Local caretakers of the downtown Crump Theatre are hoping Exhibit Columbus visitors might provide a nudge for someone to step forward and take on a renovation of the mothballed Art Deco building.
Hutch Schumaker, who leads the Columbus Capital Foundation that owns the century-old building, had said in January that he hoped to find a “Crump angel” this year who would be willing to invest in basic mechanical upgrades and cosmetic work and finding a new use for the theater.
That angel hasn’t materialized yet, but Schumaker said the foundation is getting some nibbles of interest about the Crump, suggesting something could materialize.
“But if I say anything, the fish will run away and not bite,” Schumaker said.
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Potential investors are working through due-diligence steps before making any promises, he said.
Exhibit Columbus, a three-month celebration of Columbus’ storied architectural tradition that opened this weekend, features 18 temporary architectural designs constructed near some of the city’s architectural treasures.
The project, which has been underway since being announced in May 2016, has attracted designers from around the United States and around the world, and includes representatives from seven nations.
Thousands of people are expected to visit the installations in the next three months, and most of the installations are grouped around the downtown Columbus area, where the Crump is located.
Tracy Souza, president and CEO of Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, said caretakers for the Crump are willing to talk to anyone who has an interest, funding and a plan to operate in the Crump space. But at this point, the foundation has been unable to find anyone who has the money and a plan.
But Exhibit Columbus’ ability to showcase the city’s downtown could open up some possibilities for the Crump, Souza said.
“The more people who come to Columbus for Exhibit Columbus and see the Crump, the better,” Schumaker said. “They’ll say, ‘What’s that old movie theater?’”
Built in 1889 as a theater at 425 Third St., the hall — which once seated 632 people — is known for its Art Deco-style lobby and a stage that has a history of well-known performers. Those who once graced the Crump’s stage range from John Phillip Souza to Seymour native John Mellencamp, who performed Sept. 23, 2008, in a benefit concert for Columbus flood relief.
But the city closed the theater three years ago after safety hazards were revealed. Those hazards included a lack of a fire sprinkler system and functioning fire escapes, a stage floor that doesn’t meet structural codes and a water-damaged mechanical room considered to be unsafe.
Schumaker said the foundation has made sure to keep the facility “weather-tight” over the past three years but is continuing to fix minor damage to the exterior caused by severe thunderstorms and occasional vandalism.
Recently, a piece of facsia was hanging down from the marquee after a strong storm passed through the area. Schumaker said he backed his pickup truck on to the sidewalk under the marquee and fixed part of the problem.
There also have been a couple of incidents of individuals attempting to kick in doors, causing damage that will have to be dealt with, he said.
The Crump marquee was fully restored several years ago and Schumaker is contacting the company that worked on it then to come back and repair some broken plexi-glass panels and to replace some of the light bulbs that have burned out.
Since the electrical system was upgraded at the same time as the marquee, Schumaker said the marquee will light up completely once the bulbs are replaced.
He hopes to do that soon.
“For special events, we can put the letters up announcing events and light it up,” he said. “At some point, we will replace the flourescent bulbs with LED, but that’s in the future.”
The last time the Crump’s marquee was lit up was last summer during filming for the “Columbus” movie, which has its Columbus Sept. 1 at YES Cinema.
The marquee filming, which happened late at night, required the foundation to get several permits permission for the marquee to be used, Souza said.
Unfortunately, the scene with the illuminated Crump marquee didn’t make the finished film, she said. But if Schumaker continues with the plan to complete repairs, it could be re-lit again.
Schumaker said he wouldn’t be surprised if a visitor to Exhibit Columbus meanders over to the Crump and becomes intrigued with possibilities for the building.
“We’re just still waiting for someone to fall in love with it,” he said.
Location: 425 Third St.
Owner: Columbus Capital Foundation purchased the Crump Theatre in 1994 on behalf of Historic Columbus Development. The nonprofit foundation was established to support The Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, the city of Columbus and Bartholomew County by preserving and maintaining land and buildings that have historic or architectural significance.
Current status: Closed since early 2014 for fire and safety hazards. Listed for sale by the foundation.
Early 1870s: Building constructed by attorney John A. Keith. Contains a dining hall, offices for doctors, dentists and lawyers and a small auditorium in the rear.
1879: Purchased by John S. Crump for $6,000. Building is rebuilt and remodeled to a 2,000-seat opera house
Oct. 30, 1889: Opens for a performance of “The Pretty Persian.”
May 6, 1914: First movie reels begin showing, including a short series of silent films about the Panama Canal.
Dec. 30, 1931: Theater purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Louis Holwager of Madison.
Feb. 7, 1934: Syndicated Theaters signs a 10-year lease to show movies.
April 26, 1935: Marquee remodeling begins.
April 2, 1949: Syndicated Theaters Inc. purchases theater for $150,000.
March 16, 1962: Theater is purchased by Margrat Inc. of Franklin.
Dec. 17, 1978: Fire in nearby building causes smoke damage in the theater.
April 13, 1994: Columbus Capital Foundation Inc. buys property on behalf of Historic Columbus Development.
March 1995: “Save the Crump” community fund drive begins, raising $115,000 to complete basic repairs. Theater reopens in December 1995 to show $1 movies.
Sept. 23, 2008: John Mellencamp performs a benefit concert in the theater, recorded for the Arts and Entertainment Biography channel.
Dec. 31, 2013: Final event, a New Year’s Eve party, is held before the theater closed in January 2014.
March 2014: City of Columbus inspectors order the theater closed because of safety hazards including lack of a fire sprinkler system, lack of functioning fire escapes, a stage floor that does not meet structural codes and a water-damaged mechanical room.
Summer 2016: The theatre’s exterior and lit marquee are used during the filming of the movie “Columbus,” but the scenes are not included in the finished movie.