For years, the words “It Is Time” posted on The Miller Theater’s old marquee in downtown Augusta was like a knife in the heart for locals walking along the lower end of Broad Street.
Many believed the reopening of The Miller Theater would never come about.
They thought it would take too much money, the theater was too far gone or no one really cared enough.
Well, they were wrong.
Just this past week, representatives of Symphony Orchestra Augusta announced they will be hosting an opening night gala on Jan. 6 at the historic Miller Theater.
The black-tie event will feature Tony award winner and television star Sutton Foster.
It will truly be a day to celebrate in downtown Augusta.
Earlier this year, Catherine Murray, executive director of Symphony Orchestra Augusta, told the Metro Spirit that the restoration of The Miller has been a long time coming.
“The symphony has never had its own, official home,” Murray said. “So while we’ve been very fortunate to play in some fabulous places, including our home of the past several years, First Baptist Church, we will now have our own home with amazing, state-of-the-art acoustics. For us, it’s simply incredible.”
There has always been a deep, local love for The Miller Theater in downtown Augusta.
When The Miller first opened its doors on Broad Street in 1940, it was described as a gala premiere that rivaled any Hollywood affair.
Augustans were dazzled by the Art Moderne theater with its Italian marble terrazzo-floored entrance, colorful murals of dancing figures flanking the stage and brushed aluminum handrails leading up to the balcony.
The Miller, which cost $500,000 to construct in 1939 and was both a movie theater and vaudeville house, was the pride of Augusta. The theater helped make Broad Street a highly successful entertainment district.
But about 40 years later, the crowds disappeared and the public was no longer coming downtown to eat, shop and take in a show.
As a result, The Miller was forced to close its doors in 1984 due to poor attendance.
The theater went dark for more than three decades and it began to slowly fall into disrepair.
By 2005, the abandoned theater’s roof was literally about to cave in and the owner at the time, Homer Boyd, owed delinquent taxes on the building he had purchased in 1989.
The much-beloved theater was about to be sold on the courthouse steps.
That’s when businessman and philanthropist Peter Knox IV stepped into the picture.
Knox spent more than $500,000 to buy the building, repair the roof, remove the moldy carpet and seats and install a ventilation system.
He then generously offered the historic theater to the symphony.
However, it wasn’t until the fall of 2011, that the Board of Directors for Symphony Orchestra Augusta unanimously voted to accept the gifted building.
Needless to say, The Miller was a massive undertaking.
The restoration project came as a result of a $23 million capital campaign made possible by donations from individuals, corporations and foundations as well as the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding and state and federal historic tax incentives.
When Catherine Murray gave the Metro Spirit a tour of the historic theater earlier this year, it was clear the excitement over the project was rapidly mounting.
While walking through the building, Murray said the entrance to The Miller will eventually be as breathtaking as it was in the 1940s.
“Notice how these doors sort of have this cruise ship look,” Murray said. “And these marble floors will all be polished up and be brought back to life. It’s going to be gorgeous.”
The symphony also found some cool playbills, old popcorn machines, some phone booths from the 1970s and, up in the projection room, several pieces of old equipment, Murray said.
“There are a lot of really cool details throughout the building,” she said.
The Miller property was designed by famed theater architect Roy Benjamin in 1938 in conjunction with the best sound engineers in the country, Murray said.
“The acoustics are incredible in here,” she said, walking into the theater. “And we have one of the finest acousticians in the country. They have studied every inch of this building, down to the breathability of the seat fabric to make sure it is appropriate for the sound. We’ve looked at the finishes on the wall and how we need to protect those or enhance those to make sure that one, we are protecting the historic integrity of the building, but also that it is not negatively impacting the sound.”
The stage will soon be set.
Augustans are anxious to see the historic Miller Theater come alive once again.
It is time.