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Changes afoot at grand old local theater

By: Les Minor - Texarkana Gazette

The Perot Theatre is getting a facelift these days.

Facelift might not be the correct word, in the sense it seems to imply some external improvement, i.e. the face of the building, when the upgrade is going on inside.

While the outside of the building stands still and stoic during the day, some big things are happening inside, at what might be considered the ground level. And when the work is finished, the changes may be so subtle that many patrons won’t even notice them. Such is the nature of the nuanced approach necessary to conserve its original form.

For the next couple of weeks, craftsmen are installing new carpet and adding aisle lighting. This is no small feat for a historic treasure and those who are committed to maintaining its architectural integrity.

It’s not a job you and I and your brother-in-law would be allowed to tackle, or let some box store undertake as part of a four rooms for $99 install special. No, this is a big undertaking in more ways than one.

The old carpet is gone now. It was pulled out more than a week ago. But when you return for your next visit to the theater, you won’t know it is missing. The new carpet has exactly the same pattern as the old carpet. This, as was noted before, is by design. Preservation requires such attention to detail.

About 25 rolls of this carpet were delivered last week. It was made in England but had a stopover in Pennsylvania on the way here. It cost in the neighborhood of $300,000.

That sounds like quite a chunk of change, and I suppose it is if it were going down in city hall or a county courthouse. But the Perot has a unique place in the Twin Cities and in many ways is one of our most important assets. Nothing is too good for it.

Know this, too. The carpet that was just yanked out has lasted about 34 years. It had an expected life of about 25 years, but good stewardship of the building added almost a decade to its service.

The new carpet is built even better. It is expected to last about 50 years. Many of us won’t see the end of its life.

If you do notice this change underfoot next time you come for a performance, it may be because of the new aisle lighting. This, too, is being done subtly, but will obviously shine more light on the new carpet. That’s kind of the point, to make navigating the aisles easier, safer.

Change happens slowly at the Perot, and it happens carefully. That should never change.

The Perot has been in good hands for many years. Caretakers have changed several times since it was overhauled and reopened in 1981, but all have been committed to its upkeep.

City fathers over the years have not always been good stewards of Texarkana’s rich heritage. Great buildings have been destroyed. Downtown continues to fade. The Ace of Clubs House is in distress. A historic campus is boarded up, waiting for a new day. The Masonic Lodge is in ruin. Our local history is fraught with examples of properties we did not or do not know how to save.

But the Perot Theatre, now 90 years old, stands out as an exception. It never declined beyond the point of no return. And, once restored, it has been maintained with painstaking fervor.

The Perot Theatre has been able to maintain the “Wow!” factor, not because you or I can see how much has been done, but because we can’t. It’s like a page out of history, with the ink still wet. It takes continuous attention to make sure it looks like it never needs attention.

Published: 03/15/2015

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