Soon, there will be concerts, plays, films and other programs at the historic Tybee Post Theater, which will be celebrated with a grand opening Sept. 26.
“It’s been 15 years in the making,” says executive director Melissa Turner. “It was 2001 when the Friends of the Tybee Theater originally formed.
“We wanted to raise money to restore that old theater. We’ve been working ever since to raise the cash to do it.
“Now the theater is done,” she says. “The only thing we don’t have is the digital projector, the screen, the state-of-the-art sound system and theater lighting, and all that will come in a few months.”
The 220-seat theater is in the Fort Screven Historic District at the north end of Tybee Island. Fort Screven was a military base that was active from the Spanish-American War through the end of World War II.
The red-brick Post Theater was constructed in 1930 so movies could be shown to the soldiers stationed at the fort. It was one of the first theaters in Georgia equipped to show talkies.
Some of the famous patrons who have been to the theater include Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the future president of the United States. Composer Johnny Mercer and base commander Gen. George C. Marshall also attended programs at the theater.
After World War II, the base was declared surplus and sold to the city of Savannah Beach, now Tybee Island. Much of the land and many of the buildings were auctioned to the public.
Until the mid-’60s, the Post Theater was operated as the Beach Theater. When modern theaters became popular in Savannah, the theater went dark and stood vacant for 30 years.
At one point, the building caught fire, which destroyed the wooden stage and much of the roof. In 1999, a developer applied for a demolition permit, but the Tybee Historical Society was able to purchase the building in 2001 and Friends of the Tybee Theater was formed to restore it.
In 2006, the group purchased the building from the historical society and $350,000 in SPLOST funding was used in 2008 to refurbish the walls and install a roof.
A historic preservation grant was used to install new doors and windows. The auditorium was restored, and air conditioning, seats, a stage and an upstairs office were added.
A grant was received from the Georgia Council of the Arts to recreate the marquee and box office. The final project was the installation of the brick plaza and walkway.
The remaining parts of the project will be funded through SPLOST. Bids are currently being obtained, but the theater is completely functional as is.
“We decided we wanted to finish the plaza with engraved bricks and a walkway to open the face of the theater to the public,” Turner says. “It’s ready for the public to come in. That’s why we’re having the grand opening, to thank everyone who has supported this effort for 15 long years.
“We really do think when people walk up and see all the engraved bricks and the auditorium with its great, big beautiful stage, they are going to go ‘Wow!’” she says. “We’re going to have a couple of bands on stage and the sound system sounds great; it just won’t be the permanent one.”
Live music will be provided by the trio Girlfriends and their full band, Sassy Cats and the Toms. Friends of the Tybee Theater are wasting no time in putting the theater to use.
“The following night is ‘Tybee’s Got Talent,’ the first ticketed event,” Turner says. “It was started years ago and has gone on for years and years.
“This is something that is typically Tybee that everyone remembers and loves,” she says. “I really hope that everybody who has been waiting for this theater for all these years will come out and see what we’ve all accomplished together.”
The Tybee Post Theater board of directors has been in place for 15 years, Turner says.
“Members have come and gone,” she says. “They’ve given lots of time and money and we want them to get thanks and recognition.
“We’ve got a board of 16 now who will be there on opening day. We’ll be acting as bartenders and hosts and hostesses while the volunteers take the night off and enjoy themselves.”
Friends of the Tybee Theater have put about $1.8 million into the restoration project.
“Just about $700,000 of that is from the community,” Turner says. “That’s a tremendous amount of money that’s gone into it and it’s still not done yet. We really are hoping to be able to raise $1 million to finish the theater, pay off the debt and show financial success of the theater.”
“Tybee’s Got Talent” will be co-hosted by Kim Trammell and Renee DeRossett.
“There is a $300 grand prize and a $100 second prize,” DeRossett says. “It’s a who’s who on Tybee. We’ll have dancers, singers, a puppeteer, a stand-up comedian and our beach chair brigade is doing a number.”
People have long wanted to restore the theater, DeRossett says.
“I’ve been here 25 years,” she says. “I remember poking my head in the theater with Burke Day in 1994 and saying, ‘This will be a theater again some day.’
“Jim Klutz is our hero. He stepped in and bought the mortgage and kept it from being torn down. That’s when things started happening.
“We were really fortunate,” DeRossett says. “The whole community has wanted to see this happen.”
As an actor and director with the Tybee Arts Association, DeRossett is excited about upcoming events.
“We will have everything from movies, music concerts and theatrical productions to dance concerts,” she says. “The Post Theater will offer so much more to this community in every realm of entertainment.
“Even though there is still quite a ways to go before we have all the equipment we are going to have, we are excited to have the building restored back to its former glory and beyond. We can now invite the public that has put so much into the restoration of this precious landmark in to see what they have done and offer them a glimpse of what is to come.
“It is amazing to see the work that is going into that building every day,” DeRossett says. “It was so exciting to be in that building for our first rehearsal for ‘Tybee’s Got Talent.’”
IF YOU GO
What: Grand reopening of the Tybee Post Theater
When: 6 p.m. Sept. 26
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
Cost: Free, but RSVP under the “buy tickets” button online
What: Tybee’s Got Talent
When: 7 p.m. Sept 27
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.