With state grant, Perry-Mansfield moves forward in renovating theater | SteamboatToday.com

With state grant, Perry-Mansfield moves forward in renovating theater

Leora Dana and Julie Harris, two future Tony Award winners, perform as Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp students in “Letters To Lucerne.”
Perry-Mansfield Archives/Courtesy photo

Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp’s Julie Harris Theatre is one of eight recipients of the latest round of Colorado’s Community Revitalization Grant. The funds will contribute to a three-tiered plan to refurbish and improve Perry-Mansfield’s decades-old facilities.

On the way into Perry-Mansfield’s rustic Strawberry Park campus, the Julie Harris Theatre is the first structure one sees. The six-sided building was constructed in 1956, designed by Willard Sage, a former Perry-Mansfield camper and student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

It features stonework, a prairie-style roof and walls of windows framing views of Mount Werner. The theater has served as Perry-Mansfield’s main classroom and performance space, and is part of why the campus is designated as a National Historic District.

The theater allows for all three major theater configurations. It can be used for both dramatic and musical theater, and has doors behind the stage that can be rolled open, bringing the outside into performances. Backstage walls are believed to hold the autographs of every student who’s ever performed on the stage, including Jessica Biel and Dustin Hoffman.

But after weathering 60 Steamboat winters, by the mid-2010s, the theater was in precarious shape and renovations were urgently needed. At the same time, the board of directors was looking to create more opportunities for Yampa Valley residents to regularly experience the campus.

“(Revitalizing) Julie Harris gave us a perfect opportunity to bring the community back to Perry-Mansfield,” said Board of Directors President Rob Schwartz.

A State Historical Fund grant covered an assessment to identify the projects needed to save the theater, and in 2017, fundraising efforts kicked into gear. Phase 1 was to reinforce the 5,600 square foot building with steel beams, at $150,000.

“We started this with (raising) $1,000 here, $1,000 there,” Schwartz said. “We were raising money when the world closed (for COVID).” But with help from grants from SHF and the Routt County Museum & Heritage fund, Phase 1 was paid for and completed in 2021.

“Now this building is structurally solid, good for another 100 years,” Schwartz said.

Phase 2 of the renovation is larger: the flat, prairie-style roof, on which huge amounts of snow piles up — and which Perry-Mansfield Executive Director Toni Quick clears off herself — needs replacing and insulating.

“You don’t see roofs in Steamboat like that for a reason,” Schwartz said. The roof work is estimated to cost $300,000. Beyond the roof, Phase 2 will see heating and air conditioning installed, windows insulated, lighting, masonry, and electric work completed, and bathrooms constructed.

The board collaborated with Historic Routt County to apply for a community revitalization grant through the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade. The 94-page application showed Perry-Mansfield was “shovel-ready” to move forward with renovations, Schwartz noted.

This round of the OEDIT grant was awarded to eight grantees, including $710,000 to the Julie Harris Theatre. To date, the program has awarded a total of $64.9 million to 34 projects.

“The arts have always been a catalyst for economic development, but Colorado’s creative arts industry was hit exceptionally hard by COVID-19,” Colorado Creative Industries Director Margaret Hunt said in a press release. “Fortunately, we have the opportunity to support arts organizations on their road to recovery and we’re glad to partner with them as they pursue new endeavors.”

“Everybody on the board was ecstatic,” Schwartz said.

The $710,000 brings the amount Perry-Mansfield has raised for the theater to $1.5 million, or half the total fundraising goal to cover all three phases — before inflation.

After the upcoming camp season wraps up, Phase 2 work will begin. These renovations will make Julie Harris a year-round theater, expanding opportunities for all kinds of performances, including those by local groups such as Opera Steamboat, Steamboat Symphony Orchestra and Piknik Theatre.

Friends of Yampa Valley Arts, formerly Friends of the Chief Foundation, will also be a major presence in the theater. After the Friends moved out of the downtown Chief Theater building in 2020, Perry-Mansfield and FYVA teamed up around their common mission of bringing performing arts programming and education to the area. The two now share several board members and are working to merge the organizations.

In reflecting on getting the OEDIT grant, Haines said, “That’s going to help us with the next million, million and a half, that’s going to ultimately make (Julie Harris) what we envision: the community theater for Steamboat Springs.”

Finally, Phase 3 will furnish the 150-person theater with stage lights, audio and finishing touches to make the theater look like it did when it was brand-new, right down to paint colors. Phase 3 is estimated to be completed in 2023.

“We’re honoring the history of the building and respecting what it was designed for,” Haines said. “We want to make sure people go ‘wow!’ when they come in here.”

“We’re going to turn this into a real gem, one of the best small boutique theaters in the country,” Schwartz said. “And we have big plans beyond the Julie Harris Theatre.”

Those plans include building new structures on campus for fellow community arts groups to use as additional rehearsal spaces, and updating the Steinberg Pavilion and existing studios for similar purposes.

“We want to be able to do that on a greater scale,” Haines said. “It all starts here: with the Julie Harris Theatre.”

The Julie Harris Theatre is shown here.
Perry-Mansfield Archives/Courtesy photo
Dustin Hoffman, a young Perry-Mansfield student in the 1950s, takes a dance class from Helen Tamiris, who choreographed her most famous piece, “Walt Whitman Suite,” following her summer at Perry-Mansfield.
Perry-Mansfield Archives/Courtesy photo
Dustin Hoffman sits on the steps of the Julie Harris Theatre with other students when he attended Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.
Perry-Mansfield Archives/Courtesy photo

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.