After more than 10 years of planning, the grand Park Theater has been returned to its former glory and was opened to the public for viewing Saturday. The facility is owned by the city of McMinnville and utilized a budget of over $2 million to renovate the historic building breathing new life in the multi-functional facility.
The first grand opening was held on Oct. 18, 1939 with an elaborate ceremony featuring speeches and entertainers. The event drew 1,800 visitors, which was 800 more than the theater could seat, with the first movie shown being “These Glamour Girls.”
The renovated Park Theater seats 372, with a mezzanine designed to hold removable tables and seating. Theater coordinator Sara Morgan was very pleased with the grand opening and the turnout from interested citizens.
“We were very, very well pleased, and happy to hear all the positive feedback,” said Morgan. “We had activities all day, and presented local talent onstage throughout the day.” It was estimated approximately 2,000 visitors were present during the day and evening festivities.
“We did have a good crowd during the day,” said Morgan. “Our 800 programs were gone before noon. I printed more and they didn’t last long either.”
Guests enjoyed free popcorn and drinks, and at the 7:30 hour, pizzas were delivered from Papa Johns. Bill Zechman manned the outdoor stage, welcoming guests and noting this was a “red-letter” day for McMinnville. Musical selections were provided by the Silver and Gold Band before the official cutting of the ribbon to open the theater.
Inside, a free concert featuring the popular South Jackson Street Band was a hit, with folks enjoying fine music in a lovely environment.
Many of the guests enjoyed touring the facility and taking a walk down memory lane.
Smithville resident Jimmy Driver said, “I remember the balcony, and we tried to get to sit in the balcony!” He recalled playing with his brother in a band there, and participating in the Martha White competition.
“We won, and we got to play on the junior Grand Ole Opry,” said Driver. “This is a very nice facility, and is certainly an asset for McMinnville.”
Ray and Betty Troop were excited about the theater and appreciate the long process and hard work it took to get it where it is today.
“It looks great. Every time I come downtown it puts a smile on my face,” said Betty. “I am so appreciative to all the hard-working volunteers who got it started. It makes McMinnville look better.”
Norman and Kathy Atnip were on hand for the grand opening. She remembers watching “E.T.” there on the big screen in 1982.
Norman said one his biggest memories of the theater was being dropped off when he was about 12 years old on Sunday afternoons between church services by his parents and getting to watch movies all afternoon.
Five-year-old Celine Dann was present with her grandmother Carol Dann, and enjoyed walking the red carpet spanning across Main Street.
“After moving here from Virginia, I kept up with the theater transformation. I think it’s great we saved a historic landmark, and it’s actually nice to have a theater,” said Carol. “I’m glad we restored the building. I hate it when we tear the old structures down.”
McMinnville resident Sam Allen has a deep-rooted history with the theater, having his first job there selling popcorn when he was 13.
“I put popcorn in a box and took it down the aisle to sell,” said Allen. “I guess you could say I was a popcorn peddler.”
Of the topic of the renovation, he thinks it is a wonderful thing.
“I worked on getting the inside cleaned out after the Social Security office left, trying to find out what was left of the theater.
“I’m feeling lots of emotions tonight, and look forward to lots of wonderful things to come,” said Allen. “This is a tremendous day for all of Warren County, and it will be a nice place to go and be entertained."