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Re-making the scene

The Holly Theatre is coming back to life board by board, light by light, dollar by dollar.

"The Holly really wants to be a part of the expanding arts and performance scene in the valley," John Snider told a group of community members on a tour inside the mostly gutted theater Saturday morning.

Snider, co-chairman of Jefferson Public Radio Foundation's Holly Theatre Restoration Committee, leads tours of the once-glamorous venue on the first Saturday of every month.

"It's not hard to imagine the potential here. When it's relit and it's repainted, it's really going to sparkle," Snider said. "(Medford) was once the cultural hub of the valley, and we would like to get that back."

The foundation's Jefferson Live!, which operates the Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif., and is raising money for the Holly, calculates that the cost to restore the Holly will be $3.8 million, slightly higher than initial estimate of $3.5 million.

To date, about $2 million has been raised, said Karl Stahnke, a volunteer coordinator with Jefferson Live! That includes $300,000 in grants from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency and a $900,000 federal grant.

"We're on schedule as far as fundraising goes," said Stahnke, who helped organize a seat sponsorship program for donors interested in having an engraved plaque tacked onto a seat of their choice inside the theater.

The foundation inked a deal in 2011 to purchase the downtrodden theater at the corner of Sixth and Holly streets in downtown Medford, and it's been working ever since to raise the money to finish renovating the three-story, 1,000-seat venue.

The facade was renovated in 2012, and cracked structural beams in the ceiling have been repaired, which allowed some temporary lumber supports to be removed.

Randy Bobst-McKay, executive director of Jefferson Live!, said it will take until fall to raise the money and start the interior renovation.

Tours are free and run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every first Saturday.

They depart on a first-come, first-served basis, and each tour can accommodate up to 25 people.

Visitors will see exposed beams, stained walls, faded paint and a generally dilapidated interior. The ceiling still has remnants of wool insulation between the joists.

There are 144 steps to climb in the tour. The building doesn't have an elevator, but one will be installed as part of the restoration.

Snider said the theater is expected to inject into Medford an estimated $3 million annually in patron-generated revenue and account for about 83 jobs between the theater's crew and extra business it will bring to the area.

"What the Cascade (Theatre) did for downtown Redding is just amazing, and I envision that happening here," he said. "One of the biggest beneficiaries will be downtown restaurants."

Charles Burgess, 77, of Medford, worked as a projectionist at the Holly during the 1960s and helped lug its equipment away when it closed in 1986.

"There is not a bad seat in this place," Burgess said, looking up at the steep stadium-style seating during Saturday's tour. "I was sad when they closed. It was a beautiful building."

Burgess said he's looking forward to the day he'll be able to catch another show inside the theater.

A limited liability corporation, Jefferson Live! was created by the JPR Foundation following a settlement agreement with Southern Oregon University in 2012 to operate the foundation-owned Cascade Theatre in Redding and oversee the renovation and eventual operation of the Holly.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

Jefferson Live! provides free tours of the Holly Theatre in Medford the first Saturday of every month. The theater is in the midst of a $3.8 million renovation. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch