SAULT STE. MARIE — The Soo Theatre, a building which has been a part of downtown Sault Ste. Marie for over 90 years, is now under renovation.
The Soo Theatre has been host to hundreds of live performances over the years. It has been home to plays, orchestras, high school music recitals and more. For years it was also the only place in Sault Ste. Marie to see a movie while it was in theaters without crossing the border into Ontario.
The theatre closed down in 2003 when the iconic building could no longer be used because of its age. The restoration of the theatre began when the Soo Theatre Project Inc. was formed in 2003, and they began restoring the theatre so it could be used again.
The building has undergone many improvements since 2003. Some of the updates have enhanced the appearance, like the major repair of gaping holes in the lobby, painting of walls around the building, and sealing of the old plaster in the auditorium. Most updates are unseen in the form of needed electrical upgrades, stage equipment, floors redone and many cleanup efforts. The roofs were also repaired or replaced.
In recent years, the theatre has been restored enough to safely be used again in live performances, but the outward appearance of the rundown theatre as a whole was not fully restored.
In 2021, a restoration project to fully restore the appearance of the theater began with donations from the Chippewa County Community Foundation Endowment Fund and other local donations.
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The restoration project has started construction on the exterior façade on the front of the building, which the Soo Theatre Project Inc. expects will be completed by the end of 2022. The entire restoration, including the inside of the building, will last approximately three years.
Northern Restoration and Waterproofing Systems from Grawn, Michigan is in the process of removing black and white paint from the historic limestone and brick, bringing the façade back to its original 1930 look.
The theatre, which was originally built for live performances only, had a movie theater screen included decades after it was built. It may have a screen again after construction. Once the theatre is complete, if there are enough funds left over, the upper parts of the theatre might be converted into a movie theater.
The restoration in total will cost around $640,000 for the interior and exterior of the building. The funding for this project comes almost exclusively from local donors but is also partially funded from grants provided by the Michigan Arts and Cultural Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
"We actually have had more than 100 individual and corporate donors, almost all of them local, from the Eastern Upper Peninsula and Sault Ste. Marie in particular," said project coordinator Justin Knepper. "Right now, 90 percent of the Soo Theatre restoration has been funded not by state or federal grants or anything like that, but straight up local, private, corporate and organizational donors that are really making the project happen, which is amazing. It's old fashioned fundraising."
The Soo Theatre Project Inc. has raised around half of the funds expected to be needed to finish the project and is still asking for help from the community.
Contact Brendan Wiesner: BWiesner@Sooeveningnews.com
This article originally appeared on The Sault News: Soo Theatre begins next steps in renovation project