Tonawanda News — The face of the Riviera Theatre and Performing Arts Center, the long-awaited and newly-refurbished marquee, was lifted in place Tuesday along Webster Street after an extensive project to modernize the vintage structure.
Following years of fundraising and months of work, crews will spend several days this week installing the finishing touches, including electrical work and an updated ceiling.
The marquee was removed from the theater in October and trucked to the Wagner Electric Sign Company in Ohio, where it was restored in a controlled environment.
The company spent months renovating the marquee’s original paint scheme — dating back to 1947 when it was first constructed and placed on the theater —as well as its rose and green neon lights, new wiring and metal restoration.
A new LED display panel will supplant the old-fashioned method of placing lettering by hand for upcoming shows, saving time among its volunteer ranks, and bringing a modern feel to the marquee just as theater officials push to appeal to younger patrons. The electronic lettering will mimic the look of the original marquee.
“It’s more efficient,” said Gary J. Rouleau, director of development at the theater, of the $285,000 marquee project. “We don’t have to have a ladder to set up the letters before every show.”
The project moved from concept to reality after several large state grants came through beginning in 2010, rounded out by smaller donations from the community and theater-goers.
“That really let the project take off,” Rouleau said, adding that about 90 percent of the marquee was kept in its original form and in line with the standards set by New York State Historic Preservation Office.
Much of the original marquee fell into disrepair since it was first erected in the 1940s at a cost of $14,000. Over the years, Rouleau said, it became consumed with rot and rust, with squirrels and birds routinely setting up nests and an electrical system that wasn’t up to par.