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Louisburg council discusses approved demolition of former theater

The former Louisburg Theater, now roped off, is on 109 W. Nash St. Laura Browne | The Wake Weekly

LOUISBURG — The Louisburg Town Council approved demolition of the former Louisburg Theater. Some council members want to save the building, but others have their doubts.

Franklin County Commissioners voted Aug. 7 to approve demolition of the building after officials with Oakley Collier Architects determined it unsafe and structurally unsound. Franklin County owns the site and plans to build a judicial complex .

Some residents haven’t given up on efforts to preserve the theater, despite the vote. Council member Mark Russell said many residents contacted him with a desire to save the building, which has been vacant and without routine maintenance since 2009. 

“I think as a council and as a town, we need to represent the people that put us here and have a discussion on what we can do, possibly talk to county commissioners and (the) county manager, and ways we can possibly work together to save the structures that are important to our history,” Russell said Aug 21. 

Council Member Emma Stewart said although she felt nostalgic about the building, having attended movies there, some structures can’t be preserved.

“There’s some things that can be saved, there’s some things that can’t. I think you need to look into what the ramifications of things are,” Stewart said.

Council member Betty Wright echoed Stewart, saying not all memories of the theater were pleasant because of the segregation she and other Black people experienced at the theater.

“It’s not peaches and cream for everybody that went to the theater, because I grew up in the era where we had to wait for the people like me to come in,” Wright said.

Stewart said Oakley Collier Architects is reputable and also is leading the Depot Hill project. 

“If we ask for more information, then it seems to me that it’s going against the opinion of architects that we trust enough to provide a service for us,” said Mayor Christopher Neal. 

Council member Silke Stein said Louisburg lacks sufficient entertainment options, and a revitalized Louisburg Theater could be an asset to the town and area.

“We’re very limited anyway, especially in our downtown,” Stein said. “Although I’m sure that the county will benefit from a justice center, unfortunately, that’s not something for everyone in the community to do. I don’t know if you guys like hanging out at the justice center, but that’s not where I want to go for fun.”

Russell said he wants the county to take time to try to give people the chance to preserve the theater. In time, maybe an investor could come along and restore the building. 

Representatives for Oakley Collier Architects say the building’s exterior brick walls have bowed and cracked over time, which could eventually lead to a collapse. 

“Our general consensus after this observation was that the existing building is unsafe for use in its current state,” Zach Stroud of EM Structural Engineers said on Aug. 7.

Oakley Collier Architects found standing water in the theater, and the building’s foundation and exterior awning compromised.

“This isn’t just about the courthouse annex,” Michael Schriver, chairman of the Franklin County Commissioners said Aug. 7. 

“It’s about the safety of the community at 109 Nash St. And the county bought the building — full disclosure —  bought the building because its access and ability to be used to incorporate the growth in our county that we talked about here tonight for people to get to the courts.

A Facebook group, Save the Louisburg Theater, so far has 700 members.