Architect named for Grand Theater restoration project

STEUBENVILLE – The Grand Theater board of directors has chosen Shaeffer & Madama of Wheeling as the official architectural firm for the restoration of the Grand Theater on South Fourth Street.

Scott Dressel, president of the board of directors, announced the firm had been picked following a six-month search.

“Shaeffer & Madama, along with the engineering firm previously selected, Whitney Bailey Cox and Magnani of Pittsburgh, will be doing all the architectural and engineering work to meet all the code requirements of the city of Steubenville and state of Ohio, as well as the design changes desired by the Grand Theater for the Performing Arts Restoration Project Design Committee,” Dressel said.

“Our board of directors took a lot of time researching and discussing the architectural firms. And Dennis Madama of Shaeffer & Madama is very excited about this project,” said Dressel.

“We have also had the interior of the building laser scanned by the All Point firm of Pittsburgh. They are returning this week to finish their scanning of the exterior of the building, which will make it easier for the architects to start working on the front of the building,” noted Dressel.

“At this point we anticipate starting the $1 million restoration of the front of the theater in the summer of 2014. And we are now planning to create an historical memory lane concept on the stairway leading to the second and third ballroom areas as well as murals throughout those two rooms. I have compiled a list of 70 places in Steubenville that people like to reminisce about, including stores, ice cream shops, restaurants and bars. Once we have the list posted on Facebook, people will be able to vote on what mural they would like to see. And future managers of the theater will be able to change those murals 50 years from now to reflect the new history of Steubenville. We want to capture the history of Steubenville,” explained Dressel.

He has been leading the grassroots efforts to preserve and restore the theater since 2010.

The last remaining downtown theater was in danger of falling victim to a wrecking ball of years of neglect and lack of repairs.

Steubenville housing officials began to investigate the structural conditions after a neighboring property owner filed a complaint on Oct. 6, 2008.

Since assuming ownership of the theater Dressel has coordinated the sealing of the leaking roof, removing the main floor auditorium seats and cleaning the interior of the building.

Volunteers also have restored the lobby of the theater with paint and new carpeting.

“Sometimes we are too quick to tear down the old historical buildings because of their poor conditions. It will be nice to save a piece of Steubenville’s history for a change. I have never lost a project once I started a restoration. I don’t want to start now,” Dressel stated.

The front of the building that houses the lobby was built in the 1880s to house a saloon and livery station.

The theater was added in 1924 when the four Biggio brothers (Charles, Edward, Howard and William) leased the property, tore down the livery stables and built the auditorium for a theater.

Visitors to the theater in 2010 saw broken seats, a water soaked stage and falling plaster. But Dressel said he could look past the aging interior and see a theater once again filled with movie and stage patrons and “the glory of the past years.”

“When I stand on the stage I actually see the theater finished in my head. In my head it is all done. I do that all the time. When I work on my restoration projects I always envision and think about everything for a long time before I actually do anything because it is art, not just a structure, so you really have to think your way through,” explained Dressel.

He has estimated the restoration project will last at least 10 years.

Dressel and his group of volunteers have continued to make new discoveries in the theater and adjacent store buildings.

When he climbed down wooden steps to a dirt floor basement below a vacant store building just south of the theater he found a brick room in the middle of the basement.

“When I opened the wooden door I found about 100 wooden spindles and wood frame windows that appear to have been built during the Victorian era judging from the design,” said Dressel.

“The brick room is about 8 feet long, 6 feet wide and 6 feet tall. The inside ceiling is arched and entirely of brick. I have made some calls but so far no one knows what the room might have been used for,” explained Dressel.

According to Sanborn maps the building at 123 S. Fourth St. have been used as a saloon, restaurant and meat store at different times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In later years the store was home to a men’s clothing store.

Dressel said he plans to create a mini-movie theater in the former store.

“We now have two women who are professional grant writers searching for funding opportunities. And anyone with an idea about a grant should contact us. We are also looking for a development director to lead our fundraising efforts as well as looking for donations,” Dressel stated.