The Garden Theater sits at the corner of Third and Main Street in Frankfort. Its familiar brick façade has been weathered by nearly a century of existence. Its marquee, which is at times brightly lit, juts out over the bustling sidewalk. It might look like a standard small-town theater, but to the people of Frankfort, it’s much more than that. It’s a historical landmark. It’s a public gathering place. It’s a beloved venue for events, parties, and fundraisers. All things considered, it’s the center of the community, and one nonprofit organization wants to keep it that way.
The nonprofit, which is called The Friends of the Garden Theater, was formed in 2018 for the sole purpose of acquiring the theater and enhancing restoration efforts. In December 2020, the historic theater was sold to the nonprofit.
“The impetus of the nonprofit was a result of a structural issue with the roof foundation within the building,” explains Rick Schmitt, chair of the nonprofit board. “It’s been compromised over the last 95 years. To replace the infrastructure that supports the roof was just too much of a financial commitment. A nonprofit really had to take it over and raise the money to do it to save the building for the next hundred years.”
Raising money is exactly what the nonprofit is doing. Since it was formed, it has raised $1.2 million toward a $2 million goal. Along with the structural improvements to the roof, the money will go toward new restroom facilities, foundation renovations, and restoration of the iconic marquee. “It just needs a little retrofit,” Schmitt says. “There will be many thousands of dollars invested to make sure the marquee shines brightly for the future.”
Before construction can start, and all of the renovations can begin, the nonprofit needs to raise another $250,000. “We’re making progress,” Schmitt says. “Wouldn’t it be ideal to do the work during the COVID situation, since we’re really not open anyway.”
Even though money is a critical piece of the puzzle, it’s not the whole picture. “If someone really wanted to make money, if they were financially driven, they would turn that corner into condominiums and retail, and we don’t need more condominiums,” Schmitt says. “The theater, as we like to say, has been a center of the community for the last 90 years, but it’s also a community center. Ensuring that the theater remains vibrant and for far more than just movies—community events, fundraisers, parties, programming for kids—all of those things will be even more possible under a nonprofit umbrella.”
The nonprofit will continue to put the theater, and the community, first. After all, as Schmitt puts it, “you can’t imagine the corner of Third and Main streets in Frankfort without the Garden Theater there with the marquee shining brightly.”
If you want to get involved, go to frankfortgardentheater.com. There, you will find information on the theater, the nonprofit organization, how to donate, and volunteer opportunities.