Once the center of stars and glamour in Dodge City for the the premier of the 1939 film sharing the city's name, pedestrians passing the old Dodge Theater on Gunsmoke Street pass it daily without even noticing.
With the help of the Dodge Theater Foundation and the community, the old theater is being rehabilitated with the goal of bringing crowds back to the theater that once hosted Errol Flynn and the other stars of "Dodge City."
President of the Dodge Theater Foundation Mark Vierthaler and his co-founders have started on a plan to restore the historical downtown building. "You sit there and you think, you say, 'Someone should do something.' Well our thought was, 'We’re someone.' "
When people ask what’s in it for him and how much money the foundation is making off the project, Vierthaler explained that they make no money. "It is an entirely, 100 percent volunteer board. We are investing our own time and money. We just really want to see it succeed and we don’t want to see Dodge lose any more of its history."
Vierthaler said that restoring the theater is important to him for many different reasons, especially because of the fond memories he has of it. "I saw all the Disney movies there and I saw 'Mrs. Doubtfire' and the movies like that," he said.
The Dodge Theater was also the only theater in the area that showed "Selena" when it premiered. "There are a lot of fond memories not only for the Caucasians but also for the Hispanics of the community. So there’s a shared history and a shared bit of love for that building and the memories it holds," Vierthaler said.
Though work progresses, the building is far from being ready to open its doors to audiences. It is in need of new plumbing, a new heating and cooling system, an overall technology upgrade and is about 200 chairs short, Vierthaler said.
Mold infestation had been a problem for the building, but after professional cleaners ServiceMaster donated its services, that has been cleaned up and is no longer a worry.
"As of three or four years ago, the estimated cost to get the building 'up to snuff' was about two to three million dollars", Vierthaler said. Because of this, one of the biggest challenges the foundation will face during the restoration process will be money.
Along with donations from people, there are grants that the foundation can apply for to afford the restoration plans. "One advantage we have is that there are many grants out there specifically for threatened buildings, and we definitely consider the Dodge Theater a threated building because of the disrepair and how something needs to be done to be sure that it can be salvaged."
For those looking to help the theater come back to life, there will be a cleanup day within the next month or so where volunteers will be needed. Donations are also always welcomed, Vierthaler said.
Future plans for the building include restoring the stage and installing a movie screen that can go up and down to accommodate both live theater and films once again. Vierthaler said that the foundation’s goal is come as close as possible to a full restoration.
Vierthaler would like to express thanks to all those who have helped along the way thus far, including GM of ServiceMaster Raul De La Torre, and Michelle Mahieu, local attorney.
"You hear a lot that people want to see downtown grow, they want to see history preserved and they want to see more entertainment options. The restoration and usage of that building takes care of all three of those criteria that people seem to really want," Vierthaler said.