QUINCY — The new owners of the State Theater are ready for visitors to create new stories beginning this week.
The Forward Quincy Cattywampus All-Stars, an offshoot of the Brooklyn-based musical group Food Will Win the War, will play a special performance Thursday night at the newly renovated theater at 434 S. Eighth. It will be the first event in the theater since February 2020. The theater opened in 1938.
“Everybody has a State Theater story,” said Caitlin Murray, who owns the theater with her husband, Douglas Peterson. “Everybody has been to a wedding there, everybody’s seen a movie there, and everybody has been there and has a positive story associated with it. We’re not trying to change it completely. All we’re trying to do is put our touch on it and then lean into that.”
Murray and Peterson also own the Calftown Cafe under the 8th Street Property LLC umbrella. Records from the Adams County Recorder’s office show they bought the theater from Ruth Ann Frese in July 2021 for $212,000.
Official grand opening set for May 21
The theater’s official grand opening will be a dueling bartenders fundraiser for the Quincy Public Library on May 21. Thursday’s event is part of a Midwest tour for Food Will Win the War, which is playing concerts in St. Louis and Columbia. Rob Ward, the group’s viola player and songwriter, recently moved to Quincy for work purposes.
“We convinced Rob to add a stop,” Murray said.
Future events have been booked. Murray said she’s looking to book weddings, birthday parties, graduation parties and corporate events.
“We really hope to be booking concerts and film screenings, too,” she said.
Peterson said the theater received an “aesthetic overhaul,” with light fixtures replaced as well as a paint job.
“We had to do stuff with the heating and air conditioning, but it was in good shape,” he said.
Owners going back to 1930s Art déco aesthetic
One of the most noticeable changes is the sign out front, which was silver or orange in previous years but now is aqua blue.
“It has not been lit for some time,” Murray said. “A bunch of the bulbs were out and things like that, so we fixed that and changed the bulbs to LED. We also had the facade painted.
“We’re trying to go back to the 1930s Art déco aesthetic when it first opened — and maybe it was a money laundering operation by organized crime, or maybe it was just as a movie theater. We’re not 100 percent sure. It was something the FBI couldn’t even prove.”
Murray and Brian Stitt, who operate the Calftown Cafe, started the Wandering Calf Film Series shortly after Murray and her family moved to Quincy in 2018. The series shows movies “you can’t see at AMC,” Murray said.
She hopes the theater can become the home of the film series.
“That is our passion project,” Murray said. “Our ultimate goal is to do free movie screenings and offer free concerts. We have grand plans about getting the bar open, having the doors open to the back patio, bringing food trucks up, using the cafe for food and having free music on the stage.
“Quincy has an incredible arts scene. I joke that every single person who has worked on this building has their own band. We could do an entire concert series just with people who have worked on the building. We want to be doing a lot of concerts and film screenings. Everybody has their own idea of what they want to do with this space.”
Theater opened on Christmas Day 1938
The theater can accommodate approximately 175 people at tables or 300 standing.
Peterson hopes the theater can add to the community once again.
“These beautiful spaces that are like Quincy landmarks, we want to use them to make memories for the newest generation of Quincyans and bring more things to do in Quincy,” he said. “When we first came to Quincy, we were going to leave after a year, but we felt like the community of Quincy was a beautiful thing. We had this really nice, awesome positive feedback, and it just made us want to do even more and want to participate in.”
The State Theater opened on Christmas Day 1938 with “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” starring Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Don Ameche. Charles Behrensmeyer was retained in 1927 to design the theater, and Leo Monckton erected the theater. It was last used as a movie theater in 1992.
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