The one-of-a-kind backdrops at the Masonic Temple theater will soon have new, temporary homes inside PVC pipes. The Winona City Council voted unanimously and without debate Monday night to have the drops delicately taken down, cleaned, and stored backstage, probably rolled up in PVC pipes, at a cost of $42,000. The project will allow the stage to reopen; it was suddenly closed this spring when city officials learned that the cables that hold up the drops are frayed and could fail at any time, dropping the drops and potentially injuring or killing people onstage.
The effort will cost $22,000 more than a previously considered option to tie up the drops in place; however, it will better safeguard them from dust, debris, and disturbance in rehabilitation work that may be upcoming for the historic building.
Theater supporters filed into the council chambers for the meeting, and wrote letters urging Mayor Mark Peterson and members of the council to support the effort to preserve the collection of intricate backdrops, which depict exotic locales like King Solomon's Temple and Hades.
Peterson and Park and Recreation Community Services Director Chad Ubl responded to citizens' concerns and criticism that the city has neglected the building. Ubl pointed out that the city has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into upgrading the building's systems, installing a new elevator, and other projects. "So I think that we've been prudent in caring for the building as best we can as we go through this process," he commented.
Peterson said, "There seems to be a lot of feeling that the city is neglecting this building. I think [Ubl's] commentary is helpful to point out that for the past three or four years the city has followed a process here and we are trying to, at some point, remedy some of these issues. We have to get this HSR [Historic Structures Report] report back to know what the issues are," he said, referring to an analysis of the building's structural integrity that is currently underway. The study is needed in part to determine whether the building could bear the load of needed roof improvements.
However, the HSR and the current efforts to save the drops from falling were not part of a long-term plan for restoring the building. In both cases, the city was surprised to learn that the projects were needed.
More significant and expensive choices about the building lay ahead. The HSR will be completed by August, Ubl said. Depending on its report, structural work on the roof trusses may be needed. Once any structural work is completed, the city has been eyeing spending $680,000 in 2015 and 2016 to replace the roof, repair flashing, cornices, parapets, tuck pointing, masonry, and windows. Staff hope that grants could offset some of that cost. After that, the drops themselves are need of restoration. Some of them were damaged by past leaks and most are in poor condition. That project is estimated to cost $700,000.