Community

Script still being written on remake of Hardacre Theater

Dollars and directors needed to save historic Tipton theater

It could take $300,000 to make the historic Hardacre Theater in Tipton, pictured Tuesday, weather tight — the first major step needed in its restoration and renovation. The murals are not original to the theater, and most of the seats were added during a renovation in 1948. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
It could take $300,000 to make the historic Hardacre Theater in Tipton, pictured Tuesday, weather tight — the first major step needed in its restoration and renovation. The murals are not original to the theater, and most of the seats were added during a renovation in 1948. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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BACKGROUND

Tipton’s Hardacre Theater began life as an opera house more than 100 years ago, funded by the estate of the late Jacob Hardacre.

Construction began in 1914, and the doors opened in 1916. Three years later, it found new life as a movie theater, and in 1948, was spruced up with a new marquee and interior remodeling.

The movie theater remained in operation until July 31, 2013, when “The Lone Ranger” remake starring Johnny Depp rode for the last time across the big screen. The theater went dark after that, waiting for a remake of its own.

The Hardacre Theater Preservation Association organized in 2012 to save this cultural gem in the heart of town. By October 2013, the group had achieved nonprofit status, and set about raising funds and interest in upgrading the facility as a combination movie theater and performing arts center.

The group purchased the building in February 2014 for $96,100, and projected renovations to cost $3.8 million. In December 2015, the building was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Hardacre Film Festival, established in 1997, became Iowa’s longest-running film festival and continued even after the theater closed, moving to the high school auditorium for two years, first as a modified film festival, then as a “Big Lebowski” fundraising festival in 2015.

More fundraisers followed, from a comedy and magic show to a trivia night; a Blue Jean Ball; a benefit showing of short films at FilmScene and a donation from the Land Locked Film Festival, both in Iowa City; and T-shirts sold by Tipton middle-school students.

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In 2016, the theater celebrated its 100th anniversary with a speech by then-Gov. Terry Branstad, followed by a gala celebration at the nearby Cedar County Fairgrounds.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Tipton’s Hardacre Theater is a quiet place right now, with most of the action happening behind the scenes.

Money is the most immediate need, said Greg Brown, 61, of rural Tipton, president of the preservation association’s board of directors.

A fund drive is on the horizon for the end of the year, but with just three people left on the board — including Will Valet and Brian Heil — down from seven, it’s going to take more organizers to make that happen.

“I’m making a hard appeal within the community to get volunteers to serve on the board at least for a year,” Brown said, “because it’s going to be so hard for the three of us to launch a fundraising campaign.”

Not all of the tasks will require “begging for money,” he noted. “So much has to be done behind the scenes.”

About a quarter of a million dollars had been raised, which was enough to launch a formal campaign, he said, but the coffers took a big hit in 2017 when a late April storm caused about $28,000 in damage.

According to a blog post on the theater’s website, strong winds tore a seam in the roof, pulled a side off the parapet wall and ripped some bricks off the fly tower, allowing rainwater to enter the building and damage the stage.

Insurance wasn’t enough to cover it.

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“Financially, the immediate need for the building is to get it weather tight,” he said, estimating it will take about $250,000 to $300,000 to replace the remaining 60 percent of the damaged roof, replace some windows and do some brick work.

“It’s two steps forward, three steps back,” he said.

Community interest hasn’t waned, he stressed. In a recent series of urban planning focus groups conducted throughout the county, Brown said the Hardacre “kept floating to the top” of people’s interests and concerns.

The goal is to renovate the building to its “historically relevant” look from the 1948 remodel, when the marquee was added, and to try to keep some of the historic feel indoors.

“From roof to basement has to be redone,” Brown said. “Everything will eventually be brand-new. What we’re not going to do is try to make it look old, but try to keep the old feel” through paint and original styles for lights and seats. “It’s won’t be a significant change for the audience, but will update it and give it a good face-lift.”

Plans are being scaled back for the time being, he said.

“The original goal was to get everything fixed and repaired and replaced, and open it back up as both a movie- and a live event facility,” Brown said, “but we’ve since decided that we might be better off to get the building cleaned up and weather-tight and put a movie screen in and at least get movies going there for a while so we have some cash flow — then do a phase 2 to the renovation later on to add (facilities) for live performances.”

Even though the volunteers didn’t make their original target reopening in 2016, to coincide with the theater’s centennial celebration, he said they’re still on track. Others tackling similar projects told them it would take seven to 10 years.

“So we’re right on schedule,” he said. “Once we get enough money and pledges raised to start construction, we should be able to get it redone and reopened within 12 to 18 months. ... It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when.’”

To Help

• What: Hardacre Theater Preservation Association

• Where: Hardacre Theater, 112 E. Fifth St., Tipton

• To donate: Click on the donate tab at thehardacre.org

• To volunteer: (563) 554-8286, email contact@thehardacre.org or go to thehardacre.org/volunteer

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• Volunteer opportunities: Join the board of directors or assist the board by serving on the fundraising planning committee, helping at fundraising events or offering goods or services for fundraising events

• Information: thehardacre.org

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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