The Milton Theatre kicked off a $2.5 million capital campaign to purchase and rehabilitate the historic building.
The Milton Theatre Renaissance Initiative, unveiled July 7, is a three-to five-year plan to restore the more than 100-year-old building. Upgrades include a new balcony, a new marquee, expanding the venue’s seating capacity and upgrading lighting and sound equipment and dressing rooms. Renderings of the new balcony and marquee were on display.
Theater director Fred Munzert said the kickoff event was a chance to celebrate the past and look forward to the future.
“It’s the culmination of four years of amazing shows and community support. We keep reminding ourselves this is just the start of it. It’s not a small project,” he said. “We’re ready to have a balcony in and have larger seating.”
Munzert said the first step will be taking the next 12 months to assess the costs and construction timeline of major initiatives: buying the building, installing the new balcony and putting in a new marquee.
“The marquee alone is like another building added to the building, because of the size of it. And a functioning balcony on top of that,” he said.
Also unveiled was a historic marker denoting the theater’s colorful history.
The Milton Theatre traces its roots to 1914, when the building was first constructed and named The Fox Theatre, for its owner Ida Fox, one of the first female theater managers in the state. In 1929, basketball courts were installed at the theater used for Milton-area high school teams. During World War II, the theater was used for fundraising efforts, selling war bonds and stamps. In the 1980s, the theater was home to Roxie’s Restaurant, located in what is now the entrance and concession area, owned by E.M. Scott, one of the theater’s then-owners.
The theater has seen its share of troubles over the years: it caught fire in 1952, suffered damage from flooding during the famous Storm of 1962 and remained racially segregated as late as 1956. The theater was foreclosed on and closed in 2010, before being bought by the Howard family in 2013 and reopened the next year.
State archivist Stephen Marz said the history of the building was pieced together through land records of the town of Milton and checking antecdotal evidence provided by townspeople.
“It’s gone through so many transitions. From being a theater, then in World War II they used it for war efforts. It was always in use for some reason to help the citizens of Milton continue have some kind of venue here,” Marz said.
Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, said the theater offers a space for people to connect socially through art. He praised Munzert as the man who helped make it possible.
“He brought life back to this building. I remember when I first got into office, the public was looking to the state. I kept giving people assurances, someone is going to see that and have a dream. That’s what’s going to save it. Finally, Fred came about. All he had to do is spread his wings. The wind has lifted him up to where he is now, and he has much further to climb,” Smyk said.
Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said, “The theater is really a hub for education, for culture in the Milton area. With this renaissance going forward, it’s going to continue to be a place that brings people together.”
The historical marker was funded jointly to the tune of $3,500 by Lopez and Smyk, with Delaware Public Archives providing the scholarship and wording.
As the theater celebrated its past, the future was on everyone’s mind. The theater hosts 300 shows per year, and entertainment for the kickoff event was provided by Sean Reilly and the Sinatra Centennial Orchestra.
Summing up the importance of the theater, Milton Mayor Ted Kanakos said, “It means a lot to the town. It’s a big part of what I call the Milton Renaissance. It’s a small part that contributes to our continued growth.”