Eighty-eight years ago, an Elkhart business man announced plans to build a 2000-seat theater downtown. The Lerner Theater was home to vaudeville acts, big band concerts, and musical theater for four years before being purchased by Warner as a movie house. The theater changed hands several times before standing vacant in 1987 after the death of its owner.
The city purchased the property from the widow and made plans to use the theater as a venue for performing arts, both visiting and local. In 2008, a cooperative effort of the city and community donations embarked on a multi-million dollar project to renovate the theatre and offer conference and banquet space downtown.
The historic Lerner Theater is scheduled for a grand re-opening in a few weeks. I was able to get a sneak preview and the change is fantastic. Prior to the renovation, everything had been covered with black paint, with musty seats and peeling wallpaper. It now holds the hope of exciting productions, out-of-town visitors, and a cultural center in a struggling downtown.
The lesson? Not everything that is old and deteriorated needs to be thrown away or destroyed. In this same city an old school became a community center, complete with a refurbished playground. Not only is the history and memories of the building preserved, but the waste of materials and labor involved in destruction and new construction is avoided.
As you budget for your business, you could easily overspend on the newest technology, the latest conferences, and the best furniture. New isn’t always better. There is something to be said for preserving a connection to our past to make our vision for the future clearer. There is something about spending your money on the things that are most important, not the newest or the shiniest or the most impressive.
Smart business owners make the most of every opportunity, even when they may seem deteriorated or useless to the rest of the world. With attention and effort, they may become the grandest showcases of all.
- Abandoned Theaters, or Losing our Cultural History (themanintheyellowhat.wordpress.com)
- Main Street Theater Rises Again (socolife.wordpress.com)