The Telegraph Alton, Illinois
Tuesday April 12, 2011
From the City Desk
Wildey Theatre ready to open curtain again
The Wildey Theatre may be the hottest ticket in town.
Rich Walker, former alderman and the chairman of the development committee that oversaw the resurrection of the vaudeville-era movie house, says you better get in place early if you want to be a part of the reopening ceremonies tonight starting at 6:30 p.m.
“We might have to turn people away,” he told me Monday night, during the opening of the Encore wine bar located adjacent to the theater at 250 N. Main St. in Edwardsville.
The wine bar has open access to the theater lobby, and the scores of people who turned out for the soft opening of the bar got a first look at the Wildey lobby, which has been lovingly restored by Joe Hutton and his company, Miller and Maack General Contractors.
I’ve known Joe for many years and he has the eager look of a kid when he escorts you around his handiwork. We stopped at one glass-enclosed case, built as a wall display. Its one of his favorite points, containing boxes of candy through the years. There are historic boxes of Jujubes, Good and Plenty and, of course, Milk Duds.
“That might have been my box of Milk Duds,” Hutton said, recalling an instance as a kid when he dropped an entire box of them through a hole in the floor under his seat. He found all kinds of stuff in the crawl space under the theater seats.
You can imagine the artifacts in a building dating to 1909.
Another lobby wall case contains photos of the past, showing the Wildey before its first major renovation in 1937, when it still had two balconies and total seating for 1,400. That first rebuild set the stage for conversion of the building from an opera house to an Art Deco movie house, the latter of which is how people of my generation remember it.
In the lobby there are plenty of original features still present, including light fixtures, restroom signs and the ticket office, just outside the front door. Its all been modernized: The ticket booth now has air conditioning.
The facility closed in 1984 and was acquired by the city in 1999 with state grant money. After years of trying to figure out what to do with it, the city took on the remodeling itself a couple of years ago and has produced a venue that it hopes will become something of a specialty house for movies, performances and events.
This has turned out to be a prime example of taking a historical attraction and making it useful to a current generation. Mr. Walker and Mr. Hutton, you’ve done fine work, and you deserve credit.
It was a thrill to get a first peak Monday night and I hope to crowd my way in tonight if I can get there on time.