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State tax credits will help fund restoration

Date: 8/25/2010

Aug. 25, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- The Victory Theatre is one step closer to its renovation and reopening.

Last week, Secretary of State William Galvin announced the renovation project of the long-closed theater was the recipient of $1.2 million in tax credits.

State Sen. Michael Knapik called the announcement "another down payment in the renaissance of the city."

Donald Sanders, the executive artistic director of the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MIFA) -- the organization that now owns the theater -- said the tax credits will be used to help meet the goal of re-opening the Victory on Dec. 30, 2012.

Galvin explained tax credits have been used in the restoration of other historic theaters, specifically The Colonial in Pittsfield and The Hanover in Worcester. He said these kinds of projects "transform a downtown" and create needed construction jobs and permanent positions.

"This is not about nostalgia and sentimentality," Galvin asserted. "This is not feel-good spending. This is about economic activity."

Galvin explained a non-profit that received tax credits could sell them at the completion of a project to for-profit businesses that use them to reduce their state tax obligations. The tax credits are sold at a discount, he added.

Sanders said the budget for the restoration of the Victory is $27 million and MIFA has $19 million in the form of grants and donations at this time. He said the organization is currently in the "quiet phase" of a capital campaign that will be announced publicly in October.

Sanders also said the general public will have an opportunity to see the theater's interior on Oct. 23 as part of the Passport Holyoke event.

The Victory, opened in 1920, was operated as a movie theater until 1979. There have been efforts to reopen the theater since then and Sanders acknowledged the work of Helen Casey, who was present at the announcement. She led the earliest campaign to revitalize The Victory.

MIFA has owned the building since last September.

The theater has electrical service once more, thanks to the work of Holyoke Gas and Electric and electrician Jason Tourigny. The Holyoke Fire Department also pumped out the water from the theater's basement last month.

Restoration expert Vitek Kruta is at the theater now, working on the two large murals that hung on both sides of the stage. He has taken one mural down and is working on cleaning it.

He explained the water that flowed down from a leaking roof eroded the plaster walls on which the murals were affixed, pushing minerals into the canvas base of the paintings. What has helped preserve the paintings from mildew is a layer of nicotine that was deposited during a time when smoking was allowed in the theater.

The paintings themselves are 90 percent intact, he added.

During his work, Kruta discovered that underneath the fabric panels on the walls is another layer of cloth, which he believes is silk made in Holyoke at the former Skinner Silk Mills. Underneath the silk is the original wall and Kruta has found that surfaces were originally stenciled.

Whether or not the stencils are restored is not his decision, he explained.

"My job is to piece everything together; to make sense of it," he said.

He pointed out a hole on one wall which is where a gaslight fixture was once located. He also found a complete gaslight during his work.

Unfortunately, there are no photos of the original interior of the building, Kruta said. MIFA is currently seeking interior photos from anyone who might have any.

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