King Opera House marquee

THE FRONT OF THE KING Opera House looks a little bare after the marquee was removed.

Apparently the restoration of the King Opera House is moving a little too quickly, at least according to a number of people on Facebook. Here’s a head up. It could move a lot quicker in the next week or two as the Albia Area Improvement Association’s architect finishes the design and masons arrive on the scene.

For people not paying close attention, the removal of the decrepit marquee was sort of a wake up call. For many months, the King Opera House Board has been talking about and planning for the restoration of the theater along with the owner of the theater building, the Albia Area Improvement Association. The AAIA bought the King Opera House in 2009 and has enlisted the volunteer King Opera House board to manage the business and work the interior of the building. From the beginning, the intent was to restore the theater to its original 1903 splendor, which includes no marquee, but instead a huge arched entrance with circle stained glass windows in the arch.

It also means the porcelain brick façade, now mostly broken and worn, be replaced with original looking red brick. The window design on both the ground floor and second floor are also likely to return to match closely the original design.

“We’ve been preparing for this day for months,” said King Opera House Board President Dave Paxton. “A substantial gift from Larry and Debbie Pillard allowed us to launch a matching fund-raising campaign from the community and Dave Johnson at AAIA was able to create a funding stream to start Phase I of the project.”

Three phases of the restoration have been identified, mainly from the direction of structural engineer Mike Tometich of Des Moines.

Phase I includes restoring the front, building new handicapped accessible restrooms, placing a new HVAC system for the front of the building, completing work on a concession area that is about two-thirds done (and paid for) and making some needed repair to a portion of the rear west section of the interior of the roof.

Phase II includes insulating the interior of the building, replacing fire escapes, putting up new interior wall covering in the auditorium and doing some exterior brick repair.

Phase III will include new seating and likely work in the balcony and upgrading HVAC in the auditorium.

Phase I was officially started with the removal of the marquee, which board members believe dates back to the 1950s. It is the third marquee on the front of the building since it was rebuilt after the fire in 1921. Interestingly enough, the arched frame of the first marquee is now visible. The first two marquees were built into the building and held up by posts. The marquee that came down last week was held from above by chains that were attached back into the roof.

“We received word that our new architect would be in Albia this Thursday to do measurements to begin drawings,” said Paxton. “He really needed the marquee removed.” Board members Tyler Havard, Mick King and Adam Mick answered the call and had almost all of it down in two days. Andy Coe of Scraptastic hauled the metal away. Getting the remaining “C” channel iron frame down will need a little more equipment.

Facebook lit up on Friday as people saw the work being completed and weighed in (a number without a good grasp of the facts). “As it turned out, it became a really good way to communicate the project and reach out for more volunteers and financial help,” said Paxton.

The facts that did come out included:

• The marquee was pretty much roached, with its roof platform rotted, the wiring for what at one time was an array of lights, barely working at all, the plastic sides holding the marquee letters cracked and broken and the bottom of the marquee falling down.

• The marquee was not an original piece of the building, although it is what most people remember.

• The architect will have to design a way to communicate movies and activities at the theater into the new façade. The original building had a long, narrow, horizontal sign and windows were used for poster advertising. A digital sign may be in the offing.

• People really are interested in the future of the King Opera House and there are a lot of volunteer opportunities to cement that interest.

What people will be seeing next is the white porcelain brick coming off and then masons rebuilding the façade. Work on the inside will start early this summer. Plans are to keep the movie business going as work progresses. Plans are being made to relocate the King Cadet Drama Camp in June. The first weekend in August Restoration Days Follies is still up in the air. The Follies will be performed. When and where is yet to be determined.

Some answers to some questions.

• The original porcelain marquee letters (not used in years) are not available for sale. The letters were stolen.

• The current plastic letters are being safeguarded and the board will be determining their future.

• After close inspection, the white porcelain brick are likely bound for the landfill unless someone has a good use for them. Unlike old paving bricks, they have no historic value and most of the bricks are damaged.

• The theater is open for business. Look for movie posters, consult the theater’s Facebook page and watch the newspaper ad for information.

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