The DeSoto Theatre has seen Rome change around it.
The historic building has weathered many a storm and has remained a vital part of downtown Rome. It’s flashing marquee has heralded plays, musicals, concerts, parties and a variety of other community activities.
But with age comes wear. And while the DeSoto is most certainly a jewel to be treasured, it’s also lost some of its luster over the years.
The Historic DeSoto Theatre Foundation has, for years, been managing the structure — balancing its activities and obligations while making sure it is protected and preserved.
The foundation (with the help of patrons, donors, sponsors and the public itself) has been responsible for restoration and renovations over the years. But two new projects at the building are adding new shine to the beautiful old structure.
The first project is the historic recreation of the curved, floating banquette seat in the DeSoto Lounge. The foundation was fortunate enough to be in possession of the details of a leather banquette in the original plans of the 1940 addition of the art deco lounge.
Thanks to a generous donation by Villa Sulzbacher Hizer, a banquette seat was recently installed. The banquette was custom-made by Corn Upholstery Co., an Atlanta company established in 1946 that has also made beautiful furniture in the new Marquee Club at the Fox Theatre.
“My donation to the Desoto is to preserve a landmark in my hometown,” Sulzbacher Hizer said. “I have fond memories of growing up in Rome, and the Desoto was the place to go. At the end of the school year at Central Primary, we would walk to the theater for a movie celebration. Birthday parties, friends gathering and dates – Desoto was where we would go. Then in recent years we have enjoyed concerts and special events in the familiar space. The Desoto Theatre is a jewel of Rome, and we need to maintain it at its finest for future generations.”
Another project designed to restore some of the theater’s former grandeur is the installation of neon lights that used to to illuminate the DeSoto’s entrance and lounge. This project is also based on the original plans for the 1940s addition.
This restoration work is possible thanks to two matching grants awarded to the DeSoto by the Rome Area Heritage Foundation. Thanks to this group’s support of historic preservation, a modern version of neon will once again highlight the theater’s distinctive architectural features with a vintage glow. One standout feature of the project will be a neon light behind the new curved banquette that will illuminate the curved wall behind it.
“Thank you for the funds and support that you continue to contribute to the restoration of the DeSoto,” the foundation said in a statement to the public. “We have, of course, been continually updating and maintaining the electrical, plumbing, roof, and other important ‘behind the scenes’ improvements. We miss you and hope to celebrate these beautiful Art Deco renovations with you at Donor Appreciation Open House in the spring.”
The foundation, and the community at large, has even more reason to celebrate since it was recently announced that the Historic DeSoto Theatre Foundation was one of 77 entities in 58 Georgia counties to receive a grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts.
The Foundation received a Cultural Facilities Grant for fiscal year 2021. The grant supports the restoration or renovation of a building to be used for arts programming.
“The grant was written for relocating and replacing air conditioning units,” said Michelle Picon, the foundation’s development director. “Those units have been limping along for years and could break down at any moment,” she said. So this grant comes along at a good time. What this will allow us to do is open the back area of the theater and in the future, install a large entrance and loading dock with a roll-up door to get large pieces in and out of the theater. At the moment we only have a small backstage door.”
Picon said the grant is a 60/40 grant.
“That means they give us 60% and we need to come up with 40%. So it is a $125,000 project,” she said.
With brand new units, the theater will have a state-of-the-art filtration and ventilations system for patrons whenever it is reopened to the public.
“We want patrons to feel safe when they come back to a Rome Little Theatre production, a fundraising concert or a movie,” Picon said. “Patrons will have to feel safe and trust the venue, and our brand new hvac will help us provide that trust once we are able to reopen.”
She added that the grant came at a convenient time when the theater is closed to the public, giving them a chance to get as much work done as possible.