A portion of Main Street in Woodward will shut down on Thursday, May 2 as onlookers gather for a spectacle not seen in over 20 years.
In November of 1947 the entire town turned out to celebrate the installation of the “newest thing” in signs as glowing neon brightened the night sky from the Woodward Arts Theatre. The new marquee brightened more than the sky at the time as it helped lift the spirits of a grieving community after the historic tornado ripped through the town and their lives in April of that year, according to Woodward Arts Theatre Council Director Laurie Steenbergen.
“The April Tornado had ripped the original non-neon marquee off the 1929 Woodward Arts Theatre Building. While there was very little damage to the theatre itself, the sign had been bent around and was unusable,” Steenbergen shared. “The theatre's story was one of great hope during the tornado, as there were no casualties of anyone in the building.”
The marquee restoration project began under the direction of Steenbergen in 2017, beginning with a GoFundMe, speaking at clubs for fundraising, and applying for grants. The marquee project was met with a lot of enthusiasm. Steenbergen said it seemed like a way to help people remember the majestic, beautiful, and most importantly, the cultural significance of the building.
“It is a key time in the life of this building and the marquee,” Steenbergen expressed. “It is quite an undertaking.”
With the nearly 100-year-old building, Steenbergen and the council are always running into things that are needing to be fixed, sometimes making fundraising a challenge.
“The magic got rolling at a speaking engagement, when I was sharing the need for a matching donor and just praying some group would come forward. An amazing local attorney stepped forward and offered a matching grant for up to half of the funds needed,” Steenbergen said. “Then the Class of 1967 gave a donation and many of their class gave. Then a $10,000 grant from the amazing Cherokee Strip Community Foundation.”
Steenbergen said she is excited to see some of what the community can do with the marquee as well as for the theatre. She’s also looking forward to seeing the benefits this great source of lighting will have on the busy district of downtown Woodward.
“So many studies show the difference lighting makes in vandalism and other crime in downtown areas,” Steenbergen said. “The ramifications of this restoration are beneficial to the city, the businesses in the area, property owners and really all of the community.”
Main Street will be closed from 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. for the 20-minute relighting ceremony.