Georgia Theatre Reopens With Built-in Fire Remnants

By JEFF MARTIN | August 1, 2011

The newly renovated Georgia Theatre begins a series of grand opening concerts Monday, with reminders of a devastating 2009 fire still visible in the charred bricks and the blackened front doors.

Owner Wilmot Greene said workers managed to save some wood that survived the blaze and used it during renovations because it adds to the iconic theater’s history.

“We went to great lengths to make sure that the building would be able to tell a story as soon as you walk into the door,” he said.

The theater’s storied past includes performances by bands like R.E.M., the B-52s and others that began their rise to prominence in Athens.

The fire gutted the building, but American chestnut wood was saved from the office area and used in the new lobby. The office was the least-burned part of the building because it was near the projection room, which was built like a bunker since it once stored highly-flammable film, Greene said.

Some of the heart pine from the old roof trusses – wood that was cut in 1889 – was also saved and used in the renovations, Greene said.

The theater will reopen at 8 p.m. Monday with a performance by The Glands, an Athens-based band.

Greene that at some point in the future, there are plans to raffle off an electric guitar built with wood, stained glass, ticket stubs and other remnants that survived the blaze. It was built by Robbie Smith of Athens, a University of Georgia junior who owns Black Smith Guitars.

“To me, that was the center of the music scene here in Athens with all the history and everything,” Smith said of the Georgia Theatre. “I saw pictures from the fire and saw that it was a complete loss, but there was still enough materials to make a guitar.”

So Smith salvaged what he could in the charred remains, using wood from a table and a switch from the theatre’s burned soundboard to build the guitar. The guitar’s volume is controlled by a hot water knob from the burned theatre’s bathroom sink.

Tickets for a show that never happened are laminated into the side of the guitar. The tickets were printed for a performance by Perpetual Groove on June 19, 2009, the night the Georgia Theatre burned.

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