by Diana Nelson Jones/March 24
The New Granada Theater in the Hill has new custom-designed interiors. They're still in the fantasy stage, but you can see them Friday evening at a presentation from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, 2001 Wylie Ave.
Lisa Whitney's interior design students at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh will display ideas for new interiors at the old showplace based on research, interviews in the neighborhood and site visits.
The colorful theater was built in 1927 as the Pythian Temple. Its marquee and posture screams ‘20s, a time when the Hill was so extremely alive. It was designed by one of the first black American architects, Louis Bellinger and has presented the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald -- the 'who's who' list goes on and on. It has been vacant since the late 1970s, and the Young Preservationists Association is campaigning for its historic designation.
The great news is the theater has a new roof and new interior structural columns.
The Arts Institute class is called "urban studio." Each quarter, students in Lisa's class choose a historically and architecturally significant property to prepare plans for. The theater is undergoing a renovation in fits and starts, depending on fund-raising.
The students' plans are meant to be useable. They include proposals for a museum, theater, ballroom, with observations deck, gym, teaching studios, a dining room and coffee shop.
"We attended some community meetings where people brainstormed about potential uses," said Lisa. "We do conceptual things for building owners and they can use our plans if they want to.
"We do this four times a year and are always looking for people to work with. Last time, we did a storefront in Homestead and met Dan Holland [of the Young Preservationists Association]. He is on the board of the New Granada and suggested it."
"The students not only get incredible hands-on experience," said Carrie Butler, an Art Institute spokesman, "but they bring attention to the facility and, hopefully, bring in more ideas and funding."