Building the Pix Theatre, an Arts Center for Canyon County 

Converting Nampa's old movie palace into a thriving arts hub

The Pix Foundation is raising funds to turn Nampa's old Pix Theatre into a multi-use arts venue.

Amy Greer

The Pix Foundation is raising funds to turn Nampa's old Pix Theatre into a multi-use arts venue.

It has been more than 12 years since lines of moviegoers stretched down the sidewalk of 12th Avenue South, anxious to purchase a ticket at the Pix Theatre's brightly lit booth.

Yet the Pix Foundation, organized to rehabilitate the ailing 66-year-old cinema, envisions turning the space into a arts-focused multipurpose venue.

"Our goal is to create a centerpiece in Nampa for entertainment, as well as education," said foundation board President Debra Lindner. "There really isn't anything like that in downtown."

The 10-member board sees the theater as a venue for the performing arts, and a space for workshops and community events at the core of Canyon County's fastest-growing city.

"For the second largest city in the state, we're kind of behind on this," said board member Dustan Bristol.

Bristol, owner of Brick 29 Bistro a block away from the old theater, has contributed money and time to the project to assist in cultivating a strong downtown culture.

"I want to help create an environment that's similar to downtown Boise, where people don't have to go to a chain, where they don't have to go to Edward's and Red Robin to have the same experience," said Bristol.

Entering through the theater's glass-paneled wooden doors, Lindner gestured to the building's stark, expansive interior. At the bottom of the sloped concrete floor sits a platform for a stage.

After the Pix was gutted of its deteriorated furnishings between 2004-2006, the damaged roof was repaired and steel beams were installed to reinforce the structure.

On Sept. 11, 1946, the glittering new theater was a major draw, and a full house filed into the 688-seat venue to watch Rita Hayworth star in the musical Tonight and Every Night.

"People came from all over the surrounding states and this area. It was quite a grand opening," said Lindner, "because it was the largest theater in Idaho."

Single-screen movie palaces, many boasting opulent architecture, once showcased first-run Hollywood films in the hearts of American cities, but have since given way to multiplexes.

"There are only two historic theaters left in the Treasure Valley," Lindner said. "All the theaters in Boise are gone, and all the theaters here are gone."

In Boise, the updated Egyptian Theatre serves as a multi-use venue and performing arts center, and even shows the occasional film. The Pix hopes to do the same for Nampa.

"We have learned there is a huge need for a place for smaller, local performers," said Lindner. "All of the places that are available for local performances are really expensive and way too big."

Plans for the Pix's future include a stage, stadium seating for 400, a balcony and a mezzanine. The Nampa Civic Center, which seats 640 people, is often too large for small community groups and performers. The Pix could serve as a more intimate venue.

"I think if you only have a couple of hundred, or maybe 150 people, you're not going to feel as dwarfed as you do at the Civic Center," Lindner said. "I think it's going to make a huge difference in downtown Nampa."

The Nampa Children's Theatre, a youth theater program organized as a subsidiary of the Pix Foundation, could eventually use the Pix stage for regular performances. Executive Director Annie Cerda sees the Pix as a homebase for the organization.

"We'll have a stable venue, so we'll never have to go in search of a stage or do all the crazy things we do right now. Right now, we have to have lighting donated, changing areas donated--everything is really difficult and really time-consuming. It makes it more difficult to focus on the production," she said.

The NCT began its inaugural season in June staffed by a group of volunteers and chaired by an all-youth board. December's production of The Velveteen Rabbit, said Cerda, features a cast of 30 children.

While the NCT could regularly make use of the stage, Lindner stressed the Pix would serve a variety of organizations and nonprofits.

"We're trying to create something for the community. So we're going to be very reasonable in our rental fees," said Lindner.

But before the Pix Foundation can begin updating the interior, it needs to raise $65,000 to pay for the building. The foundation has organized a capital campaign called the 650 Club, a campaign to find 650 people to each donate $100. Those donors will have their names immortalized within the building and will help free The Pix from the bank.

From there, Lindner said local companies have offered in-kind contributions, including material donations and the building's electrical system, to chip away at the $1.5 million in funds needed to get the building ready for the public.

"Personally, I don't think we're going to have any trouble at all doing the equipment and the furnishings for what we get in donations," she said.

On the other side of 12th Avenue South a major development may soon make The Pix even more central to the City of Nampa.

The Nampa Development Corporation will soon finalize contracts to build a 60,000-sq.-ft. public library, including a parking garage and public plaza. The new library is planned to directly face the front door of The Pix.

"The city has been a big supporter of [The Pix Theatre] project for a long time," said Cliff Long, City of Nampa office of economic development director.

Long said the new Pix Theatre could be a real "shot in the arm" for downtown, extending the operating hours of the area. To aid in The Pix Foundation's efforts, the city dedicated grant funds to the project two years ago.

"Having something like this in your downtown core is a tremendous asset. The size of the venue is perfect for readings, small concerts and community gatherings," Long said.

Sixty-six years after Lindner's father, Harold Lovelady, helped add the last layers of plaster to the Pix Theatre, she believes there's still a chance to preserve that history.

"For me, this theater needs to be here," said Lindner. "It's stood the test of time for a long time, and we need to stop destroying our historic buildings. We need to take care of the buildings we can save."

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