Page C1.2 . 03 December 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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  • Sioux City Orpheum Restoration
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    Sioux City Orpheum Restoration


    The loge boxes were destroyed and part of the balcony was removed. The upper floors, mezzanine, and lounges were blocked off, and a dropped ceiling was installed hiding and preserving the incredible architecture, painting and plaster above.

    In 1982, the theater was "twinned" or cut into two small movie houses, and a wall of sheet rock was placed down the center aisle. These movie theaters operated until 1992 when for the first time in 65 years, the Orpheum went dark.

    Uncovering Hidden Spaces

    In 1988, two young people with a video camera explored the dark, empty, upper floors of the Orpheum that were no longer accessible to the public. This little adventure proved to be pivotal in the theater's future.

    Armed with that video, the Siouxland Dance Association approached the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs for a grant to determine the feasibility of restoring the Orpheum. That same year, the Orpheum Theatre Preservation Project, the OTPP, was created to spearhead a public fund drive to match the grant given by the state.

    A limited amount of demolition was done to remove the drop ceiling in the theater. It revealed the magnificent proscenium arch and confirmed what the board members had hoped. Much of the original painting and plaster was intact. When the drop ceiling was removed in the lobby, three glorious chandeliers were revealed. It was then that the potential of the beautiful theater became apparent.

    The OTPP Board contacted Ray Shepardson, a theater restoration specialist, who was impressed with what he saw. "What brought me here," he recalls, "was one of most magnificent movie palaces remaining in America. The room is very vertical, which is what you want in a concert hall for acoustics; it has great volume."

    Shepardson also appreciated that many of the original finishes and fixtures were intact. Preserving those whenever possible, he says, "keeps the ghosts happier." Sadly, among the original fixtures that had disappeared was a "grand chandelier" that once graced the center of the theater. The board decided to commission a new chandelier that was similar in size and style incorporating about 20,000 antique and new crystals.

    Picking up the Pieces

    One of the first steps of the restoration effort was to remove and disassemble all of the existing light fixtures and chandeliers and ship them to New Metal Crafts, in Chicago for restoration. This company specializes in restoring, reproducing, and supplying antique light fixtures.

    In addition to restoring nearly 50 of the original Orpheum light fixtures, New Metal Crafts created 40 exact reproductions. An additional 250 fixtures were manufactured in a style complimentary to the originals.

    Under the supervision of Evergreen Studios, an interior finishes firm that specializes in restoration, conservation, and reproduction of paint and plaster, much of the original paint and plaster was restored to new by carefully scrubbing away years of neglect. What had to be redone was carefully matched, and molds were created from pieces of plaster ornamentation that had survived.

    Keeping the Orpheum's original architectural style intact was crucial to the Sioux City community, and entire sections of railing, balusters, and terrazzo steps needed to be painstakingly recreated. They now flow seamlessly from old to new.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    The restored Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa, as seen from the stage.
    Photo: G.R. Lindblade

    ArchWeek Image

    Before restoration, view of the seating from the stage. The loges and parts of the balcony had been removed in earlier "remodels."
    Photo: G.R. Lindblade

    ArchWeek Image

    Workers preparing to rebuild the balcony.
    Photo: G.R. Lindblade

    ArchWeek Image

    The lobby of the Orpheum Theatre, before restoration, with a drop ceiling.
    Photo: G.R. Lindblade

    ArchWeek Image

    Neglected chandeliers were discovered above the drop ceiling.
    Photo: G.R. Lindblade

    ArchWeek Image

    Workers install a restored chandelier in the lobby.
    Photo: G.R. Lindblade

    ArchWeek Image

    The lobby before restoration but after the drop ceiling was removed.
    Photo: G.R. Lindblade

    ArchWeek Image

    The grand lobby after restoration.
    Photo: G.R. Lindblade


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