BY ADAM KENT-ISAAC
The 85-year-old Tivoli Theatre in downtown Spencer has seen some dark days. Closed in 1999, the historic building languished in disrepair for 13 years. Now, thanks to the efforts of a local preservation organization and the support of the Cook Group, it had it’s grand reopening in April and has returned to its former glory.
“I remember going to the theater when I was a kid in the nineties,” says Kathy Cook (no relation to the Cook Group), who helped lead the restoration effort. “At that point it had been through fires, and a lot of the elaborate decoration was gone…. It wasn’t a grand movie palace anymore by any means. But seeing it come back to life has been incredible.”
The Tivoli was built by sculptor E.M. Viquesney, a Spencer native famous in his own right for originating The Spirit of the American Doughboy, a statue honoring the troops of the First World War that graces many courthouse lawns nationwide. Designed by architect Horam Callander Jr. in a Spanish Mission Revival style, the Tivoli opened its doors on New Year’s Eve 1928.
Originally a silent-movie house, its heyday was the 1940s and ’50s, Cook says, and it remained a popular attraction for the residents of Spencer and surrounding areas for decades to come. Its decline began in the 1980s after several fires occurred, and “it was hard for business to bounce back,” says Cook. “When VCRs became popular, people stopped coming.”
A movement to resurrect the Tivoli began in 2005. In 2006, Cook, then 18 years old, founded the nonprofit Community Renaissance, Inc., along with Ryan Bruce and Dax Norton, with the singular aim of restoring the theater. They partnered with Owen County Preservation Inc. and the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana (renamed Indiana Landmarks in 2010) to purchase the building, but the project stalled until the Cook Group agreed to finance its redevelopment in April 2012.
“Once the Cook Group stepped forward, people just came out of the woodwork volun-teering for the project, and it’s snowballed since then,” says Cook.
As Spencer does not have a modern multiscreen complex, the classic Tivoli is the city’s sole movie theater. New releases are shown. Cook and the other project organizers also hope the reopening will help revitalize the downtown.