to be able to do the marquee, estimated to be well over $25,000.

Over the years, the Friends worked hard to build the credibility of the project. Events like the annual festival helped to raise monies to cover overhead expenses so that some money could be put into projects. Then in 2001, the Friends successfully raised $14,000 to clean the front and restore the front windows. On the heals of this project, the time seemed right to go for the marquee.


The Dream Becomes A Reality

After the successful front cleaning project of 2001, the time seemed right to go for the marquee. In the summer of 2002, contact was made with State Senator Jake Corman's office about a possible grant. Interestingly enough, the Senator was thinking along the same lines. A Community Revitalization grant was submitted to the Dept. of Community and Economic Development.

On October 17th, the Embassy Theatre celebrated it's 75th birthday. That evening, at the open house party, Senator Corman was there to help celebrate the occasion, and presented a wonderful birthday present - a check for $40,000. The funds were now in hand.

Senator Corman presents a check to the Friends. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

Preparations soon began to begin construction of the marquee. The Friends contacted Metlmex, a local metal fabrication firm, to finalize design and construction parameters. The sketches and notes of the original marquee were transferred to scale drawing, and then were made into full-size plywood templates.

Templates of the original marquee. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

In the meantime, paperwork was prepared and submitted to request a zoning variance to be able to use the marquee. In the 1960's, many communities across the nation, including Lewistown, zoned out certain types of signs, including ones that have flashing and animated signs. Often these laws were aimed at keeping downtowns from turning into "Las Vegas" style strips, or over concerns of driver distraction. The other variance requested was to allow us to advertise community events and happy messages on the boards.

The following links refer to two documents concerning the variances. The first is the variance application, and the second are notes or "talking points" for the variance hearing.


Embassy Varaince Hearing Document Click Here

Talking Points for Zoning Click Here

Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader


The Friends request was made on historic preservation grounds. In today's world, flashy marquees like the Embassy's are no longer necessary to advertise the theatre. The true reason for restoring it was to preserve the ambiance of the classic theatre, to preserve for the future generations the total theatre experience. The borough approved the necessary variances. The Friends agreed to voluntarily restrict its usage.

Several components were pruchased this time, including 1400 light bulbs, sockets, the letters for the ends, and five digital controllers for the animation. Digital Lighting Systems, whom we purchased the controllers from, are featuring us on their website at:

http://www.digitallighting.com/animationfolder/projects.htm

By the beginning of May, we were ready to begin construction of the marquee.


Construction Begins

In Mid May 2003, work began at Metlmex Corporation on the marquee Metlmex was the perfect company to build this. While they had never built anything close to a marquee before, they were experts at custom metal fabrication. Principal owner David Suloff and the workers were anxious to do this community project. In some respects, they said it was just another shop job, but this was also a unique project. All of the employees "went the extra mile," putting more effort into making this project perfect.

Once we worked out the parameters of the project, construction would be straight-forward. Two major changes (and a handful of lesser) would be included on the new marquee. The first is that the new marquee would be built from aluminum, rather than steel, which would be much more weather resistant than the original. The second was that the marquee had to be servicable. It was decided to make the face panels removable, rather than permanently fastened, as in the original. The front panel frame was fabricated as one unit for greater strength. The original was evidentally built in two sections. The front panel is 32-1/2 feet long and 5-1/2 feet high in the center.

Front panel frame taking shape on the Metlmex shop floor. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

The interior ribbing of the front frame is completed. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

Metlmex employee Rich Romig installing the rear panels. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

The letter "A" taking shape. The front panel letters were made as seperate pieces and then attached. This made it easier to paint them. The original letters were permanently mounted to the face. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

The first pieces of the marquee to be completed. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

The front panel fully assembled. The panel, minus paint and electrical components weighed in at 1,050 lbs (1/2 ton), estimated to be half of what the original one weighed. The plywood templates made it easy to layout the holes for the lights. Fun Trivia Question: Metlmex had to stamp out more than 1,000 holes in the front and side panels and celing light strips, for the light sockets. Guess how many they missed? (Answer at the end of the chapter.) Photo credit Paul T. Fagley

One of the side panel frame takes shape. These panels are 10 1/2 feet long and 6 1/2 feet high. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

The sunburst panel on top of the side panel. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

The chase light panel for the side. The center section (inside the tape) will be cut out for the changeable letterboards. Also note the two small circles to mark the location of light holes, not yet punched out. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

A side panel assembled. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

Some of the Metlmex crew poses in front of the panel. Photo credit: Paul T. Fagley

All of the Metlmex people were a delight to work with on this project, and the Friends of the Embassy depply appreciate their help with this project. Unfortunitly, Metlmex went out of business a few months after completing the marquee. It stands as a legacy to this unique company in our area.

Answer to Trivia Question: Using the templates, they punched a centering mark where each hole would be stamped out. Everyone of the holes was stamped exactly. Not one was stamped out of place. However, in examining all of the panels, ONE hole (out of over 1,000) was found to not have been stamped.