Gusman Theatre to celebrate 80th anniversary
By Deserae del Campo
The Gusman Theatre for the Performing Arts is celebrating its 80th anniversary with a celebration scheduled for next week.
A reception at the Gusman is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday (6/14) at which guests can take a journey through the Gusman's history. Vintage cars from the era will align Flagler Street, which the building fronts. Blues artist Buddy Guy is scheduled to perform at the center at 8 p.m.
The actual anniversary came in February, but the Friends of Gusman, the theater's fund-raising entity, needed more time to plan the celebration.
"It's great to see the theater thriving again after all these years," said Bobby Gusman, chairman of the Friends of Gusman board of directors. "It's in great shape structurally and is looking better than it has in the 15 years or so since I've been involved as chairman."
Mike Wharton, director of the theater, said the anniversary is about the future as well as the past. "We're excited about the future of downtown and the role Gusman will play providing arts and culture to our future residents," he said.
The Gusman, 174 E. Flagler St., was formally known as the Olympia Theatre and was opened in 1926 as a movie palace. It was the first air-conditioned building in Miami - panels were built under seats where blocks of ice were placed to cool the audience.
Supporters created the Friends of Gusman in 1975 to form theater policy and help raise funds.
"Not so long ago, the challenge for the Friends of Gusman was simply convincing city leaders to keep the doors open," said Mr. Gusman. "We're past that now, so we can get back to real fundraising. We are looking forward to a great anniversary event next week and beyond that to a really bright future."
The Gusman has undergone about $6.5 million in renovations funded by state, county and city grants, and it was transformed back into the Mediterranean-inspired structure envisioned by its architect, John Eberson.
Theater management hired restoration architect Richard J. Heisenbottle to restore the building to its former elegance.
Artists from Evergreen Studios painted the inside with more than 60 colors to get as close as possible to the original 1926 look.
Remnants of the rug in the movie hall were found and duplicated in the orchestra level, and seating was replaced with plush vintage-style chairs.
But not all needs have been met, supporters say.
The Gusman lacks new seating and carpeting for its balcony level, termite treatment and necessary replacements for windows and doors. It also needs some painting done and the building's exterior needs to be waterproofed, supporters say.
Maurice Gusman bought the building in 1970 for the Miami Philharmonic Orchestra. Five years later, it was donated to the City of Miami, and in 1984, the theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The theater is operated by the Miami Parking Authority. When Maurice Gusman donated the building to the city in 1975, he included a stipulation that the parking authority manage it.
Details on the anniversary celebration: (305) 374-2444.