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Volunteer works nearly 1,000 hours to restore Rexburg theater


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REXBURG– The pleated red curtains and the way they moved across the stage was one of the first memories Bill Hall had about the theater.

“I was always the strange little boy growing up,” Hall says.

As a young boy in Idaho Falls, his mom would take him to the Paramount Theater and he was always enamored by the interior design of the theaters themselves.

“All the other kids were watching the movie, but I was looking at how the curtains went up and opened and how the drapes hung, and I enjoyed the theater,” Hall says.

That love of theaters stayed with him into adulthood and was a catalyst that moved him to volunteer his talents to beautify Rexburg’s Romance Theater after seeing a production there several years ago.

Bill Hall says the gold leaf is thinner than paper. | Natalia Hepworth,

“It was amazing to see the transformation, and being able to see it come back to life– that’s really the exciting part for me,” City of Rexburg’s Cultural Arts Director Jackie Rawlins says.

Over the last two years, Hall has spent more than 900 volunteer hours alone gold leafing and painting details inside the Romance, something he had hardly any experience in.

After coordination with Rawlins, Hall picked up where those before him had left off. Their goal was to eliminate all of the theater’s white space, so the focus could remain on the stage. Rawlins says she had confidence Hall would stay true to the vision to restore the 1930’s Deco style and do a quality job.

“We wanted to bring the paint and the seats up to date and have a touch of a modern feel, but go back to the era of the actual theater. Gary Benson was one of the original people that started that around the stage,” Rawlins says.

Details on the theater walls after the gold leafing process | Natalia Hepworth,

The Romance Theater first opened in 1917 and featured silent movies and vaudeville acts, and in 1935 began showing movies with dialogue. The theater was unfortunately hit by the Teton Dam Flood in 1976 and lost much of its memorabilia. The theater still has scars within its walls from the flood over 40 years ago. Following the disaster, the theater was sold and renamed the Westwood. In 2005 the city of Rexburg acquired the Westwood and restored its original name back to the Romance Theater.

Soon after, Brigham Young University-Idaho’s theater faculty member Gary Benson started beautifying the Romance by completing the stage’s proscenium arch. Hall drew inspiration from the ornate piece and wanted to continue the gold leafing throughout the room.

Hall says when he first came to the theater, the vibrant colors of the proscenium caught his eye.

“I noticed all the gold and copper leaf in it, so I was really taken in, but everything else in here was white,” Hall says. “I said, ‘So when are they going to finish it?'”

Gold leafed medallions on the ceiling of the theater | Natalia Hepworth,

Hall began organizing a color scheme that matched the theater’s original paint. He was passionate about keeping the vintage look and even used casein paint, a water-based paint on the theater’s original walls.

For months, scaffolding was moved from spot to spot while Hall single-handedly gold leafed eight medallions and other infrastructure on the ceiling.

“Thousands of sheets of gold, copper and silver leaf in here,” Hall says.

Hall says 80 percent of the time he was gold leafing and the other 20 percent he was painting.

During the leafing process, an adhesive is brushed onto the surface, then pieces of leafing are gently applied. After that, a seal coat is added. This process is way more tedious than painting alone.

Romance Theater before | Courtesy Bill Hall

“If you held a sheet of gold leaf in your hand, just the slightest breeze would take it away,” Hall says while blowing in his hand. “It’s just thin. It comes in 6-by-6 sheets.”

Rawlins says she appreciates the City of Rexburg supporting the arts and setting aside the funds to restore the old building. She said the gold leafing was an affordable project.

“When people come in here and they look up, we want them to understand that, that is not painted. That is truly gold, silver, and copper leafing, and someone took the time and effort to do that to make it as beautiful as it is,” Rawlins says.

Bill Hall’s scaffolding set up during the gold leafing stages. | Courtesy Bill Hall

Although the seating was upholstered this year along with the new gold leafing work and painting, Rawlins says there are some final touches to be made in the Romance. Restoration in the basement and lobby will be completed in the upcoming months. Hall is happy to help finish the final touches.

“You need to always appreciate things that are old … and how much beauty there is in some of the old Deco style buildings,” Hall says. “We need to preserve and protect what we have.”

Romance Theater before | Courtesy Bill Hall

Romance Theater before | Courtesy Bill Hall