In the near future, visitors to the historic Embassy Theatre will be able to dance the night away in a two-story ballroom and view the stars and skyline of downtown Fort Wayne from a spectacular rooftop garden.
City and Embassy officials lined up on the theater's stage Tuesday to take turns symbolically breaking down the walls of the former Indiana Hotel, part of the Embassy building – a celebration of the beginning of construction on a $10 million renovation project involving six floors.
The theater and hotel were built in 1928, and the upper floors of the hotel and other undeveloped areas of the building have sat unused for more than 40 years, said Marla Peters, president of the board of directors.
In addition to the ballroom and rooftop garden plans, new rehearsal, studio and learning center spaces for educational programming are also in the works.
“After much deliberation and discussion, we plan to turn everything – even the roof – into an exciting vibrant feature of our community,” Peters said.
Mayor Tom Henry shared Peters' enthusiasm.
“This is a magnificent day for the city of Fort Wayne,” Henry said. “The Embassy is a gem in our community and a showcase of the Midwest. I will be happier than ever to bring other mayors and people here and show off our city.”
Donations and pledges totaling $7.3 million – including $5.8 million from individuals, foundations and businesses and $1.5 million from the city in tax increment financing revenue and Legacy funds – have helped the Embassy hit 91 percent of its fundraising goal.
Officials began talking about the project five years ago, inspired by the construction of the third-floor corridor with skywalks to the Courtyard by Marriott and Grand Wayne Center.
“Two years ago, we were able to start the fundraiser with a generous gift of $2 million from the Robert Goldstine Foundation,” campaign co-Chair Carolyn Brody said. “We will continue the fundraising because we still have a way to go.”
The late Robert Goldstine was a key figure in saving Embassy Theatre from demolition in 1972. Through Goldstine's leadership, the community raised $250,000 to buy the building for the nonprofit organization, which continues to operate it today.
Goldstine loved downtown Fort Wayne, the arts, theater and music, said Steve Wesner, president of the foundation's board of trustees and Goldstine's longtime friend. Serving 20 years as president of the board of directors, Goldstine also loved to play the theater's Grande Page pipe organ.
“Bob and several other enthusiasts spent several hours a week getting together and playing the organ,” Wesner said. “It was during a time when the roof leaked and there was plaster falling from the ceiling to the seats.”
Weigand Construction has begun the renovation, and demolition is expected to continue through the summer, with completion expected late next year.
For the final leg of the fundraiser, Mark Ulmschneider, a member of the theater's “campaign cabinet,” has offered to match contributions up to $15,000. To make a donation or for more information, go to www.fwembassytheatre.org or call 424-6287.