Not too many years ago, Des Moines based RL Fridley Theaters decided that the costs of upgrading our theater to digital projection and audio systems - in addition to the other updates the facility needed - were more than they wanted to take on. Costs to upgrade combined with changes to their business model over the last handful of years, meant that our theater - however profitable it may be - would be closed, and our citizens forced to drive out of town to see Hollywood's latest films.
The need for digital projection had been in the pipeline for years; every major movie studio had been gradually phasing out the production of the 35mm film of yesterday in favor of the crisp, clean, digital images and sound quality of today. Many small, independent theater operators have been unable to deal with the costs of such a conversion...but Knoxville dug in and reinvested in our theater, and in ourselves in the process!
After considerable research to determine exactly what this project might require, we went through the legal processes involved with setting up a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. Once established, the Grand Theater Foundation was eligible for grant funding, and all donations were deemed tax deductible - a major benefit for groups like ours. After fundraising several thousand dollars, we were extremely fortunate to have been given our real 'jump start' by our neighbors at the Iowa State Savings Bank. Their $20,000 contribution set the bar and established our Foundation as a serious entity with a serious goal to be achieved. ISSB recognized the benefits our citizens were missing by not having a community facility like this, and stepped up in a huge way to make our vision a reality.
The end of 2013 saw representatives from Fridley Theatres, pictured, make the short trip from Des Moines to formally transfer ownership of the building to our group, and wish us luck with our endeavors. Their donation was another huge boost to our group and our community.
From there, we wasted no time getting started!
From there, we wasted no time getting started!
Volunteers turned out in the rain and snow, in the heat and cold...pretty much whenever we called for them! Folks turned out in such a terrific and overwhelming way - it was just another signal that they were ready for their Theater, and ready to rebuild our Downtown!
Speaking of rebuilding Downtown, our little project coincided with the Downtown Infrastructure and Streetscape project. During this process all underground utilities were replaced (including everything leading into the Theater) as were all the streets, sidewalks, streetlamps, and more. The end results are truly beautiful!
While the Theater interior underwent a major renovation, the facade saw some very exciting restoration! In our demolition, we uncovered the original brick and glazed terra cotta; some of which was in fantastic shape, and some not. We met with masons and reclaimed brick companies, and removed the remaining steel siding from the facade. We also worked with a company that helped update the marquee, and recreate the large neon 'GRAND' sign from the late 1930's!
The roof and upper portions of the side walls were leaking, the heating and cooling was limping along and inefficient, and the electrical systems were out of date, uninsurable, and incompatible with the new digital equipment we needed to reopen the Theater for films. So, we decided to make a BIG mess and do everything we possibly could in order to make this a 'new' theater worthy of its history. Our goal for this facility was - and is - for it to last well beyond our efforts, and to benefit the people of Knoxville and surrounding communities long into the future.
We replaced every inch of electrical infrastructure, all elements of the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, installed all new plumbing, rebuilt brand new restrooms, re-roofed the building, re-pointed the exterior walls on three sides, and brought back the look of the original facade, as mentioned.
Another fun piece of nostalgia was the design and creation of these (at right) gorgeous custom sconces throughout the building. Local artisan Jim Coe, pictured, took a pair of older light fixtures and designed these beauties to mimic that look on a far grander scale. Jim also helped the Foundation refinish hundreds of board feet of lumber, rebuild the window over the marquee, and design, fabricate, and install the custom restroom vanities. Jim was an absolutely integral part of our project, and our community thanks him VERY much!
As mentioned, much of our work was completed with the help of our fantastic volunteers. With seemingly endless energy, and wonderful and varied skills, they're truly the oil that pops our corn!
Even today as an operational theater, volunteer hours help ensure we can keep our prices affordable, and our community engaged in the Grand Theater. If you're interested in volunteering, be sure to follow the link provided in the 'Volunteer' tab above and pick the date and time of your choice. If you'd like to volunteer in the Theater's off hours to help with a construction project, deep clean, reorganize closets, or whatever your heart desires, contact our Executive Director via email and we'll gladly work something out with you!