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Artcraft getting marquee makeover

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For the past 60 years, the marquee has let moviegoers know about the upcoming shows at the Artcraft Theatre in Franklin.

The interior wood and steel structure, wiring and other elements of the sign are even older, dating from the 1930s.

Finally, after so many years, the marquee is getting a fresh new look.

Work will begin in the next two weeks on repairing the sign. Though it will look the same, new electronics, revitalized red and white panels and a realigned display face will give it a clean look.

The project continues the restoration of the historic building that has been ongoing since 2008 and will complete the overhaul of the theater’s facade.

“We’re not going with any digital signage or anything like that. It will remain the same. It’s just going to get spruced up,” said Rob Shilts, executive director of Franklin Heritage, which owns and operates the theater. “It’ll be an interesting animal to skin.”

Peering through holes in the marquee’s underside is like looking back in the theater’s history, Shilts said.

Dull gray steel beams, forming a v-shape on the front of the building, remain from the original marquee on the theater. Above those beams is a curved sign that still hangs today, and its patchwork of timber has been rigged onto the entire structure.

“There are so many thousands of screws keeping this all together, that just taking it apart will be like working with a very large erector set,” Shilts said.

All of the metal parts of the sign will be removed and repaired on site by Generations Auto Collision. Workers will pound out and smooth dings, fill in holes where the metal has worn through, and sand-blast years of grime off each section.

Those pieces will be given to Midstate Manufacturing to powder-coat the marquee to match the white and red Artcraft color scheme. Powder coating is a process in which a powder resin is baked into the metal at high temperatures, turning it into a protective glaze.

“The benefit is, when you bake powder, the system cross-links and you get a more durable coating,” said Paul Ambrose, owner of Midstate. “Instead of lasting for five years, you can get 10 years or more out of it.”

On the face of the marquee, the illuminated glass panels will be straightened, repaired and restored. A crane will lift two large air-conditioning units, which keep the interior of the sign cool, while the work is being done.

“All of the circuitry, that’s going to be an interesting thing once we open this can of worms and see what’s behind it,” Shilts said.

The hope is to have the project finished in three to six months. But because the extent of the repairs inside the marquee won’t be discovered until work starts, no one is sure exactly when it will be done.

Once the marquee is finished, it will represent the final piece in the restoration of the front of the theater, Shilts said. The brick facade already has been redone, and the vertical “Artcraft” blade sign was painted and rewired.

The marquee work is being funded by a grant from the Main Street Revitalization Program through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

With the exterior complete, focus will turn to the inside of the theater, Shilts said. Currently, the theater seats are mounted on a series of terraced platforms, which were installed to hold electrical wiring to light the ends of each row.

“But the chairs were originally designed to be on the slope of the concrete floor, so we’re going to strip it back to the concrete and restore the seating to the old way,” Shilts said.

That work will be done by students from the Atterbury Job Corps, an occupational training center for youths located between Edinburgh and Nineveh. Franklin Heritage developed a partnership with the program during the summer, helping provide students with hands-on learning while assisting in the upkeep of a historic building.

“It’s a real worksite requiring on-the-job problem-solving skills, teamwork and communication with the public,” said Jeff Byrd, business and community director for Atterbury Job Corps.

The students already have renovated a small bungalow behind the theater for Franklin Heritage, to be used as a dressing room and meeting space when needed. A deck and pergola were installed to serve as an outdoor patio between the theater and the house.

Work on a former hotel, purchased by Franklin Heritage, is underway. Job Corps students have torn off the front porch and replaced it with new lumber and a support structure.

“Instead of getting experience in new construction, they’re working on 100-year-old buildings, experience they normally wouldn’t get at the school,” Shilts said. “We’re hoping we can expose the students to a number of things here in a historic-house setting.”

Shilts plans to use the students’ skills increasingly in the future, employing their glazing unit to help restore old glass at the theater and surrounding buildings. The school’s welding unit is working on a decorative gate.

“A partnership like the one with Franklin Heritage, once completed, will utilize all of the 10 vocational construction trades that the Job Corps program offers,” Byrd said. “The restoration projects require skilled labor that isn’t easily found, so this partnership is a perfect match to accomplish the goals of both organizations.”

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