May 8, 2013

The Curtain Rises Again for the Culpeper State Theatre

  • By: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Written by Erica Stewart, Manager, Public Affairs

The State Theatre of Culpeper before and after renovation. Credits: LWPrencipe, Flickr; Ed Bednarczyk
The State Theatre of Culpeper before and after renovation

After sitting vacant for almost a decade, the 1938 Art Deco State Theatre of Culpeper, Va., is back in business.

For years, the theatre sat abandoned, coming perilously close to demolition before being purchased by Culpeper natives Greg and Liz Yates. At the time, there was a hole in the ceiling near the stage and the building was seriously dilapidated. But thanks to a committed group of community members, led by the State Theater Foundation, a $9.3 million historic rehabilitation has raised the curtain on the former vaudeville and movie house, revealing a gorgeous 560-seat live theatre.

The rehabilitation has restored key historic elements, including the beloved neon marquee, while also installing a $1 million state-of-the-art sound system, expanding the stage, and creating a 50-seat black box theater for smaller shows. The project also retained a segregated staircase that was once for black patrons.

Restored neon marquee at the State Theatre of Culpeper. Credit: Ed Bednarczyk
The neon marquee

With a year-round calendar of events, the State Theatre will bring new cultural events, economic development, and excitement to downtown Culpeper. Its entertainment and educational programming -- including national touring artists and local and regional theatre, dance, music and film -- will fill seats and help fuel the local economy. The project has already made a catalytic impact on downtown Culpeper, with a $3 million project by a private developer now underway to create a banquet hall that will complement the theatre’s programming.

To finance the project, the State Theatre Foundation, the theatre's nonprofit developer, used approximately $1.6 million in federal historic tax credits, a program that since its inception has contributed more than $106 billion to rehabilitate 38,700 vacant and underutilized historic spaces and create 2.3 million jobs. The foundation also used $1.6 million in Virginia state historic tax credits.

“This project simply wouldn’t have been possible without the federal historic tax credit,” said Ed Bednarczyk, executive director, The State Theatre Foundation. “The equity provided by this program made it possible for us to complete the financing. Without it, there’s a very strong possibility the theater would still be vacant, and a drag on Culpeper’s ongoing revitalization.”

Restored interior of the State Theatre. Credit: Ed Bednarczyk
Restored interior

John Leith-Tetrault, president of the National Trust Community Investment Corporation, the National Trust’s for-profit subsidiary and a tax credit investor in the project, added, “The State Theatre has all the ingredients of the type of project that the historic tax credit was designed to support: an iconic historic building, great community benefit, and a top-notch rehabilitation that would be difficult if not impossible to finance using only conventional sources. We are already seeing the important community revitalization impact of this project. The federal historic tax credit is an essential catalyst for keeping our historic downtowns vital and dynamic.”

The theatre kicked off its week-long grand opening celebration with a sold-out performance by Virginia native Bruce Hornsby on May 4 and will culminate with a Grand Opening Gala featuring Lyle Lovett and His Acoustic Group on May 11. And thanks to community support and historic tax credits, it will be celebrating for years to come, too.

We believe all Americans deserve to see their history in the places that surround us. As a nation, we have work to do to fill in the gaps of our cultural heritage.

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