Restoring the Stage Backdrops

This picture was probably taken when the Stewart Library Building in Corinna, Maine opened in 1898.

Auditorium and Stage in 1898

Auditorium and Stage in 1898

There were folding wooden seats for 300 people in the auditorium. On the stage we can see elegant front curtains, intricately decorated side pieces, and a beautifully hand painted backdrop.

Originally there were probably five cloth backdrops that rolled up on round battens using a system of ropes and pulleys. It was customary to have city street scenes, nature scenes and domestic interior scenes. We still have four of the backdrops. Sadly, only one of the original scenes has survived. The others were painted over many years ago.

Recently the Levi Stewart Community Theater restored the four existing backdrops to working order. The original ropes and pulleys are in place both on the stage and up in the attic.

Pulleys and ropes in the attic

Pulleys and ropes in the attic

Rolled backdrops and ropes overhead on stage

Rolled backdrops and ropes overhead on stage

We plan to use two backdrops in the Christmas Show this year on December 5 and 6.

Here is a photograph of the surviving original scene. The material is sewn together to make a roll 12 feet tall and 21 feet wide.

Surviving backdrop scene

Surviving backdrop scene

The colors are still bright and the paint is in fair shape. Notice the wear that is visible at the seams. To help protect it from exposure to light and wear, this backdrop will be kept rolled up over the stage. It will be lowered only for special occasions.

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Preserving the SLB – September Update

If you have the opportunity, please let your selectmen know that you support repairing the Stewart Library Building and preserving its historic value. It is very important for them to know the people support this work.

Repairing the Clock Tower
At town meeting in March the voters of Corinna authorized the Town to borrow up to $180,000 to fix the clock tower of the Stewart Library Building. The engineering work that went out to bid proposed removing the belfry and tearing down the top 30 feet of the tower, adding new structural steel when the tower was rebuilt. Three bids were received. The lowest was about $50,000 more than the town had voted to spend. That plan was set aside.

In August a structural engineer from a Portland based company with many years of experience restoring historic buildings conducted a new structural evaluation of the clock tower. This evaluation, paid for using grant money from the the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, concluded that the tower is not in danger of collapsing. However, it needs work as soon as possible to prevent further deterioration and to repair the structure.

SLB shortly after opening in 1989

SLB shortly after opening in 1898

This evaluation proposes to fix the tower in place, without demolishing it. Mortar on the outside must be replaced and the three layers of bricks in the walls can be tied together using stainless steel bolts. It is possible this will be less expensive than the first proposed repair.

Our committee, the Building Preservation Group, is working with the selectmen and the Portland company to have the engineering work developed based on this report for a new bid process. The goal is to repair the tower according to the historic restoration standards that will keep the building on the National Register of Historic Places. There should be more news of this in the next week or so.

Developing An Overall Plan
Using other anticipated grant funds, the selectmen have hired an architectural firm from Bangor to do an Historic Structure Report (HSR) on the building. The report looks at the entire building, documents its history, makes recommendations for the repairs, upgrades and restoration, provides a logical sequence for the work, and gives cost estimates. This report becomes the basis for detailed planning and writing grant applications. Most organizations that grant money want to see a report like this as evidence that solid planning as been done and cost estimates have been made. The architectural firm will complete the HSR before November 1.

A Major Grant Application
The committee will immediately use the report to improve a grant application we have pending with an organization that has expressed a strong interest in providing funds for the restoration of the Stewart Library Building. However, they have requested a master plan that estimates costs for the work needed in the entire building. We are working hard to develop these estimates before a November 1 deadline for what may be an extraordinary opportunity to fund the work of restoring the building. There should be more news on this in November.

 

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Preserving the Stewart Library Building

The Selectmen of Corinna set up the Building Preservation Group committee to provide leadership in preserving the Stewart Library Building. I am the chair of that committee. This post does not represent the committee, or the Selectmen, or the Town. This is only my own opinion.

SLB Hallway The Stewart Library Building (many of us call it the “Town Hall”) has been at the center of public life in Corinna for over one hundred years. We have memories of plays, dances, graduations, cheerleading, and playing basketball upstairs. For many of us, the hallway, with those pictures of Corinna residents from the 1800’s, and the library itself are important to our lives.

The 116 year old building needs maintenance, restoration, and upgrades. The most urgent thing is the brick work of the clock tower needs to be repaired. At the town meeting the people of Corinna voted to spend the money to fix the tower.4pdf tower

There are a number of other things needed to restore, maintain and upgrade the building, including installing an elevator. It will take a lot of money but, because the building is so unique and on the National Registry of Historic Places, most of the money can come from grants and donations that will not cost the town. The committee has applied for some grants and is working on more.

I think there are three things we must do to win grants and get donations that will pay for most of the work needed.

1. The building must stay on the National Registry of Historic Places. That makes it possible to qualify for grant money. It means that the building must be kept as it was originally built. Any re-building must put it back the way it was so that it looks the same.

2. The town must show it’s commitment by fixing the tower. Even though the town cannot afford to do all the work needed in the rest of the building, we have to show that we care enough to do what we can.

3. A master plan for restoring, maintaining and upgrading the entire building should be developed. A master plan shows the people who award grant money that we know what we are doing and have figured out the best way to get the work done.

I’ll write more about each of these things in future posts. The committee is working to get this done. The committee can only make recommendations to the Board of Selectmen. They are the decision makers. They represent you and will respond to what they hear from the people of the Corinna. I hope there is support in the town and the area to take care of the “Town Hall”.

If you have questions about my opinion or wish to contact me, click on the “Contact Ken” link at the top of this page. Follow me on Twitter @KenJDow, where I tweet about this topic and the Levi Stewart Community Theater.

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This building survived, but needs attention.

Most of the buildings that were in the downtown area of Corinna are gone, torn down in the EPA cleanup just over a decade ago.

This one is still there, standing tall, as it has since completion in 1898. At that time some considered it one of the finest public buildings in Maine. Designed by architect, William H. Grimshaw, the building was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1974.

SLB from the airThe Stewart Library Building was built by Levi M. Stewart, a childhood resident of Corinna, to honor his parents and to provide a public library for the town. Mr. Stewart grew up to be a prosperous lawyer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Upon his death in 1910 his private book collection of more than 6000 volumes was shipped to Corinna and placed in the building. He was buried in the Village Cemetery in Corinna. He never married, some of his family descendants still live in town.

The building currently houses the Corinna Town Office, the Stewart Free Library, the Stewart Private Library, and is the home of the Levi Stewart Community Theater.

For the most part, the building is in good shape but it needs some attention. Most pressing is the need to repair the brick work in the clock tower. The mortar in some portions of the tower has disintegrated and needs to be replaced.

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