ENID, Okla. — Over the past 100 years, the building now known as Gaslight Theatre has worn many faces.
First coined the Palace on the Prairie, the building now at 221 N. Independence was first home to the Billings Theater. According to Gaslight Theatre’s website, Walter Billings purchased the land in 1920 after telling his mother, Etta Billings, about his plans in 1919.
The Billings Theater opened Feb. 22, 1921, with the first show being Cecil B. DeMille’s “Forbidden Fruit,” according to the theater. The building would later be home to The Criterion Theater, opening in Jan. 24, 1924; the Chief Theater, in 1945; The Cinema Twin, in March 1979; and finally Gaslight Theatre in September 1991.
Now, Gaslight board members are unveiling a campaign to bring back some vintage flair to the theater, as well as modernize the interior.
The board’s goal is to raise $1 million to renovate the theater “from front to back,” said Tiffany Harvey, Gaslight board member and Revival Campaign chair.
That’ll include both the main theater and Turpin inside, as well as the marquee, seats, lobby, concessions, bathrooms, dressing room and green room.
Harvey said she’s particularly excited about the outside look.
“The whole scheme is going to be kind of a contemporary art deco, so we’re going to try to take the building back into the style of the 1920s when it was built,” she said.
Harvey said the outside will feature vertical signage and lighting, reminiscent of what the building looked like when it was the Chief Theater. But there also will be a digital marquee, signifying the blending of new and old.
The seats in the auditorium will be refurbished, Harvey said, and then placed back in the same spot.
Kevin Boryczki, general manager of Stride Bank Center and president of the board, said he is looking forward to the overall fresher look upon completion of the project.
“I think a big part of what ... the renovation is going to do from the outside is kind of take the building back to its roots,” Boryczki said. “I think some of the architectural stuff they’re bringing into it is going to be very similar to the look and feel of when the building was originally built,” while inside will be more modern in style and atmosphere.
Harvey said Gaslight actually started the campaign at the end of 2019, with the original goal being completing the construction this year. But, as with many other people and organizations, COVID-19 had an effect on those plans.
Gaslight renovations now will occur in phases, Harvey said, starting with revealing the new look of the Turpin on Friday at April First Friday.
“Our first phase is going to be raising the funds to do the facade of the main theater along with the marquee,” she said.
Charlet Ringwald, president-elect of the Gaslight Theatre board, also is looking forward to mixing the new and old aspects of the theater.
“We can’t completely go back to how the theater was even back when it was the Chief or things like that ... but being able to bring back the old glory to the building is really important,” Ringwald said.
Ringwald said she’s been participating in Gaslight since she was 15, and will also appreciate refurbishments to some of the interior areas, like backstage and downstairs portions.
The Gaslight board is currently looking for support for the campaign. One option for that is a $1,000 donation, which can be contributed in installments of $50 per month. Other levels of contribution can be viewed on the Gaslight: The Revival project website, gaslighttheatre.org/the-revival.html.
On Friday, Gaslight will celebrate 100 years of the Palace on the Prairie with music and entertainment, improv comedy, birthday cupcakes, a cash bar and a “special announcement.” Activities will occur during First Friday, 6-9 p.m.
There is an option at gaslighttheatre.org to live-stream the event for $5.
“We’re trying to put back into the theater what it’s given us,” Harvey said.
“For a lot of people it’s a safe space, a second home ... (We want to) give the community something to be proud of.”