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New roof to help stabilize historic Indy theater

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The Rivoli Theatre, the huge, historic, decrepit movie theater on Indianapolis' near-east side, is getting a new roof and with it, new hope.

The building, at 3155 E. 10th Street, has been vacant since 1992 and is in an advanced state of disrepair. But a new roof will stabilize it, staving off further deterioration and, the building's backers hope, be the first step in revitalizing what was once the neighborhood's crown jewel.

Work has begun on the new roof, which will cover only the auditorium and stage areas, not the entire building, The Indianapolis Star reported. The job was supposed to have begun in March but was delayed by unforeseen structural problems and the need for more cash, said James Kelly, board president of the Rivoli Center for the Performing Arts Inc., the not-for-profit that owns the building.

Since early in the year, the group has had in hand a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant, federal money via the city. It was thought to be enough to cover expenses. But another $40,000 was needed, and that has now arrived via a loan from Indiana Landmarks, the historic preservation group.

A legal battle regarding ownership also slowed preservation efforts.

The storied Rivoli is considered a linchpin in the effort to revitalize the area. It was built in 1927 as an enormous and fancy single-screen movie house by Universal Pictures, with 1,500 seats, but now would be re-purposed into an arts-themed community center that would focus on youth and education. Plans for the Rivoli's future use are still vague. The focus for now is bricks-and-mortar.

With its fantastical architecture by Henry Ziegler Dietz, the Rivoli has for years been in the sights of local would-be preservationists. But after decades of deferred maintenance — the theater's interior looks like post-World War II Europe — that task has proved too daunting. There's been no progress.

But now there's progress. "It's really happening," said Kelly, who grew up in the neighborhood and attended movies and concerts at the Rivoli. "The train is pulling out of the station."

A long, difficult journey lies ahead, however. Kelly estimated it would take $5 million to rehab the building. His group so far has amassed just $10,000.

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  • Is it really worth it?
    I'd love to see the Rivoli restored, simply from a preservationist standpoint and an anchor to a once vibrant area's history. But at this point, is it really worth it? There have been several announcements over the last 20 years or so that it was going to be rehabbed, but not much, if anything has been done in that time.

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