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Monday, May 29, 2017

HISTORIC MASONIC THEATRE TOUR, CLIFTON FORGE VA 5/20/17



The current day Masonic Theatre, originally named The Stonewall Theatre, opened July 1, 2016 after an extensive $6.5 million renovation.  The theater offers entertainment and provides a wonderful space that responds to many needs for the  Alleghany Highlands community.  It opened as an opera house and Mason Hall in 1905 serving as a performing arts theatre and later as a movie theatre until it closed in 1987. Back in the day, the Historic Masonic  hosted Roy Rogers (and Trigger), Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Hopalong Cassidy, Burl Ives, the Drifters and the Count Basie Orchestra. Whaaat!?! In Clifton Forge VA? Seriously.  The cornerstone was first laid in 1905 when the Low Moor Masonic Lodge 166 commissioned the building to serve as the fraternity lodge and opera house. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017, MG and I toured the building as a birthday present to me.

Retired John Hillert had a dream. He dreamed of giving life back to this building so that it could give back to the community what it had given for so many years before its decline.  Mr. Hillert gave birth to the rehab dream and was instrumental in the renovation of the theater.  The foundation that took on the rehabilitation effort made the decision not to begin the project until all the money needed was raised.  That effort took 5 years. The rehab work took about a year.  I  toured the building on my 66th birthday.  Sadly, John Hillert, at age 66, passed away 2 days prior. On May 18, 2017, Mr. Hillert died from lung cancer. He was a nonsmoker.  His love of the arts and this community can be seen all over town and will be enjoyed for years to come by residents and visitors to Clifton Forge  and the Highlands. Thank you, Mr. Hillert. RIP.

Much of the funding for the construction came from federal and state tax credits intended to encourage the rehabilitation and preservation of historic buildings. Theater officials got permission from state and federal authorities to preserve the antique mural, which extends into the bathrooms on the main floor.





Thanks MG for holding the door closed so I could get these photos.

Meticulous research was done so preserve the building Stern said the theater holds striking revelations from the past on every floor. The beautiful tile floor in the main lobby is not the original but discovery of an old photograph depicting the original floor tile pattern allowed contractors to replicate it.



Beautiful molded plaster can be found throughout the building.  The photos below are of the ceiling in the main lobby.




Blueprints were discovered and now hang in frames on the walls on the 2nd floor.


This old poster was found and was still in good shape.  Lash LaRue actually rode his horse down the aisle when he performed here.


This trap door in the floor of the 2nd story reveals a way to get down to the cat walk above the stage.


The stair well is again in good shape.


This is a fire door that would shut if a fire occurred.  Trouble is, there would be no way out if you were in the apartment when the door shut to keep the fire from spreading to the other side.


The main theater seats 545, which includes the mains section, the balcony and the private boxes.







The heating and cooling systems have been installed under the seats to preserve the historic character and minimize the impact on acoustics.


The main theater’s balcony tells its story of the time when racial segregation was enforced.

Black patrons had to climb the fire escape to the second floor, pay admission at a separate box office, and, from there, climb another set of stairs to the balcony.


Because of funding from Federal and State agencies, historic preservation required strict adherence to the building's original construction. The water fountain on the back wall of the balcony had to be kept in place, even though the handle is missing and a replacement handle could not be found. I think it looks like a urinal.


Beneath the auditorium, in the lowest level of the building the space opens into a lounge directly under the theater seats.  Windows look out onto Smith Creek, which runs along the building’s east side. You can rent this space for small venues.  In the adjoining room, there is an awesome kitchen.



Above the main theater, you will see the meeting hall where the Freemasons once held their secretive gatherings.  MG is a Mason.  It was so cool to take his picture standing in this historic space.


 This room can be used for many things such as business meetings, wedding receptions and other special occasions.  One of the county's high schools recently had their prom here!


 Part of the tour included the up to date lighting and sound equipment. Very impressive.


 The main auditorium is beautiful.  I can't wait to come back for a movie or theatrical performance.



For more information and to purchase tickets for upcoming performances, go to their website at
https://historicmasonictheatre.com.  I believe the next performance is The WannaBeatles on Friday, June 2.




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