News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 27, 2013

Restoration, remodel under way at historic Indiana Theater

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A renovation of downtown Terre Haute’s historic Indiana Theater is creating a terrace floor for 200 tables that overlooks a large stage, an upgrade in seating plus a restored entranceway canopy and large sign.

It’s all part of the first two phases of work at the theater now named the Indiana Theater Event Center.

“We took out the top six rows of seating from the lower auditorium and converted the space from being theater seating to where we can use it for table seating, exhibit space and VIP boxes. It’s adding flexibility to this room it never had before,” said owner Rob Lundstrom, who owns the Copper Bar and Louise’s Italian Fine Dining.

The concrete terrace will have a polished finish, with a simulated marble look to match the lobby.

“Before, it always had to be a stage-based show with theater seating. Now we have a room that we can use for wedding receptions, rehearsals. It gives us 200 plus in table seating, in addition to the 200 we have in the lobby. So we have anywhere from 400 to 450 in table seating,” Lundstrom said.

“The layout also gives us, I think, a more intimate feel for the lower area (which has about 200 seats). If it is a show where it is not sold out, we can really make it feel comfortable and cozy for the attendee,” he said. “We can do a lot of things in terms of backdrops and how we lay out this room with dividers.”

The terrace floor, while accidental, is actually following later open concepts from John Eberson, who designed the Indiana Theater. “This theater was designed to simulate the life cycle of a day. If you go in the rotunda, that was daybreak. You move into the lobby, that was daytime and then into the auditorium, that was nightfall,” Lundstrom said.

Next to the stage, a restored theater organ will be installed in the summer of 2014. The organ (a Wurlitzer style 230) is from the El Capitan Theater in San Francisco, Lundstrom said.

A historical group based in Indianapolis will own and maintain the organ, which will be housed in the theater. That group will have two events annually at the theater, Lundstrom said.

“We are free to use it for events so it is a real asset for the theater. The theater originally was built with a theater organ. That organ was sold to someone in southern Indiana and stored in a barn, but deteriorated, so it was a loss for the theater. However, this is close to the same model,” Lundstrom said.

The organ will be placed on a hydraulic lift, which will raise the organ from below stage level.

Light fixtures and light bulbs in the  “Indiana Theater” sign will be replaced with new electronics and energy efficient LED lighting, which will enable the sign to display different colors, instead of just white.

“We had to use a crane to bring the sign down,” Lundstrom said. “We will do a full restoration. On the outside it will look the same as it did before, but longevity of the lights will be better.”

The sign will still have hung letters to advertise events. The sign is expected to be completed and back into place within 30 to 45 days, Lundstrom said.

Seating, while not new but an upgrade from current seats, are coming from the Hilbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis, which Lundstrom said is a sister theater to the Indiana Theater. Those seats will be installed in the next 60 days.

“I fully recognize the need for a seating upgrade. That probably, in looking at it, was in more need of replacement than I realized, so that became a priority to make it a comfortable experience,” Lundstrom said.

The theater had 1,650 seats, but will now have 1,400 to 1,500 seats, with wider seats and better spacing, plus another 200 seating in the lobby. In addition, plaster inside the theater will be stored and painted and general cosmetic restoration.

After that, a glass brick crystal bar with LED lighting will be added to the front lobby, to be a signature piece for the lobby.

A later renovation phase will be to re-coat and even out the stage floor, for events such as dance recitals, Lundstrom said.

“This is a community asset regardless who owns it and it is important that we are sensitive to what the needs of the end users and users of the community,” Lundstrom said.

“There will not be a day where I open the doors, turn the lights on and say we are done,” Lundstrom said. “It will be an ongoing process. We will go through multiple phases.”

“We are active and in business now, so we have a little bit of a balancing act to that, but it has worked out great so far,” Lundstrom said.

Lundstrom said he does plan to have an open house within the next 60 days as a fundraiser for improvements. The event will provide a full tour throughout the entire building.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.