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Majesty of Albany Theatre endures

People, Places & Things

Albany Downtown Manager Aaron Blair stands in the balcony of the former Albany Theatre on North Jackson Street. Blair also is CEO of the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority, which purchased the theater with plans to revive it.

Albany Downtown Manager Aaron Blair stands in the balcony of the former Albany Theatre on North Jackson Street. Blair also is CEO of the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority, which purchased the theater with plans to revive it.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Even with piles of rubble strewn across its auditorium floor, a sampling of graffiti tags on walls outside the projection room and gaping holes offering views of the late-spring Southwest Georgia sky, the grandeur of the historic Albany Theatre is still readily apparent.

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Steps lead up to the stage where popular movies were once shown at the Albany Theatre. (May 19, 2013)

Molded griffins adorn walls adjacent to the grand stairway that led to the white section of the 1,800-seat theater's balcony, and what's left of an elaborate chandelier hangs beneath remnants of ornamental plaster medallions that added to the majesty of the auditorium.

Also evident is the more than $1.2 million in restoration work completed by James Miller's Oglethorpe Development Group through 2006, when funding issues halted the proposed $5.5 million renovation of the theater.

A tour of the surprisingly expansive North Jackson Street structure offers insight into why the Albany, built for $300,000 and opened on Sept. 12, 1927, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 2006.

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This is some of the moulding that adorns the Albany Theatre despite years of non use. (May 19, 2013)

"This place is quite amazing," Albany Downtown Manager/Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority CEO Aaron Blair said Friday as he led a trio of visitors through the theater. "The auditorium is pretty much a nightmare at first glance, but if you look around you can see some of the elements that made the original structure so phenomenal."

Indeed, sections of intricate mouldings are apparent throughout the disarray and decay of the auditorium; old heating radiators are stacked here and there; a section of balcony railing lies at the foot of the theater's massive stage.

A walk through the arcade section of the Albany -- which featured shops like La Vogue Beauty Parlor, The Book & Gift Shop, McAfee Jewelry, the Pen & Pencil Shoppe and the Arcade Shoppe, where tobacco, cigars, sandwiches and cold drinks were sold -- shows a mix of the old and new. One wall features plaster work completed by Miller's construction crew. Across the way, original brick walls stand as a paean to a bygone era.

ADICA purchased the Albany Theatre with a grand design of restoring some of the historic structure's former luster while also introducing a missing element of downtown redevelopment: residential.

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The main staircase of the Albany Theatre leads to the second floor calcony area. (May 19, 2013)

"Our original plan was to develop three apartment units upstairs, add unique shops in the arcade area while repurposing the auditorium," Blair said. "With the condition of the auditorium, we voted (at ADICA's May 8 meeting) to demolish the (inside of the) auditorium along with the arcade before putting the renovation project out for bid. But we had a second engineer take a look at the auditorium and he said with all the steel used in construction of the building, it wasn't going anywhere.

"So now, I think we'll take another look at it before we seek bids on the demolition."

Blair also said the development authority may simply clean debris from the structure and see if there is interest in private development.

"If we do that -- or even if we just clean out the auditorium during the demolition process -- we'll have someone in here with the workers to make sure we preserve anything of historic value," Blair said. "Those elaborate light fixtures (hanging in the auditorium) had stained glass in them, and we found most of the glass upstairs with two globes intact.

"The four rows of seats in the 'black section' of the second balcony -- which had a separate entrance from the alley -- are also still there. We've also discovered that the various pieces of the ($25,000) pipe organ that was played during movies is stored in the upstairs area above the Cookie Shoppe. And I've talked with someone who said they could recreate the original marquee (which shone brightly with its 1,348 light bulbs)."

As Blair talks about the various elements of the historic building, it's easy to see how taken he is with the structure. Clearly, he wants to preserve as many of the Albany's historic elements as possible.

"There are just so many things you could do here," he said. "We'll discuss this project further with the ADICA board, but what I'd really like to do is have all the members come over and see what we have here. I think once they do, everyone will see what a treasure it is. And they'll really focus on doing what's best for this amazing building."

Albany Herald Librarian Mary Braswell contributed to this report.

Comments

Cartman 1 year, 2 months ago

$1.2m spent so far on a building that doesn't yet have a purpose. Did I read it wrong?

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whattheheck 1 year, 2 months ago

Spent by a private development group years ago hopefully working without city funds.

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Amazed2 1 year, 2 months ago

One big question?? Even if you plan to spend $5.5 million you will spend more? What are you going to do with the Damm thing other than spend a couple hundred thousand a year to take care of it? Albany has a Glut of these kind of facilities that are rarely used or needed. The Auditorium cost something like $5 million to renovate 20 or years ago. I suspect you are quoting Mr Millers numbers. He did work in mini bites. He got money then hired himself/his construction business to do work. All along he go into the deal hoping that the government would bail him out with millions of$$ and he could get rich out of the funds. Trust me get your real budget together. You can't restore that mess for $5 million. More like $10 million needed.

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stc1993 1 year, 2 months ago

Amazed, you must of knew him. He didn't use an engineer to show him what needed to be done. He just done it the way he wanted to. That's why they are going to have to fix most of the things he did. Even the new stairs he put in are not up to code. Nothing he started is finished.

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alleebrin 1 year, 2 months ago

Oh, geez! When will the powers-that-be understand that nothing is going on downtown and never will - lost cause! Those pushing for this money are only hoping for personal gain!! Nobody's going downtown in the daytime let alone at NIGHT! West Albany should secede from Downtown and let it continue in its path of decay!

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

AH: "Majesty of Albany Theatre endures"

I'm glad the majesty endures but the structure certainly hasn't.

Historical preservation and restoration is a great goal but there's little left to restore.

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Sister_Ruby_Two 1 year, 2 months ago

Photos and "majesty" statements could apply equally to the City of Albany. Piles of rubble all around, millions of dollars needed to restore what was once upon a time a thriving place to be.

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whattheheck 1 year, 2 months ago

Yes, a thriving city before embarking on a goal of becoming welfare capitol of the south. Things were not looking real good before the flood of '94 which brought massive federal funds that did us in. When the fastest growing segment of the economy is poverty, there isn't a lot of hope. Don't expect a lot of private interest in developing this one.

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JustAnotherVoice 1 year, 2 months ago

I have looked inside this building -- it is indeed a nightmare!

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Amazed2 1 year, 2 months ago

Just an other voice! Don't worry about it looking like a nightmare, there's nothing there that $10,000,000 (Ten Million Dollars) can't fix.

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Amazed2 1 year, 2 months ago

Well I guess there is a 50% chance it won't collapse! One enginneet apparently does not like what he see's and Blair apparently found an engineer who according to Blair says" its not going anywhere". Kind of an unusual blanket type statement for a structural engineer! I wonder which engineer is correct. Now you need a 3d party engineer to decide which one of the first two engineers are right!!!

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Ihope4albany 1 year, 2 months ago

I know what the City of Albany is doing. They are trying to recreate the culture of the past where those with money came to have a good time. It is good to redevelop places, but there must be sustainable, livable wage job creation at the same time. In this manner, the majority of the people who are draining the City coffers can find employment that will pay more than government subsidies.

Truly, the U.S. has found billions of dollars to redevelop after natural disasters. However, man-made disasters don't seem to get funding, only government ball and chain aid furthering decline.

I hope that Albany can create industries other than the Phoebe NPO healthscare that will employ the population that can't up and move to Lee and Worth county.

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Sister_Ruby_Two 1 year, 2 months ago

Yeah, let's demand that all government authorities, federal, state, and local, take money from anybody that has it and give it to anybody that does not have it. That would create a Utopia.........like the one in Cuba for example!?!? Right ihope, you big fat moronic idealogue?

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erudite 1 year, 2 months ago

so where is your comment about his post, shinedown?

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

" . . . the population that can't up and move . . . " Hell they're moving to ABY and have been for decades. Why would they want to leave?

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Amazed2 1 year, 2 months ago

Oh the Old Theater will create jobs. Maintenance, repair. Manager, assistant Manager. Those kind of jobs kind if like the Civic Center and Riverquariun. Oh yea I forgot all about needing a Director to oversee the damm place.

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Abytaxpayer 1 year, 2 months ago

Novel idea. Lets decide how much it would cost to build the apartments and restore the theater. Put that money in the bank. Then pay each person $50 when they come downtown and purchase $100 or more from a downtown merchant. The interest along will pay more than enough to fund the "discount ".

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BettyBowTie 1 year, 2 months ago

It is a historic building worth saving in my opinion. Too much of our history is gone and our pride went with it. I was under the impression that the entire theater section would be demolished? We only spend money on housing the poor from all over the country now, not much goes to save the little that remains of a once great and fast growing (now shrinking) town. Example: The Broad Avenue Memorial Bridge, Radium Springs Casino, The Rawlings Opera House (Liberty Theater) and I hear soon the Holman Mule barn and so many more. Is NOTHING scared here?

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KaosinAlbany 1 year, 2 months ago

I have to agree with you, BettyBowTie

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BettyBowTie 1 year, 2 months ago

As far as I know there have been two marquees there. The first was smaller and has been gone for decades. The other was removed a few years ago. What became of it? Was it sold or trashed?

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lowercasejesus 1 year, 2 months ago

Lets put up a hockey themed amusement park there too! It would be an equally good idea for that part of town.

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chinaberry25 1 year, 2 months ago

Most of you may not remember that the Fox Theater was to be axed in Atlanta. Look at it now. But it was not run down and I agree, we do not have the money to fix it up. Albany is losing taxpayers about as badly as America is losing them. We never hear about them because they just leave. Soon there will be very few jobs and nothing to sustain the folks who are left.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

To begin with the Fox property (on Peachtree Street) is and was worth zillions with or without a building. Southern Bell bought the very solid and sound structure for the location with the intent of demolishing the Fox and erecting an office tower. Atlanta Landmarks, a politically potent non-profit group, persuaded Southern Bell to let them buy the edifice for the purchase price. It took them several years but they raised the money to buy and re-open the Fox Theater. The story of the Fox is nothing like what is going on here. The Fox is right in the middle of a hugely wealthy business district, where well-heeled people spend tons of cabbage. I won't recite where our theater is located, we all know.

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Amazed2 1 year, 2 months ago

The Mule Barn is also a Mess!!! Will take $Millions $Millions to Rebuild! Its not a restoration project. Nor is the Theater. The Theater is a Rebuild Rebuild its not a restoration . Best thing for Mule Barn is salvage old brick and built a mini Mockup. There is a reason the Albany Museum dropped the romantic idea of moving the Gillionville Red complex to the Mule Barn. I guess we can put Mr Blair in some kind of outfit and put him at the Cordel exit ramps at I-75. He can waive a sign and jump up and down and holler at traffic. Hey Y'all come see our Mule Barn and Old Theater.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 2 months ago

Rebuild and Replace that is exactly what is happening. Keep the fa├žade or molding or what you moan about. Gut the building and replace it. If you want memories of the by-gone eras take out your photo albums. Money and people will not return to downtown until there are activities which bring them there. An example is the July 4th fireworks. I know ABY is strapped for cash and I am not criticizing but do you remember how many people showed up. There are seasonal themes which could be used to re-energize and there have been some nice events downtown. The next thing is going to be convince someone to put a fine dining seafood restaurant over looking the east bank of the Flint. If the inner city group wants to build an anchor start there.

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Amazed2 1 year, 2 months ago

Anyone remember River days! It was an event held at Civic Center parking lot and Veterans Amphitheater. After trouble 2 yes in a row from roving bunches of teens including breaking glass windows at the Hardee's next door the River days event was moved to Chehaw. Think it eventually just went away. Now I understand the July 4 the Fireworks has been relocated to Fairgrounds. I assume after the gang trouble and gun scare/panic last year nobody feels comfortable with that event downtown either. Also before that a movie night and car show on Front street turned into a panic situation with fights . Just what is the plan for downtown, ADICA and Mr Blair now want to spend millions to Rebuild a shell of an old theater. Do you really think that's what will bring people back??

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KaosinAlbany 1 year, 2 months ago

I went to the State Theater this past weekend and it has been renovated to a very nice venue to hold concerts. I enjoyed my time there. I am glad some in the community saw it as a jewel because it really is.

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Amazed2 1 year, 2 months ago

KaodinAlbany! Good Point!! The State Theater is a private venture and NOT purchased and operated with Tax Dollars. Also you call it Renovated. I rather call it modified. Modified to more of a nightclub style. They did it on a low budget with the idea of making money as in the definition of a Profit. That's not the same as the old Theater on Jackson. That will be a total restoration with government funds taken from our tax dollars. It will cost 5 to 10 million $$$. And sit there unused 95% if the time.

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