“The Pantheon Theatre is going to be restored to its 1921 grandeur” was one of two major announcements made Tuesday at the Pantheon Theatre, 428 Main St., during a press conference held by the new owner, Travis Tarrants of Vincennes.
Tuesday marked the 85th anniversary of the Pantheon’s grand opening.
Tarrants said he has formed a non-profit organization, the Pantheon Theatre Company, of which he is president, to restore the Pantheon to its former glory.
“We are in a national treasure here,” Tarrants said while standing inside the Pantheon Tuesday. “It needs to be saved.”
As for the second announcement, he said they wanted to do something with the theater to honor Red Skelton.
“I talked to Marilyn McCormick to have her contact Red Skelton’s wife, Lothian, and ask if we could name the Pantheon’s stage after Red,” Tarrants said. “She agreed — the stage will be named the Red Skelton Stage.”
Tarrants and his organization want to restore the Pantheon to look like it did in 1921 when it was built for $225,000. It seats 1,200 people.
In 1919, L.A. Wilkerson and Adler Lyons proposed the building to the Rotary Club at the Grand Hotel in Vincennes. They said it would take six months at a cost of $75,000 to build.
“It took two years to finish,” he said. “They hired the most expensive interior decorator in the world. They wanted to give Vincennes something to be proud of.”
The Pantheon was the first theater in the Midwest to be air conditioned and the first in Vincennes to show a talking movie.
Tarrants said the Pantheon not only needs to be saved because of its beauty, but because so many great people performed on its stage.
He said if it had not been for the Pantheon, Skelton would not have met Ed Wynn and may have never had found his purpose in life — to make people laugh.
Tarrants said Skelton helped jump start so many careers, like Johnny Carson’s.
He also said restoring the Pantheon would be a benefit to downtown Vincennes.
“Downtown is great, but could be so much better,” he said. “Downtown Vincennes could be the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights.”
When the Pantheon is restored, Tarrants said they intend to use it for movies, live musical performances, theatrical plays, and civic events.
“We want to show new and old movies,” he said. “Especially old movies that tie in with Vincennes.”
Tarrants said he will not rest until the building is restored.
“People have been saying they’ve wanted to do this for 45 years,” he said. “Now I am sending out a challenge to the community. Come in and help out or donate money, even $1. Now is the time to restore this building.”
Mayor Terry Mooney was in attendance at the press conference and said when he first became mayor of Vincennes he said, “To make downtown successful this theater needs to be restored.”
He said all it needed was a private investment to do it.
“I couldn’t be more excited than anyone, next to Travis,” Mooney said. “This is it, but now the community needs to chip in.”
Mooney said there have been a lot of people wanting to help after coming into the building and taking a tour.
He thinks that Tarrants has stirred up some excitement in the community.
“Just in the last week or two five downtown buildings have been sold,” Mooney said.
Rep. Troy Woodruff, R-Vincennes, was also at the press conference.
“I am here like everybody else, to see this project get under way,” Woodruff said Tuesday. “This is a historic piece of history for Vincennes, the state, and Red Skelton.”
Tarrants said he was very pleased with the turnout for the press conference.
“I’m impressed,” he said. “I didn’t think this many people would come with it being at 11:30 a.m.”
After the press conference, Norbert Brown of Vincennes, one of several others helping restore the theater, gave tours of the building.
Now the Pantheon Theatre Company is desperately looking for old photos of the Pantheon, stories, and artifacts to help them restore it to how it looked in 1921.
They are also seeking any help they can get, labor or financial. Tarrants suggested that if people would like to help with donations they could have fundraisers for the Pantheon.
“Even $1 would be appreciated,” Tarrants said. “Last Friday a gentleman came in and took a tour and then handed me a $500 check.”
“If anyone wants to help with labor they can stop in or call anytime,” Tarrants said.