For more than a century, performers have graced the intimate performance space at Edinburgh’s Pixy Theatre.
Professional opera companies have performed Verdi and Mozart.
Theater groups have staged Shakespearean dramas.
These days, bluegrass and folk music entertains crowds from around central Indiana. Every year around the Fourth of July, the 38th Division Infantry Jazz band performs on the stage.
The Pixy Theatre, one of downtown Edinburgh’s most historic buildings, has been reinvigorated as a meeting place, concert venue and performing arts center. Though still relatively unknown outside the area, it has become a hotbed for bluegrass and country musicians and a testament to those dedicated to preserving the town’s heritage.
“You can technically own one of these buildings, but you’re really just a steward,” owner Mike Harding said. “It’s for the community.”
ABOUT PIXY THEATRE
Where: 111 S. Walnut St., Edinburgh
What: A concert venue, meeting space and banquet hall located in downtown Edinburgh.
Owner: Mike Harding
The Pixy Theatre building itself is divided into separate rooms and facilities for a wide variety of uses.
Harding created a library in honor of his late wife, Carol Forest. She was an expert in water pollution control, and he was looking for a place to put many of her projects, writings and research on display.
The third floor has been outfitted with a meeting hall, full kitchen, great hall and bridal room to be used for weddings and special events. Exposed brick, hardwood floors and tall windows add to the authentic feel of the structure.
One of the most striking features is an Aeolian organ built in 1927. The instrument originally was housed in a mansion belonging to Indianapolis businessman Louis Levey.
At the time, it was one of the largest residential pipe organs ever created. Harding hired experts from the Indiana State Historical Organ Society to repair and clean the massive network of pipes.
“We have one of the oldest pipe organs in Indiana. One of the first things we did was restore it,” Harding said.
The theater itself is simple yet elegant, with cushioned seats leading down to a curved stage.
“Visually speaking, it is strikingly beautiful. The architecture alone says so much even before we played the first notes,” said TJ Robinette, cellist and vocalist for the band Filtered by the Sky, which performed on Sept. 7.
The Pixy was built in 1907, during Edinburgh’s heyday as a commerce and transportation hub.
At the time, it was intended to be a Masonic Lodge. Members paid $25 each to have the three-story structure built one block south of downtown. It was used as a meeting place for the Masons, Rainbow Girls and Order of the Eastern Star.
Operas were performed in its main auditorium. It became a hub for first-run movies and was home for the Edinburgh Sugar Creek Players for almost 20 years.
But fewer groups were using the building. The Masons remained its main occupant, but even they were finding fault with the theater.
The lodge’s meeting room was on the third floor, and older members were having trouble getting up the stairs.
Five years ago, Harding intersected with the Pixy. Though he lives in San Diego, his mother grew up in Edinburgh.
He still owns a portion of a farm south of the town on the Flat Rock River and the house where his mother grew up.
On a visit to Indiana, he ran into a friend who lived in Edinburgh and was a member of the Masonic Lodge. They started the conversation about buying the Pixy.
Harding’s friend proposed a swap: If he would buy a suitable building near Edinburgh that was one story, the Masonic Lodge would trade him the Pixy for it.
“I ended up buying a 1,200-square-foot building on Main Street and traded it for the 12,000-square-foot historic building,” he said.
Renovation started in 2008.
Harding replaced all of the original windows, which had rotted through. Previous owners had covered the windows with galvanized metal outside and drywall inside.
Harding had replicas of the original windows created to replace the old ones, at a cost of more than $200,000.
The roof was replaced, downspouts were repaired, and electrical and plumbing systems were fixed and updated. New heating units were needed.
“These buildings are so historic, you don’t want to mess with them unless you can fix it up,” he said.
Harding worked to bring back some of the Pixy’s turn-of-the-century grandeur. He removed false ceilings, revealing the intricate original design.
Plaster and drywall were taken down to expose natural brick walls. Pine floors, which had been covered by tile, linoleum and carpet, were brought back to life.
To do much of the work, Harding tried to provide employment for area residents. He hired almost 30 youths who had been in trouble with the law or were teetering on the edge of delinquency. They worked for him, helping with the seemingly unending list of restoration work.
“We called them the ‘Lost Boys of Edinburgh.’ We were the only work they could get,” Harding said.
So far, Harding has put $500,000 worth of improvements into the theater.
Since he lives in California most of the year, he has relied on friends and family to help with the day-to-day operation of the Pixy.
Edinburgh resident Judy Chandler oversees the theater from near her home. Harding’s brother, Gary, manages the space. He books concerts, weddings and other events, driving from his home near New Palestine to take care of business when needed.
An emphasis has been put on booking touring bluegrass and country performers. But everything from rock to blues to jazz has been part of the Pixy lineup, Mike Harding said.
“We’ve had such enormous talent come across our stage. We’re booked up with agents in Nashville, and they send us up people all the time that are fabulous,” he said.
Jamie Nichole, an alternative country artist from Martinsville, played at the Pixy in September. She had found out about the venue from a friend and fellow performer who had done a series of shows at the theater.
Upon seeing the venue and hearing its acoustics, she was enthralled.
“That’s the ideal setting and ideal room for me to play in. I’m a solo artist, I play guitar and sing. The sound you get in a room like that is amazing,” she said. “It’s a room where people come to listen, you’re not fighting with bars and TVs and games and stuff like that.”
Nichole hopes to play the Pixy again. She also is considering doing some live recordings and video shoots for her upcoming album in the space.
With a restored theater and slowly expanding roster of performers, the next step is to let people know about the Pixy’s potential, Harding said.
The theater regularly draws people from central Indiana. When Filtered by the Sky performed, they had a crowd of regulars from Indianapolis but didn’t have much success getting Edinburgh residents to come out, Robinette said.
People still act surprised when they hear that the Pixy is open, Harding said.
“Anyone who wants to play, just give us a CD. We bring in all kinds of unusual things — magicians, folk artists, all sorts of people.”
Upcoming Pixy Theatre Events
Dan Miraldi and The Albino Winos, 7 p.m., $10; raw rock ’n’ roll from this Cleveland-based band that has opened for bands such as Wiz Khalifa, Ari Hest and the Fiery Furnaces.
Mercy Triumphs Rock, 7 p.m., $10; this Southern rock-country hybrid specializes in gospel and contemporary praise music.
Fairy Tale Musical Theater, 2 and 7 p.m., $10; a wholesome mini-musical will include music by Verdi, Chopin and Edvard Grieg as well as Russian, French and Norwegian ballads.
Midwest Rhythm Exchange Americana, 7 p.m., $10; a high-energy, acoustic quartet that branches out into many musical stylings such as jazz, gypsy, blues, bluegrass and reggae.
Information: For future events, go to www.TheEdinburghPixy.com for more information, or call 812-526-6513.