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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Workers remodeling historic theater find some interesting surprises

Workers remodeling historic Lufkin theater find some interesting architectural surprises

The next phase in the remodeling of the Pines Theater is nearly completed, and has provided a few surprises that no one expected to find.

Crews are at work in the theater, demolishing most of the existing cosmetic features inside the building. Their work has run the gamut from removing old plaster ceiling tiles and asbestos to filling in the flood-prone orchestra pit. They’re also tearing up concrete in places so that new plumbing can be installed. And while they were breaking through the concrete inside an old storage closet, they made an interesting discovery: a staircase that led from the closet, underneath the building and outside. The staircase appeared to have been covered in concrete before the theater was used, but no one really knows what it was there for, or when it was built.

“It had to be something prior to the 1930s,” said Dale Allred, who acts as the city’s representative while the remodeling is going on. “When they broke through, they found these concrete steps leading outside.”

The staircase might be demolished completely, or it might be put back in once construction is complete, Allred said.

That wasn’t the only surprising find, though, Allred said. While crews were tearing down old acoustic barriers inside the auditorium, they discovered enormous, floor-to-ceiling brick arches that run the length of both walls.

“I assume they were probably put in there when the theater was originally built,” Allred said. “That would put it at some time in the early 1930s.”

Demolition at the Pines Theater revealed enormous, floor-to-ceiling brick arches that run the length of both sides of the auditorium. Construction workers also unearthed a concrete staircase that predates the theater itself and leads down from a storage closet to outside.

The theater was last used as a church, and was purchased by the city shortly before they began the restoration process, Allred said. Many items from the theater’s early days remain inside, including framed movie posters, a popcorn machine and two enormous carbon arc projectors tucked away inside the theater’s upstairs projection room. The architecture that remains spotlights moments in Lufkin’s history, like a doorway to the balcony that was used by African-Americans during segregation. The balcony, Allred said, was the only place African-Americans were allowed to sit during that time.

The demolition process has been ongoing for about a month, and is expected to last about nine more days, Allred said. Once it’s completed, the design will be finalized and the next phase of the construction will begin, which will include installation of vintage lighting, seats and fixtures.

“We hope to bring it back to an early era,” Allred said.

Larissa Graham’s email address is lgraham@lufkindailynews.com.

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