RUPERT — Renovations at the historic Wilson Theatre and Event Center are nearing completion this week as 400 new plush red 1920s-style theater seats are installed.
About 60 seats remain unsold. The seats are being sold to sponsors and include the purchaser’s name. The cost of each chair is $650.
“This has been a labor of love for the community,” said theater administrator Kris Faux.
Originally the theater held 600 seats, but some of them were lost due to redesign of larger seats and by adding handicap accessible spaces.
The seat project also includes installation of carpet and flooring in the theater.
The seats will complete the major renovations of the flatiron-style building that has anchored the Rupert Square for nearly 100 years.
Larry Duff, who was on the original Rupert Renaissance Committee and serves as chairman of Renaissance Arts Center board, said that prior to beginning renovation on the theater the committee surveyed the community about what items they would like to see upgraded in the city. At the time, about 800 people responded to the survey with the answer: the Wilson Theatre.
Renovations on the theater began in 2000, which included revamping the outside of the building and a complete remodel of the interior.
“It had become an eyesore,” Duff said.
In 2000, 10 sponsors donated $10,000 each to get the ball rolling, he said.
The building is now valued at $4 million, he said. All of the renovations were paid for by grants and donations.
Inside there are conference rooms atop a glass-enclosed staircase, stained-glass windows, a revamped theater with balcony, and attached office buildings. Some of the office space is leased to a beauty shop, an engineer’s office and a construction business. The additional space includes the old Rupert Police Department, which adds an extra meeting room to the conference area.
After the major renovations are complete, Duff said, there will be some additional improvements that need to be made, including stage lighting.
No corners were cut during the renovations, Faux said.
The people who spearheaded the renovation efforts were visionary and they believed it would stand for another 100 years, she said.
The nonprofit theater hosts one event a month, including everything from superhero events to watercolor painting classes. The venue is also used for community plays, concerts and shows and the conference rooms are used for weddings, parties, business meetings and conventions.
Sarah Condie, chairwoman of The Harry Potter Experience, which has been held at the theater for the past four years, said the building adds “a bit of magic” to the event.
“Even people who are not theater people feel a connection to the theater,” Condie said. “It’s not a place you can copy. There is no other venue like it. People feel like it’s their theater.”
The next event will be a Super Heroes event on April 12 and 13, which is as popular with the adults as it is with the children, Faux said.
All of the proceeds from the events, she said, are put back into the theater to keep it in operation for the community.
“It’s so nice to see the theater healthy and functioning. It’s alive because it is community-built,” Faux said.
The theater has experienced some growing pains keeping up with trends, which included transitioning to an online ticket sales system.
“We are constantly moving forward and growing,” she said.
Faux said the culmination of major renovations coincides with the other major construction projects going on around the Rupert Square.
The second phase of the Rupert Square renovations is underway with new sidewalks and bump-out curbs being installed. Work on Fremont Street is set to begin in a few days, which will eventually house the city’s new skating rink.
“Rupert is on fire,” Faux said.