PEABODY — After being closed for the past five years, the Sunflower Theatre in Peabody has new owners and a group of community members committed to its renovation.
Built in 1919, the Sunflower Theatre provided a performance space for vaudeville acts, talent shows, concerts and movies.
Susan Mayo and Marilyn Jones live near Peabody and are assisting with historical research for the building, which is located in the 100 block of North Walnut Street in Peabody.
"They had a $3,000, state-of-the-art player piano," Mayo said.
The theater's popcorn machine can still be seen in the Peabody Museum.
"The seats had a sunflower emblem on the end of each row," Jones recalled.
The theater's original blueprints noted it could seat 760 people on the main level.
"Of course, our bottoms are a lot wider now than they were then," Jones said.
The Sunflower Theatre also had small storefronts on either side of its entrance, occupied by a jeweler and an optometrist.
The building was sold and converted into a bowling alley in 1961.
"When they took down the (stage) curtain that depicted the Queen of Sheba, supposedly they buried it in the sand underneath the bowling alley," Jones said. "That's the rumor."
In 2014, Peabody Lanes closed and the structure sat empty until being purchased by Cathy Weems and her husband, Darren.
"It's a beautiful building," Weems said. "Structurally, it's in good shape. The inside is just a skeleton — everything from the bowling alley and the theater is gone."
Weems said they want to form a nonprofit organization to get donations and grants to renovate the building into a venue that can be used as a community center for various arts functions. She noted it could provide a performing space for school concerts and plays that the Peabody-Burns High School lacks, and the second-floor offices could be used as music studios.
"We want this to be a community place," Weems said. "We want Peabody to have the benefit of using it. We live here. We care about the town."
There will be a clean-up day for the theater organized by Peabody United Methodist Church on Sept. 8 to remove the bowling balls, trophies and bird skeletons in the building. Weems' goal is to have the building open to tour during a renovation kick-off ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 21.
During that ceremony, Mayo — a professional cellist who plays with the Wichita Symphony and taught at Emporia State University — will perform her original composition based on the Sunflower Theatre's history.
Mayo will also show a 15-minute video in which she interviewed older Peabody residents who shared their memories of the theater.
"We're going to continue to collect memories," Mayo said.
Peabody's historic downtown has seen a number of new businesses open in recent years thanks to economic incentives.
"We've got a lot of people coming in, taking on these buildings and trying to make businesses out of them again," Weems said. "They've been empty for so long, that's nice to see."
To share your memories of the Sunflower Theatre or learn more about renovation efforts, email firstname.lastname@example.org.