Knoxville — Walking around the work-in-progress that is the Village Theater with Curt Schwanebeck, one cannot help but be intrigued by the history that not only the building holds, but that Schwanebeck remembers.
Schwanebeck and his family came to Knoxville to run the theater over 50 years ago. His late father, Carl, was hired to manage the business.
A great deal of demolition work has been done to the interior of the theater, with more expected to take place on a workday on Saturday, Feb. 1. Schwanebeck said Saturday's project will likely include removing wiring, some of which has been in the theater since the 1930s. A ceiling inside the lobby is also expected to be removed, to expose the original one that was there when Schwanebeck first set foot inside in 1960.
Schwanebeck remembers that when he arrived, there was an octagonal box office to the outside, in which people bought tickets. He said no one cared to work inside the office because they were forced to deal with weather conditions.
Pointing around to different areas, Schwanebeck's general knowledge as to the structure of the building is impressive. He can tell you where the I-beams are, which floors are original and more. Inside the ground floor auditorium, he points to a much higher ceiling that he spent an entire summer painting - even though he was afraid of heights. His father installed the lower ceiling for better heating efficiency.
A room inside the theater, which most people were unaware of its existence, was rediscovered during the last workday. The theater's "cry room," toward the back, included two seats, a window and speakers. Parents could take their crying or unruly children into the room to calm them down, while still being able to enjoy the show, and not inhibiting anyone else's ability to do the same.
Behind the screen are three large speakers, which have already been sold. Schwanbeck explained how the screen is held in place by springs.
Underneath the screen is a basement where the electrical systems are currently based. (Part of the reason for the workdays at the theater is to clear debris to make it easier for an electrician to work to install new wiring inside the building. The boxes in the basement will be replaced.)
To the left of the electrical equipment, near the corner of the building, is a window sill. Schwanebeck said that for years, no one realized that the window was broken out, and cool air came in. This has since been resolved. A pipe also sticks out of the east wall, a remnant of the days in which steam heat was supplied to the theater, from a furnace at Iowa State Savings Bank.
Demolition has brought out designs and memories of the theater the way it was, before being hidden when the theater was remodeled to add a second theater, in the 1970s. Standing in the upper-level projection room, the designs of what was once the front of the balcony can be seen. Schwanebeck also remembers how the upper auditorium used to have lights along the sides, which could change colors.
Inside the upper projection room is a small, open air window that allows those in the room to look out over the Knoxville Square. The projectors have been removed from both auditoriums, which created a lot more space inside the projection rooms. Projectors themselves hold memories. In the early years, there was a piece of equipment, necessary for the projector, that the Schwanebecks were in possession of only one. Meanwhile, they operated the theater, as well as the Frontier Drive-In. Schwanebeck remembers how the theater had to be closed when the drive-in was open, because of the shared equipment.
Progress on the remodeling project may reveal more gems of original designs, which were hidden behind previous remodeling efforts through the years. Schwanebeck's memories and institutional knowledge of the facility will come out with them. His assistance will likely be appreciated as the restoration of the Grand Theatre moves forward. Work is expected to include tuck pointing, new heating, ventilation and air conditioning, new restrooms, as well as new wiring.
Schwanebeck has already contributed, including the construction of several "Ticket Choppers." These boxes, in which movie ticket stubs are deposited, have that name because when first invented, they included mechanisms that "chopped" the stubs as they were deposited, according to Schwanebeck. The boxes will be used in the future for Grand Theatre fund raising efforts.
Schwanebeck is not a member of the Grand Theatre Foundation Board. Though he has many memories inside the building, he said he is not sorry to see any of the changes being made. He added that his father was always changing things, and that his father would be really excited about the project.
Saturday's workday is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Volunteers will be welcome.