NORWALK — Efforts to restore the historic Norwalk Theatre have taken a step forward with the hiring of a Cleveland architecture firm that specializes in preservation.
While there’s plenty of work to be done, the decision by the Norwalk Arts Center LLC to hire Perspectus Architecture for about $37,000 to study how to finish the work isn’t the only achievement in the restoration effort.
The Norwalk Arts Center also has fixed the roof of the theater and has obtained $250,000 in state capital improvement funds, although it doesn’t actually have the money in hand yet.
The Norwalk Theatre, at 57 East Main St., has been closed for many years. It opened in 1941. The designer was a famous theater architect, John Eberson, who helped build about 100 movie theaters in the U.S. and in other countries. Many have been preserved, but many have been torn down.
The chance to work on an Eberson theater makes the project even more interesting, said Elizabeth Corbin Murphy of Perspectus Architecture.
"I live in Akron, and the Akron Civic Theatre is another Eberson theater," Murphy said.
Eberson was known for creating an atmosphere that made each theater special, she said.
The Norwalk Arts Center, which bought the theater in June 2019, hopes to turn it into a multi-purpose center for the community, including providing live performances of a variety of entertainment, guest speakers and weddings and receptions, said Brooke Gfell, publicity chairman for the Norwalk Arts Center.
In fact, there’s a long list of possible uses, said Kathleen Sigsworth, who serves as treasurer of Norwalk Arts Center.
“There’s not really a good place in Norwalk for businesses to meet,” Sigsworth said. “If you want to do a rock concert, we’ll have a mosh pit there.
Hiring Perspectus is a big milestone for the group, Sigsworth said.
“We need someone who has experience in a project this large,” she said.
Perpectus also has experience in working to obtain tax credits for historic preservation, Sigsworth said.
“We are learning about those as a possibility of alternative funding,” she said. “It’s very complex.”
Patrick Hyland of Perspectus, the project manager, has a good background in theaters, Murphy said.
A few weeks ago, the Norwalk Arts Center learned that state Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, had helped the group obtain $250,000 to work on the project. The group is still working on the red tape needed to actually obtain the money.
A timetable for completing work on the theater isn’t available yet.
The Norwalk Arts Center had hoped to finish the renovations by now, Sigsworth said.
“Then reality hit. And COVID hit. There’s too much that needs to be addressed,” she said.
Norwalk Arts Center has obtained 501c3 status, meaning that donations to the group are tax-deductible.
And the group is trying to get the Norwalk Theatre on the National Register of Historic Places. That would open up more grant opportunities, Sigsworth said.