May 16, 2012

Orpheum Theatre gets $1 million gift from Garvey Trust

The Orpheum Theatre received a $1 million donation Wednesday from the Willard and Jean Garvey Trust.

The Orpheum Theatre received a $1 million donation Wednesday from the Willard and Jean Garvey Trust.

It was the theater’s largest single donation to date, but still will not be enough to finish its restoration.

Theater president Jennifer Wright said Wednesday the gift will help launch another phase including planning and design work on restoring the 90-year old building.

“This money will be used for restoration,” Wright said. “Part of it will be for planning, for architectural drawings.”

After nearly 30 years of preservation efforts, the entire auditorium and the stage need to be modernized.

And the date of when the Orpheum will finally be restored is anyone’s guess.

“It depends on how our fundraising goes,” Wright said. “I can’t say how much it will be. In a few months we will release the designs, plans and project costs.”

The Orpheum, built in 1922 at 200 N. Broadway, has long been envisioned as the crown jewel of Wichita’s arts and cultural community, in part because it is the last one standing.

That’s one reason Jean Garvey said Wednesday that she wanted to do her part to help save the grand theater. The longtime Wichita philanthropist was the featured guest at a reception at the Orpheum with about 100 people attending.

Garvey was born the same year the Orpheum was built and throughout much of her youth attended movies and other performances there.

“It seemed like it was going to be destroyed and not cared for,” Garvey said.The reception also unveiled a new National Register of Historic Places plaque noting the theater’s legacy in Wichita. It was placed on the west exterior, by the main entrance.

Preserving an old theater may seem an antiquated idea, said Jay Price, director of Wichita State University’s public history program, but it is worth it.

Most of Wichita’s grand theaters have disappeared: The Civic. The Crest. The Palace. The Miller. All were torn down to make way for parking.

To date, the Orpheum has received a new roof, renovated restrooms and lobby, an electronic marquee and new sound system. The 1,200-seat theater has become a popular venue for intimate concerts featuring the likes of B.B. King, Glen Campbell and, soon, Wichita native and “The Voice” contestant Chris Mann.

Wright said Wednesday that the Orpheum has hired New York architect Malcolm Holzman to lead a team of experts in restoring the theater, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

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