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'Holly is the Energizer Bunny’

Holly Theatre restoration has faced many challenges, but plans are moving forward
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneBids will be opened April 29 from contractors seeking to finish the Holly Theatre's auditorium space.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneOriginal architecural features from the Holly Theatre are being refurbished.

Fits and starts have punctuated a frustrating 10-year effort to restore the Holly Theatre in Medford to its 1930 splendor.

Supporters think years of waiting, political drama and missed deadlines are going to finally pay off.

“That was a rough journey, but we didn’t give up,” said Ken Silverman, president of the Jefferson Public Radio Board of Directors.

The Holly is managed by Jefferson Live!, a subsidiary of JPR. Jefferson Live! operates both the Holly and the Cascade Theatre in Redding.

Bids will be opened April 29 from contractors seeking to finish the Holly’s auditorium space, which was originally designed to create the illusion of a gondola ride along the canals of Venice.

“We know it's been a long haul, but historic theaters take an average of 12 to 15 years to complete,” Silverman said.

The JPR Foundation bought the Holly in 2011 from the Art Alfinito family, which saved the building from demolition and helped place it on the National Register of Historic Places.

At first the restoration proceeded rapidly, but it came to a grinding halt during a dispute between JPR and the Southern Oregon University administration.

JPR had previously undertaken the restoration of the Cascade Theatre in Redding, which hosts concerts, including a show in May by Boz Scaggs, a well-known artist whose popularity grew in the 1960s through 1980s.

The restoration of the Holly is about 40% complete now, and the total project cost could be up to $12 million, depending on the next round of bids.

If all goes well, interior construction could start in June and be concluded sometime in fall 2023.

So far $4.5 million has been spent restoring the Holly, which includes shoring up the roof, gutting the interior, and building the offices and lobby spaces in the front portion of the building.

Silverman said the Holly has another $5 million from donations and historic tax credits that will be used for the final restoration push.

That leaves roughly $1 million or more that will need to be raised, depending on bids.

“We’re hoping we don’t get any shocks,” Silverman said, noting that the cost of materials has increased considerably.

He said it would likely take several weeks to analyze the bids before making a decision on which contractor to pick.

Silverman said the project team has been able to trim roughly $1 million in expected costs over the past couple of years without sacrificing any of the historical elements of the building.

“It’s still going to be jaw dropping,” Silverman said.

The building will have many elements that were not in the original theater, including an elevator, better disability access, more toilets and a heating and air conditioning system.

George Kramer, a local historical preservation consultant, has been involved in the Holly restoration since JPR bought the building.

“I have never had a project that has gone on as long as the Holly,” he said.

Kramer is currently working on two other theater restoration projects, the Alger Community Theater in Lakeview and the Liberty Theater in North Bend. Kramer has also worked on the restoration of The Egyptian Theatre in Coos Bay and the Cascade Theatre.

“Hopefully the Holly is going to make great progress and stay on schedule,” he said. “As far as restoration projects go, the Holly is the Energizer Bunny. No matter what people throw at it, it keeps getting up.”

Kramer said a great deal of effort has been made to match the original decor.

Many of the details in the interior, including lighting and other fixtures, were lost over the years when the building fell into disrepair, but local residents have given many of them back after learning about the restoration.

Even though the building will be as historically accurate as possible, it will still meet all modern building codes, Kramer said.

“When people go into that building, it will look pretty much like what it did in 1930,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.