April 19, 2013

AUDIO SLIDESHOW: Return to splendor - Merced Theatre celebrates first year since reopening

The restored Merced Theater will celebrate its one-year anniversary on Sunday with an open house and tours of the facility that's free to the public.

The open house is from 2 to 5 p.m. Members of the foundation board will be on hand to answer questions.

Since the theater opened a year ago, the venue has hosted 25 major events and about 18,000 patrons. The facility has been used for two weddings, a high school graduation, five school performances, and has shown dozens of movies.

There have been performances by the New Shanghai Circus, comedian Brad Williams, the Merced Symphony fall concert, a Johnny Cash tribute concert featuring James Garner, the Pacific Boys Choir, funk band Fishbone and more.

The 1,187-seat theater has booked dates into next year.

The annual budget for the theater runs about $300,000. About $50,000 comes from donations, with the balance being made up by ticket sales, concessions and revenue from renting the facility.

The theater was built in 1931. United Artists gutted the venue in 1978 and turned it into a fourplex cinema. The city bought it in 2002 for about $780,000.

The renovation project cost $14.4 million, which included $8.3 million in construction costs. Retired orthopedic surgeon Art Kamangar donated $1 million to the project.

Most of the money for the project came from a combination of tax credits, loans, federal, state and city dollars and local donations, according to Elaine Post, the city's development manager. The Merced Theatre Foundation donated $1.7 million.

The theater's lighted "Merced" sign, easily visible from Highway 99, is a landmark that's considered by many to be a symbol of downtown's revitalization.

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