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Park Theatre re-opened

North Vernon residents happy
to have a theatre in town

By Debra Maylum
Staff Writer

NORTH VERNON, Ind. (April 2005) – The Park Theatre Civic Center re-opened its doors in October 2003 after seven years of hard work and renovation by a group of dedicated individuals.

Hulda Reichenbach

Hulda
Reichenbach

The building in downtown North Vernon, Ind., originally named the Jennings Theatre, was built in 1916. It operated as a theatre until 1962 under the ownership of the late Don Black and then became a warehouse until purchased by the Park Theatre Civic Center Inc., in 1996.
“I think the theatre probably closed down due to a lack of interest, as did many other theatres in the area,” said Hulda Reichenbach, president of the Park Theatre Civic Center Board of Directors. “Culture was changing and people had television and videos that they could watch right in their own living room. That was more appealing at the time.”
The board members and volunteers faced many setbacks that lengthened the road to completion, including a storm that took the entire roof off the structure just months after the group made the down payment on the building.
“The owner thought, when the roof came off, that we were not going to go through with buying it,” said Reichenbach. “That thought never even occurred to us.”
Reichenbach recalls many people doubting the group’s efforts. “I don’t blame them,” she said. “They took one look and said ‘this building is gone.’ But I didn’t see it that way. I saw the building as it was back when I visited it as a child and a teenager. I saw what it could be again.”
Shortage of money was the biggest problem for the group until 2002 when a retired teacher in Middletown, Ky., donated about 31/2 acres of land to the Park Theatre.
At that time, the group needed $500,000 to finish work on the theatre. A church located on the property adjacent to the land purchased it for $436,000.
“Then an anonymous donor came forth with a check for $63,000, and we finally had our money,” said Reichenbach.

Park Theatre

Photo by Debra Maylum

The theatre plays movies on
weekends with no live shows

“A lot of people didn’t think it would happen,” said Kathy Ertel, a board member and part of the booking committee for the theatre. “But it was a community effort and a labor of love for Bill and Hulda (Reichenbach).”
In its first year and a half of operation, the old theatre restored to its original beauty has seen a lot of success, Ertel said. At its one-year anniversary, the board was able, through donations, to purchase a projection screen and began showing movies. It is the only movie theatre in North Vernon.
“It has been tremendous to see the amount of people who want to be able to see a movie without leaving town,” said Ertel. “I can’t tell you how many people say, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you. Now we don’t have so far to drive home after a movie,’ ” said Reichenbach.
The theatre gets many of the same movies as larger cinemas, only on a smaller scale. The theatre did not eliminate any live performances when the group added movies to the lineup of theatrical and musical shows.
Movies are shown two or three weekends a month, on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon. “Every weekend that we don’t have a live performance, we show a movie,” said Reichenbach.
“Family movies seem to be the most popular, but we show all different types of popular films,” said Ertel. “The first Tuesday of every month is classic movie night. People really seem to enjoy that.” April’s classic movie will be “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
In addition to the regularly scheduled films and performances, the theatre can be booked for special showings. In December, elementary school students in Jennings County took a field trip to see the movie “Polar Express” with their classmates.
“It was very emotional for me because I could recall taking a field trip to see Shirley Temple here when I was a child,” said Reichenbach. “It was wonderful.”

• Live performances scheduled for April include Larry Crane with special guest Jimmy Ryser at 8 p.m. April 1; and the second annual Granville Johnson Bluegrass Festival, April 29-30. To see a full schedule of performances and movie showings, visit: www.park-theatre.com or call (812) 346-4329 or (812) 346-0330.

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