Whatever happened to: The Fischer Theatre

Whatever happened to: The Fischer Theatre

Today, we update you on people and places from the recent past and decades ago. Here, the Fischer Theatre:

Then

The Danville Opera House Company built the Grand Opera House for $28,000 in 1884 in downtown Danville as a live performance theater. It seated 1,100, and hosted a variety of stage plays in its early years. In 1912 Louis F. Fischer bought, closed, remodeled and expanded the venue, reopening it as the Fischer Theatre. His changes — the new facade, first-floor storefronts, a new balcony and a new mezzanine floor with 100 boxes, seating six people each — provided the elements that make the historic building special today. In 1929, a ticket booth was added along with a new marquis and state-of-the-art motion picture equipment. Many classics played there like "Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Singing in the Rain." It was the premiere entertainment center for live theater and movies, said Carol Nichols, Vermilion Heritage Foundation board member. Some of Danville's famous sons — Dick Van Dyke, Jerry Van Dyke and Gene Hackman — either worked at the Fischer or saw live theater and movies there. In 1971, Kerasotes Theatres bought the Fischer, and in 1981, announced it would be a dollar theater, but in 1982, the Fischer closed.

Now

The goal of the Vermilion Heritage Foundation, which owns the Fischer, is to restore the theater and re-open it as an entertainment venue. In 1983, five Danville stars — the late Donald O'Connor, the late Bobby Short, Dick Van Dyke, Jerry Van Dyke and Gene Hackman — hosted a benefit at the theater to raise money for its restoration, but a state grant fell through and restoration was postponed. By 1997, the building was deemed unstable, and the Old Town Preservation Association pleaded to save it. The city gave the theater to the association, which stabilized the building and sold it to the heritage foundation. Since then, the lobby and tin ceiling have been renovated and new heating and air conditioning, a concession area, a boiler and theater seats have been installed. The foundation continues to raise money for restoration of the auditorium. The lobby features a museum dedicated to the theater and the many movie, television and musical stars with Danville roots. And a gift shop operates in the store front of the building.

Carol Nichols says ...

"We do expect long-term to renovate it into a 1,000-seat theater, but it takes time and money. The Fischer was the best place to see a movie, and it can be again."

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