Next stage in remodeling: auditorium

Published January 29, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - Over the past 10 years, Richey Suncoast Theatre has refurbished and remodeled various sections of the 1920s-era landmark building.

The dowdy restrooms and lobby got a facelift in 1997. The lobby's crystal chandelier was hung in 2000. The peeling dome atop the building was covered in a gold leaf-like fiber in 2002. Special subbalconies were built for sound and light controls in 2004, and the exterior was painted in 2005.

Now the Richey Suncoast Board - with the help of the city of New Port Richey - is taking on its biggest project so far: the complete redecoration and remodeling of the auditorium itself, from the stage curtain all the way to the projection booth at the top of the balcony.

"This is big. This is really big," said Charlie Skelton, president of the theater's board.

The city split the cost with the theater to hire architect Ned Stacy of Off the Board Architects Inc. in Palm Harbor to design a new interior, with close guidance from the theater board.

"We went for an art deco look," Skelton said. "The board chose the colors, materials, everything."

The carpets will be a patterned maroon, the seats a reddish maroon. Large panels of multicolored fabric will cover the walls above the wainscot, with a stylized sunrise starburst at the base of each section.

Over the stage will be a raised sculpture of the traditional theater double masks representing comedy and tragedy.

The wavy, tin, silverish ceiling tiles also resemble a starburst on a black background.

Now that the design and proposed materials have been selected, the board will seek bids on the jobs, Skelton said. Once the bids are back, the board will seek financial help from the city and, possibly, from other sources. The board would like work on the auditorium to start by the summer.

"We've already had people come up and donate for this project," Skelton said. One woman went to the box office after a show and wrote a $200 check for the fund.

"She said, 'I just love this theater,' and handed a check to me," Skelton said.

As the remodeling project comes together, Skelton and other theater volunteers are tearing out the walls and doing anything they can to save money.

They all got a big surprise when they tore out some crumbling acoustical tiles on the north side of the auditorium.

"We found a door cut out of the wall," about halfway between the stage and the emergency exit, Skelton said.

The mysterious part is that the door sill is about 30 inches above the floor, too high for anyone to step up or step down.

As far as anyone knows, the building has always been either a movie theater or a performance theater and has always had the slanted floor.

"It's kind of spooky, isn't it?" Skelton said.