GOSHEN — Something unexpected was unearthed soon after Goshen Theater renovations started last month, prompting a change in plans that has theater directors excited.

The first phase of the nearly $4 million renovation project at the theater, which involves installing an elevator and building new restrooms in the basement, started in mid-June. New water and sewer lines were also installed to accommodate the new restrooms.

Shortly after starting work underground, demolition crews uncovered the storefront of a shoe repair business in the northwest corner of the basement. The shop front includes intact windows and an empty door frame leading to a set of stairs that once went up to the sidewalk. 

The windows each have an advertisement in them for rebuilding shoes using Goodyear-brand soles and heels. The storefront was found behind another wall and the old staircase is underneath the existing interior stairs that lead to the basement.

Managing Director Amber Burgess said it’s exciting enough to see construction started, instead of just talking about it. But the unexpected find made her eager to see what else might be hiding behind the walls.

“I think one of the coolest parts about any construction project like this is you never really know what you’re gonna find, and it was only a couple days in where we found the windows for the storefront,” she said. “We’re excited about what we’re gonna find in other places as we demolish.”

Theater directors plan to change the layout of the women’s restroom to incorporate the storefront, possibly putting the sinks there and using the window frames to hold mirrors, according to Jerry Peters, theater technical director. The trade-off is that, because they found a load-bearing wall where they expected there to be nothing, they will lose about 40 square feet of space.

“We’re trying to preserve as much of that cool history stuff as we possibly can, as we find those things,” Burgess said. “The first thing, the first discussion when that got uncovered was, ‘OK, how are we gonna keep this and how are we gonna highlight these historical pieces in the building?’”

More roomy

Peters guessed the newer wall and staircase go back before a church took over the theater in the late 1980s. The theater was originally built in 1905, the same year Goodyear started making shoe repair products, and rebuilt in 1907 after a fire.

The foundation walls of the building visible in the basement are made of large stones set in cement, which Peters said are probably also original.  

In addition to tearing down some interior basement walls, workers had to break through parts of the concrete floor to make room for an elevator in the northeast corner and to install the new water and sewer pipes. The pipes connect to a water main out front instead of one along 5th Street, a 90 percent reduction in distance, which Peters said will provide better flow.

Besides the restrooms, the basement will hold a multipurpose room, storage space and a small conference room, he said.

Future renovations on the ground floor will include removing the walls that separate the central theater lobby from the retail spaces on either side. Peters said the extra room will be much better for hosting events. 

“Right now it’s just kind of like a cattle chute through here. It’s really difficult for crowd control and management,” he said. “It will allow us to have a box office area and have a separate entrance for the box office. It will also allow us to have the bar area a little more separated from the main lobby so that people can make use of the bar a little more easily without conflicting with the traffic flow in the main lobby.”

The concession stand is currently to the right when you walk into the lobby. Peters said it will be removed, leaving the archway above it to lead straight through to the southern retail area. 

A staircase under the archway will be widened to act as the main stairs down to the basement. On the opposite side, an archway will be built between the central lobby and the northern retail area, where the elevator will be. 

Laying the groundwork

Peters said they’re on schedule to have this phase of the work finished by the end February. 

“The theater will be back functioning by spring next year,” he said. “We’re already working on booking events in here, hopefully starting in March.”

Any changes planned for upper floors, such as the ballroom area, will be saved for phase two or three, he said. The timing of the next phase of renovations depends on funding.

“I don’t have an answer for that,” he said. “I’m hoping we can start the fundraising as soon as possible, but it all depends on many other things.” 

For Burgess, who has had to go to a neighboring business, coffee shop or library to find a quiet place to work in recent weeks, having the underground water and sewer lines finished was a milestone moment. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was progress.

“Everything’s going according to schedule,” she said. “It’s good to have that part of it finished, ‘cause that’s pretty labor-intensive. And not anything anybody’s obviously going to see, but so important. We’re laying important groundwork now.”

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