HIGHLAND — After a failed effort to renovate and reopen the Town Theatre, the final curtain — in the form of the wrecking ball — has come down on the historic structure known for its yellow outdoor tiles and Art Deco sign.
Actin Contracting of East Chicago became the 71-year-old theater's final visitor as demolition staging began on Monday. Actual demolition of the historic theater building began Thursday morning.
Last year, the Redevelopment Commission hired Actin to raze the theater and surrounding town-owned buildings for $49,130.
On Tuesday, demolition began on the two buildings adjacent to the theater's north side, which also made room to raze the theater from the empty footprint left behind.
"There will be no lane closures" on Kennedy during the demolition, Redevelopment Director Kathy DeGuilio-Fox said.
Motorists and pedestrians will notice temporary safety fencing along the sidewalk in front of all three sites.
"We don't want people to get too close," she said.
Noted for neighborhood feel, range of films shown
The theater walls may be tumbling down, but the countless popular, independent and foreign movies, and intermissions with dessert and coffee that pleased thousands of patrons will stand as its legacy, which began in July 1946 with owners Kenneth and Irene Dickinson.
With a reputation that spread as a friendly neighborhood theater, "The Town" hosted a Christmas Mass in 1949 for the newly formed Our Lady of Grace Catholic parish.
The Dickinsons operated the movie house until 1979, when it was bought by Ted and Vern Janowski.
The theater featured many popular movies over the decades and became famous in the Region and neighboring Illinois suburbs for offering foreign and independent films, which added sophisticated luster to its legacy.
"Unlike other theaters of its type, it had no balcony and seemed to be made to serve a small town like Highland," said Dan Helpingstine, co-author of the book, "Highland" (Images of America).
"The intermissions were part of the attraction of The Town. In its later years, it drew older audiences."
The owners created intermissions halfway through movies and served patrons free cake, pastries and coffee. They also created contests that entitled winners to a month of free movies. For the past several decades, there was only one show time — 8 p.m. For many years, the price of a ticket was $5.
The kitschy '50s-style auditorium featured several metal ersatz suits of armor perched on platforms on the walls, and the cozy lobby had just one glass counter that offered popcorn, candy and pop.
Years of neglect took toll
The reels continued to roll until 2008 when a family illness led to the theater's closing.
In 2012, the abandoned building was purchased by the town in a county tax sale in hopes of renovating and reopening the theater.
A citizens' movement began in 2014 to garner Town Council support, which prompted the council to adopt a wait-and-see approach.
In 2015, the Indiana Landmarks commission awarded landmark status and funding for the Town Theatre. Such a listing made The Town eligible for incentives for restoration, including a federal tax credit for owners of income-producing property. The landmarks endorsement wasn't enough to save the historic theater.
The years of abandonment had taken a toll on the building, which would have required total replacement of the auditorium roof and three of the outside walls.
Town officials estimated the project to cost between $1.9 million and $2.5 million, but the contractor bids averaged $3.2 million, excluding the highest bid.
This led to a 3-2 council vote to reject the project last January and to schedule demolition.
Another town-owned building, on the theater's south side, will be razed at a later time as Maria's Buena Cocina anticipates a possible move to the southeast corner of Ridge Road and Grace Street.
Town officials want to purchase the remaining three businesses on the theater block between Condit Street and Garfield Avenue.
If this is accomplished, the entire 5 acres would be leveled all the way west to the bike trail.
The council then would invite developers to pitch their ideas for redeveloping the land.