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Marquee and Screen - Garfield Center for the Arts

                            Screen under the Lights of the Marquee

    Screen Announcing Events

    In Support of Other Non-Profits

Providing Programs for Children

Promoting Local Restaurants

Thanking a Sponsor

The New Lyceum (c.1928)

We tend to think historic Chestertown is an 18th Century town.  But, in truth, it is mostly 19th Century architecture and some 20th, too.  Indeed the ‘New Lyceum’, as our downtown theater was originally named, is a product of the "Roaring Twenties" - toward the very (lively) end of our National Register District's "Period of Significance" (1707-1939) – an era of indoor plumbing and electricity

The New Lyceum (c.1938)

By the time we began working with the theatre, the theater’s marquee had become a sad shadow of its original exuberance. It had lost its finials, its pendants, and its signs.  The historic ceiling had been demolished, replaced with barn roofing.  A pair of commercial 2’ x 4’ fixtures casting their fluorescent light on the sidewalk.

         The New Lyceum (c.1938)

Marquees are key to a theater’s business model.  They sport lots of lights to grab attention, and create a festive atmosphere.  They are surrounded by intensive signage to market current and upcoming events.  Marquees are the bright and colorful portals to entertainment, advertising where the fun begins.

The 1920s saw a groundswell of theater construction.  Vaudeville was highly profitable, so much so that even in this small town (Pop: 3000) the elegant “New Lyceum” was built at the end of that era, just before the collapse of Wall Street.  Despite its small town location, the New Lyceum had an electrified marquee and many signs.  In the 1938 photo, eleven colorful posters from Hollywood are displayed, and undoubtedly updated for every new show.  In a blow up, we can tell that the largest poster, mounted above the entry doorway, was illuminated by 15 bare bulbs across its top.  A sandwich board, as tall as a man, is set to be hauled out to the center of the sidewalk.  Marketing, Marketing, Marketing, the sine qua non of the entertainment business.

As architects, we are asked to revive the marquee, not as historic artifact, but as a crowd pleaser, an announcer of events, and a driver of revenue.  We struggled to understand how to do this at first.  The two signage predecessors (the Hollywood posters and the fluorescent tube letter board) are obsolete technologies.  Would our Historic District Commission allow us to replace them with an LED screen?  It could, at first, announce the current show, and then, some seconds later, announce the upcoming show, and the show after that, at no additional cost.  It could also promote the activities of other non-profits downtown, RiverArts Studio tour, for example.  More to the point, it could be bright and colorful and lively – a revival of the qualities the New Lyceum originally used to market itself.

Chestertown’s Historic District Commission thoughtfully approved our rehabilitation plans for the marquee (not a “restoration”).  All of the existing historic features are preserved, such as the marquee's historic moldings on the exterior.  The marquee signs are a re-design, adapted from photographic evidence, but not reproductions.  The pendants are reproductions, but the glass in them is our own 2012 color scheme.  The ceiling (demolished in the 1950s) is all new, and, we upgraded the lighting to energy-efficient LEDs.

"Rehabilitation" is one of several strategies available to an owner of a historic structure under the (federal) Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.”  Rehabilitations must preserve all of the historic fabric, but beyond that we are free to add contemporary features such as will make the structure more serviceable (in this case, from the commercial enterprise point of view) as long as the design is compatible with the historic.

The Historic District Commission must approve, of course, but we have decades of experience designing new structures in historic contexts.  Even so, the marquee proved to be an interesting challenge, but nowhere near the uphill battle for getting the first programmable screen ever approved in this deeply historic town.

But that’s another story. Click on the "Spy Op-Ed and Video" link below for an introduction.

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