DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — The Fischer Theatre has been hosting entertainers for more than a century.
While the doors were shut and curtains closed for more than three decades, it’s gotten new life thanks to a generous donation.
“Literally, just a little over a year ago, a local philanthropist, Julius W. Hegeler II, offered to come in with the financing, which is when all of the restoration that you see, which has really painted the place back up and made it usable again, has made it happen,” explained Fischer Theatre executive director Jason Rome.
The initial renovation took 12 months, two weeks and two days. It was a major overhaul.
“The Julius W. Hegeler II Foundation chipped in somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million to get a place like this looking and functioning like it is right now,” Rome said.
The theatre was built in 1884 as The Grand Opera House before being sold to Louis Fischer in 1912.
The doors were eventually closed in 1981 before a group of actors, including Gene Hackman, Jerry and Dick Van Dyke, among others, came together to try and save it.
“Back in the 80s and 90s, right after the theatre was originally closed, some of the stars originally from Danville had come back to town, for the first time ever on the same stage, to raise funds for the theatre,” said Rome.
They raised $400,000, but changes to state grant funding meant the money was just enough to keep the building standing until the Hegeler Foundation stepped in.
They’re not done, yet.
“There’s a lot of the practical things that are going to be necessary to get us where we want to be and, frankly, where the community thinks we already are,” Rome explained. “Just because of the way the theatre already looks. If you look above us a traditional grid system and superstructure that you would hang line sets and things like that. Right now … you would see original, like, 1912 timbers and they’d still hold some weight, and would do a good job, but not what a modern package would require.”
It simply doesn’t meet the needs of a modern band or Broadway show.
The theatre also lacks a proper green room and dressing room underneath the stage floor. Several offices and rooms on the upper floors also need work.
It’s estimated future work will cost millions of dollars.
Until then, the show will go on.
“We are, first and foremost, a theatre and a performing arts center,” said Rome. “It’s a historic theatre and a historic stage. We do everything from films, to concerts, bands, that thing. The symphony orchestra has played here already.”