Merced Theatre's restoration is nearly complete

A sea of 1,100 red and red-and-gold floral-patterned seats spreads over the interior. The light fixtures, chandeliers and exit signs -- all reds, yellows and greens -- have been reproduced. The castle facade inside the Merced Theatre on Main Street rises on each side of the seats with a gray, stormy sky painted overhead.

Restoration of the theater will be done by Feb. 1. It then will be the largest venue in the county.

All that's left to do is production lighting, stage curtains and the outside marquee, according to Joshua Ewen, development associate.

Eventually, the 30,000- to 40,000-square-foot space will hold movies, speakers, lectures and bands, Ewen said.

"It's been a benefit for the whole community," Ewen said Tuesday afternoon as he toured the theater. For example, the subcontractors working on the restoration are from Merced.

A mural in the lobby is almost the same as the one hanging in the Golden State Theatre in Monterey. It's not known exactly what the mural shows -- either Christopher Columbus discovering the Americas or Spanish explorers discovering the California coast, according to Ewen. However, the theater in Monterey has one less crest in its mural.

The $14.4 million project includes $8.3 million in construction costs, according to city officials. Most of the funds for the project are coming from tax credits, with a $1.7 million donation from the Merced Theatre Foundation.

"Everything is brand new -- the heating, plumbing, air," Ewen said.

Even if a theatergoer sits in the farthest seat on the top level, the person still will be able to see the stage below and hear the performance.

"The acoustics are great, the way we mimic the facade, mimic the original intention for sound," Ewen said.

When it opened in 1931, the building's interior looked like the inside of a Spanish courtyard with a machine that projected clouds onto the ceiling. In 1978, the theater's interior was ripped out and it was turned into a multiplex.

The theater will be run by the Merced Theatre Foundation after restoration is complete.

There will be a gala April 21, with a walk-through to show the community and donors how the past has been recaptured or improved.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.