'The Galion' Theatre unveils an old look

 
When the former movie theatre known as 'The Galion', 127 Harding Way West, was opened in July of 1949, it was described in area newspapers as a state-of-the-art facility with the most modern of equipment and technologies. Its marquee, equipped with neon lighting, flashers, and signboards brightened the uptown, and could be viewed for several blocks to the east and west of Galion's Public Square.
Night shots of the new 'The Galion' marquee

Over the years, since the building ceased operation as a movie theatre, several business enterprises have been housed in the building, and the marquee has continued to be in use, although it has diminished in lustre.

In the spring of 1997, Galion Community Theatre, which has owned the building since 1993, was informed that it was no longer safe to light the marquee because of wiring defects, which could result in fire.

"It had not been lighted since the winter of '96 because we were told it had damage to one corner," said Elaine Hottenroth, a representative of the Galion Community Theatre. "Of course it was also because the sign was almost 50 years old."

Hottenroth said preliminary estimates on restoring the marquee to its former grandeur came to around $37,500. This estimate covered cost of the neon lighting, including entirely new wiring and a transformer. To repair the porcelain and stainless steel trim would be an additional cost.

"We really didn't anticipate being able to do it because we had just finished a fundraiser for the heating and air conditioning project that cost a lot more money," she said.

According to Hottenroth, the Galion Community Theatre learned of a grant it could apply for that would possibly make repairing the marquee more tangible.

In September, the theatre group applied for grant funding from The Fran and Warren Rupp Foundation in Mansfield, for the restoration of 'The Galion's' marquee lighting.

In November, wonderful news reached the theatre when a letter of approval with the receipt for a generous $37,500 from the Fran and Warren Rupp Foundation reached the theatre.

"We were elated," said Hottenroth. "We had no idea that we could do it when we applied for it, because they were in Mansfield and we weren't sure if they'd fund a project like this in Galion".

After the news was announced, the theatre hired the architectural firm of Felty-Heinlen in January of this year to prepare specifications and bid packages for the project. At the same time, separate contractors were contacted about refurbishing the porcelain plated and steel trim on the marquee. The entire idea behind the project was to have the marquee restored as much as possible to the original style.

Hottenroth said the task was difficult because it is a "very old marquee in the form of lighting.

Because of this intent, the theatre was also able to receive a grant from the State of Ohio by the City of Galion as a source of matching funding for the porcelain and steel trim work and for the rebuilding of the two exterior lighted billboards on the front of the theatre.

"We were surprised and so happy. The restoration of the marquee just adds that much more to the historic Galion area," she said.

In May, a contract was entered into with Kahl's Electric, Inc. of Mansfield, for the electrical work needed for the restoration of the marquee's lighting system. That contract was for $36,899. The architectural firm's fee for preparing the specifications and analyzing the bids was $821.50. Therefore, the grant received from The Fran and Warren Rupp Foundation covered within $200 the costs of restoring the marquee lighting system.

The remaining work on the porcelain and stainless steel trim--totaling $15,300, plus $2000 for the building of two new lighted exterior billboards--has been funded through a 50 percent matching grant award from the City of Galion/Main Street Galion for uptown revitalization and by contributions from other local foundations.

The work went on throughout the summer and was finished early this week. Hottenroth explained there were so many things that kept popping up that need to be done, mostly due to the age and form of lighting the marquee was created with. She said even all the neon tubing had to be taken down and cleaned or replaced. Plus, she said since they were using three different companies to do the work, the restoration had to be done in phases.

Hottenroth said everyone has been great in lending a hand when it was needed, but there is one person who really made the project work.

Bill Burkhart was wonderful ...absolutely wonderful. He has walked this thing through every step of the way. Bill has been here day after day to make sure everything could be done," said Hottenroth. So once again, 'The Galion' marquee will light up the business area of the city with its unique splendor just as it did 50 years ago.

State historians have indicated to GCT that 'The Galion' marquee appears to be the last of its kind in use in Ohio. Thus its historical significance is considerable as an example of a unique form of architectural design.

But more than that, the restoration of 'The Galion's' marquee has brought a new lustre to Galion's uptown renovation project and is viewed with considerable pride and by both area residents and visitors who attend events at the theatre.

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Credits:
story by The Galion Inquirer, published Wednesday, November 18, 1998
Pictures converted from Hi8 video.

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