Work on refurbishing the interior of the Mars Theatre in Springfield is expected to start any day now. Thanks to the weather, the first show in the theatre’s second life took place Saturday.
The overcast conditions forced the Fox Theatre Institute’s Theatre Revival Tour into the unfinished interior of the Mars — giving attendees an idea of what could be in store for the edifice’s future. After deciding to hold the event indoors, rather than the adjacent parking lot, crews worked through the night to rig proper lighting for the show, which included the Jimmy Wolling Band, the Pace Brothers and headliners Von Grey.
“We had to install the lighting in a hurry-up operation, just so that we could get in there,” said Springfield Mayor Barton Alderman. “It does give a pretty good impression of what’s possible. So many people haven’t been inside for 50 years, including myself. It gives you a different perspective when you can actually get in and see it.”
The city awarded a contract last month to Phil Kieffer Construction for work on the Mars. The Mars has received a $20,000 grant from the Fox Theatre Institute, and Fox Theatre Institute representatives presented a ceremonial check to the Mars on Saturday. The Fox Theatre Institute supports historic theatres across the state, saving them from the fate that almost befell the namesake Atlanta landmark in the 1970s.
“The Fox Theatre was almost torn down in the’70s,” said Adina Erwin, vice president and general manager of the Fox. “So we recognize the strength and potential historic theatres have around the state of Georgia. We know what they can do to Main Streets and downtowns. We know what happened with the Fox Theatre, and it is a great catalyst for community development and economic development.”
The city bought the Mars, and the Springfield Revitalization Corporation is leading the efforts to restore the former theatre.
“Several years ago, we were faced with the same thing that faced the Fox,” Alderman said. “The building was out of date. It was an eyesore. The roof was gone and basically, it needed to be torn down.”
The Theatre Revival Tour included stops in Toccoa and Warrenton, there are more than 260 historic theatres in the state. Most of them are in small towns, Erwin said, and about 100 of them are open and operating.
“There are stories around the state that can be a testament as to how a historic theatre can have an infectious quality about it and be a catalyst to further community development and economic development,” she said. “Many of them are not operating as theatres. The Fox Theatre Institute is all about preserving and saving these historic theatres, and we would like them to be open and operating as theatres because the types of things you can bring into a theater are very conducive to a community. It might be a place for meetings, small conventions, movies, we know that historic theatres can be great partners for communities.”
The weather may have been a blessing in the skies, since those who came out Saturday show what’s been at Mars and what remains to be accomplished, Alderman pointed out.
“I’m hoping we can get a snowball effect,” he said “and this will be the initial push. When people see that things are beginning to happen, I think, I hope and I pray that more people will get on board and we’ll get more money and more volunteers and we’ll get this project on the road.”
Erwin also complimented the efforts to get the Mars ready for Saturday’s show.
“That is a perfect example of the community coming together to make it happen,” she said. “And it’s just the beginning.”