Theater taking a well-earned bow
♦ The DeSoto, Rome’s Grand Dame of theater, celebrates 90 years this week.
Rome’s Historic DeSoto Theatre celebrated 90 years of entertaining generations of Rome and Floyd County residents Saturday. The building was a working theater house, built specifically for “talkies” in 1929. It continued to operate as a theater through 1982 when it was taken over by the Rome Little Theatre group.
The RLT organization is almost as old, at 86. Before taking over the DeSoto it operated out of a facility on Maple Avenue for many years.
An open house Saturday featured tours of the buildings, a birthday cake cutting with candles blown by out Gordon Leiter, who will turn 90 himself this winter. Leiter has been active with the organization since 1968 when he played the role of a Sumo wrestler in “Teahouse of the August Moon.” His final role was in the Norman Thayer Jr. role in “On Golden Pond,” played on the silver screen by Henry Fonda.
For the past 11 years, the building has been managed by the Historic DeSoto Theatre Foundation. David Clonts, president of the foundation, said the group has raised funds — close to a million dollars — over the past decade to bring the building back to the shape it’s in today.
The first big project involved major repairs to the roof, then the Fox Institute helped rehabilitate the entrance gallery to the building. All of the seats were replaced and then a couple of safety grants helped with the fire safety and electrical systems.
Gordon Leiter, a Rome Little Theatre supporter for 51 years, got the honor of blowing out the candles on the theater’s 90th birthday cake Saturday. The slice of cake is being held by RLT Board President Suzanne Clonts. The cast of “Mama Mia!” watches from the stage.