410 South Main Street,
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Local Elkhart businessman Harry E. Lerner had "a theatrical palace" built in 1923, and named it the Lerner Theatre. It had its grand opening a year later on November 24, 1924.
Built in an Adamesque style, its facade featured four two-story tall Ionic columns with three large arches in between. The palasters to each side are in a Renaissance Doric style.
The classical theme was continued inside, with ornate multicolored inlaid marble floors on the main lobby and lounge floors. The auditorium, with its domed ceiling, huge chandelier and balcony, resembled a European opera house of the 19th Century. Its large stage and proscenium arch were decorated with gilded plasterwork and the seats covered in deep red upholstery.
The Lerner Theatre originally featured mixed programs of vaudeville, film and its house orchestra, and was instantly a success, playing to packed houses and hailed as the city’s finest theater.
In 1931, the Lerner Theatre was taken over by Warner Brothers, who operated it for just a couple years under the name the Warner Theatre. It was during this time that the theater received a spectacular new marquee – a huge vertical marquee spelling out the theater’s name in bold letters which could be seen up and down Main Street.
The Warner Theatre was leased to the Illinois-Indiana Theater Company in 1934, the same year it was renamed the Elco Theatre, after a county-wide contest.
Manta & Rose Theaters acquired the Elco Theatre in 1940 and operated the theatre for another twenty years. It was during this time that a new, Streamline marquee was added with the new name (the old vertical marquee was taken down). The interior also received a modernization, including concession stands in the lobby.
From 1961 until it was closed in 1987, the Elco Theatre was run by William Miller and his family.
In 1990, the theater was purchased from the Miller family by a non-profit group called Premier Arts with the intention of restoring the Elco Theatre for use as a performing arts venue.
However, by the mid-1990’s, the city of Elkhart became involved and with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts beginning in 1996, restoration work began in earnest, returning the grand old theater to its 1920’s splendor. In 1997, the Elco Commission for the Performing Arts was created.
Since then, restoration work has been ongoing, while at the same time the Elco Performing Arts Center now hosts a wide variety of performing arts on its stage year-round. New generations can now appreciate this historic and beautiful theater as generations did before.
Further renovation was begun in 2010, with completion expected in 2011. The theatre has now reverted back to its original Lerner Theatre name.
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