The Merced Theatre reopened its doors for the first time in years Saturday night, selling about 830 tickets to its gala celebration.
The iconic building now stands as the centerpiece for the city's downtown, which seems increasingly more vibrant.
"I think it means a lot for Merced," said Tom Frazier, who sits on the Merced Theatre Foundation board of directors. "Personally I'm going to bring myself, my wife, my kids, my grandkids. It's going to change downtown. It really is."
The theater, built in 1931, has been restored to its original state and can seat more than 1,000 people.
United Artists gutted the venue in 1978 and turned it into a four-plex cinema. But the city bought it back in 2002 for about $780,000."It's a historic theater," said Sarah Lim, the Merced County Courthouse Museum director and adviser to the theater foundation. "It will bring back a lot more rich culture, as well as history, performing arts. This is exactly what we need as a UC community."
An outdoor gala preceded two musical performances by the Preservation Big Band and pianist Tara Artemis Kamangar, who was accompanied by the Merced Symphony under the direction of Henrik Jul Hansen. Kamangar's father, retired orthopedic surgeon Art Kamangar, donated $1 million to the project. The Art Kamangar Center portion of the complex is named after him.
The mood was one of satisfaction and hope for Merced's future as some of the biggest names in Merced hobnobbed at the fully catered event.
"It really gives us our identity back," said Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin. "It actually gives us an anchor in downtown Merced. The peak where it says ‘Merced,' where you can see it from the freeway, really puts a stamp of identification here for not only the city of Merced but for the County of Merced. And it's long overdue."
Dave Long, local farmer and Merced Irrigation District board director, said the accomplishment made him proud to be a Mercedian.
"It's amazing to have this party tonight and have this theater back in its original state." he said. "It's a gemstone here. It'll attract people from all over, like the conductor for tonight's show who camefrom Sacramento. I mean, who else has a 1931 theater restored to its original state?"
Eric Dumars, the acting public defender, moved to Merced seven years ago. Recently Merced seems to be moving in the right direction and this latest accomplishment just proves that, he said. "It's a huge deal for Merced to have this venue. It's wonderful. I think it says good things about the future of the city. I think it says Merced is coming back and becoming a new and vibrant place."
Merced City Councilman Josh Pedrozo said, "I think it's awesome for the city of Merced. And I think it's going to bring a lot business and a lot of economic interest into the downtown area. We're really going to see some revitalization down here.
The project cost $14.4 million, a substantial portion of which was donated by local residents. The restoration process took more than five years.
Next Saturday, the Merced Theatre will be showcasing the Middle State Independent Comedy Film Festival 2012, which includes three movie starting at 1, 5 and 9 p.m.