Not-for-profit buys endangered Vincennes theater

A historic southwestern Indiana theater where humorist Red Skelton first performed has been acquired by a not-for-profit group that hopes to attract arts-minded businesses as its next tenants.

Realtor Health Klein, who purchased Vincennes' Pantheon Theatre at an October 2012 tax sale, signed over the building's deed Friday to INVin. That group was started about six months ago by Steve Miller, the chief financial officer of Pioneer Oil, which will relocate next year from Illinois to Vincennes.

"From the time I purchased this property, I was trying to find an organization, someone, who had the ability, the resources to either see it restored or adapted for some other reuse," Klein told the Vincennes Sun-Commercial.

The Pantheon, built in 1921, has been listed twice on Indiana Landmark's Most Endangered list.

Tommy Kleckner, the director of Indiana Landmarks' western regional office, said the Pantheon remains on the group's watch list, but he's encouraged by INVin's recent efforts to acquire the Renaissance Revival-style theater.

"We are still very much concerned about its future and preservation, but we look forward to the possible revitalization of downtown Vincennes, particularly in INVin's efforts to take on some of these buildings that have proven to be so challenging," Kleckner said.

In its heyday, the Pantheon hosted Duke Ellington, the Marx Brothers, Spike Jones and other acts. Skelton, a Vincennes native who died in 1997, made his stage debut at the theater in his hometown about 40 miles north of Evansville.

INVin had already acquired the New Moon Theater before adding the Pantheon.

Elizabeth Cutter-McNeece, INVin's director of development, said the group's first priority for both buildings is to replace their roofs. That will ensure their longevity so INVin can begin actively marketing them to interested investors.

"We don't have any immediate prospects, but with our incentive package and with marketing our community and region as a whole, we hope to generate interest soon," she said.

Klein said he's encouraging other Vincennes area groups to throw their support behind INVin's efforts.

"It's going to take all of us, everyone, businesses, the entire community, to make this happen," he said.

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