Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Show Starts on the Sidewalk

Earlier this month the JPR Foundation filed its formal application with the City of Medford Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission, detailing the various exterior rehabilitation and restoration that mark the beginning of the transformation of that building from a long-vacant opportunity into a vibrant 1000-seat performing arts center.  Aspects of the exterior renovation include the restoration of the original wood windows, cleaning and repairing the Flemish bond brick of the upper floors, repair of the damaged sheet metal “tiles” at the parapet and the complete reconstruction of the exterior entry foyer, including the tile pattern that I’ve written of here previously.

But, as it should be, it will be the signs that get the most attention (that, of course, being the entire point of signs).  From the 33-foot neon pylon at the corner of Holly and 6th to the projecting marquee over the entry, we’ve done the best job we can of recreating the visual character and, hopefully, the excitement that this building created in Medford when it opened in August 1930.  Fernando Duarte, of Duarte Design, and Alpha Signs are working on the details, based on JPR's historic program, and we expect to be under construction by early next year, for a Spring unveiling.

Last week I was out in Coos Bay, Oregon, talking to the City and private parties that are interested in bringing new life to the Egyptian Theatre.  (Read the story) One of the concepts that I tried to convey is the value that a restored historic structure, especially a restored movie theatre, can have as a customer magnet.  Great architecture and design, that pays lots of attention to all the details of the exterior to create an unmatched “experience,” is really one of the most difficult to reproduce benefits that comes with any quality restoration project.  I am reminded, in such situations, of two statements.  The first “it’s hard to create great places from scratch” comes from Jane Jacobs, author of the iconic The Death and Great American Cities.  The other isn’t really a quote, but to me sums up the entire goal of theatre restoration.  It’s the title of a somewhat obscure book by Maggie Valentine, about the designs of the prolific California theatre architect S. Charles Lee.  Lee designed some 250 theatres between 1920 and 1950, including the Fremont Theatre, in San Luis Obispo and the La Reina, in southern California (where, as it happens, I used to spend Saturday matinees as a child.  I think it's a mall or something now).  Lee never worked in Oregon, but his design philosophy, as elegantly summed up by Ms. Valentine’s title, fits what I think is so exciting about theatre rehabilitation.  Valentine’s book is simply titled The Show Starts on the Sidewalk and, indeed, it does and should.

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