When the Honeywell Foundation acquired Wabash’s Eagles Theatre in 2010, it aimed to save the town’s last historic movie theater, a landmark suffering from years of deferred maintenance. It wasn’t long, however, before a new vision began to emerge for the aging structure—one that set the stage for a $16 million makeover to revive the longtime community anchor as a state-of-the-art regional attraction.
In honor of the monumental transformation and its far-reaching impact, Honeywell Foundation wins Indiana Landmarks’ 2022 Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration.
The Fraternal Order of the Eagles constructed the four-story theater on Market Street in 1906, with a large auditorium for vaudeville shows on the first floor—later converted to a movie theater—a lodge hall on the top floor, and offices and meeting rooms in between.
By the time Honeywell Foundation acquired the building in 2010, the single-screen theater still showed movies, but the upper floors had been largely vacant for decades. Air conditioning and heating systems didn’t work properly, and the upper balcony had been closed for safety reasons. In the fourth-floor ballroom, beams supported by steel columns shored up the ceiling.
After addressing the most urgent maintenance needs, Honeywell Foundation staff and board collaborated with community leaders on a plan to give the theater new life as a center for performing arts, movies, and events.
“This theater was the social fabric of our community,” says Tod Minnich, Honeywell Foundation’s president and CEO. “We felt a need to not only preserve but appreciate the place where the arts and entertainment hub of this town began.”
Wabash’s designation as a Stellar Community in 2014 garnered $3.2 million for the renovation, funded through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the City of Wabash, and Wabash Marketplace. In 2017, Honeywell launched a two-year restoration, collaborating with Indianapolis firm krM Architecture. A nearly $1 million grant from the Regional Cities Initiative of Northeast Indiana, and private donations from individuals, businesses, and foundations made up the remainder of the $16 million project.
“I’ve never seen a campaign that got such momentum and generated such phenomenal generosity in such a short period of time,” says Dave Haist, who chaired the Honeywell Foundation board when the Eagles Theatre restoration began. “It underscored that those supporters really understood the impact this public-private partnership and revived theater could have for folks throughout the region.”
Honeywell unveiled the restored theater in February 2020. Inside, the expanded lobby showcases original features including a staircase, pressed tin ceilings, and a previously hidden mosaic tile featuring the Eagles insignia. In the rehabilitated auditorium, a retractable screen hangs above a stage reconfigured to accommodate both movies and live performances. Outside, a new marquee glows above the entrance.
Other modernizations include new accessible restrooms, a state-of-the-art sound system, and carpet and wall treatments that reflect the theater’s original patterns and motifs. A new elevator tower and fire-proof stairwell in the adjacent alley provide accessibility and emergency egress. The result is a landmark that functions as well as any new building, while still retaining its classic appearance.
The theater’s second floor now houses the Media Arts program, where area high school students can gain hands-on experience in audio and video production for careers in media-related industries. The third floor holds meeting rooms and classrooms and provides access to balcony suites.
Unused since the 1940s, the fourth-floor ballroom was a virtual time capsule, with remnants of a hand-painted ceiling hinting at earlier opulence. It also posed significant restoration challenges, requiring a new support beam to be installed by crane through the roof. Local artists carefully photographed and re-created the ceiling artwork, helping return the ballroom to its former grandeur.
The spread of COVID-19 forced the Eagles Theatre to close just a few weeks after its grand opening. Even during the pandemic, however, Honeywell found creative ways to use the building, employing the second-floor studios for live and recorded broadcasts and hosting socially distanced events in the ballroom. Today, the theater sees almost daily use as a venue for movies, classes, weddings, concerts, youth theater programming, and private events.
“Where else in Indiana can one find two Cook Cup winners in neighboring properties?” says Parker Beauchamp, CEO of Wabash-based insurance company INGUARD. “The Charley Creek Inn and Eagles Theatre are a testament to the community’s immense commitment to itself and to future generations.”
We will present the Cook Cup to Honeywell Foundation at Indiana Landmarks’ annual meeting on September 10.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Indiana Preservation, Indiana Landmarks’ member magazine.
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