HISTORY OF THE THEATER
So what's the story?
April 16, 1926
In 1924, a disastrous fire destroyed the Gowanda Opera House and seven
commercial buildings and four houses on Main Street. The fire started in the
projection room of the opera house, which by this time was showing movies,
as well as hosting live touring companies and local performances.
Gowanda's most prominent businessman, Richard Wilhelm, recognized the need to reinstate a center for culture and
community in Gowanda. He engaged prominent theater designers, Leon H. Lempert & Son, of Rochester New York, to design the Hollywood Theater at the site of the original opera house. The theater could seat 700 in the orchestra seats and 290 in the balcony.
The Hollywood Theater opened its' doors on April 19, 1926. The theater hosted big bands, famous vaudeville performers and first run motion pictures as well as live performances. The interior consisted of two experior playbills beside wood and brass entry doors, a white Vermont marble floor lobby, brass railings, oil painted murals, ornate plaster trim and a 22 foot convex domed ceiling. Since the Hollywood first opened, generations of patrons have passed throuh the beautiful brass and glass doors to enjoy countless movies, live stage shows and concerts.
After going through several changes in ownership in the 1970's, the Hollywood finally closed its' doors in 1992. Abandoned, the theater suffered significant damage from water, weather and lack of heat. However, most of the original 1926 fixtures and original elements stayed intact.
The Gernatt Family of Companies purchased the building and donated it to the Gowanda Area Redevelopment Corporation (GARC), a 501c(3) non-profit organization. Together with the Friends of the Hollywood Theater (a group of community volunteers), they began the long and arduous process of restoring the theater to its original 1926 condition. They received a $100,000 NYS Environmental Protection Fund grant and began a two phase initial restoration effort.
Under the supervision of the State Historic Preservation Office, the roof was replaced on all four levels, targeted asbestos abatement was done and some masonry repairs were completed.
We next concentrated on restoring exterior masonry walls, including selective brick replacement where needed. Other work focused on parapet repair, clay camel back coping restoration, further targeted asbestos abatement, facade enhancement and repainting the marquee.
In 2003, Gowanda’s Historic Hollywood Theater Ltd was created to concentrate solely on the restoration of the historic theater. GARC turned the ownership of the theater and its' management over to this non-profit, volunteer-run organization.
In 2007, Gowanda's Historic Hollywood Theater, Ltd. received a $500,000 matching EPF grant through the State Historic Preservation Office and the group continued the long and often overwhelming process of preserving the theater one historic phase at a time.
In 2008, the firm of Flynn Battaglia Architects, PC was hired to complete schematic designs for further restoration projects and phases. These plans focus on the existing conditions in the building and developed a restoration approach to address each issue. The intention of the Board and Architects is to preserve all of the original historic fabric that can possibly be saved and replicate all that is beyond repair.
New hydronic heating system installed, original wood windows restored, bathroom upgrades and expansion, electrical upgrades and roof leader replacement.
Fire safety system installed, additional electrical upgrades were made.
2012 - 2015
Exterior door restoration, plaster and paint restoration (including the beautirul 22 foot ceiing dome), HVAC improvements, roof top units installed.
2016 - 2017
Complete lobby restoration, restoration of oil murals.
Work to finish interior paint and plaster, carpeting, curtains and fixed seating will begin soon. In addition, the marquee will be restored and upgraded.