Walton Theatre overhaul takes shape

Sarah Eames | The Daily Star Jim Rice, chair of the Walton Theatre Preservation Association, and Lisa Favret, chair of the balcony restoration committee, discuss renovations in progress on the balcony of the Walton Theatre on Thursday.

WALTON — Renovations are underway on the balcony of the historic Walton Theatre.

The renovations are the latest phase of a decades-long restoration effort, according to Jim Rice, chair of the Walton Theatre Preservation Association.

Volunteers removed dozens of original folding seats — some of which are fitted with racks underneath to store stovepipe hats — and the original hardwood floors will be sanded and re-carpeted in the coming weeks, Rice said.

“This hasn’t been touched since 1914,” he said.

The theater was constructed in 1913 to replace the hall containing village offices, the firehouse and an opera hall, which burned to the ground in 1912, according to Rice.

The village still owns the building, Rice said, and operates out of offices at the back.

“There’s so much history here — it’s so beautiful,” he said. “We’re so lucky because around these parts, we don’t have old theaters like this anymore.”

The theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, the same year a committee of the village was established to restore the building.

Lifetime Walton resident Andrea Paternoster, who passed away in July, chaired the committee for several years, according to Rice. The theater’s parlor will be named in her honor after restoration is complete.

The committee reorganized as a nonprofit organization, separate from the village, in 2011, Rice said, making it eligible for grant funding through local organizations such as the O’Connor Foundation and the Mee Charitable Foundation.

“For years, there was no maintenance done to the building,” Rice said, estimating that 20% of the walls’ surface had disintegrated by the time restoration began.

Early efforts included re-stenciling the hand-painted borders on the walls and restoring the stained glass windows, which are made with zinc instead of lead, Rice said.

The 2006 flood “annihilated” the building’s first floor, Rice said, but Favret called it a blessing in disguise.

“The village had insurance, so we were able to replace the floors and get all new seating,” she said.

The balcony will be fitted with folding seats identical to the ones on the first floor, Rice said. Seats may be sponsored for $100 apiece, and donors will be honored with an engraved plaque mounted on the seat.

The balcony’s original seats are available for sale at Full Circle Antiques, Favret said. Half the proceeds will be donated back to the restoration fund.

Each pair of front-row balcony seats will share a small tabletop, Favret said. A countertop and barstools will be installed behind the back row, and hightop tables made from authentic vintage film reels will be placed along the wings of the balcony.

Ken Schrider, of Three Oaks Design in Walton, drafted the initial renovation designs, Favret said, and Chris Morgan, a retired engineer from Walton, helped implement them.

“We have a very talented and dedicated committee,” Favret said.

For more information or to donate, visit waltontheatre.org

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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