A replica of the Warner brothers’ first theater is expected to begin to take shape this spring in New Castle.
Jerry Kern, president of the Historic Warner Film Center Museum, is hopeful the build-out will begin next month for the replica of the two-theater nickelodeon which the organization believes opened Feb. 2, 1907, at 18 S. Mill St.
Kern said he will also be seeking volunteers to help take the next step.
“We plan to hold an open house in a few weeks,” Kern said. That event will feature renditions of what the space will look like when completed.
The organization plans to restore the building based on original drawings, photographs and memories of people who remember the Warners’ first theater.
The open house, planned for some time, has been pushed back, Kern said.
“Details have recently been resolved between our board and the landlords for the space at The Riverplex,” he explained.. He expects his board members to sign the agreement in the next few days then pass it on.
“Once it’s signed, we’ll set a date to start.”
The first phase of the build-out, he said, will involve clearing debris stored in the building and infrastructure improvements including electric and plumbing, raising walls, installing ceilings and painting.
He noted that Gale Measel will be general contractor on the project.
Kern expects that once begun, the nickelodeons and museum space will be completed in a couple of months.
He added that even though the organization has been collecting artifacts for some time, the museum will not be jammed with exhibits.
“People walking through might think it is unfinished. That is what this is all about,” he said. “We will start and build on what we have. We expect to show more in 10 years than what is there on opening day.”
In the meantime, Kern said many opportunities exist for anyone interested in becoming involved with the project.
Most opportunities, he said are for fund raising. Volunteers will be needed this summer to sell tickets for a raffle, he said, adding that a second Kickstart fundraiser will be launched soon.
Kickstarter is an Internet-based fundraising program that specializes in small, generally non-profit, corporations.
Kern said city resident Susan Urbanek Linville has volunteered to help seek grants to provide income for the project. She will focus on foundations and private companies, Kern said.
The organization is also working with Robert Johnson of Bethel Park, a private consultant who works with real estate and gas and oil concerns.
Employed by the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett, Johnson knows what sort of state funding is available to non-profit organizations, Kern said, adding, “He is interested in helping us.”
Johnson is familiar with the project and has seen the space and spoken to local people.
Kern said the organization also is looking for meet-and-greet people for the next phase.
“When we open, we will need people who will have to know the history of the project and the exhibits at the museum.”
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer may contact Kern at (724)510-4226 or contact him online at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kern also has been busy. On Feb. 18, he said, he was interviewed on WPIC radio about the project. On March 11, he said, Cass Warner Sperling will be interviewed.
The granddaughter of Harry Warner, one of the brothers who opened the theater in New Castle, she has been and remains involved with the project.
“This has been a more than 21-year-train ride for me to where we are now,” Kern reflected.
He said he first contacted local developer Tom George, former Centennial Building owner, on Feb. 14, 1994, to pitch the project. He met Cass Warner Sperling at a book-signing in Pittsburgh the fall of 1993.