“They don’t build them like they used to.” No, they don’t, and some might say, thank goodness. We like our air conditioning, after all. When it comes to movie theaters, however, nearly everyone will concede the loss represented by the multiplex, where the only visual attraction is what appears on the screen.
If the multiplex is the only sort of movie theater you’ve experienced, take a trip to The Lerner in Elkhart to see what you’ve missed. Harry Lerner built the vaudeville and silent movie palace in 1924 to seat 2000 people. Outside, it projects an elegant classical sensibility, with a formal white terra cotta façade. The color was all inside, where the eye feasted on an elaborate scheme of painted and stenciled surfaces and gilded ornamental plaster.
Last spring, the City of Elkhart won Indiana Landmarks’ Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration for its $18 million transformation of the downtown theater, enhanced with a new events center. The project was a centerpiece of the city’s strategy for inspiring a hopeful future after the national media made the community a symbol of recession-driven decline.
The restoration re-anchored the failing terra cotta and reproduced missing features. A replica of the original marquee replaced the 1940s version. Inside, you won’t find classical restraint. You’re surrounded by color, decorative plaster, stenciling and gilding. The theater organ is back in working order too. The place has new seats and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems -- and air conditioning, of course.
Go to a performance or movie at The Lerner. It will take you back in time, or show you what you missed. If you can’t immediately travel to Elkhart, come to Indiana Landmarks Center on March 22 to hear the colorful story of the Lerner, delivered by professional storyteller Bob Sander. Indiana Landmarks and Storytelling Arts will sponsor a repeat If These Walls Could Tell performance of the story this summer at The Lerner.
To see what’s playing at The Lerner -- or buy ticket for the Elkhart Jazz Festival -- visit www.thelerner.com.
About Hidden Gems Indiana
Each week Indiana Landmarks uses insider knowledge to highlight historic places worth a visit, from the quirky to the sublime: small towns, neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, parks, cemeteries, scenic drives, museums -- you get the idea. Learn more about Indiana Landmarks at www.indianalandmarks.org.