Niagara Gazette

April 23, 2014

Historic Riviera Theatre marquee now in place

By Michael Regan
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The face of the Riviera Theatre and Performing Arts Center, the long-awaited and newly-refurbished marquee, was lifted in place Tuesday along Webster Street after an extensive project to modernize the vintage structure.  

Following years of fundraising and months of work crews will spend several days this week installing the finishing touches, including electrical work and an updated ceiling. 

The marquee was removed from the theater in October and trucked to the site of the Wagner Electric Sign Company in Ohio, where it was restored in a controlled environment. 

The company spent months renovating the marquee’s original paint scheme — dating back to 1947 when it was first constructed and placed on the theater —as well as its rose and green neon lights, new wiring and metal restoration. 

A new LED display panel will supplant the method of placing lettering by hand for upcoming shows, saving time among its largely volunteer ranks, and bringing a modern feel to the marquee just as theater officials push to appeal to younger patrons. The electronic lettering will mimic the look of the original marquee. 

“It’s more efficient,” said Gary J. Rouleau, director of development at the theater, of the $285,000 marquee project. “We don’t have to have a ladder to set up the letters before every show.” 

The project moved from concept to reality after several large state grants came through beginning in 2010, rounded out by smaller donations from the community and theater-goers. 

“That really let the project take off,” Rouleau said, adding that about 90 percent of the marquee was kept in its original form and in line with the standards set by the New York State Historic Preservation Office.  

Much of the original marquee fell into disrepair since it was first erected in the 1940s at a cost of $14,000. Over the years, Rouleau said, it became consumed with rot and rust, with squirrels and birds routinely setting up nests and an electrical system that wasn’t up to par. 

A crane situated along Webster Street on Tuesday raised the marquee to its slot in three pieces, shutting down a portion of the sidewalk. 

Jim Pritchard, who is currently serving as the theater’s interim director of operations, indicated that the updated marquee is an important aspect to the burgeoning Webster Street, and one that is taking by seriously by theater officials who view the theater as the anchor of the turnaround taking place along the thoroughfare. The theater has seen a massive increase in its offerings over the last decade with an average of 175 shows a year and up to 100,000 patrons annually. 

“It’s good for the Riviera and it’s good for progress on Webster,” he said. “It’s amazing what we can accomplish with teamwork.” 

Rouleau added that the theater box office will remain open during the project, with two performances set for the weekend beginning Saturday. The marquee is expected to be completed by Friday.