The Pantheon Theatre is getting another chance.
Today, the historic theater at 428 Main St. where Red Skelton first appeared on stage and the likes of the Marx Brothers, Spike Jones, Ed Wynn and Duke Ellington all performed, becomes the property on INVin, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to attracting arts and arts-minded businesses to downtown.
Heath Klein, owner of Klein Realty and Auction, 404 N. Seventh St., is to sign over the deed to theater this morning.
“From the time I purchased this property, I was trying to find an organization, someone, who had the ability, the resources to either see it restored or adapted for some other reuse,” he said. “When I met Steve Miller and heard his vision for INVin, I knew it was the perfect combination.”
The Pantheon twice has been on Indiana Landmark's Most Endangered list.
Klein purchased the property at a tax sale in October 2012. A year later, after owner Travis Tarrants hadn't been able to pay the thousands of dollars in back taxes, Klein officially took ownership of the theater and took on the mission to see it placed into the hands of someone — or some organization — who would give it the attention it so desperately deserved.
Miller, chief financial officer of Pioneer Oil, which next year will be relocating from Illinois into the old Hills building downtown, started INVin about six months ago, and already the organization has acquired the New Moon Theater, located at the intersection of Sixth and Main streets, and now, the Pantheon.
Elizabeth Cutter-McNeece, INVin's director of development, said the organization's first priority for both buildings is to replace their roofs. Doing that, she said, will ensure their longevity so INVin can begin actively marketing them to interested investors.
“We will weatherize both properties and proceed to aggressively market them to expanding or start-up businesses,” she said. “We don't have any immediate prospects, but with our incentive package and with marketing our community and region as a whole, we hope to generate interest soon.”
Cutter-McNeece said early estimates are that replacing both the New Moon and Pantheon's roofs will be upwards of $135,000, so they plan to pursue grants and fund-raising opportunities to raise the money as soon as possible.
“Those roofs have to be replaced in order to preserve these buildings and keep these beautiful structures useful and viable in our community,” she said. “And we have already been connected and received donations in support of these efforts.”
INVin has partnered with Old National Bank, Andy Myszak of Myszak + Palmer Architecture and Development, Jeff Kolb of the law firm Kolb, Roellgen & Kirchoff, and other business development specialists here and in Evansville to aid people in starting or expanding their own businesses.
Tommy Kleckner, the Western Regional Office director for Indiana Landmarks, said the Pantheon remains on the organization's Watch List, but he is encouraged by INVin's recent efforts to acquire it.
“We are still very much concerned about its future and preservation,” he said. “But we look forward to the possible revitalization of downtown Vincennes, particularly in INVin's efforts to take on some of these buildings that have proven to be so challenging.
“Indiana Landmarks looks forward to assisting INVin in identifying a new use, a future owner, one that will help to sustain these buildings and energize downtown Main Street.”
Klein said he is confident in the organization's ability to see The Pantheon live once again.
“I think the future is bright for the Pantheon,” he said. “I don't know what will go in there, there is a lot of speculation and ideas right now, it could be many things, but we've got to get it to the point where someone can step into it. And that's what INVin hopes to do.”
Klein also encouraged others to throw their support behind INVin's efforts as well.
“It's going to take all of us, everyone, businesses, the entire community, to make this happen,” he said.
Anyone interested in making a donation to INVin can contact Cutter-McNeece at 812-890-4900 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can also be mailed to INVin at P.O. Box 1145, Vincennes, IN, 47591.
The Pantheon, first constructed in 1921, originally took only $225,000 to build. It took two years to finish and was the first theater in the Midwest to be air conditioned and the first in Vincennes to show a talking movie.
It went under significant renovations in 1961 when it was turned into retail space for Sears. The lower level and orchestra pit were filled with sand and topped with concrete to level the floor. Walls and suspended ceilings were also added.
When Tarrants purchased it, it was Steve's Ball Cards and Collectibles.
Tarrants once estimated he’d raised almost $300,000 to restore the theater, including a $35,000 donation from George Ridgway, a Westphalia architect who was involved in the restoration of West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, to pay off the mortgage.
Other donations have been made over the years by Gemtron, Ewing Printing, Jones and Sons Inc. as well as the Bob Bierhaus Foundation and the Vincennes/Knox County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But donations dropped off severely after the economy took a nosedive in 2008, and Tarrants eventually lost it at a tax sale.