When Brenda Fowler Sullivan of Rome rushed into the DeSoto Theatre downtown Sunday, all she wanted was to claim three theater chairs, one for her and two for her sisters.
But once inside, Sullivan was flooded with childhood memories of the old movie house that used to operate out of the building at 530 Broad St. — and thoughts of her father, James “JJ” Fowler.
James Fowler, Sullivan said, was responsible for putting in the large projection equipment during the early 1950s.
“He always smelled like popcorn,” said Sullivan as more than 100 volunteers busily stripped the old seating out of theater to make room for new seats. “I can smell popcorn anywhere today and always think of my daddy. Anytime he worked, he always brought some home. ”
Sullivan said she and her sisters would come and watch movies at the DeSoto, and she recalled the times an usher named Leslie would “rat out” the girls to their father when they were too loud.
“They opened it before I was born, and we used to come here when we were like 6 and 7 years old. We never had to pay for a ticket. Never,” she added.
Sullivan, like so many others Sunday, came out to grab a piece of the theater’s history and share personal stories, as 485 chairs — installed shortly after O.C. Lam purchased the theater — were removed to make room for 500 new red velour seats.
For nearly six hours, drop-in volunteers helped members of the Rome Little Theatre, Seven Hills Fellowship Church and the Historic DeSoto Theatre Foundation unbolt and remove the large, bulky chairs from the floors of the theater.
By 5:30 p.m., the theater was completely bare and ready to have the floors prepped for installation by the American Seating Co. on Nov. 20.
“The turnout has been phenomenal,” said Chuck Morris, president of RLT. “I am completely overwhelmed by the community support we received today.”
Nearly 50 percent of the chairs were salvaged by churches, businesses and individuals Sunday; chairs with rips, tears or discoloration were discarded.
Megan Keating of the RLT said they had raised nearly $1,250 selling off the old chairs for $25 each. Volunteers were each given a free seat.
“We thought we were only going to be able to save about 10 percent of them for sale or to give away,” said Keating. “This has been way more than we expected, … the amount of help, the chairs, everything.”