St. Louis, MO — Lawrence Group will give Sun Theater an $11 million makeover

SUnLawrence Group will give Sun Theater an $11 million makeover
By Tim Bryant | Published by
June 07, 2013

A chunk of cornice is missing, the auditorium’s plaster ceiling is ruined and dirt is everywhere. But by next spring, the century-old Sun Theater will have new life as a school performance hall.

The $11 million job — helped with $4 million in state and federal historic preservation tax credits — is the latest building project at the Grand Center Arts Academy in Grand Center. In 2011, the charter school moved into the renovated Beaux Arts Building next to the Sun.

Lawrence Group owns both buildings and leases them to the school, which has options to buy. Steve Smith, the company’s president, said that rehabbing the Sun has been part of the arts academy plan from the start.

“We’re creating a little urban campus here,” he said.

The Beaux Arts, once headquarters of Carter Carburetor Co., got classrooms, science labs and dance studios in its $21.4 million renovation by Lawrence Group. But it was an arts school without a theater.

Adding the century-old Sun, at 3625 Grandel Square, will provide the academy unmatched facilities, said Smith and Jeff Kuntze, chief operating officer of Confluence Charter Schools, which runs the Grand Center academy.

The school enrolled its first high schoolers last fall and now has 433 students in grades 6 through 9. It will add a grade each year until it has about 700 students through 12th grade.

As he stood last week on the Sun’s balcony, Smith said the theater will make the school “a true arts academy.”

For now, the auditorium is stripped to its concrete floor. The plumbing and wiring are shot. Vacancy, neglect and a sieve-like roof had allowed rainwater to ruin the wooden stage and most of the auditorium’s ornate plaster ceiling.

Craftsmen from Woemmel Plastering, of St. Louis, will make molds from surviving ceiling and wall features to duplicate the originals.

Other workers are tuckpointing the brick exterior. The three arched windows on the neoclassical facade will be restored. A front canopy much like the original will be added. The missing part of the ornate cornice will be rebuilt with a lightweight but durable material known as glass fiber reinforced concrete.

The lighted “Sun” sign added many years ago will be removed.

Aaron Bunse, the project manager, said the Sun is “a complicated building for as small a footprint as this building is.”

An elevator will be added to the building’s east side to provide full handicapped access. A new walkway behind the one-time Earthways House (also owned by Lawrence Group) will link the Sun and Beaux Arts buildings.

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