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Wichita theater restoration gets $1 million gift

Published on -5/21/2012, 7:20 AM

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- One after another, Wichita's grand old theaters have vanished, torn down to make room for parking lots.

Jean Garvey is determined that the beloved Orpheum Theatre -- built in 1922, the year of her birth -- not only escape the same fate but also be restored to its former glory.

To that end, the longtime Wichita philanthropist has donated $1 million from the Willard and Jean Garvey Trust to keep the Orpheum's modernization and restoration going. The project has been under way for 30 years.

"We're pleased that there is continuing strong support to return the Orpheum to its original architectural integrity and glamour I remember from girlhood," Garvey said in a statement, which was released before Wednesday's reception.

"I hope that the Orpheum will maintain its position as the leader of presenting quality performances, showcasing particularly our local performing arts and being a true cultural center," she said.

The donation is the largest single gift to date and will be used to help launch another phase of the project, including planning and design work, Orpheum president Jennifer Wright told The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/KqgKGH). New York architect Malcolm Holzman has been hired to lead a team of experts in restoring the 90-year-old venue, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

Garvey recalled attending movies and other performances at the Orpheum during her youth. It now offers about 100 shows annually, and its 1,200-seat auditorium has been a popular venue for intimate concerts by such performers as B.B. King and Glen Campbell.

Improvements so far have included a new roof, renovated restrooms and lobby, an electronic marquee and a new sound system. The auditorium and stage still need to be modernized, at costs still to be determined, and a new concessions area is also planned.

David Dixon, of the Boston-based architecture firm Goody Clancy, has called the Orpheum a good fit with Wichita's Project Downtown revitalization plan.

"It's close enough to make the core of downtown walkable," Dixon told The Eagle last year. "The Orpheum is within walking distance of Old Town. Theaters and restaurants have a natural synergy. So what they are doing at the Orpheum does nothing but help build your downtown as a destination that brings people with them."

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