Arts of the Pamlico seeks funding for Turnage roof repairs

Published 7:28 pm Friday, July 5, 2019


Washington Daily News

The hub to Washington’s arts community is becoming more vulnerable to the unpredictable weather, and the clock is ticking louder each day.

Work to repair the failing roof of the historic Turnage Theatre’s vaudeville theater began June 10, a costly process that has Arts of the Pamlico continuing its quest for donations from organizations and individuals alike in the Raise the Roof campaign. Started in March, the campaign’s goal is to raise $500,000 for the roof’s restoration within the next year.

“They identified two of the six trusses were in imminent failure, and now that the tin ceiling has been pulled down, they’ve identified a third and believe the others may need to be replaced as well,” said Debra Torrence, the AOP executive director. “So we’ll be using every bit that we get donated.”

The Turnage Theatre has been a staple in Washington since 1913, when the vaudeville theater was built. Later, the palace-style theater was added on the rear of the building. After more than 60 years in operation, the theater closed in 1978 and quickly became derelict.

A group of preservationists created the Turnage Theaters Foundation and successfully renovated it throughout the mid-1990s and 2000s, but it closed its doors again in 2011, only four years after its reopening, due to the recession. The $4 million restoration left the Foundation bankrupt, and the roof was never fully restored.

“I think they hoped to do it, but then ran out of money and went bankrupt,” Torrence said. “And here we are.”

AOP bought the building in 2013, and has since found several leaks in the old theater’s ceiling. Due to a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the nonprofit was able to complete a structural design report and plan with Curtis McLawhorn of McLawhorn Engineering, who gave them the estimated cost of $500,000.

Since March, AOP has received support from the City of Washington, as well as organizations such as the Fox Theatre Institute in Georgia and the Eddie Smith Family Foundation.

FTI, an outreach program that offers financial support for the restoration of historic theaters, donated $50,000, making AOP the first out-of-state donation for the nonprofit.

The Eddie Smith Family Foundation, on the other hand, is an independent foundation based in Greenville. The Foundation donated $75,000 and pledged to match another $75,000 of private donations.

Including the $50,000 from the city, grants from nonprofits and private donations, AOP has raised a total of $302,000 for the project as of June 25.

“We’re very thankful,” Torrence said. “People have been very generous, and knowing that this is a huge economic driver and community space, we want it to survive well beyond our tenure here.”

According to Torrence, the Turnage Theatre has been a crucial institution in the city since its reopening in 2014. Along with AOP, the theater holds events for East Carolina University, Beaufort County Schools, local community organizations and civic groups and more — all free or at a low cost.

“We’re an arts council,” Torrence said. “We believe in community, having access to the arts and making it as affordable as possible. So donations are critical to keep the lights on, the programs going and the ceiling literally over our heads.”

Those interested in donating can visit