A Cambria theater hopes to see an end to its longest closure in 33 years, thanks to an anonymous donor who put up $35,000 to pay for public safety upgrades.
Work began July 12 on installation of a fire-extinguishing sprinkler system at the Pewter Plough Playhouse, squeaking in under the deadline for a county permit that required work to begin by July 31, the theater owners announced.
The Main Street theater produced about five plays a year from the time it opened in December 1976 until “Finishing Touches” closed Feb. 28. The theater, public safety officials said, would not be allowed to reopen until the sprinklers were installed.
In 2007, the Cambria Fire Department and county Planning Department gave the theater operators a to-do list of safety improvements. About $25,000 in upgrades to electrical systems, fire-resistant siding and the addition of an
emergency exit were completed, but the sprinklers, the most expensive improvement, had not been installed because the theater and its affiliated nonprofit organization, the Pewter Plough Players, did not have the money.
The nonprofit group began fundraising efforts in February, but was advised it had to secure its investment with a lien against the property. That led to the breakoff in March of negotiations and cooperation with the building owners, Jim and James Buckley.
“A longtime friend of the Plough,” James Buckley said, “who wishes to remain anonymous but deserves tremendous gratitude, stepped forward with a low-interest loan ….”
The patron has been a theater supporter since its inception, the Buckleys said in a statement.
Jim Buckley noted that had he not suffered losses in the Estate Financial investment scheme, which he has previously said exceeded $1 million, he would have paid for the sprinklers himself. Due to his financial reverses, the elder Buckley added, sale of the theater remains a possibility, but “a theatre-loving buyer would be sought.”
The Plough has begun a fund drive to pay back the loan, and “many other PPP patrons have indicated a desire to help,” Buckley said.
He added that Cambria Fire Chief Mark Miller and Jim Adams, supervisor of the Cambria Community Services District’s water department, have been helpful with the sprinkler upgrade.
“I’m really super happy” that the work has begun before the permit expired, Miller said Monday. “It’s a success story. It’s been a long time coming.”
There is no new deadline, Miller added. “Their deadline is they want to have plays again, get it open so they can have fundraisers.”
It will take more than two months to finish installing the system, Buckley said, then he and his father, who founded the theater in December 1977 with his late wife, Olga, plan to host a gala reopening and fundraiser at the 58-seat theater.
“We are delighted that the sprinklers are being installed,” Viv Goff of the Pewter Plough Players said in an e-mail. “Hopefully, the meeting with Jim and James (Buckley) on Aug. 4 … will be successful in all of us being reunited, joining together for one goal, to reopen the (Pewter Plough Playhouse), and have our wonderful theater back in full swing, producing wonderful productions for our audiences, having our monthly Readers’ Theatre, supporting our high school graduates with scholarships, having workshops and enjoying every moment of it.”
“We’ve been working for two and one-half years to satisfy the county and fire department requirements,” the Buckleys said in a written statement, “so we are overjoyed with the loan, the progress made and our reopening. The loan is a Frank Capra-like solution, just in time to save the heroine, our ‘Jewel Box of Community Theatres.’”
The community will welcome the reopening of the theater, said Mary Ann Carson, executive director of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce.
“Having the Pewter Plough has always been an asset for tourism,” she said. “People who come to town think it’s great to have a little theater to go to, to have some entertainment.”
Cambrian Editor Bert Etling contributed to this report.