Winyah Auditorium ‘selling’ seats
to help pay for balcony renovations
It’s time for another curtain call at the historic Winyah Auditorium, so, please, take your seat.
Or, better yet, you can help pay for renovations to Winyah’s balcony by buying one of the seats for $250. It’s all part of a continuing fundraiser for the historic facility’s balcony renovations.
With recent renovations, the Winyah Auditorium, known for its amazing acoustics and even more extraordinary performances, now offers 412 seats — 296 on the main floor, 116 in the now-renovated balcony — for each show as it continues to attract high-level performers from around the country.
That is the main reason the Winyah Auditorium board of directors completed renovations to the Thom Martin Balcony at an estimated cost of $25,000. Renovations have included removing, refinishing and re-installing the 116 original balcony seats, replacing the flooring, and installing railings and lighting to bring the balcony up to code. A grand-opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Thom Martin Balcony was held on Saturday, Sept. 14.
“Our goal has been to make the auditorium a vital asset in the community,” said Michelle Lusardi, board chair of the nonprofit Winyah Auditorium.
To help pay for those renovations, the board has been “selling” seats first installed on the balcony in 1924 for $250 each. Contributions, which are tax deductible, will be acknowledged by a small brass plaque on the back of a seat, as well as on the “Wall of Honor” in the auditorium’s lobby.
“These fundraising efforts to restore the balcony to its former glory are important not only in preserving the past, but as an engine to go into the future,” said Dedric Bonds, WInyah’s director.
Lusardo and Bonds said, as of Sept. 18, the auditorium had sold 86 of the 116 seats. They urge anyone who is interested to act soon to make sure they can be part of Winyah Auditorium history.
“We haven’t quite covered the construction costs since things came up and there were more expenses than we anticipated,” Lusardi said. “When we do raise enough to cover those expenses, whatever is left over will be used to bring more big-named shows to Georgetown.”
Patrons can also have a name plaque on one of 296 cushioned seats on the main floor at a cost of $350 each. Any donation for seats is tax deductible.
Currently, the auditorium board offers two shows per month while leaving other dates open for community events, including birthday parties, memorial programs, student performances and more. The auditorium is also home to the Indigo Choral Society and the new Georgetown Theater Orchestra, Lusardi said.
Loril H. Young, publicity chair for Indigo Choral Society, said that group is glad to call Winyah Auditorium home. The singers practice in the auditorium every Monday night.
“The acoustics have always been wonderful in there,” Young said, adding that her solo choral debut performance was on that stage when she was in the fifth grade. “It is a great auditorium, and it is near and dear to my heart.”
The balcony is named for the late Thom Martin, a strong supporter of the performing arts in the city of Georgetown. As director of music for Georgetown Presbyterian Church and artistic director of the Indigo Choral Society, he worked to bring the magic of music to the Georgetown community, according to the Winyah Auditorium’s website.
Martin had just reconstituted a board of directors for the historic Winyah Auditorium when he passed away unexpectedly in 2014, the website states.
“With his great vision, passionate devotion, and impeccable talent, Thom devoted his life for the work of God to be a blessing to his fellow man,” the website states. “His passing left a ‘hole’ in the hearts of many individuals and organizations with which he was involved.”
Martin’s vision for the Winyah Auditorium was far-reaching and the auditorium’s board has embraced it fully, Lusardi said.
“Thom wanted to preserve and protect the Winyah Auditorium as an important component of Georgetown history,” she said. “He wanted to develop the auditorium as a vital resource for our diverse community via our rental program. And he wanted the auditorium as a vibrant venue for the performing arts by bringing musical artists to our stage.”
Visitors to the Winyah Auditorium, located at 1200 Highmarket St. in Georgetown, rave about the amazing acoustics of this historic building for live performances by singers, actors and musicians. Since reopening in 2011, the venue has offered a welcoming space for chamber music ensembles, rock concerts, gospel shows, performances of Shakespeare’s plays, and a jazz festival, as well as pageants, recitals and town meetings.
Construction of the Winyah Auditorium took place in 1907, on what had been the city commons on Highmarket Street between Cleland and Dozier streets. The first event held in the auditorium was a Georgetown town meeting in March 1908.
Initially the building mainly served as a graded elementary school, but with the addition of a new wing in 1924, the Winyah served as the historically white junior and senior high school for the town during segregation. As the town grew, space became an issue within the school.
A fire in 1981 resulted in significant smoke damage to the auditorium and newer wing. The last class of Winyah Gators graduated from Winyah High School in 1985, when the new Georgetown High School opened its doors.
In 1988, A group of dedicated citizens, led by former school secretary Nell Cribb, saved the building from demolition by petitioning to have it placed on the National Register of Historic Places. For several years, the City of Georgetown used the space for offices, and Coastal Carolina University brought instruction back into the classrooms. After a few years, use of the building waned, and it was abandoned and boarded up. It remained unoccupied for nearly 25 years.
Two and a half decades later, a group of devoted citizens, along with the City and County of Georgetown, came together to raise enough money to restore the neglected building and the auditorium. Renovations included removing seats from first floor of the auditorium, sanding and restoring the original floors, re-glazing the windows, painting the ceiling and hanging period lighting. Several bas-relief panels original to the building were returned to their initial positions at the front and the rear of the auditorium. Surrounding the auditorium, the Winyah School building also houses The Georgetown School of Arts and Sciences, Coastal Optical, and Coastal Eye Group.
Programs and events at the Winyah Auditorium are supported by grants from the City and County of Georgetown, by individual and family memberships, by sponsorships from generous individual donors, and by local businesses and organizations.
Lusardi and Bonds welcome area residents and Georgetown visitors to see a show at the Winyah Auditorium. Tickets are usually $15 to $20 online through the Winyah Auditorium website and $20 to $25 at the door.
“Please check out our upcoming fall and spring season’s performance schedule,” Lusardi said. “We have Americana singer-songwriters, we have jazz, we have bluegrass, we have some classical, and we have more tribute bands coming to bring the magic of their music to Georgetown.”
–– By Clayton Stairs, tourism manager for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce