Renovating the Damm Theatre

Osgood building to get new life

DNR program designed to save aging theatres

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

OSGOOD, Ind. (January 2004) – From the front steps of the house where he was born in Osgood, Ind., Bob Damm can easily see the small town’s historic theatre, located just a couple of blocks away on Buckeye Street. The historic structure holds many fond memories for Damm, 70. His family has owned it for more than eight decades.

Bob, Judy Damm

Photo by Ruth Wright

Bob and Judy Damm

Damm and his wife, Judy, inherited the theatre from Damm’s mother, Viola Damm, who operated it until her death in 1989, when it was shut down.
The theatre was not a moneymaker, said Damm, but his family felt a duty to the community to keep it going. Now closed, with dust settling on once polished surfaces, the theatre while structurally sound would need plenty of work to be opened again. And that’s exactly what the Damms are hoping the community of Osgood, with some help from the Department of Natural Resources-Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, will be able to provide.
Last year the DNR began its Historic Theatre Initiative to save and protect as many old theatres as possible. A committee, which includes film historians, theatre owners like Damm, preservationists and others, was formed.
“People care, and they want something done with the theatres,” said DNR-DHPA special projects coordinator Jeannie Regan-Dinius.
During the past several months, Dinius and colleagues have traveled to several theatres around the state to speak with owners and operators and to get a better understanding of how they can help. The group made a visit to the Damm Theatre on Dec. 8. Accompanying Dinius on her visit to Osgood were Amy Walker of the DNR-DHPA, Jay Reynolds of New York, LLC, Ken Schuette of the Wabash Valley Trust, and Candy Hudziak, one of the IUPUI graduate students who are assisting the DNR with the initiative by preparing case studies.

Damm Theatre

Photo by Ruth Wright

The Damm Theatre in Osgood, Ind.

Of the approximately 550 theatres that once existed in Indiana, 230 still stand, according to Dinius. Their uses vary, from traditional movie venues to completely renovated, commercial properties. Some theatres, like the Damm, are still standing but have been closed for more than a decade and have fallen into disrepair from lack of maintenance.
Reynolds and Schuette have partnered with their perspective groups to save the Lafayette Theatre. Built in Lafayette, Ind., in 1937, the theatre has been vacant for the past 14 years. The Wabash Valley Trust, a non-profit preservationist group, and New York, LLC, a for-profit company, jointly purchased the property on Dec. 24, 2002. “We didn’t want to see it turned into a parking lot,” said Reynolds, one of the nine individuals that make up New York, LLC and whose office is located near the downtown theatre.
The two groups have completed about 95 percent of the fund raising needed to bring the project to fruition. Funding sources included three local grants, other grants, private donations and borrowed funds.

Damm Theatre inside

Photo by Ruth Wright

Old seats inside the Damm Theatre.

"(Theatre initiatives) seem to have their own momentum, and it’s picking up steam,” said Reynolds. Already, the groups have signed a lease agreement with a company to open a dinner theatre in the Lafayette when renovation is complete, hopefully by next August, said Reynolds.
The Damms have also formed a group to save their theatre, a non-profit called the Damm Theatre Development Group. They hope, according to Damm, to see the theatre become a thriving entertainment and cultural center that would benefit the entire community. But before that can happen, Damm would like to find out just how feasible the project would be and how valuable it would be to the community.
Damm took those questions to the DNR-DHPA’s roundtable discussion held Dec. 11 in Danville, Ind. Approximately 72 individuals attended the meeting, where DNR officials listened to what historic theatre owners and operators had to say about their needs. Dinius said many questions were posed, some of which the DNR hopes to see answered at its Historic Theatres Initiative Conference, scheduled for March 12 in Indianapolis. The DNR plans to bring to the conference professional groups to answer questions that were posed at the roundtable meeting.

• The conference is open to the public and registration forms are available from the DNR. For information call (317) 232-1646.

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