Restored theater coming together in Northwood

Published 2:57 pm Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A once forlorn building in downtown Northwood has found new life, thanks to the enthusiasm and interest of local citizens.

Once a local institution housing a series of retail businesses, the J.B. Thompson Building is undergoing extensive renovations designed to restore the building to its former glory.

So far, $230,000 has been raised by Total United Northwood Effort, a community development organization, which hopes to open a new movie theater on the site later this year. An estimated $120,000 in additional funding will be required to complete the project, according to TUNE director Paul Krull.

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“We’re just getting back to it. The roof is watertight now, and a lot of work has already been done,” Krull said.

TUNE purchased the building for a dollar in 2003. The roof leaked, bricks were blown out, and the sidewalk in front of the building was crumbling. Local contractors and work crews, along with volunteer help, have been involved in the renovation project. The interior was completely gutted and a new interior has been constructed from the basement floor up.

“The contractors have built a new building inside of the building. That’s more cost effective and efficient than trying to restore and replace everything that was there,” Krull said.

Northwood hasn’t had a movie theater of its own since 1960, but hopes to provide new recreational opportunities with the theater project, said TUNE board member John Anderson.

“I think it could be a big draw on weekends. We already have some good restaurants and bars, so the theater will give people in this area a reason to spend their evenings here,” Anderson said.

Plans call for the theater to be open every night, with matinees on weekend afternoons. The upper floor of the building will be turned into apartments.

Grants from the Worth County Development Authority and other local foundations and businesses have helped raise the necessary funds. Other fundraising efforts have included a wine tasting celebration and a cowpie raffle at the county fair. A donation of $150 gives contributors the right to have their name placed on a plaque commemorating the building’s reconstruction.

The 1891 building is on the National Register of Historic Buildings and is part of the Historic Downtown Northwood district, but has been vacant for the past 20 years. Krull said the focus of local boosters has changed from saving the structure to finding ways to utilize the restored building. A theater was seen as a way to provide a community entertainment resource available to area residents.

Seating from Northwood’s previous theater had been removed and were being used by Northwood-Kensett High School. Many of those seats now reside in the basement of the restored Thompson building. When a theater closed in Dubuque local organizers were able to acquire more theater seats by physically removing the seats and hauling them back to Northwood.

“That was a matter of finding the people, getting a truck and doing the work. The seats were made available to us free of charge,” Krull said.

A big volunteer effort has been required as part of the restoration. Local high school students and other volunteers have removed truckloads of debris in preparation for the building’s restoration.

“I don’t know how many times those high school kids have been down here working. They really helped move things along,” Krull said.

Hard work, initiative and muscle power could only take the project so far. Money was also required. Seventeen windows have been replaced on the upper floor of the building at a cost of $43,000. The new roof was installed for $23,500. Interior demolition and debris removal for all three levels of the building was done by volunteer labor, but the cost of new flooring and walls on the main floor and basement levels of the building required a WCDA grant of $125,000.

More work and fundraising will be required, but Krull said he hopes to have a new, 140 seat theater open to the public by the end of the year.

“I have really been impressed by the work ethic and sense of commitment this community has shown as this project has moved forward. I think it will be a great addition to the Northwood area community.”