The new Sheldon: It glows

September 28, 2018

RED WING — The bloom is back.

It will be the first thing that strikes Sheldon Theatre-goers: The 1904 theatre, near the end of a five-month, off-season renovation, glows, the theater’s executive director, Bonnie Schock, said.

And with radiance comes revelation.

“There are details now in this building that I never noticed, that I walk in and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, look at that!’” Schock said.

When work began in May, the Sheldon was, by all accounts, fading. Beautiful and majestic, yes, but disheveled and worn. The paint was peeling. The decorative gold leaf in the main house was tarnished. The roof structure was collapsing.

But the $2.1 million restoration was also a balancing act.

“We wanted to honor and conserve the past and hold that and move into the future,” Schock said. “That was the overarching goal of the whole project.”

Four months later, during which every flat surface was repainted, new, brighter LED bulbs were installed, the roof and electrical system were replaced and decorative flourishes were restored, the Sheldon is back. It will be re-introduced to the public Saturday at its grand opening.

The Sheldon has undergone a handful of renovations since it was built in 1904 from a bequest by T.B. Sheldon, a grain merchant and city council member. Sheldon’s instructions were that his gift, which comprised half of his $83,000 estate, be used for a “nonsectarian public good.”

The theater has had its damsel-in-distress moments. It was refurbished after a fire gutted its interior in 1918. In the 1930s, it was remodeled into a movie theater during the craze for film.

In 1988, it was renovated back to a performance venue. (That remodeling was noteworthy because of an explosion that rocked the Sheldon during a gathering of city officials and investors to mark the start of reconstruction. The detonation was triggered by a spark from a torch. No was injured, but the roof lifted two feet, officials say).

Yet, through all these various transformations, of fire and fury, of rebirth and renewal, a constant has been the public’s support for the Sheldon, Schock said. Today, it is the second-oldest municipally owned theater in the country.

“I think it’s unusual,” said the theater board’s president, Nancy Dimunation. “It strikes you the attachment that people have for this building. And it’s not logical. It’s emotional.”

So what will people notice about new Sheldon? Here’s a list.

• A new studio. What used to be a projection booth — and before that a second balcony when the theater was originally constructed — has been turned into a a rehearsal and performance studio. The space will also be used for parties, receptions, VIP events and fundraisers.

“This is one of the things were most excited about in terms of the renovation, because it changes the way that the community will be able to use this building,” Schock said.

• New carpet. This was no small matter and was replaced with great care, said Dimunation. Its custom-designed patterns and leaf-looking shapes echo similar decorative features throughout the building.

“The carpet was a big deal in the community,” Dimunation said. “The people loved the old carpet, so we need to be able to say, ‘This is how we selected it.’”

• A new green room. The room is located under the stage and is where artists and actors wait before going on stage. Once just a bare room with concrete floor, the green room is now a finished space. It includes Cambria counter tops and a mounted flat-screen TV that provides live-feed video of performances on stage.

• New ADA-accessible bathrooms. The old restrooms were torn out down to their steel support and completely redesigned.

• More power. Schock said an electrical upgrade will allow the Sheldon to handle more power, opening the range of musical acts that it can host. The Revolution will perform as part of the grand-opening ceremony. In the past, the Sheldon would not have been able to handle the band’s technical requirements. Now it can.

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