- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

COLLINSVILLE, Ala. (AP) - The Cricket Theatre had fallen into disrepair sometime in the mid-1980s. It was a fixture of downtown Collinsville, and one of the most intriguing points of interest for the quaint community.

It sat untouched for more than two decades, a safe haven for local wildlife. That was, until the Collinsville Historical Association purchased the building in 2009.

It’s been a seven-year project, but the Cricket has regained some of its unique character. The legendary red-and-yellow neon-lit marquee was secured into place last week - one of the final steps in restoring the town’s “most valuable asset.”

“We’re starting to see the fulfillment of a lot of hard work,” said Rebecca Clayton, the association’s secretary. “I haven’t been able to do all of the manual labor, but I have certainly supported all that’s been done. There’s been a lot of sweat that’s gone one, and now this is letting people see that it’s really going to happen. It was very poor condition when the historical association got possession of it, and I think people seriously doubted it could be restored.”

According to the Collinsville Historical Association, the theatre had been in operation for nearly 60 years - M. G. Weaver opened the original theatre in what is now the Collinsville Public Library. The Weaver family built the Cricket for $75,000 in its downtown location in 1946.

It was marketed as an 800-seat venue and was one of the first that allowed black patrons. In the 40s, segregation divided the two between the main floor and balcony. Black moviegoers purchased tickets at a side door and were ushered upstairs.

It wasn’t uncommon on the weekends for people to flock to the Cricket Theatre to see movies, live shows and country music performances. For years, this was their primary form of entertainment. But, the generations changed, as did those entertainment interests.

“People had a TV in their homes and they weren’t coming out to the movies and going out to see country music shows,” Clayton said. “That probably contributed more than anything else to the demise.”

Martha Barksdale, treasurer of the Collinsville Historical Association, said once the association formed in 2003, they immediately had a survey done to designate parts of the town on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The survey deemed the theatre to be our most valuable asset,” Barksdale said. “It was the most unchanged and unique, and it had a lot of things going for it. It was the center of town.”

There was no question as to what would be the association’s main focus to revitalize Collinsville’s historic district, Barksdale said. The Cricket Theatre was at the top of the list, but the work list seemed daunting.

“We started out with the roof, and then we had to get all of the electrical up to code,” Barksdale said. “Now, we’ve got the stage built and some lights added. There’s been different things along the way.”

But, one of the biggest things was the marquee. It was a stamp on all the years of hard work.

Jennifer Wilkins, director of the Collinsville Public Library, said she was riding into town with her grandson last Wednesday, and they were stopped at the red light in town. It was then that the boy began screaming and celebrating the sight of the new neon sign.

Wilkins said it was the first time either of them had seen the marquee bear any resemblance to its former glory.

“I had never seen anything other than that rusted out sign,” Wilkins said. “I had never really seen the colors before. We’re very excited about getting it.”

Clayton said she had a similar reaction to the sign’s installation.

“I went through town a couple of times, and I made it a point to watch them put it up for a few minutes. We all felt the exact same way (as Wilkins’ grandson), but we were a little more reserved,” Clayton said with a laugh.

Barksdale said the group hopes to open the theatre’s doors soon to new live music and other events. They’re already planning an official lighting ceremony for the theatre’s sign.

“We hope in July to set a date and notify everybody that we’re going to light the neon,” Barksdale said. “Not all of the structure is complete yet.”

Clayton said there are still a number of things the theatre needs for it to be completely operational, but the end is in sight.

“We don’t have a sound system, a ceiling and we don’t have heating or air,” Clayton said. “But, we’re going to get there with the help of the community.”

___

Information from: Fort Payne Times-Journal, http://www.times-journal.com

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