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Iconic Holly Theatre celebrates season with free outdoor concert Friday

The Holly Theatre will host its second annual “Holly-Days” spectacular from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, with refreshments and live music.

The free concert will be held outdoors beneath the Holly’s iconic marquee at Sixth and Holly streets in downtown Medford. On the bill are the Ashland Brass, Rogue Voices (formerly Rogue Valley Harmonizers) and Southern Oregon Sound, an all-women chorus specializing in women’s barbershop and Sweet Adeline harmonies.

The event will feature an array of musical holiday standards, hot drinks and cookies from the Cookie Lab.

Holly Theatre photo by Tiffany Maude Three Rogue Valley musical groups will perform under the iconic Holly Theatre marquee during Holly-Days, a free concert Friday, Dec. 17. The event is a gift from the Holly Theatre to the community.

“This jolly, Holly event is a gift to our community,” said Paul Christy, interim executive director. “Come gather safely on the sidewalks or park across the street for treats, joy and great entertainment.”

Holly-Days coincides with the Downtown Medford Association’s Third Friday art walk, a special merchandising event for holiday shoppers.

Even though restoration activities at the Holly paused during the pandemic, staff and volunteers worked behind the scenes with artists and performers to offer spaces for online performances and live events.

For example, the Rogue Valley Symphony recorded one of its “Digital Detours” in the Holly’s unfinished — but acoustically excellent — auditorium in late 2020. And a number of local singers and bands have recorded or livestreamed performances from under the theater’s marquee.

When Christy joined the theater’s restoration effort in December of 2020, he predicted the Holly would be opening within a year’s time frame. He was optimistic.

“The continuing pandemic complicated that outlook,” he said. “And we’ve had to take on a number of projects that laid the groundwork for our final push to complete the Holly.”

According to the League of Historic American Theatres, the average renovation time for an historic theater is 12 to 15 years. The effort to renovate the Holly Theatre started in 2011 and is now in its 10th year.

“In the first nine years of restoration, we finished 40% of the work on the building,” Christy said. “That includes the Sixth Street facade with the iconic blade and marquee, the first- and second-floor lobbies, and the box office areas.

“We spent much time in 2021 planning the restoration of the remaining 60% of the theater, including the 1,024-seat auditorium and the backstage and loading dock areas,” he said.

The renovation effort also was stymied by all of the supply-chain complexities that affect purchasers of steel, lumber and building supplies.

Final push in 2022

“We’re launching a construction effort in the first months of 2022 that we hope will lead to completion and opening of the Holly Theatre before the end of 2023,” Christy said.

In 2021, construction activity with HamCon Builders and other supporting vendors was concluded, and restoration leadership began gathering its resources to launch the final phase of renovation.

“I would characterize a lot of our activity during the pandemic year as cleaning out and buttoning up,” Christy said. “We needed to ensure that the existing 91-year-old structure was safe and secure.”

To that end, staff was on guard after rainstorms to plug roof leaks and clear drain spouts.

“We’ve suffered some water damage and graffiti tagging,” he said, “but all has been resolved, and the historic building is ready for the final phase of construction.”

This past year, the Holly was offered a significant and favorable construction loan by a long-time local family business, which will help launch and fund nearly 50% of the next phase of renovation. The Holly’s status as a designated historic structure enables it to offer investors tax credits in the future, and it expects to generate about 25% of its future funding from those sources.

“The remaining 25% of our renovation funding continues to pour in from the community,” he said.

That support comes from individuals, foundations, businesses and various levels of government — local, state and federal. More than 3,000 community members have provided financial support for the renovation, Christy said.

“We are now in the midst of an end-of-year fundraising campaign,” he said. “We reached out this year to several dozen signature supporters and made sure they knew all about our plans and progress. Many continue to respond with additional gifts and pledges.”

When the campaign to renovate the Holly Theatre was launched in 2011, the cost estimate was $4 million to $5 million. But, like many restoration projects, that had to be revised regularly as the 1930s infrastructure was uncovered and the true scope of the renovation was understood.

The original fundraising of more than $4 million got the Holly to the 40% restoration level. “The current $6 million effort will complete the remaining 60% of the building,” Christy said.

Next on the restoration schedule are:

  • Completion of the elevator shaft and installation of a three-floor elevator
  • Finishing the restrooms
  • Installation of heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems
  • Replacement of wiring and electrical systems
  • Rebuilding the stage area and backstage dressing rooms
  • Construction of a loading dock at the back of the theater
What makes it unique

“We’re spending time designing the above-stage flyloft area so that we can handle artist demands,” Christy said. “And we’re acquiring lighting and sound systems that will enhance the pin-drop acoustics of the Holly auditorium.”

The Holly Theatre is unique in many ways. When it’s finished it will be one of the largest theaters on the West Coast with a continuous “rake” — that is, a balcony-free sweep of seats from front to back, a valuable asset in ensuring that sound travels accurately from the stage to the last row at the fourth-floor level.

The Holly is part of JeffersonLive!, LLC, which has owned and operated the historic Cascade Theatre in Redding since 2004, offering a wide range of live performances.

Volunteers (89 at present) have been a big asset to the Holly. They’re not involved in any construction activities, but they contribute to design ideas, helping make sure they’re historically accurate. They help choose fabrics, window treatments, and keep track of other design elements like chandeliers, carpets and drinking fountains.

They also assist with record-keeping, archive research, marquee messages, routine maintenance, special projects and fundraising.

Each year, the Holly has recognized volunteers who log the most service honors. In 2020, they were James Williams, Janet LaFountain, Barbara Haddon and Linda O’Connor. In 2021, they were O’Connor, Williams, Jim Tabor and Sandra Bartell.

Those who want to support the project as volunteers are welcome to register with an email to volunteers@jeffersonlive.org.

You can follow the theater renovation progress and get updates on activities and events at hollytheatre.org as well as on the theater’s Facebook and Instagram posts.

Christy looks forward to completion of the Holly’s restoration and sees the theater as a complement to the many entertainment venues in the Rogue Valley.

“It’s an honor to be part of this community-wide effort,” he said, “and humbling to be associated with so many dedicated donors and volunteers.”

He said he enjoys adding his efforts to the project and notes that a recruitment effort is underway to hire a permanent executive director. Applicants can find out more at jeffersonlive.org/news.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.