SANDUSKY, Ohio — It was June 10, 2020. A massive storm came barreling off of Lake Erie. In Sandusky, high winds ripped through the downtown area. The Sandusky State Theater took the brunt of it.
The winds ripped the rood off of the 92-year old iconic building and sent bricks crashing onto the street below. The damage left behind is worth millions of dollars.
“We’ve gone through a lot in the last year. Not just with the storm but with COVID," said Chris Parthemore, the executive director for the Sandusky State Theater.
Michael Shirtz, a conductor, performer and teacher said watching the devastation was like watching his own home crumble.
“I really didn’t know how to react. It was one of those things where your stomach flips and you’re looking it and it’s like ‘this can’t be real. I’ll wake up from the dream at some point,'" Shirtz said. “This is the gem of the community. It’s right downtown. It’s the heart of the city.”
Since 2005 he’s dedicated countless hours to the theater - performing, conducting and teaching.
"This became a place of creativity and innovation on all levels not just as a performer or a director or as an educator, but watching audiences transform as well as the performers and the actors and all the musicians. Having the ability to create here was just incredible," he said. "This is a place that’s changed lives.”
It's been 11 months since the damage was done but he said it still feels fresh.
“It’s still a little hard and still a little breath-taking since it was your home so much.
Since the storm hit, employees, volunteers and other community members have spent months working to put the historic building back together. Before winter hit, crews were able to enclose the building, installing a new roof. Following that work, everything housed inside the building was sorted through and put into storage.
"We found some really cool things," said Parthemore. "Back in the 60s and 70s, there was a bowling alley in the basement and we were able to recover some of the lanes. And another thing deep in the archives in a box was the program from opening night in 1928 so we do have that as well. It was really neat. Going through everything gave us a real appreciation for the building."
Parthemore said some days at the theater are harder than others. Looking around seeing an empty, gutted building is tough. But added, they've made great progress.
“You can see where the old brick meets the new brick," he said. “And now we’re at the point where of beginning to work with an architecture firm and make plans for the future.”
The Sandusky State Theater partnered with an architecture group based in the greater Cleveland area, DLR Group/Westlake Reed Leskosky. Parthemore said they conducted a nationwide search for a partner and they're thrilled to sign with an Ohio-based company.
"They do great work," he said. "They've done work on PlayhouseSquare and they're wonderful to work with."
Parthemore said they're in the beginning stages of planning with the DLR Group and they're currently accepting community feedback. Since the building is on the historical register most of it will look and feel the same after construction is complete. But, rebuilding the theater requires much more work than your average building.
"We have things like sight lines and acoustics, lighting design that we have to take into consideration and the building is 90 years old. Patrons are different than they were 100 years ago and we want to make sure the patron experience in the future is as smooth as it can be," Parthemore said.
Members of the theater board are thrilled to hear community feedback.
“It’s an opportunity for us to look to the future and meet the needs of the community in the future and figure out what the community wants the building to be," Parthemore said.
This weekend the public can get a glimpse at the beloved theater and give their input on the future of the building. An open house is scheduled from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
"Just seeing people walk through the front door is going to be incredible," Parthemore said. “We missed seeing people coming in but more so miss seeing them walk out smiling.”
For Shirtz, as heart-shattering as it is looking at the rubble, he said he’s ready for the next act.
“So the performance is different, now the performance is to rebuild to bring that activity back to people," he said.