A group of community tourism leaders recently toured the Granada Theatre in downtown Mt. Vernon. Currently only open for special events and private parties, the Granada was formerly the boom of downtown with its bookend sister, the former movie theater from the other end of 9th Street, the Stadium.
Under the ownership of entrepreneur, Russell Brown, who purchased the Granada from a non-profit organization formed to save and preserve the icon, the Granada Theatre lobby has been completely refurbished. Brown has preserved treasured aspects such as a mural painted by Bob Troutt and Jim Orrison in 1985 and the 40s era light fixtures.
Attached to the Granada Theatre, what was once a sweetshop, according to Brown, is now Humphrey’s Bar, named after Humphrey Bogart the classic actor in Brown’s favorite movie, Casablana.
Nearly 10,000 people have already been through the doors of the Granada Theatre in the month of December alone at one of more than 20 events, proving that downtown needs a venue to recharge and unwind or host an event for friends, family or colleagues. With only the lobby and Humphrey’s renovated and open at this time, the maximum capacity is 100 at a time, but Brown hopes that will all change in the near future.
Brown has a vision. With plans to renovate the auditorium which once donned a big screen, then later was divided into two movie theaters with a screen in each, Brown sees a stage expansion, floor leveling (to meet ADA requirements) and addition of mezzanine boxes a possibility. “Nothing is set in stone,” Brown lamented. “The project sometimes changes as it goes along.” As is true of any project with a building more than 100 years old. The auditorium is gutted now, awaiting the beginning of the next renovation stage which will hopefully begin in early 2019 and be done within the same year.
Traveling upstairs, excitement grew for our group as we not only saw where movies used to play from, but other areas upstairs, long ago vacated by an insurance company, the teller windows and cash drawers still intact. Right now, Brown envisions a private club for supporters of the Granada, similar to what one finds at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. Where they can come for private meals, drinks and more. “But who knows?” he says. Who knows indeed. The walls in the Granada could tell so many stories and hopefully will tell many more.
The New Years Eve event, Tinseltown: An Old Hollywood NYE Party, has sold out. The event, to be catered by downtown fine dining establishment, RARE Chop House, will also feature modern jazz music by “The Perrilles Project”. Other events at the Granada incorporate Brown’s downtown neighbors. “We like to support each other,” Brown commented. “We have a great vibe going downtown and it is good to work together.” Previous events such as the Throwback Thursday (#TBT) held on Thursdays last Fall featured other local musicians and dining delights from nearby Guero’s Mexican, Joe’s Pizza & Pasta and MJ’s Kingdom Catering.
As we rounded up the tour of what is and what is to come at the Granada everyone in the group had a story… seeing this movie here with this person, seeing Elvis on the big screen in “Blue Hawaii”, touring the projection room on a school field trip and more. The nostalgia of the past feeding the ambitions of tomorrow and looking forward to more memories along the way.
Photos by Lana Buck, Tourism Host: “The Granada. These walls whisper warm memories of days gone by and memories to be made.”