When you think of a sacred place, rarely does a theatre come to mind. However, Kristen Faux, Administrator of the historic Wilson Theatre in Rupert, Idaho, firmly believes the gorgeously restored theatre to have such a special feeling due to all the time and effort her community sacrificed over the 20 years it took turn a dilapidated old building into the cornerstone of a thriving community that it is today.
Prior to restoration, the Rupert Theatre was last operational in the mid-1980s, showing such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Top Gun. The terracotta ornamentation on the façade was filled in with plaster, the stench emanating from the bathrooms was legendary, and the apartments upstairs had fluttering sheets hung where windows should have been. The stained-glass windows in the lobby were covered in plywood and popcorn grease from the concession stand below, and the ceiling had dropped 18 inches.
With all these obstacles, one could forgive the community for moving on. Spurred by fond memories of what the theatre was, as well as a clear vision for what it could be, Board President Larry Duff and a passionate core of people rallied Rupertites to the cause. With input from Idaho Heritage Trust, they had the ingenious idea of beginning the restoration on the outside of the building, so the community could see clear signs of progress as they worked to build up support.
Over time and with the help of many organizations, private donors, and local businesses, the brick façade was restored, the intricate terracotta tile work was painstakingly recreated in fiberglass to better withstand the elements, the grace was returned to the sweeping arches, and new windows were installed. Inside, almost all the 400 new seats are emblazoned with the names of individual donors sitting atop the original floor, with grooves worn into it from accommodating 100 years of happy patrons. A gold and maroon ornamental ceiling was painted, which was designed to mimic the European theatres The Wilson was patterned after.
The local Episcopal Church took it upon themselves to repair and restore the original Amish-made stained glass, which are now reinstalled to their rightful place. Replacing the old apartments on the second floor is an all-purpose event space that can be split into three separate classrooms which are used for everything from rehearsals and workshops to wedding receptions and business functions.
Just as the community came together to aid in the restoration, they have rallied to keep it in pristine condition. In the three years Kristin has been with the theatre, she’s had to deal with a mere two pieces of stray chewing gum. With the theatre as a catalyst, Rupert is undergoing quite a renaissance. The plaza on which the theatre sits was renovated, hanging baskets were installed throughout downtown, the park was revitalized, a new clock and fountain were installed, and several new businesses have opened in other historic buildings.
Rupert’s motto is ‘Reverse the Traffic’, as people have often traveled to other towns for fun and to do business. The Wilson is doing its part to help bring that motto to life. Their Harry Potter Experience drew crowds from as far as Washington, Utah, and Wyoming, and their production of Shrek was a hit with folks all over Southern Idaho. The versatile venue also hosts a variety of concerts, dance recitals, and donates the space for the local Catholic school’s Spring and Christmas productions. It was a goal of the board from the very beginning for the theatre to be accessible to everyone, and their rental rates and admission costs reflect just that.
In speaking with Kristen, she was unaware just how important it is to preserve our history until moving to Rupert. In her nearly 30 years in town, she has grown to realize the particular sense of place that makes such a town unique is not only worth saving, but worth sacrificing for. It has long been held that theatres of a certain age are home to many a ghost. Kristen believes that they have the happiest ghosts of any theatre, both those that remain from its heyday and those of the people that poured their heart and soul into the restoration but sadly passed before the curtain rose again. It is that love, that passion that emanates throughout the Historic Wilson Theatre and has spread to the surrounding community which makes this a truly sacred place.
The Trust is thrilled to have supported the community’s efforts by providing preservation advice at the first community meeting (the ingenious ideas to restore the exterior and create space to rent first – came from Fred) and several matching grants over the years. When you visit, look for our name on a few of the balcony seats.
Many thanks to Kristen Faux of The Historic Wilson Theatre for her time and input on this article. More information about the theatre and its upcoming events may be found at https://www.historicwilsontheatre.com/.
Photo by Warren Yadon and provided courtesy of The Historic Wilson Theatre.
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