I have a few memories of my own from that building, after the theater was closed though. I used to take dance classes in the large room upstairs when it was run by Rena Storm. It was the most beautiful ballet studio I’ve ever seen, large and spacious. They just don’t make studios as big and grand anymore. I used to love it there. I can’t imagine it being anything other than a dance space, I would love to see it be rejuvenated!
I recall going to the Wildey only a few times, but one stands out. December, 1983. The premiere of the movie, A Christmas Story. We didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect, but with three young kids and reasonable ticket prices and a movie title like that, we gave it a shot. The whole family enjoyed the experience immensely, as you can imagine. “You’ll shoot your eye out” became a family phrase long before most others knew what we were talking about. (And, yes, I did know that the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse’s name was Victor.) As to the Wildey itself, it was musty and seemed threadbare and old. We sat on the left near the entry next to a metal pole that supported the balcony. I recall thinking that the pole seemed very lightweight for the task, but then the balcony isnt’ all that big, is it?
Carl Schlanger – Manchester, MO
I worked at the Wildey when I was in high school. I saved the article from the Intelligencer with a picture of the Wildey and me selling tickets. I sold the last ticket. I also have my old name tag with Plitt Theatre on it. It was a great job when you were in high school. You could do homework when you weren’t busy. When I worked behind the counter selling popcorn, there wasn’t a register. We added everything in our heads and made our own change. Most kids don’t know how to do that these days.
Cara Lytle and Craig Leitner – We were Part of the Wildey restoration project in the mid 80’s. (We also went to prom together in 1973.)
Cara: The problems we faced were running the facility with a group of volunteers who took care of the boilers, cleaned toilets, cleaned after the movies, ran the old projectors, came down to the theater in the middle of the night whenever a door would blow open, dealt with the police, get the movies in and out, clean up – in addition to the fund-raising efforts. We all had regular jobs and were trying o do this in our spare time.
Craig: We raised about $50k in order to move forward. For a while we made monthly payments on the lease purchase. It was challenging, that’s for sure. The problem we faced was that there were repairs needed to make the stage functional. There were no lights or sprinklers. It was $25k worth of work to the stage to make it functional just for the immediate needs, not including equipment. We had no drapes or current rigging system. But we had a regular movie series with children’s movies on Saturday afternoons every weekend.
Cara: The downtown merchants got involved and helped promote special events including Wildey days when artists would walk down the street.
Craig: We had two Wildey family Christmas shows as fundraisers at SIUE. We had a country French brunch desperately trying to find money. We made money from the movies, but not much. We hired two different consultants including Mackey Associates in St. Louis as part of the grant process. We also had Peter Sortino who did management planning for us. We had good people, but it was just too expensive. The cost to develop the proposal was about $25k, which was serious money when you’re trying to get the money together to operate and fix up the place. As we were finalizing the application, there was a fire at the Arlington Race Track (the funding source) so the funding dried up as the State dried up the grant. That pretty much did us in.
Craig: My first memory was a really bad Andy Griffith movie. I don’t remember the name of it, but even at age 6 or 7, I remember being very critical of it. I remember seeing A Hard Day’s Night on opening night (I’m a huge Beetles fan). I went with my neighbors. It was embarrassing because I was the only guy with this group of girls and they were all screaming and I thought, should I scream too? It seemed pretty weird. In the end, I don’t think I did. But I remember seeing Dr. Zhivago for the first time at the Wildey. I remember sitting in the front row of the balcony center and was overwhelmed because it was such a great movie. Most of my memories were in the 80s when a few of us tried to bring the Wildey back. My friend Cara Lytle and Kate Richards Motley planned the effort around Cara’s kitchen table.
Cara: It was so sad that the theater was closing and it had been a theater for so long. We had read articles about the Wildey becoming a warehouse and that just seemed kind of sad. We thought Edwardsville was such a vibrant city and the Wildey was perfect for an Arts Center. At the time, the State of Illinois had a large grant available for civic centers funded from money that came out of the Arlington Race track near Chicago. Our hope was to get a base of community people interested and write for this grant to have the Wildey converted into an Arts Center.
Craig: We started by using the auspices of the Madison County Arts Council (MCAC). A bunch of us joined and became officers of the group to use the MCAC as the vehicle to apply for the grant. Edwardsville, being the county seat, made sense that MCAC would have a base in Edwardsville. We talked about gallery space and there was gallery space on either side of the lobby on the first floor. It was all based around education.
Cara: With no light at the end of the tunnel we just couldn’t get it going. We had a LOT of community support, so we were all disappointed after our two-year effort. But it was an amazing effort and demonstrated that the community was very supportive and wanted the Wildey saved. We still believe in the project and hope that it will re-open some day. It was a great idea whose time had not yet come … maybe the time has now come.