OTTUMWA — An exciting piece of Ottumwa's history is becoming an exciting piece of Ottumwa's future.
The Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation has purchased the former Capitol and Capri theaters at the corner of Main and Green streets with the intent of making it part of the downtown revitalization. The buildings have been vacant for more than eight years, and the foundation believes now is the time to bring them back to some of their former glory.
"The Foundation feels very strongly that it is time for Ottumwa to control its own future and destiny," ORLF President Brad Little said in a release Friday. "The purchase of these beautiful, historic and significant buildings is yet another step in the right direction for downtown Ottumwa."
When ORLF put together a steering committee to begin looking into uses and needs for the buildings, it became apparent that there were many people and many suggestions. Committee co-chairs Jeff Hendred and Pam Kaupins soon realized that someone would be needed to help Ottumwa decide the best ways to plan, design and revitalize these amazing buildings.
To that end, the Legacy Foundation has hired Artspace, a nonprofit developer for the arts based in Minneapolis, Minn., to come to town. A team from Artspace will lead two days of focus groups, tours and meetings to form a feasibility study of developing the theaters into an artist live/work community.
"The goal is to put something in that will live forever," Kaupins said. "We don't want to start something and in five years say, 'Well, that didn't work.'"
The Artspace team will meet with civic leaders, the arts community and city and county leaders Nov. 14-15.
On Nov. 14, a public town hall meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at Bridge View Center. Entertainment by Indian Hills Community College drama students, a magician and dancers will begin at 6:15 p.m., and photographs of the inside of the theater will be shown.
In addition, there will be a special showing of the music video pitch sent to Mumford & Sons in hopes of bringing them to Ottumwa next summer for their music festival. The video is fashioned in homage to one of their hits, "I Will Wait." The OHS Meistersingers will wrap up the evening with a performance of the song.
Much of the excitement around the project is that very few people have been in the building since it closed. The Legacy Foundation opened the doors Friday for a short walking tour back in time.
Contractor Geoff Kent said that many people wouldn't recognize the building now from the last time they saw a movie there. Fifty Dumpsters of just trash have been hauled out, and the four-screen layout has been changed to a one-screen theater area.
"You have to use your imagination. There's not a whole lot here," Kent said, leading the way through the now-empty 1,174-seat Capri Theater.
The goal now is to get heat, air and electricity into the building, which is now being lit with lamps and generators. The "fun part," everyone said, would be turning the water back on for the first time and finding where the leaks might be.
As cleanup progressed, Kent and his crew have come across many relics from the theaters' days gone by. The Capitol yielded up a 1959 movie poster for the Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds film, "It Started With a Kiss." An old newspaper between layers of hardwood floor in the Capitol told of a 1937 game between the Negro world champion softball team, The Chicago Hottentots, and the Ottumwa All-Stars at the YMCA field.
"If the walls could talk" isn't just a saying after looking at the walls throughout the theaters. Each has layer after layer of exposed paint and wallpaper, taking you on a trip back through the stylistic history of the building.
"They're talking to us, saying 'Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing us back,'" Kaupins said with a smile.
Town Hall Meeting At 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Bridge View Center, the public is invited to attend a collaborative, interactive public meeting to learn about Artspace and the economic and community impact of the arts. There will be discussion on the usage of the theater in downtown Ottumwa. A team from Artspace will be on hand. Entertainment will begin at 6:15 p.m. Michael Lemberger has photographed the inside of the theater, and a slideshow will be running during the focus group. Michael Philipsen will play show tunes, Mark Mcwhorter will have a watercolor painting, Indian Hills Communtiy College students will be statues in their Dracula costumes, Bill Bowman will be the magician and there will be dancers from Premier Dance Center. In addition, there will be a special showing of the music video pitch sent to Mumford & Sons in hopes of bringing them to Ottumwa next summer for their music festival. The video is fashioned in homage to one of their hits, "I Will Wait." The OHS Meistersingers will wrap up the evening with a performance of the song.