- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

CENTRAL CITY, Neb. (AP) - Since 1916, the State Theater building has been part of the Central City community.

It served first as an opera house and later as a movie theater, providing entertainment through the years that many people remember, The Grand Island Independent (https://bit.ly/1F7BCUt ) reported.

That changed on Aug. 25, 2013, when Steven Blodgett, whose family owns the building, was forced to close its doors.

Now, however, a group of local residents is trying to bring it back.

They are inspired by places such as the Grand Theatre in Grand Island, and they hope they can breathe new life into the landmark.

“What we’ve seen is these towns around us that run theaters, they’re really flourishing anymore,” Blodgett said.

The State Theater building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and according to that paperwork, it was built by Col. William Shelton. He named it the Martha Ellen Auditorium after his daughter, and records say it offered a variety of performing arts to people in the community, including musical concerts, comic operas, touring companies, vaudeville performers and home talent productions.

Records say, “It provided a place for people to get together to have a good time and forget their troubles over crops, weather, taxes, the railroads and the generally hard life of settling the Great Plains.”

Blodgett’s family has owned the space for about 50 years, he said.

He said he has the blueprints from 1945 when the building switched from an opera house to a theater. His parents ran the theater for years before he and a brother picked it up again about 27 years ago.

Countless kids have worked there over the years, he said, and many families enjoyed it.

Natalie Foulk, president of the board of the newly formed State Theater Foundation, agreed.

The theater opened again when she was a teenager, and she was excited to get to stay in town to see movies. Many older people remember going to the shows, too, she said.

As film moved into the digital era, however, Blodgett said it became too expensive to buy the new projector he needed to continue, and he had to close his doors.

It was a loss, Foulk said.

“When it closed, it was pretty sad,” she said. “It was a big deal to have it around.”

A group of citizens felt the same way. They have started a Facebook group to gauge interest in reopening the theater, she said, and it exploded. It now has more than 1,000 members.

Since then, they have had several meetings, including with people involved with the Grand Theatre, who gave them ideas.

They have also appointed a board and taken steps toward becoming a nonprofit organization.

Foulk said they envision something like the Grand, where there could be birthdays, weddings and special events, as well as movies.

Blodgett, too, wants them to have success. He and his seven siblings have had the property on the market in the past, but they plan to donate it to the group so it won’t sit empty.

“I would just as soon see the building be used,” he said. “Heck, it’s one of the nicer buildings downtown, and to just have it sitting there and paying insurance and taxes on, it is just a waste of money.”

Foulk agreed.

It’s historic, she said, and having another building thrive along G Street, one of the main streets in Central City, keeps the downtown strong, with which many smaller communities struggle.

The revived theater could also help the people in the town of about 3,000, she said.

Central City has many teens, but there aren’t many entertainment options, she said.

“If you look at our town, we really don’t have a lot for them to do,” she said. “We have no bowling alley now. We lost that, and then our movie theater closed.”

While there is no set timeline for the project, Foulk said they are moving forward. The next step will be to raise enough money to upgrade the projector so events can start.

When that happens, Foulk said, they hope they can bring back some of the State Theater’s storied past.

“It’s a memory not just for the younger generation that we’re hoping to get, but also for the older generation,” she said.


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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