Historic Turnage Theatre gets much-needed roof repair :: WRAL.com

This article was written for our sponsor, the Washington Tourism Development Authority.

Washington, NC residents literally raised the roof of the Historic Turnage Theater in downtown Washington.

Thanks to a $ 1.3 million grant, the Turnage Theater was in dire need of repair on its vaudeville theater roof as well as other areas of the theater interior. These renovations will open up the space in the theater and preserve the landmark.

“As of 2017, we saw some real signs of damage to the plaster of paris, walls, and roof of the variety theater on the fifth floor,” said Debra Torrence, executive director of Arts of the Pamlico, a center for arts and cultural activities for youth and adults at the East north carolina. “We recognized the importance of saving the roof and renovating the theater in order to preserve the building for decades to come.”

“There were multiple sources in support of this project. We received a grant for the USDA Community Facility, received funding from three private foundations and support from the City of Washington as a partner to the local government, and received individual donations of US $ 5 and above.” continued Torrence. “As a nonprofit, it is very unusual for a source to support a nonprofit, no matter how strong it is.”

Roland Wyman, CEO of Arts of the Pamlico, said AOP paid back the last portion of its mortgage debt two years ago and set a goal of further improving the Turnage Theater after discovering the roof is about to fail.

“It was a structural problem that couldn’t be solved simply by applying a new coating to the existing roof,” he said. “It was the original heavy timber framework – you can imagine what it was like to sit there since 1913. It had to be completely replaced. A contractor walked in and erected a huge crane that could be seen from all over Washington and they very efficiently removed the old roof and installed an entirely new steel structure. “

“It wasn’t finished until the beginning of October. It’s an important milestone for us,” continued Wyman. “We have a brand new roof structure that has now made sure that everything inside – all the valuable contents, the old preserved vaudeville and palace theaters, as well as the art galleries and shops and everything – stays dry. So we lease a new life.”

The importance of the Historic Turnage Theater and its preservation is of paramount importance to both the local community and North Carolina as a whole. The Historic Turnage Theater is a North Carolina historic site and structure that has contributed to Washington’s Historic District. It is a 32,000 square meter building that houses two theaters.

“The front of the building was originally used as a bakery and shoe shop with a variety playhouse on the second floor,” says the Arts of the Pamlico website. “A second palace-style theater was built at the rear of the building in the mid-1930s. People flocked to the Turnage Theater for nearly 50 years. However, more major cinemas opened in eastern North Carolina in the 1970s. When the neglected theater fell into disrepair, It closed its doors for the first time in 1978. Around 20 years later, a group of historical preservationists and representatives of the arts founded the non-profit Turnage Theater Foundation. “

The theater, named after the owner CA Turnage, was built in two phases from 1913.

First, the front of the building and the variety room were built. Vaudeville is a type of entertainment that includes burlesque, comedy, song, and dance that became popular in the early 20th century. The second part of the theater was built between 1928 and 1930 when “talkies” – films with sound – were invented.

“Turnage decided to build the second building in the background to cool it down and make it quieter. He not only installed a movie screen, but also a stage because he wasn’t sure films would survive. The second building has a palace theater with it 432 seats, “said Torrence. “The main building that you enter at the front door on Main Street is a gem. It is lined with chandeliers and has a theater, costume and fashion museum on the central hallway to the balcony of the Palace Theater. We have a large art gallery one Side and a bakery on the other side. The variety theater is in the hallway and the catering kitchen is opposite. “

The Turnage Theater is one of the few in the nation that has two theaters in one building. The largely intact variety theater is also unique.

“We still have the original balcony, the stage, part of the proscenium, part of the catwalk, and some of the pulleys that we have on the fly floor that close the curtains,” said Torrence. “We have the original horn that was the speaker system of the day, the light bench, and the floor is still raked which means it’s slightly tilted, as well as the original piano pit.”

Roy Rogers, a 1930s singer and actor, once appeared in the theater and is just one of several parts of the story that the walls of the theater remember.

Despite its longevity, the theater has seen quite a bit of ups and downs over the years and has almost been closed.

“In the late 1960s to 1970s, major streets across the country began to switch to shopping malls and the like. Washington was no different and the theater was no longer in use and was empty for some time,” said Wyman. “The theater was due to be sold for demolition in the late 1970s, but a group of locals realized that history needed to be preserved and organized there in order to take control of the theater and begin some renovation work.”

After a major multi-million dollar renovation, the Turnage Theater Foundation struggled to repay the $ 2 million loan to complete the restoration process of the crumbling building.

Rising costs and dwindling support from individual and corporate sponsors closed the theater again in 2011. In 2013, the Turnage Theater building was purchased by the Arts of the Pamlico (formerly Beaufort County Arts Council) and returned to its former glory.

However, the necessary roof repairs are proof that old, historic buildings need consistent maintenance.

“Many community organizations and volunteers have worked to restore the theater and bring it back to life,” said Wyman. “We stand on the shoulders of so many who are realizing what theater means to Washington and our entire Eastern North Carolina community.”

The current pandemic was some kind of blessing in disguise that allowed the theater repairs to be done while many people were working from home and guests were not coming to the theater while the programming stayed away.

Speaking of programming, despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the theater was able to host virtual programs such as online art exhibitions and a virtual youth theater, and recently hosted a Halloween presentation via Zoom. AOP plans to hold a similar holiday showcase this December.

“COVID took a hit this year, but we were able to do a lot of nice things in place of what we originally planned, including a virtual tour of the Turnage Theater called the Tales of the Turnage,” said Torrence. “This will start in January 2021. We hope to open our physical doors in December, but we’ll see how things go pandemic.”

Looking ahead, Torrence is excited about the future and what the AOP has in store for the Washington community and the newly renovated Turnage Theater.

“We hope to get much of our youth and community theater back on stage, restarting comedy troops, as well as our monthly dance chapters and writing groups,” said Torrence. “We are in the middle of a strategic planning process and we just hope that we can continue.”

This article was written for our sponsor, the Washington Tourism Development Authority.

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