Gem Theatre renovation gets financial boost

Weston-McEwen band instructor Rob McIntyre stands in front of the Gem Theater in Athena in March 2015. He has been a driving force in the restoration of the theater.

ATHENA – The effort to renovate Athena’s old Gem Theatre got a boost recently with the awarding of three grants totaling $244,000.

Volunteers are bringing the dusty time capsule, shuttered in 1968, back to life as a space for movies, plays, school functions, as well as streaming concerts and other performances. A museum inside will feature vintage Hodaka motorcycles, once assembled in Athena.

The Meyer Memorial Trust, founded by the late Fred G. Meyer who built a chain of retail stores throughout the Northwest, has awarded $200,000. The theater received another $35,000 from The Collins Foundation, founded by the family of E.S. Collins to give greater expression to humanitarian endeavors in Oregon. Another $9,000 was awarded by Trust Management Services, which emphasizes education, community service, culture, youth activities and historical preservation.

The project to renovate the old movie house kicked into high gear earlier this year funded by community donations and two $200,000 grants from the Ford Family Foundation and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. So far, volunteers have replaced an outside brick wall, gutted the theater and replaced the saloon’s façade, along with various other tasks. The renovated theater will include some of the original balcony seats.

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