By ROBERT KELLY
Collinsville, IL. — The iconic Miner’s Theatre building in downtown Collinsville, built with union labor and donations, will celebrate its 100th anniversary with an open house, tours and brief ceremony on Sunday, Dec. 30.
Anyone interested in the ongoing restoration of the historic theatre at 204 West Main Street, is invited to attend from 1 to 4 p.m. to remember good times there and get information on how they can help get the old building ready to resume hosting live productions.
The long-closed theatre is expected to reopen on a limited basis within the next year, said Vicki Borror, president and treasurer of the nonprofit Miner’s Institute Foundation, which is restoring the building.
'A BIG PART OF
“We want the theatre to be back as a big part of this community,” Borror said. “It has been such a big part of Collinsville in the past. Getting it reopened is going to change the footprint of downtown Collinsville.”
The last live stage performance at the Renaissance Revival-style Miner’s Theatre was in 2009. That was shortly before some code violations and a lack of compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act forced the three-story building to close. But the main floor of the theatre has recently been brought into compliance with all codes and laws, and that part of the building can be used again by the public, Borror said.
UNION RESTORATION WORK
Union workers from J.F. Electric Co. of Edwardsville completed work on upgrading the theatre’s fire alarm system, which was the last stumbling block to opening the main floor, Borror said.
The union electrical workers donated a lot of time and some materials to finish the nearly $80,000 project, she said.
FOR LOCAL PRODUCTIONS
More than 400 seats on the main floor will be available soon for local productions, she said. “The goal during the next year is to do smaller programs and productions.”
Eventually, revenue from reopening the main floor of the Miner’s Theater will help pay for renovations still needed to reopen the building’s balcony, which has more than 300 seats, she said. Then, larger productions can be staged.
The final phase of the remodeling will involve restoring the building’s ballroom and top floor meeting rooms. The overall project is expected to total nearly $2 million.
Once completed, Borror said a fully refurbished ballroom could be rented for wedding receptions and other large gatherings.
“The community as a whole is very supportive,” she said. “We believe this is going to happen.”
WHAT TO EXPECT
AT THE OPEN HOUSE
On Dec. 30, volunteer guides trained by the Miner’s Institute Foundation will lead tours of the whole theatre building for those who are able to climb stairs to the top floor. Virtual tours will be shown simultaneously on a closed-circuit television screen to be set up on the main floor. People are invited to come and go as they please from 1 to 4 p.m.
At 2:30 p.m., Borror will welcome visitors and discuss the history of the theatre in a brief ceremony.
The cornerstone for the Miner’s Theatre was placed in October 1917, and the building opened for live productions and coal miners’ union meetings on Dec. 28, 1918. Construction of the building cost nearly $139,000 at the time and was financed by local miners’ unions. Collinsville was a major coal mining center at the time and local union mine workers agreed to a one percent wage withholding to pay for the theatre.
A POINT OF PRIDE
“They took a leap of faith on building the theatre,” Borror said. “World War I was ending, and our country was going into a depression at the time. Demand for coal was going down as production needed for the war effort was ending.”
Even so, the theatre soon became a point of pride both for the miners and Collinsville as a whole, she said.
The theatre hosted vaudeville productions in its early years and later became a movie house, as well as continuing to host live entertainment.
The building’s second and third floors once provided a home for union offices and a central meeting place. Those floors also were used by community groups for social activities and housed a small library.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, and it was named a Collinsville Progress Historic Landmark in 1993 and a city of Collinsville Historic Landmark in 2013.
Modern attempts to remodel the theatre date to the late 1980s and include more than $1 million in work done during a brief period of building ownership by the Collinsville Area Recreation District. The Miner’s Institute Foundation assumed full ownership of the building from the district for a second time more than six years ago.
Structurally, the brick and stone building remains sound, Borror said, but access to the second and third floors is limited to the stairs. An elevator is needed, she said.
Anyone interested in donating or volunteering to help with the restoration project may contact foundation officials at 618-972-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.