Renovations underway to bring The Melba back to its former glory

Renovations underway to bring The Melba back to its former glory

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) - It used to be a beacon on Main Street in Batesville, the "place to be" on a Saturday night. But after the most recent owner closed the doors last year, many thought The Melba Theater would fade to black.

Now, one group of visionaries say it's not yet time to say "It's a Wrap" on The Melba.

At the end of Main Street Batesville stands a staple. A 140 year old building that has served as both an opera house and mercantile store. Since 1940 however, it's been known as The Melba.

"I can remember sitting over there and watching Beethoven," Adam Curtwright said. "It was either Beethoven 1 or 2."

For many, the neon sign is etched into their earliest memories. For Adam, it also served as his first job.

"Took tickets, worked the concession stand," Adam explained. "But going back further, my grandmother graduated high school, they used this theater to hold the graduation ceremony. My mom saw her first movie, she came with her grandma to see her first movie here."

While many remember its past, Adam and his wife, along with the Shell family of Batesville hope to secure its future as well.

Over the years, the four have semi-seriously discussed purchasing The Melba.

The theater did close in 1990 but was reopened in 2000. That owner closed the doors for the winter in 2014 but never reopened, giving the four a chance to pursue their dream.

But Janelle Shell said the dream didn't come without a bit of hesitation.

"We kinda thought, okay, is this crazy? And we toured it and we thought this is crazy!" Janelle said.

With worn seats and a leaking roof, Janelle admits there's a lot of work to be done.

"But when we thought about the impact that The Melba has had over the years and we thought about the impact it could have in the future, it was a no brainer," Janelle said.

They aren't the only ones who felt that way. Multiple people and businesses have partnered with the Shells and Curtwrights to restore and reopen The Melba.

"Marshall's Dry Good is actually at the end of Main Street and they're actually going to give us all the fabric for the seats at cost," Mandi Curtwright said. "Babb's Upholstery is just right up the road, also on Main Street and they are going to give us an awesome deal on reupholstering all of the seats down here."

Mandi said they've also partnered with Intimidator UTV in Batesville.

"They've agreed to help us powder coat the metal on the seats so that they just look brand new again," Mandi said. "So we're making a lot of community partners as well as businesses that have said they'll host events, they'll host movie nights."

One of the biggest obstacles they face will be bringing The Melba into the 21st century by converting from film to digital.

"With that digital conversion, it's a large expense," Joe Shell said. "But we'll have a lot better picture."

Though there is a lot to be done, Joe said it's something they anticipated going in.

"We invested in it to find out is this doable," Joe said. "It's still going to be an uphill climb but we think that it's possible."

"This is much bigger than any of us thought of," Janelle said. "It's gonna be something that we can be so proud that our families are involved in and that we can leave a legacy."

A lot of work has already been done in the renovation process including tearing out carpet in the theater and tile in the front lobby.

Plans are also in place to place a central ticket booth in the front of the theater to help give The Melba its original look.

The goal is to have The Melba open this fall. There are multiple fundraising opportunities in line if you wish to get involved.

One such fundraiser is the "Save My Seat" campaign. Donors who give $50 will have a plaque with their name inscribed attached to one of the theater's seats.

For information on how you can get involved, contact the Shells and Curtwrights on The Melba Theater Facebook Page.

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