Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Eagles Theatre

Indiana Landmarks was founded in 1960 to preserve significant buildings in Indiana. The organization has grown and is one of the finest state-run organizations in our county. The main office is in Indianapolis, and there are eight satellite offices.

We are so fortunate to be under the umbrella of Indiana Landmarks for our own Historic Preservation Commission which is volunteer driven. I have been a part of this commission for many years seeking to improve and maintain our beautiful downtown.

Indiana Landmarks partnered with Storytelling Arts of Indiana to not only preserve structures, but to preserve the stories within the buildings. This program is called “If These Walls Could Talk.”

In 2007 Indiana Landmarks inaugurated the Cook Cup to be given to, “the owner who follows the highest standards of restoration in transforming a significant historic building, with positive impact on the neighborhood or community.” This prestigious award is given once a year with a presentation of an engraved silver cup and much fanfare.

Over the years, Indiana Landmarks has carefully chosen the winner, and at times the competition was quite active! Once the Cook Cup has been announced, the search also goes out to a storyteller to write and tell the story of the building! I have been so fortunate to have been awarded these story opportunities over the years. I have researched and told stories of the Charley Creek Inn in Wabash, the Bass Mansion in Fort Wayne, and the Shrewsbury House in Madison. These presentations have been a complete labor of love for me with on-site visits, hours spent sifting and sorting through boxes, and much on-line research through As a storyteller, I am given complete artistic freedom to research and write these stories. I am honored to work on these projects, and very humbled to spend the hours and days in trying to actually tell the stories. Once in a while, folks have lived in these structures so I can tell the story through their eyes.

This year the Cook Cup was given to The Eagles Theatre in Wabash for their massive restoration through the Honeywell Center. I am honored to research and tell the story of the Eagles Theatre. Upon my first on-site visit to Wabash, I spent the day with Cathy Gatchel, the Chief Development Officer for Honeywell, Arts and Entertainment. Cathy spent the full day with me touring the theatre including all the nooks and crannies. My favorite part of this marvelous tour was the stage floor which was original to 1906. Cathy said they debated long and hard whether or not to replace the floor, but in the end, it was saved. Walking across that floor I could hear the echo of the thousands of folks who danced, who sang, who lectured across those wooden floors. I knew then the stage floor would be the focus of my story.

The Honeywell Foundation purchased the Eagles Theatre in 2010 to help save and preserve this historic movie theatre. When the purchase was made, the theatre was in great disrepair. The upper floors were closed. The heating and air conditioning did not work properly. The balcony was closed for safety. It was then they decided on the restoration project in the amount of 16 million dollars, and it is spectacular.

It now operates as a movie theatre, a Media Arts program for high school students, offices, meeting rooms, classroom and balcony suites. The theatre is open for business every night showing the newest (and oldest) films available!

At the end of the day, I walked across the street to the Charley Creek Inn, one of my favorite places to stay! The staff knew I was coming to research once again, and I was given a room which looked out onto the Eagles Theatre marquee. With darkness coming early in December, my room was lit with the colorful marquee. I had dinner in the Cole Porter room and headed back over to the Eagles Theatre for the evening movie. As I crossed the street, snow was coming down, the Christmas lights of the city were vibrant. I felt as if I, too, were in a movie such as “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

My story premieres in Indianapolis at the end of March. With special thanks to Indiana Landmarks and Storytelling Arts of Indiana, and the Honeywell Foundation, I will take the stage and tell the stories. Come on down, be part of our Indiana history, and find out who did dance on that stage!

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