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Nov 25, 2009 12:00 PM by WILLIAM JOHNSON

72-year-old Eunice movie theater to be restored

EUNICE, La. (AP) - The Queen Cinema, a downtown Eunice landmark since 1937, is getting a new lease on life thanks to a $10,000 matching grant from the Louisiana Main Street program.

"We are really excited. This is the biggest grant our Eunice Main Street program has ever received," said Joan McManus, Eunice's Main Street manager.

The award was presented earlier this month during Eunice's "November to Remember" celebration, an annual tribute to the state's 35 Main Street communities.

"This is really going to help," said Jude Guillory with the theater.

He said the grant will be pooled with other funds to generally spruce up the building. He will also use part of the money to purchase improved seating.

"They will be used seating. We are trying to stay authentic," Guillory said.

Each of the theater's auditoriums currently has 220 seats, but that will drop to about 170 when the renovation is complete.

"We are going to widen it out, make it more roomy, more comfortable," Guillory said.

The theater on North Walnut Street will probably close for repairs in March, and Guillory expects the work to take about four weeks.

"During the Lenten season it is kind of slow. This will give us a change to have everything complete before the beginning of the school year," Guillory said.

Leon Steele with the state Main Street program said the Queen is a perfect example of what the redevelopment incentive grants are all about.

"Our goal is to foster economic development in towns with traditional downtown main streets," Steele said. "We believe this project will have a tremendous economic impact."

Because of state budget cuts, the Main Street program only had $80,000 in incentive grants and this year received hundreds of proposals. Even so, Steele said this project was a standout.

"They know of only one other downtown theater that still shows first run movies. They just fell in love with it," McManus said of the independent review panel that selected this year's winners.

Steele said the building needs work but still maintains its traditional charm, a charm that helps make Eunice the vibrant community it is.

"Anyone from the Eunice area probably has a multigenerational attachment to this theater. Their grandparent went there, they went as children and today they are taking their own children to the same theater," Steele said.

Guillory agreed, pointing out he and his wife had their first date at the Queen. He said opportunities for people to socialize are few and far apart these days and the Queen remains one such location.

"The citizens of Eunice and the surrounding area need a place to spend quality time with their children to make memories that will last a lifetime," said Guillory, who tries to feature only family friendly features at the theater.

Steele said there was a time when almost every community in the nation had its own version of "Main Street," a thriving center for business that was also the hub of the community's social and cultural life.

But with the growth of super highways and the coming of big-box stores, many of these city centers have faded, often leaving behind rows of empty storefronts which depress the value of neighboring businesses and communities as a whole.

Lost are not only local shops and jobs, but also often the civic life of a community.

The Louisiana Main Street program, part of the state Office of Cultural and Historic Preservation, is fighting hard to reverse the trend.

While the grants are probably the best known tools in the Main Street arsenal, Steele said the program also offers help in many others areas, including free planning and architectural assistance to help local communities develop a blueprint for economic revitalization.

"Our services are available at no charge to individual merchants and commercial property owners located within the boundaries of the state's 35 designated Main Street districts," Steele said.


(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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