Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Mayan Influence in Virginia?

Named for Gen. Francis "The Swamp Fox" Marion of Revolutionary War fame, the city of Marion, VA, was in need of a facelift by the late 1990s. It was in danger of falling further behind the development of Wytheville to the east and Abingdon to the west, both of which had established a community college in their towns. All three towns had lost business due to the construction of I-81, but Marion's 6000 residents did not have a Plan B to institute.

Enter some creative town leaders with an ambitious plan. The "Streetscape" plan called for the "restoration of Main Street to its 1940s visage, with new streetlamps, fresh sidewalks, and shade trees" (Joe Tennis, Southwest Virginia Crossroads).

We had come to Marion to tour the Liberty Theater, which we learned, in the course of our visit, is one part of the "Streetscape" project. We'll talk about the overall progress of the "Streetscape" project another day.

Chalres C. Lincoln, Sr., owner of the town's furniture factory, wanted to follow his decision to build the General Francis Marion Hotel with a theater modeled after one he had seen in Atlantic City. Opening in 1929, the Lincoln Theater with its Art Deco interior, was designed to evoke images of an ancient Mayan temple. The photo (above) shows one of the figures on the wall.

The theater operated for 44 years before falling attendance led to its closing. Between the late 70s and the late 90s, pigeons, debris, and rain entered the theater through holes in the roof. Restoration efforts began in the late 1990s with hundreds of volunteers aiding in the structural and decorative reconstruction. The six murals, which had been painted on canvas by a local artist for $50 each, was restored at a cost of over $25,000 each.

The 500-seat theater re-opened in 2004, and the theater looks grand.

It was interesting to see the Mayan decorative artwork surrounding murals depicting Christopher Columbus landing on the shores of America, the British surrendering to Washington, Daniel Boone blazing trails, Robert E. Lee reviewing the troops, and two mountain scenes.

The last two photos show close-ups of the artwork. I was trying to imagine how the scaffolding was set up to complete the work on the walls and ceiling.

It must have been exciting to be with the visionaries who looked at the debris-filled space and saw this magnificent theater. Today, the Lincoln Theater is one of only three existing Art Deco Mayan Revival theaters.

It's a treasure.