Group hopes you will invest in the future of the Bonnie Kate

Published 11:09 am Monday, October 5, 2015

Star Photo/Rebekah Price A foundation that hopes to buy and preserve the historic Bonnie Kate Theater has launched a fundraising drive.

Star Photo/Rebekah Price A foundation that hopes to buy and preserve the historic Bonnie Kate Theater has launched a fundraising drive.

Want to be a part of a unique venture to preserve a historic landmark and make it a showcase for the future?
You can help by making a donation toward the purchase of the Bonnie Kate Theater.
A fundraising effort was launched this week by a local group for the acquisition of the theater property.
John Huber, one of the principals involved in the effort, said the Elizabethton Carter County Foundation, a non-profit group, needs to hold title to the property before any doors will open to receive funding from state and federal agencies. “Once we have ownership of the structure, we can apply for state and federal grants as well as private philanthropic foundations to raise additional funding to renovate and restore the theater to its original decor and upgrade it to meet current building code standards,” he said.
The citizens group was recently organized for the purpose of establishing a Bonnie Kate Foundation with the goal of transforming the historic theater into a performing arts center.
“We have a tremendous and rich heritage in Carter County and Elizabethton, and the Bonnie Kate is part of that heritage,” said Huber. “So many people I have talked with have fond memories of the Bonnie Kate, and many of us think it is worth preserving.”
Huber said the group needs to initially raise $180,000 to $200,000 for the purchase of the building and to make additional roof repairs. “Some seating will need to be replaced and other improvements made as plans progress,” said Huber.
The building was placed in foreclosure this summer. It reverted back to the bank when an auction in September failed to produce a buyer.
“Eventually, the goal is to turn the building over to the City of Elizabethton,” Huber said.
Huber and members of the group, which includes local and state officials as well as local business people, are working with Patrick McIntyre, director of the Tennessee Historical Commission, and Gray Stothart, First District Historic Preservation Planner, as well as City Planner Jon Hartman in an effort to get the site placed on The East Tennessee Preservation Trust’s Ten In Tennessee Endangered Properties.
“If we can accomplish that, we can perhaps qualify for some additional state funds to help with renovation expenses,” Huber said.
Should the building be selected for the Endangered Properties, the committee will receive some much needed help from the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance. Once selected, preservation strategies are developed for each site on the list and can include working with current property owners, government officials, citizens and the new owners to preserve the building’s heritage, which in the case of the Bonnie Kate Theater dates back to 1926.
The theater had its first showing May 16, 1926 — a silent film. All 500 seats were filled for the first show. The Bonnie Kate was also the first theater east of the Mississippi to have rocking chair seating.
A local music program “Barrels of Fun” originated at the Bonnie Kate in the 1930s and in the 1940s and was broadcast by two radio stations to a listening audience of 3.2 million people in the southeast United States.
The building also has some striking architectural features, making its importance more notable. It is of Classical Revival design, and the front facade pilasters are most prominent and unique especially for a building today.
“First and foremost we must secure the building, and then we can get it ready for public performances,” Huber said.
“I think the community would like to see it preserved, rather than go the way of the Lynnwood Hotel and other historical buildings in town. Like the Tweetsie Trail, it has the potential to bring a lot of visitors from out-of-town and be as popular as any other performing arts center in the area, namely the Paramount Theater in Bristol and the Renaissance Theater in Kingsport,” Huber said.
“We want to reach out to the public, to businesses, civic groups and philanthropists,” he said. “Currently, our biggest need is funds to purchase the building. Until we get ownership of it, we can’t do anything.”
The local affiliate of The East Tennessee Foundation, the Elizabethton Carter County Foundation will act as the agent for the receiving and dispersing of the funds until a Bonnie Kate Foundation is formed.
Checks should be made out to the Elizabethton Carter County Foundation and designated Bonnie Kate Fund. Donations or pledges can be mailed to Bonnie Kate Fund, P.O. Box 695, Elizabethton, TN 37644-0695.
All donations are tax deductible.

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