by Debbie Monterrey

When it comes to old buildings, there are two types of people. Those who say, “Just tear it down! It’s an eyesore!” and those, like me, who wish they had a billion dollars to save all the crumbling but gorgeous, historic structures.

When it comes to the Sun Theater, it’s a victory for preservationists. Thanks to the Lawrence Group and a merry band of artisans and craftsmen, the long abandoned building has a new lease on life.

Before and after:

Photos by Todd Morgan/Backbeat Photography

Photos by Todd Morgan/Backbeat Photography

The Sun Theater will become part of the Grand Center Arts Academy, which moved into the Beaux Arts Building next door several years ago. (The Lawrence Group owns both buildings and rents them to the school).

Steve Smith of the Lawrence Group says this $11.5-million renovation will create one of the nicest art school theaters in the nation. It’s expected to be completed by April. He calls the Sun a “mini-Fox and a mini-Powell.”

Todd Morgan of Backbeat Photography got inside for a close-up view of the renovations. Here’s what it looked like before the renovations began. The before and after shots are truly remarkable.

For years, I was fascinated by this theater that always had its marquee lit up at night, and yet there was no discernable way in to the boarded-up building. Turns out, Grand Center, Inc. took ownership of the Sun, which opened in 1913 as the Gernlan Theater for German-speaking immigrants. It closed during World War I, then reopened as the Liberty. For a while in the 1950s, it was a theater for “negroes.” But it closed for good in in 1969 and spent the decades deteriorating.

Photo from Grand Ctr Arts Academy

Photo from Grand Ctr Arts Academy

Todd Morgan notes that “Steve Foster of Woemmel Plastering Company’s great grandfather did the original plaster work inside the Sun Theater. Now 101 years later Steve Foster and Woemmel Plastering are restoring the work his Great Grandfather did in 1912.”

Aside from providing an amazing performance space for students, the Sun Theater will also be available to the public for events and performances.

I continue to be encouraged and inspired by the men and women dedicated to saving and preserving St. Louis’ amazing architecture and history. Hats off! (And please invite me to the grand opening).

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