Signs of the times

STEUBENVILLE – Restoration work at the Grand Theater on South Fourth Street has shifted to the exterior as volunteers have removed siding, replaced light bulbs in the theater signs and plan to take paint off the building’s brick exterior.

Scott Dressel, chairman of the Historic Steubenville Landmarks Foundation Restoration Project, said he replaced the light bulbs in the vertical and horizontal Grand Theater signs and has turned the power on.

“I was surprised while working there in the evening how much vehicular and pedestrian traffic passes the theater. So I decided to replace all of the old burnt out bulbs with new ones and make the signs operative again. It does look like the theater is open for business again,” related Dressel.

“I plan to replace the yellow horizontal sign with one that spells out the Steubenville Historic Landmarks Foundation Restoration Project. And we want to replace the plastic vertical sign. That will hopefully be done in the next week or so. People driving or walking by the theater will see the signs and the lobby that has been restored to its original condition. It is a good start and brings some pride back to the downtown,” declared Dressel.

There are still years of work left to bring the building that originally housed a saloon and livery station in the 1880s and was converted to a theater by four brothers in 1920 back to pristine condition.

But Dressel, along with loyal volunteers, have persevered in their campaign to restore the theater.

A volunteer crew recently took the aluminum siding of the theater annex building and Steubenville Plate Glass replaced two windows in the front of the adjacent building.

“We will paint the trim around the windows but there is still a ton of work to do there. Some of the tile front has been lost or damaged so that will take a lot of work. And we will power wash the brick front wall of the theater. Someone put one coat of paint on the brick about seven years ago and we want to restore the look to the original brick. We did a test with the power washer and it came right off so that is encouraging,” Dressel said.

A Zanesville, Ohio, company removed asbestos covered pipes in the theater last month as part of the 10-year rehabilitation project.

Lepi Enterprises was the sole company bidding on the project.

The $49,748 contract is being paid through the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund grant received by the city of Steubenville last year.

Dressel said the asbestos-covered pipes were part of the theater’s old heating system.

“At this point we anticipate starting the $1 million restoration of the front of the theater in the summer of 2014. And we are now planning to create an historical memory lane concept on the stairway leading to the second and third ballroom areas as well as murals throughout those two rooms.

Dressel has been leading the grass roots efforts to preserve and restore the theater since 2010.

The last remaining downtown theater was once in danger of falling victim to a wrecking ball of years of neglect and lack of repairs.

Steubenville housing officials began to investigate the structural conditions after a neighboring property owner filed a complaint on Oct. 6, 2008.

Since assuming ownership of the theater Dressel has coordinated the sealing of the leaking roof, removing the main floor auditorium seats and cleaning the interior of the building.

Volunteers have also restored the lobby of the theater with paint and new carpeting.

“Sometimes we are too quick to tear down the old historical buildings because of their poor conditions. It will be nice to save a piece of Steubenville’s history for a change. I have never lost a project once I started a restoration. I don’t want to start now,” Dressel stated.

“When I stand on the stage I actually see the theater finished in my head. In my head it is all done. I do that all the time. When I work on my restoration projects I always envision and think about everything for a long time before I actually do anything because it is art, not just structure so you really have to think your way through,” explained Dressel.

Dressel has estimated the theater restoration project will last at least 10 years.

“Other events this year include a fashion show in November in partnership with Macy’s. We are planning an art auction in December and we will open the theater lobby during the Steubenville Christmas parade on Dec. 7,” said Dressel.

(Gossett can be contacted at