When Rovene Quigley decided to revive the Crump Theatre in 2002, the century-old downtown Columbus structure had long stepped out of the community spotlight.
During four years that the building was closed, raccoons sneaked in and out a back door like nonpaying customers. Pigeons roosted here and there like patrons at a Saturday double feature.
One door nearly had rotted away as if the elements never cared that the once-proud place hosted notables such as jazz singer Ethel Waters in 1935.
But the woman who saw hope to bring back a bit of the building’s old glory — and the woman who made possible a televised John Mellencamp pop-rock concert there five years ago — is quitting. Columbus’ Quigley, 85, will step down from her volunteer role as Crump executive director on Jan. 1, at the close of a seven-hour, multiple-act, New Year’s Eve concert.
That coincides with the Crump’s annual seasonal closing during the coldest winter months, when heating costs are high and there’s not enough income to keep it open for events, according to Hutch Schumaker, president of the Columbus Capital Foundation, which owns the building.
Quigley said several factors figured into her decision, including advancing age and frustration that the building probably won’t be preserved as anything close to its current state, if it is eventually able to be preserved at all.
Still, she is scheduled to meet this afternoon with Lafayette-based, arts-oriented consultants Jones & Phillips Associates at City Hall. The firm is working with a local steering committee investigating options for The Crump, 425 Third St.
Mayor Kristen Brown has long expressed a desire to include the venue in the city’s new downtown arts-oriented cultural district.
Over the years, the 634-seat building has served as an opera house and movie theater and has hosted plays, paranormal gatherings, rock to rap concerts, and Christian services and prayer gatherings.
That mix is something that Jayne Farber, chairman of the Crump Feasibility Steering Committee, loves. She said she salutes Quigley for such varied work.
“If a remake would become reality,” Farber said, “it’s imperative that we offer the widest, broadest, most eclectic offerings.”
Its largest crowd by far since Quigley reopened it was the Mellencamp concert, part of a cable TV special, that filled the place.
Quigley’s meeting was scheduled days ago, after she complained in a Dec. 7 email to city leaders that she felt she had been excluded from plans for the Crump. She said Tuesday she’s glad about today’s scheduled meeting, but the outcome of that won’t change her plans.
Brown responded to Quigley’s email by telling her that steering committee members had tried to reach her several times. Brown also thanked Quigley for her efforts.
“Your work is greatly appreciated by many,” Brown said in an email to Quigley.
Others such as Karen Shrode agree.
Shrode is executive director of the Columbus Area Arts Council and the former leader of the committee that pushed to get the state’s cultural district designation.
“Rovene has been a tireless champion of the Crump,” Shrode said. “There hasn’t been anyone who has pulled more weight than her. And I think there’s no one in town who doesn’t understand her position (on preserving it).”
Yet, Shrode sees the other side of the issue, too, for the steering committee and consultants.
“They’re trying to dig even deeper to see if something can justify a next step,” Shrode said. “For that, they need good, hard data.”
Quigley has been to venues such as North Vernon’s extensively rebuilt Park Theatre Civic Center. While she loves it, she has said it is more of a new building than a restored, classic building since a renovation essentially gutted it.
Plus, she is slightly saddened by changing times and what that means for the Crump’s current configuration and use.
“People don’t have to go out at night to be entertained anymore,” Quigley said. “They have all their entertainment and big screens at home.”
Still, Quigley booked 46 events there in 2010, 54 in 2011, 40 in 2012 and 36 so far this year.
But the structure boasts some sizable bills, such as $6,000 heating bills during winter months to keep it open, said Jayne Farber, project consultant for the Columbus Arts District.
Quigley, a former Cummins secretary who retired in 1996, was perhaps most publicly recognized for her Crump work when she was named Bartholomew County Senior of the Year in 2005.
But picturing her beloved building extensively revamped in the future is tough.
“I still just can’t imagine there isn’t some way to fix that building,” she said, “without tearing out everything beautiful in there.”