“DeKALB – The first time Mary McGinn stood in the new two-story addition to the Egyptian Theatre, she was at a loss for words.
McGinn was one of about 12 people on a hard hat tour of the Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St. in DeKalb, on Jan. 14.
Free tours will take place Tuesday evenings through the end of April. The tours begin in the theater’s lobby at 5:30 p.m.
“I couldn’t believe it, it looks so big and spacious,” McGinn said. “The Egyptian Theatre has always been magical and mesmerizing, and the new addition is much-needed. There will be better flow, more space and an overall better experience at the theater. We’re improving the theater’s quality.”
Last year, McGinn volunteered about 375 hours at the theater, working at the concession stand for almost every show.
“I haven’t been at the theater for almost a month, and the changes are astounding,” McGinn said. “I can’t wait to see the end result.”
Work in progress
The theater’s renovation team, Irving Construction Company Inc., Sharp Architects Inc. and DeKalb Mechanical Inc., broke ground May 1, 2019.
The $5.5 million, 4,200-square-foot project is expected to be completed by the end of May. The city of DeKalb contributed $2.5 million in tax increment finance funds for the project. Money also has been raised by private donors, grants and continued fundraising efforts. Donations to the project can be made online at www.lightscameradonate.org.
“Every dollar makes this project a reality,” said Alex Nerad, the theater’s executive director. “It’s a dramatic change for the start of our 90th year, and with these changes, we hope to be around another 90 years.”
After finishing updates to the theater’s current building, including updating and expanding the concession stand, adding two new high-efficiency boilers, two sump pumps and two air handlers, the current first-floor women’s restroom will be demolished. The concession stand will temporarily be relocated as the new stand is built and the upstairs mezzanine will be renovated. Once the addition’s construction is complete, new carpeting will be installed inside the theater.
One of the biggest – and most necessary – changes is the addition of bathrooms. The ground floor had three stalls in the women’s bathroom and will now have 14. The men’s ground floor bathroom will be expanded from three stalls and three urinals to four stalls and 10 urinals. Upstairs on the mezzanine, the women’s bathroom will be expanded from two stalls to six stalls and the men’s will be expanded from one stall and one urinal to three stalls and five urinals.
“I’ve had people tell me that they can’t get a refill on their drink because the bathroom lines were too long,” McGinn said. “I’m most excited for the larger capacity bathrooms.”
The ground-level women’s bathroom will have two counters with mirrors and sconces to give the appearance of a powder room. All bathrooms will be equipped with speakers that can broadcast announcements and play a live audio feed of shows, so guests won’t miss anything while away from their seats.
Another much-needed addition to the theater was air conditioning. With the added AC, for the first time in its 90-year history, the theater will be able to offer programs and shows during the warmer summer months.
“I’m most excited about the air conditioning,” said Sue Dirker of DeKalb, who volunteers at the theater as an usher. “It can get very hot, even during spring and fall.”
A new addition will be a permanent concession stand on the mezzanine. There will be six serving stations at each stand, an upgrade from the current three. Other concession additions include a prep kitchen and an ice machine. The theater will have a liquor license and a beer cooler in the basement, allowing guests to purchase alcohol during shows. The new concession stands will allow for the option to expand the food selections in the future.
Keeping the theater
Nerad said that throughout the construction process, special care has been taken to “keep the theater as historically accurate as possible.”
“We used the same metal and wood paneling wherever possible,” Nerad said. “We used an exact mold of the decorative plaster cove in the concession area and we’re adding recessed LED lighting. … It’s not our Egyptian Theatre, it’s your Egyptian Theatre, the community’s Egyptian Theatre. Throughout the United States, these types of venues and historical buildings are being demolished and the community will never get something like it back, an economic drive and cultural hub. Twenty-five different community organizations use our theater. We’re often described as ‘the living room of the community.’ ”
Jeanine Holcomb, the theater’s marketing and communications director, said what makes the Egyptian Theatre so special is its “history, shows and the people that visit each year.” More than 42,000 people attended shows at the theater during the 2018-19 season.
“Every day of construction is daunting and exciting, full of anticipation,” Holcomb said. “The theater is so full of happy memories. My grandpa proposed to my grandma in the car on their way to see a movie at the Egyptian in 1953. We can’t wait for many more happy memories through the years.””
~The MidWeek By KATRINA J.E. MILTON