TYBEE ISLAND — Built by the Army in 1930, the Tybee Post Theater showed its last movie five decades ago and had fallen into disrepair by the time a developer sought to demolish it in 1999.
Historic preservationists managed to save the old brick theater. Now after years of restoration work paid for by more than $1 million in fundraising, Tybee Island's only movie theater is expected to reopen this spring.
"The fact that there hasn't been a movie shown in there in 50 years is sad," Melissa Turner, executive director of the nonprofit group Friends of Tybee Theater, told the Savannah Morning News. "It's going to be so great to make that happen again for the island."
The original theater, made of red brick and large enough to seat about 250 people, was constructed in 1930 for soldiers stationed at the Fort Screven Army post on Tybee Island. The Army closed the post in 1945 and the theater eventually was sold to private owners who showed movies there until closing the theater in 1962.
The building passed to several owners in the following decades and suffered from vandalism and neglect. At one point, a fire destroyed the wooden stage area and part of the roof. The theater's proximity to the beach made it desirable to developers wanting to tear it down. The Tybee Historical Society saved the property by buying it in 2001, the same year the Friends of Tybee Theater group was formed. It took ownership five years later.
"How many theaters do you know that are approximately 100 yards from the beach?" said Jim Kluttz, a Friends of Tybee Theater board member. "A lot of people have dreamed about this and kept this dream alive for the last 10 years and it's going to happen."
On Dec. 14, the group held an open house at the theater so island residents and supporters could see how its restoration was progressing firsthand. The building has a new roof, its exterior walls have been repaired and the lobby, restrooms and concession areas have been renovated.
There's still work to be done. A new stage and 240 seats still need to be installed inside the auditorium, along with audio and lighting equipment. Outside, an iron marquee canopy and a marble front box office will give a sense of the theater's early appearance.
In addition to showing movies, Turner said, the owners plan to use the Tybee Post Theater for live music and stage productions as well as educational events for children.
"Tybee doesn't have anything like this, so it's going to be a great thing for the community," Turner said.