A line of anxious audience members wrapped around the corner of State St. and Cayuga last night as they awaited a moment four years in the making — the reopening of the historic State Theatre.
Opening the house promptly at 5:30, ushers greeted community members as they entered the State’s grand foyer. Once inside, patrons were awestruck by the building’s intricate architectural design, which has been closed to public view since 1997.
Historic Ithaca, Inc. purchased the building in 1998 after the City of Ithaca condemned the property as unsafe the year before. The agency’s primary goal is to preserve and restore historic buildings and facilities within Ithaca.
With regards to the State Theatre, the preservation process has been both long and expensive. Last night’s reopening of the State Theatre was an emblematic vindication for the grueling hours and monetary demands of the project.
Historic Ithaca called the evening a “Community Ceremony and Celebration,” and did not charge a cover, asking instead that audience members enjoy their evening and enjoy the theatre in the years to come.
As the audience filtered into the house, they were met by an enormous stage set with both sound and lighting equipment. The evening’s entertainment was vast and varied, a montage of dance, musical performance and drama. This variety show, something reminiscent of the State Theatre’s vaudeville past, was followed by a short documentary of its history. The short film detailed some of the highlights of the renovation process, including the extensive structural repairs that had to be made.
The night ended with a short display of appreciation from Historic Ithaca Executive Director Scott Whitham and Rich John, the president of Historic Ithaca’s board of directors.
Whitham began by reading a short excerpt from a letter that officially repealed the 1997 condemnation of the facility. The news was met with whistles and applause from the audience. Whitham went on to offer his thanks to the many community members, foundations, government entities, volunteers and enthusiasts who have supported the renovation process.
Rich John shared his hopes for the State Theatre’s future.
“We want to make it [the State Theatre] a premier showplace in upstate New York,” John said.
He went on to detail Phase Two of the renovation process and to offer a tentative completion date of Dec. 6, 2003, which will be the State Theatre’s 75th anniversary.
“We want to make it beautiful and more functional,” John said, referring to the goal of completely refurbishing the facility.
The atmosphere of the evening was jovial.
Longtime Ithaca resident Ruth Davis said, “I think it’s wonderful that [the State Theatre] has come to this point, that it’s opening. There’s a lot of work to do yet, and I hope the community gets behind it.”
Another longtime resident and Cornell alum Sylvia Whal exited the theatre saying, “I’m still overcome by nostalgia. It’s really overwhelming