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Massive renovation project restores luster to Scottish Rite Center
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
When visitors drop by the Scottish Rite Center as part of the West Central Home and Garden Tour on September 11th and 12th, they’ll be seeing the first phases of a restoration project that began about seven years ago. An organization called the 431 Foundation (named after the Scottish Rite Center’s address on West Berry) is driving the project to return some of the original luster and glamour to the building.
On the National Register of Historic Places as part of the West Central neighborhood, the Scottish Rite was once a major venue in the city for touring acts. Local interest and community events, especially in the building’s downstairs ballroom, kept the Scottish Rite going, but a lot of people felt the potential of the building wasn’t being realized.
Originally opened in 1925, the Scottish Rite Center was last restored sometime in the 50s, though restored is probably the wrong word for it. The changes made back then literally covered up a lot of what made the building special. “It had grey tile floors, grey walls, grey chandeliers,” says Samantha Teter, Director of Marketing and Auditorium Events at the Scottish Rite, talking about the building’s Horseshoe Lobby. “They had slapped rubber grey baseboard over this gorgeous terrazzo baseboard.”
The restoration team found a few other things they didn’t expect. “They painted over the scagliola on the walls and floors,” Teter says. “We didn’t even know it was there. When they took off all these layers of paint, they found this scagliola underneath.” The scagliola, along with the terrazzo baseboards, has been restored, and Teter says it’s “gorgeous.” “We’ve restored a lot of colors that we think were the original colors when the Scottish Rite was built in the 1920s.”
Inside the auditorium itself, the old seating on the ground level has been replaced with new chairs, and the electrical system, including sound and lighting boards, has undergone a major update. “That’s the first phase,” explains Teter. “For the second phase, when we finish raising the money, we’ll replace the seats on the upper level and re-paint the proscenium.”
Further restoration projects include improvements to the exterior façade, small changes to the downstairs ballroom (a wedding reception favorite), and new curtains for the stage. The ultimate goal of the 431 Foundation is to raise $5 million dollars; so far, they’ve raised just around $2 million. Toter says that once the entire restoration project is done, it will help reinvigorate interest in the building as a major venue for national acts.
In addition to seeing some of the amazing restoration work done to the theater so far, visitors will also have a chance to experience the auditorium from a performer’s view point. “When they go to a theater, everyone always wants to get up on stage, to see what it feels like,” says Teter. “So we’re just going to stick a microphone up there and if people want to go up there and just play, or sing, or whatever, they can, just so people can get the feel of what it’s like to be on this big stage under the stage lights.”
The Scottish Rite Auditorium will be open as part of the West Central Home and Garden Tour on September 11th and 12th, and the Allen County Convention and Visitor's Bureau on September 12th. For more information on the Scottish Rite Center renovation project, call Samantha Teter at 260-423-2593.