Online competition might help raise curtain for Greenbelt theater


The Old Greenbelt Theatre is competing online for a $100,000 grant from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Jamie Anfenson-Comeau/The Gazette)
May 1, 2013

Greenbelt resident Barbara Simon, 70, recalls going to the Old Greenbelt Theatre when she was growing up in the 1940s and watching newsreels, serials and movies. Children’s tickets cost less than a quarter.

“When they built Greenbelt, this was the showcase, the center of life here,” Simon said.

Now, supporters are hoping it once again can be a city destination if the theater can win a $100,000 grant in an online preservation competition.

The theater, in Roosevelt Center in the heart of Old Greenbelt, is one of 24 sites in the District, Virginia and Maryland competing in the eighth annual Partners in Preservation program, which awards grant money to historic sites annually. The theater is the only Prince George’s County site in the competition.

Launched in 2006 by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the program awards grants to historic sites in different communities each year, said Robert Nieweg, field director of the National Trust’s Washington office.

Individuals have until May 10 to vote online at www.partnersinpreservation.
com
for their favorite of the 24 historic sites. People can vote once a day but also can earn more points for their site by sharing their support on Facebook or Twitter, or posting pictures on Instagram, Nieweg said.

“People who like social media often love to make a game of it, sharing it with their friends, to see how many votes they can get,” Nieweg said.

The site with the most votes will receive a grant of up to $100,000, Nieweg said. The remainder of the $1 million donated by American Express will be distributed to some of the other sites, based on recommendations from the National Trust’s advisory committee of preservation experts and civic leaders, Nieweg said.

Greenbelt bought the building about 12 years ago to ensure it continued to operate as a theater, “which we felt was critical to the economic well-being of the Roosevelt Center,” said Celia Craze, Greenbelt’s director of planning and community development.

Since then, the city has paid about $3,000 a year for upkeep of the building, with occasional extra maintenance costs, Craze said.

Although the theater is operational, it needs major renovation work, such as enhancing plumbing, electrical and air handling systems and making it handicapped accessible. It also needs cosmetic work to bring back the interior’s historic art deco appearance, including restoring its flying buttresses and terrazzo floor.

Craze said the theater has some tough competition, including Mount Vernon and Washington National Cathedral.

“Right now, we’re pushing as hard as we can to get our message out there,” Craze said.

To help spread the word, the theater is hosting a showing of the 1939 W.C. Fields classic “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man” at noon Saturday for $5. Free popcorn will be given out, along with information about the theater and the competition.

“There’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for this project in the community,” Simon said.

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