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Column: Future of Crump should include ideas from historian

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THE fate of the Crump Theatre is in the hands of a varied group of business leaders, supporters of the arts and government officials.

Experts in the restoration of historical theaters, development of business plans, creation of performing arts centers and fiscal planning have been consulted.

It is not a new process. People have been trying to figure out how to best use the Crump for decades.

That it is still a part of the Columbus landscape is a major achievement, due in no small part to the fierce dedication of a select group of people who recognize its historic importance to the community.

Unfortunately, any hopes of moving past the status quo have encountered the same problem: costs.

This latest effort to bring the Crump back to life carries a big price tag. So far the most discussed figure is in the $11 million range.

That’s why so many important leaders in business, arts and government have been involved.

Ironically, the one person who knows more than anyone else about the Crump and its long history stretching back into the 19th century has been sitting on the sidelines.

I would venture that David Secrest’s knowledge of the Crump eclipses that of all those involved in the current study combined. He’s author of a book — “Columbus Indiana’s Historic Crump Theatre” — that is an extremely detailed study of how the Crump progressed through the centuries.

The volume is part nostalgia but mostly history, describing the various phases in the Crump’s existence and its uses over the years.

David took on the task of writing the book as a work of love. The history part was natural to the local resident. He developed the Historic Columbus Indiana website, which is unquestionably the most sweeping and avidly followed website dealing with local history.

The Crump has been a part of his life from birth; and, coupled with that love of history, his lifelong association with the theater made him a natural as author of a book about its history.

Admittedly a book about the history of a small theater in a small Indiana community might not be a natural for the New York Times bestseller list, but it did come to the attention of some pretty important people dedicated to restoring historic theaters.

Shortly after it was published, David received a call from a representative of the company that printed it.

“She told me that someone from the Theatre Historical Society of America had requested a copy,” David said. “It really took me aback, but I didn’t give much thought to it until she called back a few weeks later telling me that it had been nominated for an award by the group. I was really surprised later when I was invited to attend a meeting in Pittsburgh to receive an award for the book.”

David developed a measure of skepticism about the group and the award, wondering if the whole thing was legitimate.

“Actually, I had decided to just send them a letter asking that they mail my award to me, but my daughter talked me into making the trip,” he said. “It was some of the best advice I’ve ever received.”

He quickly learned that the organization was legitimate. He joined approximately 125 others at the banquet, where he met some of his fellow award recipients. That list included:

Lloyd and Sandra Huffman of Corsicana, Texas, who raised $925,000 to restore a community theater.

David Newell, the actor who portrayed Mr. McFeely on the PBS television series “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.”

David Morrison, founder of Theater Heritage and author of the Library of Congress book “Theaters.”

Rona Nesbitt, vice president of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which has transformed a downtroddden section of downtown Pittsburgh into a thriving arts community.

Arthur P. Ziegler Jr., founder of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. During the dinner David learned that he also had been involved in the restoration of the former Columbus City Hall.

“It was just a fantastic experience, better than anything I had ever been involved with in the past,” David said. “If anything, it reaffirmed my belief in the future of the Crump Theatre.”

It would seem that those currently involved in deciding what to do with the Crump might be well advised to take advantage of David’s commitment to the Crump and his knowledge.

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