Delaware’s iconic Strand Theatre, which has been a mainstay in the community for more than 100 years, is seeking upgrades to its physical appearance. On Wednesday, representatives of the theater went before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) for an informal review of proposals that would see a new marquee installed, as well as changes to the entrance doors.
The Strand Theatre and Cultural Arts Association is seeking a certificate of appropriateness to install an electronic marquee with a digital display, replacing the existing vintage marquee that has become a casualty of time. The current marquee was installed in the 1930s and was last refurbished 10 years ago.
After recently being accessed by both contractors and consultants, the marquee was determined to have irreparable electrical and mechanical issues, as well as other functional issues. As a result, the marquee has been rendered “obsolete” and “no longer feasible to operate” according to documents for the proposal.
In addition to the myriad of internal issues with the marquee, the vintage sign poses issues of safety for those tasked with changing the wording. With the letters needing to be changed manually, climbing a 15-foot ladder is necessary to do so, regardless of the elements outside the theater.
Brad Ebersole, the Strand’s board president, added during the meeting that “if a good wind blows, the letters can fall” from the sign as well, creating a risk for those walking near the sign.
To further complicate matters for the theater, the letters used on the sign are no longer manufactured, forcing the theatre to sometimes use numbers as letters when insufficient tiles are available.
With a digital sign, Strand staff will be able to change movie titles and other information being displayed on the board from inside the theater. The Strand believes the digital sign will also lead to enhanced marketing opportunities with graphics to promote community events.
If deemed appropriate, the Strand plans to seek the services of Elyria, Ohio-based Wagner Sign Company to do the project. Wagner Sign Company specializes in the installation of historical marquee signs, and the new Strand marquee would incorporate the look of the existing sign with vintage bulbs, neon lights, and chase lights to go along with the state-of-the-art technology.
Replacing the marquee isn’t the only improvement the Strand hopes to add to bring more attention to the theater. Along with the new marquee, the Strand Theatre and Cultural Arts Association is proposing to install a vertical blade sign featuring the Strand name above the marquee to further attract the attention of those passing by.
The doors to the Strand Theatre, which were installed sometime in the 1930s or 1940s according to city documents, are also in need of replacement. Currently, there are six 32-inch-wide doors. As part of the theater’s proposal, the front entrance would decrease to four doors that are 36 inches wide, allowing for better accessibility for those utilizing mobility assistance devices such as wheelchairs and motorized chairs.
The design of the doors will be similar to the existing doors to keep with the historic appearance of the theater, and they would be made from cherry wood to match the ticket booth in the lobby. While they would no longer usher in moviegoers, the existing doors would be repurposed for display around the theater.
While just an informal review of the proposals, the HPC expressed general support of the Strand’s vision for the upgrades. Commissioner Stephanie VanGundy said following the presentation, “Thank you guys for always making our theater beautiful and for all of your volunteer work. I went to that theater. There’s a lot of value that brings to our community. My children go there, my grandchildren will now go there, so that’s something special.”
The proposal will still need to come back before the HPC for a formal discussion prior to being granted a certificate of appropriateness.