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Columbia Theatre's 90th birthday party is Tuesday

By Mason Blanford mblanford@paducahsun.com

For advocates of Columbia Theatre's revival, Tuesday evening will be a chance to celebrate its past while helping secure its future.

The Columbia Theatre Birthday Bash, marking the 90th anniversary of its 1927 grand opening, will begin at 6 p.m. at Hotel 1857 in downtown Paducah. Admittance is free.

The event includes light fare and a cash bar, where the Columbia Theatre Restoration Board will discuss plans for the theatre and recent progress made. Future programming and the cinema's potential economic benefit for the Paducah area also will be addressed.

Afterward, guests are invited to Maiden Alley Cinema for a 7:30 p.m. showing of the first-ever film screened at the Columbia. The silent romantic comedy "It" -- featuring Clara Bow and Antonio Morena -- tells the story of a shop girl vying for the attention of her boss at a department store where she works.

The night will be another milestone in the efforts of locals to restore the Columbia to its former grandeur.

As one of the endeavor's strongest supporters, Maiden Alley Cinema Executive Director Landee Bryant-Greene said an opening date for the historic theatre can only be speculated at this point.

"I think when you are working on something this grand, you always want it to happen quicker than it does," said Bryant-Greene, who is also executive director of the Paducah Art House Alliance. "But there is something to be said for diligence, humility and patience when a project of this magnitude is being pursued."

As another beacon of tourism in downtown Paducah, the Columbia's re-emergence as a three-screen art house cinema would give Maiden Alley Cinema a sister theatre to operate under the Paducah Art House Alliance Board. Together, the two theatres would function in tandem to provide a wider array of programming and community events.

But keeping the building safe from the elements is a more immediate priority.

The board hopes to hear back soon on its Brownfield Clean Up Grant application. The funds would aid in lead paint abatement and other environmental issues, like weatherizing the Columbia's exterior.

Originally the restoration project was priced at about $8 million.

"That figure included hard and soft costs when it was quoted," she said. "We are now in a more intensive process to garner true cost estimates. The final decisions will be dependent on the generosity of community partners."

Bryant-Greene thanked the diligent efforts of the Paducah Art House Alliance board of directors.

"We are all proud of the progress we have made and are committed to seeing this through to the end," she said.

The Columbia's Birthday Bash will feature the introduction of the Marquee Club -- a giving program for charter members who make a contribution of $1,000 or more. Perks include priority updates on restorations made, and the gift of a limited-edition Golden Ticket modeled from the original tickets given on the Columbia's opening night.

Seating is limited. RSVP to marybbrown52@comcast.net.

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