If you’ve ever driven across the state of Indiana, you may have passed through the small town of Wabash — home to a modest 10,666 residents. Any traveler who drives beyond its city limits without second thought is missing a hidden gem and untold story–one that is finally unfolding.
Tucked away in this quiet town is a historic, 111-year-old vaudeville theatre that is undergoing renovations to intertwine old and new for a hub of arts and culture in rural America.
The historic Eagles Theatre first opened its doors in 1906, as a beautiful, four-story vaudeville performance center and centerpiece of downtown Wabash. For a century, the building served as a community focal point for entertainment and the arts, and even served as residential property, before falling into disrepair. In an effort to preserve the historic landmark, The Honeywell Foundation acquired the theatre in 2010 and made improvements to make the main space usable again, saving the town’s only movie theatre.
Now, Eagles Theatre is on the precipice of its most magnificent restoration and revitalization yet. This project, dubbed the Eagles Renovation Project, will breathe new life into the currently unused areas of the building and allow it to serve as the home of exciting new arts education programming.
The History of Eagles Theatre
The inaugural performance at Eagles Theatre took place in January 1906 and featured Bertha Gallant and her touring company. Community members filled the Theatre’s 1,200 seats, from the first floor to the second- and third-floor balconies. The second and third floors of the Theatre also held offices, while the fourth floor housed a grand ballroom with an ornamental domed ceiling.
Later on, Eagles Theatre transitioned into a movie theatre with the advent of motion pictures, where locals saw entertaining movies and digested the world’s news through newsreels.
Eventually, the theatre fell into disrepair and the four floors went unused for decades.
In January 2010, The Honeywell Foundation, a public charity dedicated to the enhancement of social, artistic, recreational, and cultural opportunities, assumed ownership of the theatre and began upgrading parts of the historic building for modern use.
These improvements included new seats on the main floor of the theatre, painting, new heating and cooling systems, and overall cleanup. This allowed the movie theatre to continue to function as a centerpiece for downtown activity. Today the upper floors and basement of Eagles Theatre remain unused and untouched. These spaces are the focus of the Eagles Renovation Project.
Ushering in a New Stage of Life for Eagles Theatre
In addition to the physical changes, the Eagles Renovation Project will bring to life exciting arts and culture programs, including:
A career center partnership for dual high school/college credits in the arts.
A year-round musical and dramatic theatre program for children ages kindergarten through grade 12
Live theatrical performances of children’s literature, bringing the classics studied in the classroom to the stage.
Multi-week summer programs that allow participants to work closely with professional artists and teachers who specialize in live theatre, visual arts, and vocal performance.
Eagles Theatre’s new design will incorporate the following additions:
Additional seating and private suites in the main theatre’s second and third balconies, as well as a mobile movie screen and enhanced backstage area for live events.
A second movie screen with seating in the basement.
Updated bathrooms, lobby, and entryway, and a new elevator.
Film studios and recording booths, along with a large group editing space and multimedia classrooms.
Flexible, multi-use rooms for rent and for community programming.
Fourth-floor ballroom renovations including restrooms, catering kitchen, coatroom, storage, and space for up to 200 seated guests.
Eagles Theatre, thanks to special care from The Honeywell Foundation, will soon fulfill so much more than its original purpose, while still standing as a testament to the vaudeville era and the legacy and evolution of the entertainment industry. But, by blending new educational programs and technology within the four walls of a historic building, generations to come will be exposed to the history of theatre and how it contributed to modern-day media and entertainment.
There are more exciting before-and-after photos here.
Learn more about the Eagles Renovation Project and the rich history of Eagles Theatre.
Give a Personalized Donation to Eagles Theatre today.