Venerable theater survives century of challenges

Posted 10/29/20

As it has for a century, the Select Theater in downtown Mineola is a beacon that lights up the night sky.

And even more so now following recent repairs to the iconic spire-topped marquee.

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Venerable theater survives century of challenges


As it has for a century, the Select Theater in downtown Mineola is a beacon that lights up the night sky.

And even more so now following recent repairs to the iconic spire-topped marquee.

The impact of COVID-19 has been a double whammy for the historic venue.

Not only did it have to shut down along with many other businesses last March and then reopen at limited capacity, its key consumer products – plays, movies and concerts – were hit hard.

As president of the non-profit board that operates the theater, Jeff Hurley pointed out, there are no new movies coming out of Hollywood.

A number of planned blockbusters have been delayed until maybe December or sometime in 2021.

Rehearsals had to be suspended for the Lake Country Playhouse and the Lake Country Symphony due to restrictions on the number of people who could gather.

The impact of those restrictions left the theater without the funds normally used throughout the course of the year to take care of maintenance items.

Sales of tickets and concessions typically fund the day-to-day maintenance and upkeep.

But when that income dried up, so did the ability to tackle some projects.

Hurley noted that the Meredith Foundation is a huge benefactor of the theater, but that money is targeted for other things.

The theater was able to take care of some items, such as fixing parts of the ceiling that had been damaged when the roof leaked – it was repaired last year – shampooing carpet and such.

But then a group of photographers from West Texas came through, and in perusing their work, Hurley realized there were lights out and other needs for the marquee such as painting and metal repair.

So the board decided to start a GoFundMe campaign, and the people of the Mineola area came through in a big way, raising more than $6,000 in a short time.

The biggest project was repairs to the neon, which requires a specialized service – a new “L” had to be fashioned.

The Lake Country Playhouse sign atop the building was lit with fluorescent bulbs which had to be replaced with LEDs.

Once a lift was brought in to do the work, it was discovered that the top of the marquee is actually a roof which needed extensive repairs.

Signs in the lobby, such as those marking the restrooms, hadn’t operated in years and were also upgraded with modern lighting technology.

In the mean time the theater had to shift its focus after reopening in June, since there were no new movies to show.

That meant turning movies into events, such as a series of horror movies and concentration on classic movies from the 1980s.

Hurley says he tries to be at the theater as often as possible to greet patrons and has been amazed at the number of first-timers at the theater – usually five to 15 for a total crowd of 60 to 70.

Parents or grandparents are bringing children, some of whom are seeing movies in a theater for the first time.

“There’s nothing like seeing those movies on a big screen in a theater,” he said.

November was supposed to mark a huge celebration for the theater’s centennial. But those plans had to be delayed.

So next year, Hurley said, they hope to be able to celebrate surviving 2020.

Since it opened in 1920, the theater has never closed. It survived the Great Depression, World War Two, turmoil of the 1960s, 9-11 and much more. (When it opened, the last pandemic, the Spanish flu, was winding down.)

“Movies have traditionally been the way we survive them,” Hurley said, “to escape for awhile.”

COVID-19 is just one more thing that the theater has survived (rumors to the contrary, the Select has no plans to close).

Instead it will celebrate its first 100 years with the notion that it will survive another 100 years, and the children of today’s movie goers, and their children and their children’s children can continue to enjoy it, Hurley explained.

As for the near term, the Lake Country Symphony plans to resume next month, albeit at the Mineola Civic Center where patrons can have more room to spread out, and plays are being planned for 2021.

In the mean time, the theater remains open for business with a variety of special movie events.

And adequate safety protocols are in place, from cleaning between every showing, to masks for staff (and required for customers while not seated for the show) and electronic fogging of every surface between shows.

“It is spotlessly clean,” Hurley said.

The theater operates as a non-profit 501(c)3 and accepts tax-deductible donations as well as the tremendous support it receives from patrons of the movies, plays and concerts.