The Salem City Hall, built in 1940 as a Public Works Administration project, is a three-story building with an auditorium on the main floor. In recent years, it has been showing its age more and more. But that is changing, though it’s a slow process.
The curtains in the auditorium were purchased in 1978 by the Cosmopolitan Club, the sound system was installed in 1985 and the wooden folding chairs date back to the 1940s, not to mention poor lighting on the stage and in the auditorium. The building includes a kitchen in the basement and other space used for the Adult Education Literacy program, drivers’ license testing, poll location for voting and city council chambers.
Several events have been held in the auditorium throughout the years, such as the Miss Salem Pageant, Dancing with the Stars, dance recitals, gymnastics performances, town hall forums, meetings and music nights.
After discussion in 2018, with plans to upgrade the facility, several changes began to take shape. Progress can be seen from ceiling to floor. The auditorium has fresh paint and ceiling work. Acoustic tiles were placed to allow for better sound and a new curtain was hung on the stage. A $25,000 private donation covered the cost of curtain replacement. The company who created the original curtains, also created the new ones. The front walk outside has been redone, with upgraded hand rails and new concrete steps.
The project has seen its fair share of delays from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Everything Cinema donated the screen and sound system for the community theatre. Other renovations completed are the repainting of the auditorium, construction of a projection booth, wiring for sound and power, a new 5.1 commercial cinema audio system, screen frame and masking.
Theater-style seats were recently installed. Donations and private donors purchased the 186 seats, over the past year. LED lighting strips are being installed on the ceilings currently, with the project expected to be completed soon.
The last big-ticket item remaining for the remodel is the projector. A family donation of $16,000 should finish the renovations, according to Alex Sellers, one of the organizers who has been involved since the renovations began.
Input from interested parties were received as the scope of the project continued to grow over the past couple of years. A steering committee originally met to navigate the vision of the theater. Representatives from several different organizations, including Salem Arts Council, Cosmopolitan Club, and Salem Academy of Dance, were part of the process. Ray Walden, of the city of Salem; and A.J. Schafer, have also been instrumental in the success of the project, said Sellers.
Details are still in the works for movies to be shown at the theater. The primary concern and focus are offering entertainment that families can afford, with low cost tickets and concessions. The site will still serve as a venue for live events, recitals, plays and more. As seats were installed, space was intentionally left on the outer aisles for tables or chairs to be added, as necessary.
Other renovations could include carpeted aisles. Work in the concession area and ticket counter are some of the last steps to be completed.
City of Salem Parks and Recreation Director Melissa DuBois will schedule usage of the building for activities and events. Rental fees range from $125, for one to four hours, to $300 for a full day. Alcohol may be served for an additional rental fee. The theater will be another option for students to work part-time for the City of Salem Parks and Recreation department.
DuBois is looking forward to the musical production planned this spring by fifth grade students of Salem Upper Elementary.
“It’s a great use of the facility to keep the life flowing through its old bones,” said DuBois.
With updates to sound and the overall look and comfort of the auditorium, it is officially taking shape as Salem Civic Theater.
Donations to the Salem Civic Theater Fund are tax deductible and can be made online at cfozarks.org/dent.