CHAMPAIGN — It's believed that the seats in the Virginia Theatre have been playing an integral role to performances and movies in downtown Champaign since about 1939.
And while the seats will be replaced as a part of the ongoing renovation at the theater (it's closed until spring of next year), the seats will live on, both through residents who purchase them and when they're refurbished and resold.
The Champaign Park District is hosting a sale of about 100 seats from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday in front of the building. Seats will sell for $50 each. Park district spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said it's a cash-and-carry sale, so make sure you have a way to take your seats home.
She said residents have expressed interest in owning a piece of local history.
"It's all being done as a fundraiser for the Virginia Theatre," Auteberry said. "All of the money is going right back into the restoration effort."
The rest of the seats will be salvaged and picked up by the Discount Seating Co., based in Jackson, Tenn.
Owner Austin Fongers said he'll pick up about 1,300 seats in Champaign. While he doesn't yet have a buyer for them, he plans to restore them to have them ready for sale when someone needs them. It's possible they could be sold as a lot, or some could be sent to little theaters around the country.
"It's a good, old, quality chair," Fongers said of the seats from the Virginia.
Jim Lopez, vice president and partner at Broeren Russo, which is the project's general contractor, said giving the seats to Fongers' company keeps them out of the landfill and provides an immediate solution for what to do with them.
"We really didn't want to throw them away if we could do something else with them," Lopez said, calling it a "win-win."
Lopez said the restoration will include sandblasting the chairs' metal backs and repainting them, stripping the existing foam and cloth and adding new seats.
Fongers said his company picks up seats all over the country and has been in business for 10 years. It also specializes in restoring seats on-site.
Part of the Virginia's renovation will be the installation of new seats. Although the park district hasn't yet finalized exactly what they'll look like, Auteberry said, they will look historically accurate.
The park district is working with architects Westlake Reed Leskosky, which specialize in theater restoration. She said many times when people are restoring theaters, they put in new seats.
"Eventually, you either have to refurbish them or put new seats in," she said.
The new seats, like the entire remodel, will be chosen "with a strong effort to maintain historical integrity," Auteberry said.
She believes they'll have a rich color palette, perhaps with deep red or maroon, blacks and golds, she said.
"People jump to the conclusion that we're making everything new and modern," Auteberry said. "While codes and materials have changed (since the theater was built), we've always been very mindful of maintaining the historic integrity of the building."
However, when the theater reopens, you can expect to be comfortable in the new seats.
"They definitely will be more comfortable just because they haven't had people sitting in them for the last 60-some years," she said.