There have been a handful of milestone moments in the renovation of La Grande’s Liberty Theatre, including the lighting of the theatre’s blade sign, a replica of its original, in 2015. Another milestone was added on Wednesday night.
The Liberty Theatre welcomed back a nearly 100-year-old chandelier during an open house, with the help of local musicians and members of local and university theater productions.
Most likely installed in the 1920s, the chandelier was hidden from sight until eight years ago, said Dale Mammen, the chair of the Liberty Theatre Foundation.
“The theater went through a substantial remodel in 1961, where they raised the stage and installed fake floors and ceilings,” he said.
Mammen explained that the purpose of the remodel was to house an automobile service. Later, the building was used as retail space for Domino’s Pizza.
In 2009, Mammen made his way through the former theater into rooms that had been blocked off to the public, and that’s when he discovered the chandelier.
“We had it carefully lowered and shipped to a historical firm in California,” he said.
The firm, Eleek Inc., is known for its patternmaking, an old-world craft in which detailed wood positives are made from molds for metal castings its website states. The company also restores, retrofits and replicates historic fixtures, including but not limited to chandeliers, while ensuring that the light fixtures are safe and efficient for current use.
The Liberty Theatre chandelier, made of cast metal, is 42 inches in diameter and 58 inches in height. With strong Germanic and European influences, the chandelier also boasts hand-painted panels. In the early 20th century, it hung from the ceiling from a chain. The full retail price of the chandelier, when appraised was $7,500, and the cost to ship it and have it repaired was roughly $5,000, but Mammen said he believes it’s worth much more.
“(The chandelier) is the symbol of the theater,” Mammen said.
It will be a while before the restored chandelier once again takes its place above the rows of seats in the theater.
“We’re optimistic that it will be (installed again) in the next few months,” Mammen said.
He added that the goal is to keep the chandelier safe and clean as the theater is still undergoing renovation.
“Once we’re done with the interior, we’ll hang it back up,” Mammen said.
Along with the unveiling of the newly refurbished chandelier, Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, announced that the Liberty Theatre received a $200,000 cash appropriation from the state to continue the restoration of the historic theater.
See complete story in Friday's Observer