GOODING — Aside from missing its original marquee, the historic Schubert Theatre looks about the same today from the outside as it did nearly a century ago. But inside, the once-gleaming opera house has seen far better days.
A local nonprofit is about to change that, starting with a fundraiser this weekend.
Gooding Restoration for Entertainment, Arts and Theatre (GREAT) has worked since its inception in 2015 to raise enough money to completely restore the theater, built by former-Gov. Frank Gooding in the early 20th century. Gooding’s daughter Louise and her husband, Adam Schubert, married in 1911, took over the opera house in 1921.
With the completion of the building’s new roof scheduled for October, the end of the exterior restoration is in sight, GREAT President Charmy LeaVell said. Replacing the old, leaky roof has been a daunting hurdle to the group’s efforts to restore the Art Deco interior of the old opera house.
Over the decades, water has invaded the theater through faulty roof drains, destroying ceiling tiles and damaging historic backdrops and hand-painted canvas wall panels. The roof has been repaired many times over the decades, LeaVell said Friday. The only option at this point is to replace it.
“It doesn’t make sense to start the interior restoration until the new roof is in place,” she said. The cost to replace the roof: $88,000. LeaVell credits her “passionate board” and numerous benefactors with pulling the money together.
“Grants from Idaho Heritage Trust, Idaho Community Foundation, Union Pacific, Glanbia and the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation made our new roof possible,” she said.
In addition, the group has raised funds through events such as Saturday’s Unicorn Day at the Enchanted Forest at Pappyland west of Gooding.
Eventually, the group plans to have a fully operational theater for the arts and a multipurpose community center, said Gooding Mayor Jeff Brekke, vice president of the group.
Brekke, manager of Valley Country Store in Gooding, is the former president of Southern Idaho Rural Development, now Rural Economic Development under the umbrella of Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization.
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“I came here with a purpose,” he said. “I wanted a little more active lifestyle and I knew this is the place to do it.” Now he wants to turn the town into the place he dreamed of, bringing renewed energy to downtown Gooding.
LeaVell agrees. She and her husband, Lonnie, are passionate about the town and its Western character — so passionate, they bought the theater 10 years ago for $150,000, then donated the property to GREAT.
The LeaVells were honored two years ago with the prestigious Historic Preservation Recognition Award from the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in recognition of their work with both the Idaho Rodeo Hall of Fame and the restoration of the Schubert Theatre.
The near completion of the theater’s roof has renewed interest in the project, which began a few years ago with the exterior work. The group’s next step is to work on the plumbing.
“We did a lot of changes on the outside — temporary fixes until we could get funding,” said Karolyn Gaines, a historic preservationist involved in its early restoration work. “It was important to work on the outside so people could see the progress. The building had been really neglected.”
Gaines said it’s a shame how the theater, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, had been treated before the LeaVells purchased it.
Though historical records say Gooding built the opera house in 1920, the former governor’s great-granddaughter Cindy Schubert Jones said it’s even older — perhaps by a decade. Gooding built a home for the Schuberts in 1912 just four blocks from the opera house, she said.
“I grew up at the theater. It was our family business,” Jones said. “I started working — when I was nine — at the candy counter.”
The Schubert family operated the theater until 1986. The gilded millwork and crown molding from its early days have been painted black. The “Gooding Cinema” sign still hangs over the front entrance.
Jones is delighted to see the restoration work progress further. “I would love to see it restored,” she said.