Reader board will be replaced with a replica of the original canopyA two ton bit of history crashed to the ground Friday morning.

The Liberty Theater restoration project reached a major milestone when the crumbing, rusting marquee was removed.

The destruction of the 1950s reader board leaves the main entrance of the Liberty raw and unfinished. But soon a replica of the original canopy covering will be installed, said Skip Stanaway, an associate principal with SRG Partnership of Portland.

The schedule for the marquee's removal was accelerated by restoration of Spanish tile on the theater's roof. Passersby will observe that work this week. Solum Roofing of Knappa is the contractor.

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On top of the marquee, Jared Rickenbach helps prepare the steel structure to be lowered by crane.

Stanaway is designing the replica canopy. Liberty Restoration Inc., the nonprofit group in charge of theater renovation, is seeking in-kind and other contributions for its fabrication. This stage of the theater restoration could be completed in six to eight months.

However, it is always a challenge to resurrect a building feature for which there are no plans.

"We don't have a lot to work with," Stanaway said. "All we have are old stock photographs."

Friday morning, construction crews didn't have a lot to work with, either. The theater marquee, decayed from 50 years of North Coast weather, started falling apart hours before it was finally removed by a crane at 11 a.m.

To pry the sign from the building, Trevor Sellars and Jared Rickenbach of Rickenbach Construction Inc. started chipping away bits and pieces of the rusty relic at 9 a.m. Using a cutting torch, Rickenbach chiseled away the rusted-over steel supports, as sparks and sign chunks showered down on the street below.

"Hopefully he won't saw himself off the roof," Sellars quipped.

Submitted photo

Liberty Restoration Inc. and its architect are seeking people with memories of this canopy, which graced the front of the Liberty Theater from 1925 to 1949.

Rickenbach, whose company is the principal contractor for the Liberty's restoration, said it was the first time he'd removed a theater marquee.

"You just start for a corner and go," he said as he cut large holes in the marquee that would later be used to give the crane a grip on the structure. "It's no big deal. In construction you rarely do something twice."

Rickenbach and Sellars took turns climbing up inside the huge marquee, stepping carefully as bits of the sign crumbled away under their feet.

"Grab me a sweatshirt," Rickenbach said as the cutting torch threw sparks over his bare arms. The two men were more worried about the people walking below on the sidewalk than they were about the sign itself.

"We do a lot of stuff like this that's right over the street," Sellars explained.

Once the crane arrived, the block in front of the theater was closed, and people were directed to use sidewalks on the opposite side of Commercial Street. As the crane was attached to the marquee, traffic slowed as people tried to catch the best possible view.

Theater House Manager Larry Bryant was one of the many people watching the sign come down. "I'll miss (the marquee) in some ways, but it's not original," he said as he snapped photos. "It's suffered a lot from the weather. If we didn't take it down, it would fall down anyway.

"There's literally been pieces of steel falling down on the sidewalk for the past year."

Cheri Folk, a board member for Liberty Restoration Inc., expressed her elation at this latest development.

"This is probably one of the most important projects in the city. It's a centerpiece, it's a piece of history that needs to be preserved."

Folk added that the latest stage in the project is important because everyone has seen the rusty, dilapidated sign.

"If the center of your downtown is falling apart and in shambles, what does that say about our community?"

Folk said she can't wait for the new marquee to be built. "It will be the jewel of the new building."

Historic building consultant John Goodenberger said he's confident the rest of the restoration project will take shape as work continues.

"The building is your book. The building is your guide. And if you go slowly and carefully it will tell you," he said.

Goodenberger said he's sad the marquee has to go, but is looking forward to a new structure.

"Yeah, I'll miss it. But once people see the new canopy going up and see how beautiful it is, they'll forget about this marquee."