The original Elba Theatre opened up in 1935 in the small town, and although it survived a massive fire in January 1941, it closed in the early 1970’s. Since that time, the building has gone through a number of owners, but never opened back up as a theatre.
In 2014, Restoration 154, a local nonprofit group in Elba, dedicated to developing restoration projects in the community, bought the former movie theatre and began planning for a complete restoration of the building with the help of the Elba City Council, members of the community, and the support of the mayor.
In 2015, the Elba Theatre hosted “Movie Night” inside the old theatre to raise funds for the project and eventually was forced to move “Movie Night” outside due to concerns with damage to the building that had yet to be fixed.
Atlanta-based architecture and design firm Lord Aeck Sargent agreed to work with the nonprofit in designing the new Elba Theatre. Lord Aeck Sargent did the first half of the design process for free and later the Elba Theatre was awarded a $30,000 grant from the Alabama State Council of Arts, which will pay for the other half of the cost of design.
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The plan for the Elba Theatre is for it to be a cultural arts center, according to Restoration 154’s Executive Director Laurie Chapman. “The plan is to have flexible seating for various functions like receptions, banquets and cinema among others,” she said.
While the project is still in its design phase, the next phase will be the toughest part with repairs needed across the board for the old theatre, including a new roof, repairing of exterior walls, new restrooms, replacing the storefront windows, new doors and electrical work.
“Fundraising for the first phase is planned for the fall,” Chapman said.
The restoration of the theatre would be huge for the community of Elba, according to Chapman.
“Our hope is that with the reopening of the theatre, the citizens of Elba will have even greater pride in our beautiful courthouse square; that the theatre will provide memories for a new generation; like it has for past generations,” Chapman said.
Chapman and Restoration 154 hope that the new Elba Theatre will also reinsure residents on the new levee in Elba as well.
“(We hope) that it will remind new residents and guests that we believe in our new levee and the hope that downtown Elba will not flood again,” Chapman said.
Restoration 154 expects the cost of the first phase will be around $300,000, so the planned fund raisers, which will be announced in the fall, will be necessary for the restoration project to continue on at the Elba Theatre.