Midwest marquee updates
Because the historic Midwest Theater marquee is important to so many people in our community and region, we at the theater want to be able to share progress updates on the project to restore the marquee to its full glory. History and new information will be posted below by date, with the most recent updates at the top of the page.
The Midwest Theater has started to raise funds towards this project to restore the iconic marquee, which will not only help to pay for the project, but will also help us to secure grants that require matching funds.
If you’d like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Midwest Marquee Fund, you can:
- send a check payable to Midwest Theater to PO Box 276, Scottsbluff NE 69363 (write “marquee” on the memo line)
- make a donation by credit card over the phone at 308-632-4311 or online (click here and choose “Midwest Marquee Fund” in the dropdown menu)
2019 – the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year
Blizzard on November 29-30, 2019
Strong blizzard winds caused metal fatigue and weld failure on one of the 73-year-old letters on the west side of the marquee. The letter “S” bent forward over the sidewalk. The letter has been patched and propped up as a temporary measure until a permanent fix can be made.
Hailstorms on August 15 and 16, 2019
Two severe storms dropped golf-ball-to-baseball-sized hail on Scottsbluff the afternoon of August 15th and early in the morning on the 16th. The hail broke the majority of the neon lettering in the marquee overhang and broke most of the accent neon on the overhang and the marquee tower. About 70% out of about 100 neon units were broken, and a sign company had to come out to remove the hazard of the dangling glass tubing. An unknown number of light bulbs in the “balls” on top of the marquee towers were also broken. Ever since that date, the Midwest Theater marquee has been completely dark, with the exception of the down-lights at the sidewalk. The hail also exacerbated weather-related paint damage on the marquee.
Fire on March 19, 2019
A small electrical fire inside the overhang of the marquee damaged part of a wooden support beam inside the structure. The accent neon on the marquee overhang has been dark since the fire. The cause of the fire was determined to be a combination of 1940s vintage electrical wiring and water from a leak in the marquee roof. Prior to the fire, there had been ongoing electrical problems with the marquee lighting, requiring sections of the marquee to remain shut off at various times until repairs could be completed. A replacement of the damaged wooden support beams and all the marquee junction boxes is needed, at minimum. The only access inside the marquee overhang is via a small panel on the underside, so an evaluation of the entirety of the support beams and electrical wiring would require cutting additional access points.
Ongoing maintenance problems
Over the past decade, several repairs have been made to the roof of the marquee overhang to stop water from leaking through. In 2018, a repair was made to stop water from running into the lobby every time it rained heavily. The marquee overhang was originally designed to drain water back towards the building, rather than allowing it to flow out onto the sidewalk, and over time, this drainage system has clogged and shifted to the point where it’s no longer functional. Currently, rain and snowmelt are running down the face of the building, causing accelerated corrosion of the poster display windows. The frames are becoming increasingly difficult to open and close, with the force required sometimes being enough to break the glass. The roof is at the point where contractors recommend, a minimum, a tear-off and replacement of the roof to remedy problems with sagging, which leads to standing water on the roof and exacerbates leaks. A big unknown is whether a roof tear-off would reveal additional structural problems. A further concern is the drainage pattern off the marquee overhang, and whether a change in the current slope could lead to ice buildup on the sidewalk and create a slip hazard.
2016 – Maintenance work
The new LED signs suffered weather damage and had to be replaced. Areas of peeling paint on the marquee were scraped and repainted. Because the two decorative scrolls on the west side of the marquee overhang were peeling badly due to the contraction and expansion of the underlying metal, they were covered with flexion-resistant alupanel, and the scroll design was recreated on the covering. The light bulbs in the spheres atop the marquee tower and the downlights that illuminate the sidewalk under the marquee overhang were replaced with LED bulbs.
2012 – Hail repair, signboard renovation
A June 2012 hailstorm broke a significant amount of neon tubing on the theater’s marquee, darkening the marquee for many months. Repair of the hail damage, including the broken neon, cost more than $16,000. While these repairs were completed, the old signboards on the north and south sides of the marquee were replaced with digital signs. No longer would volunteers have to climb up to change out letters in all weather!
2009 – Hail repair
A July 2009 hailstorm darkened the Midwest Theater marquee by breaking a significant amount of the glass neon tubing. Combined with paint damage, it cost about $13,000 to repair the marquee.
2002 – Midwest Theater grand re-lighting
The marque was restored at a basic level, receiving a new coat of paint and lighting repair. The grand re-lighting ceremony was a great celebration of the community-owned Midwest Theater that brought the historic glow of neon back to the downtown streetscape.
Mid-1990s – Midwest Theater in transition
The Midwest Theater closed as a commercial theater, the building was donated to the Oregon Trail Community Foundation, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Friends of the Midwest Theater developed as a nonprofit to restore and operate the theater. At that time, as now (the end of 2019), the ravages of high plains weather had broken out virtually all of the neon in the Midwest Theater marquee.
May 1, 1946 – the Midwest Theater opens
The theater’s most striking feature, as described in a 1946 newspaper article, “is the marquee with a stainless steel and aluminum tower extending 60’ above the entrance”. The 15’ wide tower is flanked by glazed masonry panels. The vertical center of the tower contains 132 aluminum stars and was backed by 68 spotlights operated by an electric flasher system. Extending from the top of the tower’s two aluminum poles are two stylized wings outlined with neon lights and two starburst spheres with flashing mercury bulbs. The lighted tower was designed to be seen at night for a radius of twenty miles.