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Capitol Theatre marquee getting a new, digital life

Written by Amber South, Public Opinion | Jun 9, 2015 9:47 AM
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Photo by Markell DeLoatch -- Public Opinion

Jason guyer, left, and Joe Stickell of Brechbill & Helman work on the Capitol Theatre marquee Monday, The marquee is getting a facelift that will include moving it back from the curb a couple of feet and new, digital signs.

CHAMBERSBURG >> Capitol Theatre's marquee is going digital, but aesthetic intricacies will ensure it remains an icon in downtown Chambersburg. 

A new, digital marquee should be ready to advertise theater performances and citizens' life events by late summer, said Theater Manager Stephanie Tack. Theater leaders hope to inaugurate the marquee with the Sept. 18 performance of Rich Little, a comedian famous for his political impersonations who will kick off the theater's 2015-16 season. 

It will be a modernized version of the marquee the community has seen for the past 75 years, overall looking much the same but with digital features. 

Tack said she and other theater officials recognize that the marquee is an iconic feature of downtown Chambersburg that many people in the community do not want to see lost to history. 

"We felt that people were reluctant to give up the old-fashioned look of the sign," she said. "Aesthetically it's keeping in line with the historical aspects of the sign, but modernized in that it will have LED lighting and a digital display." 

Work to prepare the body of the marquee for its digital life began about a week ago, Tack said. Phase one includes deconstruction of the body, completing work inside to stabilize the structure and prepare it electrically for its new sign, then putting it all back together again. This also involves preparing the area for the digital sign to fit into.

Phase two involves putting the digital sign in and setting it up to work correctly. Tack said it will take about five weeks to get to this step, then roughly another 10 for the project to be completed. That length of time is largely due to how long it takes to have the custom sign made and delivered, she added. 

Besides fitting in better with the look of the 21st century, the new marquee will make life much easier for the people responsible for changing the messages on it. Until now, they had to use a long tool with a suction cup on the end to take down and put up each letter, usually twice a week, Tack said. Once the digital sign is up and running, they can sit at a desk and enter the message into a computer program. 

The new marquee will be the third incarnation since the theater opened in 1927. 

The original came with the construction of the theater, and was a basic square sign, Tack said. A circular track of lights lit up the featured message. 

The marquee being replaced now came to be in the 1940s, after a company that sold signs and marquees came through town, Tack said. It has been mostly the same ever since, even as the flamboyant style of Hollywood's golden age came and went far out of theater style, she said. 

The marquee extends over the sidewalk in the shape of a trapezoid, with white signs on either side that display shows and other messages with black letters. How far it extends over the sidewalk has changed over its approximately 75 years as the street has widened to accommodate larger cars and heavier traffic. Besides simply deteriorating with age, the changing street and traffic have put stress on the marquee. 

Based on what she has seen in photos from the mid 20th century, Tack said she believes the marquee once was a considerable distance from the street, whereas now they practically meet. Box trucks that pull up in front of the theatre often scrape the edge of the marquee as they pull away, she said, causing damage that has accumulated over time. 

"It has happened so many times, no one person is to blame," Tack added. 

Tack said the project was in its beginning stages when she arrived in September. Her predecessor Linda Boeckman had already begun work to secure funding. 

The project is expensive. The digital sign alone will likely cost about $20,000, Tack said. Other costs will have to be determined once workers get inside the current structure and evaluate what work is necessary. 

Capitol Theatre is able to do the project thanks the Franklin County Commissioners Office's Franklin County Tourism and Quality of Life Enhancement Grant, Tack said. But on top of that generous support, she added, the theater still needs more funding. 

The community's support is appreciated, Tack said. Anyone who wants to donate should call Tack at 263-0202, Ext. 203. Donations may also be mailed to the theater, at 159 S. Main St., Chambersburg, 17201. 

If all goes as planned, theater officials hope that Little's comedy performance in mid-September -- call the theater at 263-0202 for ticket information -- will begin a new era for both Capitol Theatre and the downtown.

"Hopefully it will last another 70 years."

Amber South can be reached at 262-4771.


This article comes to us through a partnership between Public Opinion and WITF.

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