The old Tos Theatre and adjacent Morrison’s Drug Store in Pembroke have been empty for years, but city officials are working on transforming the buildings into the hub of downtown.
Plans for the brick, two-story theater and one-story drug store were prepared in September. Located on the corner of Bacon and Church streets, the theater is designed to become the focal point of Pembroke.
“It’s the whole downtown,” said Angela Reed, a city council member and theater project committee member.
In 2001, the city bought the theater for $50,000 and formed a committee to work out renovation plans, said Mayor Judy Cook. The committee knew it wouldn’t be a movie theater and they looked into different options.
The theater renovation committee heard about other projects involving community theaters and how it revitalizes a downtown district.
“That’s where the original idea came from,” Cook said.
The new theater will be a multi-purpose center, according to Reed. The space can host dances, receptions, recitals, pageants, movies, plays, weddings, graduation ceremonies, lectures, concerts and art exhibits, according to plans prepared by Lott/Barber of Savannah.
The renovation includes essentially gutting the first floor of the theater and connecting it to the old drug store, and building a courtyard outside the properties.
Inside, there will be a concession stand, office and restrooms where the drug store was. The stage will stay put inside the theater and portable tables and chairs will be installed.
The old apartment behind the theater will instead have a green room, a mechanical room and changing rooms, according to the plans.
On the second floor of the theater, the plans call for using the existing balcony and keeping a lot of the original wooden seats that are still there.
The renovation project will cost $1.6 million, according to plans. City officials are still looking for money, and Frank Etheridge, Pembroke’s city manager, said the city can apply for grants now that plans are on the books. But grants are “few and far between,” he said.
The project can also be funded by Pembroke’s portion of the Special Local Options Sales Tax. The SPLOST money the city has now is obligated to other projects and loans, Etheridge said. But if the next round of SPLOST is approved by voters in November, the city could be in a position to take out a loan to pay for theater renovations and repay it with SPLOST funds.
If the project makes it onto the SPLOST list, and the referendum passes, money will start to accrue in 2012 and the city can start collecting by mid-2013, Etheridge said. That means work can start on the theater renovation by the end of 2013.
Cook, who previously announced she will not seek re-election as mayor this year, said she hopes future administrations will dedicate SPLOST funds for the theater.
Reed, who is also not running for re-election but said she still plans to stay involved on renovation plans, added that the city is selling seats in the theater to help raise money.
The two properties are steeped in history. Morrison’s Drug Store was built in 1935, and the theater was built by S.G. Tos in 1938. It hosted movies until it closed 1970s and was a carpet warehouse in 1980s and 1990s, according to plans.
A little more than five years ago, the city received a historic gem. Carol Fidler sent the city a book that kept track of all the movies shown in the theater. It belonged to her father, Charles L. Strickland, who worked at the theater, according to a letter she sent city hall in November 2005.
“I am so proud of that,” Cook said.
She thinks the weathered records are a fascinating read and hopes the book will be displayed somewhere in the renovated theater.
Movies shown at the theater are handwritten into the book and include classics, such as “The Adventures of Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn, “The Oklahoma Kid” with James Cagney, “Billy the Kid Returns” with Roy Rogers, “Gone With the Wind” and others.
“I’m just floored,” Reed said as she flipped through the book. “I’m diggin’ it.”