Historic Gillioz Theatre remains open while still trying to determine extent of water damage from heavy rains

Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 6:56 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The recent heavy rain caused significant problems for a downtown treasure.

The Gillioz Theatre, on the National Register of Historic Places, had massive amounts of water leak through its roof in the lobby and rotunda area last Friday when the torrential rains fell, and the extent of the damage is yet to be determined.

Located on old Route 66, the Gillioz was the home of silent movies and vaudeville acts during its early days. After many years of ups-and-downs, the place where Elvis once took in an afternoon movie before performing in Springfield that night closed in 1980 but reopened 26 years later in 2006. The venue’s renovation started in 1990 and took 16 years to complete.

“The Gillioz has survived a recession, depression, and a World War,” said Gillioz Executive Director Geoff Steele. “And we added a global pandemic in 2019. But it was really a precursor to downtown’s renovation, and we’re a strong economic incubator for Springfield and the Ozarks.”

In addition to the pandemic-related closing that lasted for 16 months, the Gillioz was bought out of foreclosure in 2013 by businessman Robert Low. He then leased it back to the nonprofit Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust that ran the venue.

But according to Steele, the Gillioz had never faced Mother Nature’s ire like last Friday when water started cascading from the ceiling like a waterfall in the front part of the building where the lobby and rotunda are located.

“Seeing the theatre taking on water is traumatic,” Steele said. “It’s a sacred space for me, and I know there’s a lot of people in the community who are passionate about it as well.”

On Wednesday, the waters had long since receded, but humidifiers were all along the hallways trying to dry out the venue and prevent mold.

“The damage that we’re dealing with is unseen,” Steele explained. “It’s infrastructure. The plaster on the ceiling, as it’s drying out, is beginning to constrict, and we’re seeing new damage on a daily basis. Part of our blessing is that the theatre is actually constructed out of steel and concrete with plaster over it. If this were built traditionally out of wood, sheetrock, and drywall, we would have had a completely different set of problems.”

The stage and audience seating area stayed dry.

“We did just put a new roof on the theatre itself just over the Fourth of July,” Steele said. “It performed quite well during the storm.”

And although the nonprofit Gillioz does have insurance, it probably won’t be enough to cover the repairs.

“This is not a budgeted item, and so those out-of-pocket expenses become significant for us regardless of what the amount is,” Steele said. “And we still don’t know what that amount is yet.”

The hope is to raise around $40,000 in donations for repairs because, as the saying goes, “The show must go on!”

“Do we have challenges? Yes, we do, but the theatre is open,” Steele said. “The next event we have is Hanson (the musical brothers known for their hit ‘MMMBop’) on Tuesday, August 16, and we have much more programming as well that you can see at gillioz.org where you can also donate.”

So after going through so much, is the Gillioz now ready for a swarm of locusts?

“When you’re around for 96 years, you’ll find the rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike,” Steele said with a smile. “It’s a storied past, and I anticipate we will have a great storied future ahead. But it’s certainly a colorful chapter right now with COVID and now this. There’s certainly something to the adage that ‘There’s always something!’ But this community does rally around this theatre, and they realize what it provides to the local quality of life. So I’m concerned but confident that between now and our 100th anniversary in 2026, you’ll see the Gillioz’s best years of all.”

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