In Millville, N.J., the theater must go on

A 103-year-old theater in Millville, N.J., collapsed Monday as it was undergoing renovations. The Levoy Theater had not operated in decades. And although its roof and most of three walls have crumbled, the town still anticipates the theater’s grand reopening.

It took the Levoy Theater Preservation Society more than 10 years to raise the $8.4 million to bring the long-shuttered theater back to its former glory. Construction had barely begun — the foundation was being reinforced — when most of the roof and the entire front end of the building suddenly came crashing down. A firefighter suffered a broken leg, and investigators are trying to determine the reason for the collapse.

Preservation society chair Lauren Van Embden said the collapse will slow, but not stop, the renovation.

“It wasn’t repairable, it was going to be a completely new construction from the inside out,” said Van Embden, who says the building’s historical style was vague because it had been changed so often in its history. “The only thing we were trying to salvage were the walls, and that is not going to work now.”

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For several years, Millville has been marketing itself as a cultural destination. Famous for its glass art, 10 years ago the town established an art district as an economic generator. The Levoy Theater sits in the middle of the district.

Marianne Lods of the Millville Development Corporation said local businesses have been anticipating the theater as a jewel in their crown.

“They may have delayed some of the plans, but we’re a town that pulls together,” said Lods. “We have a can-do attitude. This is going to go forward. We’re going to do everything in our power to help them get built.”

Van Embden, who calls herself an eternal optimist, plans to have the theater rebuilt and open for business this summer, its original completion time — give or take a few weeks.

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