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The Little Theatre recognized for preservation efforts with statewide award

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WXXI
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file photo
The Little Theatre on East Avenue in Rochester.

The Little Theatre in Rochester has received a statewide award for its recent renovation project.

That theater, which is operated by WXXI, has been named one of this year’s Excellence in Historic Preservation award winners. That program is run by the Preservation League of New York State, an organization that advocates for historic buildings.

The Little is America’s oldest art-house cinema, and it opened in 1929.

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Bero Architecture
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provided photo
The lobby of The Little Theatre after the renovation project designed to restore the 1929 building to its Art Deco splendor.

The renovations were overseen by locally based Bero Architecture, which specializes in the restoration of historic buildings.

Project Architect Christopher Brandt said that it was an intricate process over several years to restore The Little to its Art Deco splendor.

“(It) took a lot of time to sort of surgically figure out where each part and piece went together,” said Brandt. “We also hit bedrock down in the basement; that was maybe more of a one of those classic surprises with an existing building when we hit the bedrock just beneath the basement floor for installing the elevator to provide accessibility to all levels of the building.”

The architect and builders worked to restore the theater while also making sure it had improvements to make it more accessible in keeping with 21st century requirements. The theater renovation project was first talked about in 2015, and most of the actual construction went on from 2018 to 2020.

The work included restoring the façade to its original appearance. Intact original elements including the lobby poster box, ticket booth, marble and wood moldings, decorative plaster and doors were retained or saved and incorporated into the design.

Original features that had been lost or damaged including wrought iron stair railings, crown moldings, auditorium sconces and the auditorium seating were reconstructed or restored.

Little Theatre interior Bero.jpg
Bero Architecture
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provided
The auditorium in The Little Theatre #1 after the restoration project.

All new elements including the concessions cabinetry, wood doors and light fixtures were selected to be like those seen in historic photographs or designed to be complimentary to the building’s original Art Deco style.

Jay DiLorenzo is president of the Preservation League, and he said this award is about more than just preserving a particular building.

“It’s a wonderful example of how historic preservation isn’t just about the building, it’s about the people that utilize it and enjoy it,” said DiLorenzo. “So this isn’t a stagnant place. It’s a community hub, it’s full of life, and it serves the people of Rochester with alternative cinema as well as films, music, visual arts.”

The 2022 awardees from the Preservation League included 10 winners, including three from the Rochester area. Locally, besides The Little Theatre, other Rochester winners include Edgemere Development and Steve Jordan, who restores old windows.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.