SANDUSKY, Ohio — Residents are eager to get back inside of the beloved landmark in the heart of downtown Sandusky. Since June 2020, ongoing renovations have taken place at the historic Sandusky State Theatre.
Sisters Brenda Rotsinger and Debbie Browne are among them. The two meet up multiple times a week at Mr. Simth's Coffee House on Columbus Avenue.
They talk about grandkids, life and what's going on around town like at the State Theatre located just across the street.
"A lot of people talk about it; like when can we go back to it again and how's it going to look," Rotsinger said.
"It's been there our whole lives," Browne said. "So, when that happened it was heartbreaking."
June 10, 2020, is a day the sisters and so many in Sandusky will never forget.
Severe weather collapsed a large portion of the nearly century-old theater. The damage was stunning, but so was the community's resilience, says former Police Chief John Orzech, who is currently the interim city manager.
"Right from the beginning it was like, ‘We're going to rebuild the State Theatre,’" Orzech said. "It wasn't even a question of if."
Demolition and stabilization consumed the first seven months, followed by a year of public planning and design. Now, construction is underway.
The work has been nonstop, said the theater's Executive Director Chris Parthemore.
"We're at the point where it's exciting," he said. "It's exciting to see what they accomplish every day."
The theater will look a lot like you remember, he said.
Preserving the past is a priority, but some design elements aren't salvageable, like some of the murals on both sides of the stage.
Parthemore said fine artisans will soon be inside on scaffolding working on restoration and new visual elements. He also said they've discovered original design elements that'll be brought back to life.
"When you peel it all the way back to 1928, you see it's stenciled on with all these colors and this will be a lot closer to what the new theater panels will look like," said Parthemore while flipping through several layers of old fabric from previous decades that have hung on the walls.
He called the new interior design theme "after the storm," a reflection of the beautiful sunset that June night that gave rise to triumph over tragedy.
"We’re going to celebrate Sandusky in the interior design," said Parthemore.
There will also be new seats.
"Back in 1928, the average seat size was about 17 inches," he said. "Now, it's 19-22 inches. They'll be a lot more comfortable!"
He said they've made sure to maximize sightlines throughout the auditorium, so you’ll have a great view of the stage no matter where you’re sitting.
Construction isn’t just inside — there’s major work happening behind the theater too.
They are building a bigger stage, which was a popular community request that’ll diversify programming.
"We'll have the larger-capacity stage for, say, a Broadway show or large concert," he said.
They also fully renovated the basement which flooded when the roof collapsed during the storm. It will house bigger dressing rooms and a prop room.
Parthemore said they’re thankful the two most irreplaceable items were spared in the storm: the massive, crystal chandelier and the Page Organ.
He also said he’s thankful they haven't hit any major snags so far in the construction project.
"We’ve had this great renascence in downtown Sandusky over the last seven or eight years and the theater gets to be part of the renascence now," said Parthemore. "As much as we love our history, people are just as excited about its future.”
He said it is too early to set a grand re-opening date just yet, but when they do reopen, you can expect it will be a week-long community celebration.
Rotsinger and Browne said they cannot wait to grab a coffee and see a show.
"Absolutely," they said. "Oh yeah, it’s what Sandusky needs!”
A recent win for the Sandusky State Theatre was receiving $3 million in federal funds for restoration and upgrades in the spending bill President Biden signed at the end of 2022.
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