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.
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.
"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.
"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.