Tucked into a corner of Jasper’s downtown square, the Astra Theater is a community landmark in the best sense of the word. The Art Deco-style theater opened to local fanfare in April 1936, when people queued down the sidewalk to buy tickets for MGM’s “The Unguarded Hour,” starring Loretta Young.
The Astra’s neon marquee continued to beckon generations of movie-goers for more than 60 years, before decline and competition from mega-plex cinemas caused the Astra’s owner to shutter the theater in 2002 and list it for sale.
The building languished on the market for years with no takers, until a new non-profit group called Next Act, Inc. began campaigning in 2014 to give the Astra a new lease on life. The group’s ambitious goals – raise more than $750,000 to buy and restore the theater as a multi-purpose cultural venue – received a big boost in July with a $400,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs through the state’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
The CDBG funds – to be matched with an additional $200,000 raised locally – will allow Next Act to rehab the exterior, including a new roof, masonry repair, restoration of the neon sign, and add new electrical and HVAC systems. The curved storefront, which is not original, will be replaced with a more historically appropriate version. Work is scheduled to begin in Spring 2017.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled about what this does for the Astra!” says Next Act president Marc Steczyk. “We still have a long way to go with raising money for interior renovations, but this grant covers a lot of ground and most definitely shortens our road.”
Next Act faces the challenge of raising funds to restore the interior, including reopening the balcony – enclosed years ago to create a second theater – adding an ADA-compliant restroom on the main level, expanding the upstairs restrooms, and purchasing new sound, lighting and projection equipment.
On Thursday, August 25, Next Act will screen a one-time showing of the golf comedy classic “Caddyshack” at the theater. See details at www.astratheater.com.
Before construction gets into full swing next year, the Astra will host a major benefit concert. On October 15, The SteelDrivers, winner of the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album, will perform a 7:30 p.m. show opened by Beech Grove, Indiana’s own Brandon Whyde.
Visit http://44news.wevv.com/state-awards-grant-next-act-restore-historic-astra/ for more information and a look inside this historic theater.
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