PRATT — As dusk crept over the city of Pratt last Monday, sparkling new lights on the historic marquee were flipped on at the Barron Theatre by longtime supporter Sheryl White.
"We had a Pratt Pilot's Club meeting here, so I turned them on for that," White said. "It was so beautiful to see them shining in all their glory."
The Barron lights, original in the late 20s to early 30s, were in sad shape before fundraising efforts and special groups joined forces to rebirth them.
"We actually had all of the funds needed to fix the marquee back at Christmas," White said. "A very generous, and anonymous, donor helped out quite a bit, plus we had several special fundraising projects specifically for this purpose. There were pledges and donations from many of our supporters."
Several factors combined to put the marquee lights renovation program behind schedule at that point, however, the most dominating was the cooperation of the weather.
"It was a very wet spring, and there were a number of setbacks once we got going that just seemed to make this project take a long time," White said. "But now that it is done, it was all worth it."
Before the marquee lights could be replaced, the marquee itself had to be cleaned up. Pratt resident and business owner Jordan Cox took on the project, volunteering several weeks of work to clean, scrape and sandblast the marquee. Many, many layers of paint had to be removed, rotten interior boards replaced and bird relics removed.
While the cleaning was going on, Brian Kirkland, of Miracle Design in Wichita, was hired to bring back to life, as close to original as possible, the neon Barron lights, that have made the establishment such a recognizable icon in Pratt for so long.
"The marquee has changed a number of times through the years," White said. "But we think the original glass that was built into the signage sometime after 1924 is still intact. Miracle Design was able to save that and reintegrate it into the new lights, so we still have the only theater in Kansas with the original glass lighting in the marquee from that era."
White said that older workers were brought in to Miracle Design who specialized in historical movie theater restorations and they were able to create, by hand, the new letters for the Barron's marquee.
"Now everything is done digitally, but to restore it to original lettering they had to do it all by hand," White said. "Every part of each letter had to be measured, the spaces between the letters and to be figured by hand. It was a very involved and painstaking project."
Next on the Barron restoration project list is the replacement of tile flooring in the women's bathroom and new carpet for the lobby and ramps in the theater.
Already underway is a special Wall of Fame project being coordinated by local photographer Stan Reimer, who is putting together 10-12 historic portraits of life at the Barron through the decades.
"There are some really cool pictures of this place during WWII, with the crowds gathered outside. And then we have a picture of the time a truck ran into the ticket booth when it was outside the front doors," White said. "This is going to be a great historical collection for the city of Pratt."
Meanwhile, the Barron continues to show movies every weekend and serve as a host site for the Youth Core Ministries, Saturday monthly women's retreats, musical shows and occasional Pilot Club events, like Monday's fashion show.