Legacies of the Monon Theatre
On Thursday, October 12th, the Monon Civic Preservation Society hosted its third BYOC-Bring Your Own Chair- Concert. The concert series has been a new effort to raise awareness and excitement for the restoration of the Monon Theatre. Little did the guests know that just about every individual who took the stage that evening had special ties to the historic theatre, making it a legacy night to remember!
Originally known as the Howard Theatre, this staple in downtown Monon was once a bustling hub for entertainment, curiosities, and storytelling. Performers of all kinds have taken the stage: world-renowned figure skater, Belita; dozens of Vaudeville acts; the radio comedy act, the Great Gildersleeve; plus, so much more.
With this free concert series hosted by MCPS, newfound life is blossoming in what once stood for many years, a vacant space.
One performer on that October evening, 9-year-old Stella Milton, was particularly excited to be a part of the concert series. Not only was it an opportunity to share music with the community, but it was an opportunity to stand on the same stage that her ancestors once stood. In fact, Stella’s great-great grandparents Art and Stella Howard built and then ran the Howard Theatre during the 1950s. Originally, the building was an automobile garage, but the Howard family envisioned and successfully created a space where folks from around the country could make a special stop off the Monon Railroad to be entertained.
Stella was not the only one with family connections to the theatre that night. Acoustic performer Kyle Baer considers the theatre an extension of his childhood. If you know where to look, you might still find the wooden board where Kyle’s grandparents, Gary and Lexi Baer tracked his height as a young boy. The Baers were the last family to run the theatre before the MCPS took over ownership.
Frankie Rupe and students from his guitar school, known as the Blues Berry Bones, also took the stage Thursday night. Originally from Monon, Frankie grew up only steps away from the theatre and remembers watching Star Wars there on the big screen when it first came out. As he’s dedicated his life to sharing the joys of music with students, Frankie recognizes his humble beginnings in Monon—his first guitar lesson as a young boy took place right across the street and was taught by Julie Gutwein’s son.
Since obtaining ownership of the building many years ago, MCPS has been leading fundraising efforts to restore this precious piece of history, keeping its important legacy alive. While the theatre is not yet fully functioning, several restoration projects have already taken place: windows upstairs have been replaced, a new installation of drain tile has been laid, a beautiful new marquee dons the façade, declaring to all of downtown, “Exciting things are taking place here!”
The Community Foundation of White County has been proud to partner with MCPS throughout the restoration process of the Monon Theatre. CFWC grants have supported the ticket booth restoration, new entrance doors, the lighted showcase for the marquee, and have provided general support to ongoing efforts.
MCPS continues to raise restoration funds through diverse efforts such as the BYOC concert series, grant writing, Adopt-A-Seat fundraiser, and more. To get connected to the restoration project or to learn more about MCPS, check out their new website at www.mononpreservation.org.