Columbia Theater finishes major fire curtain renovation

Restoration of a local theater hits a milestone.

Years’ worth of battling asbestos keeps the Columbia Theater in downtown Paducah from re-opening. This year the theater qualified for a $49,000 state-level EPA grant with one demand: that they treat the fire curtain. A fire curtain helps keep an audience safe from potential fire.

Crews with the Institute of Fine Art Conservation Studios out of North Carolina spent two and a half weeks restoring the fire curtain, which is now just decorative. The Columbia Task Force paid for the $30,000 job through private grants and donations.

The curtain used to be 98 percent asbestos and had two huge holes. Now those with the theater say restoring the curtain is another small step toward reopening.

Columbia Task Force Co-Chairman Randy Davis says appreciates the architecture but, like many others, remembers watching iconic films on the big screen. He says for him it was "Star Wars" and "Friday the 13th Part III". Davis says restoring the fire curtain and studying the crumbling paint was not cheap, but it was an essential investment for both the theater and the town.

"We had to (restore the curtain) before we did the rest of the asbestos abatement in the building," Davis says. 

As a visitor to Paducah, Project Manager Mary Aldrich says it was easy to get invested in the Columbia Theater. She sees the theater as a very important artistic piece. Aldrich says even though the curtain is fixed, there is still an additional $7 million of work to do. But, she says, everything is salvageable and worth restoring.

"It’s a beautiful building and I think its a treasure for the community and the town itself," Aldrich says.

Even with the progress, those with the theater say it’ll still be two to three years until it’s fully opened. Once the Columbia Theater is re-opened, Maiden Alley Cinema will be the primary owner-operator. The city of Paducah helped match part of the state-level grant with $10,000.

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