A historic metro-east theater will reopen its doors this weekend for the first time in almost seven decades.
It took two years, but Don and Jennifer Rick, owners of The Strand Theater in Pocahontas, have successfully rehabilitated the almost 100-year-old showplace.
"Honestly, (Don) and I are both in awe of how this turned out," Jennifer Rick said.
In July 2016, the Ricks, who now live in a repurposed church in Pocahontas, acquired two side-by-side properties on Academy Street on the village square. One of the buildings was built sometime in the late 1800s, and was made into a market in the 1920s by John and Mary DeLaurenti family. Then, in 1921, the family opened The Strand Theater next door.
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The theater officially closed its doors in 1949, with the market's closure following it in the 1960s. In the passing years, the buildings entered into a state of disrepair. But the Ricks refused to let this piece of Bond County history to vanish.
Jennifer Rick had a vision for the venue from the start, and she has been able to bring that vision to life.
Walking into The Strand, visitors are greeted in the old school ticket window room, which has been painted a rich mixture of chocolate and dark gray. The room is decorated with "Meet Me in St. Louis," "The Grapes of Wrath," and "Arsenic and Old Lace" movie posters.
Complete with a vintage back bar and memorabilia from old era Pocahontas, entering the venue is like walking into another time period.
“It just feels like a a 1940s country club,” Jennifer Rick said.
Attendees pass through a set of swinging saloon doors into the brightly lit hall. Lights acquired from the original Kiel Opera House in St. Louis hang from the ceiling.
The hall sports its original floor boards covered in linseed oil for effect, which the Ricks labored to rehabilitate by replacing 104 floor joists. The venue walls have been papered in burlap and are accented by dark brown wanes-coating. Pieces of Pocahontas history have been delicately placed on the walls, including old pictures of the town, The Strand, old movie tickets, baseball uniforms, an antique trumpet and an "Indians" sign made from original floorboards from the local school gym. Pieces from the theater's old revolving screen, which was used for advertising purposes, were cut out and put in custom frames for decoration.
An access hall that has walls made with original wood from the Ammann Butcher Shop, leads to restrooms and a catering kitchen. Looking out the windows into the backyard, there's a large patio, built by Don Rick, which Jennifer estimates can hold up to 40 guests.
"It's just a warm, happy, little place," Jennifer Rick said.
The Ricks already have a few events booked at The Strand. For more information on event booking and rates visit the business Facebook page.
See it for yourself
The Ricks encourage anyone who is curious to see The Strand firsthand to attend one of the grand opening events planned over St. Patrick's Day weekend. Each night will have a different theme.
On Friday, March 16, there will be a happy hour from 5:30 to 8 p.m. There will be live music from the Garrett Schmidt Jazz Trio. Hors d'oeuvres from Fema Cartering in Benld, Illinois will be served. Tickets cost $15.
Saturday tickets will cost $25, which will get attendees more entertainment from the jazz trio and dinner from Kathy's Country Catering from Sorento, Illinois, from 6 to 10 p.m. There will also be some special guests Saturday night. Members of the Pocahontas community who were patrons of the DeLaurentis and attended films at The Strand will be in attendance. Theses guests will be asked to recount their fondest memories of the buildings.
Tickets for these events are limited. They are available at Pocahontas Antiques, located at 311 West Johnson St.
What comes next?
Work on what will be known as Pocahontas Mercantile, next door to The Strand, is still ongoing.
Jennifer Rick said the market's opening is targeted for this summer.
"We do have a little bit of construction to do, but it is nothing like this was over here (The Strand)," she said.
Rick said she thinks the mercantile will be one of the missing puzzle pieces needed to help make Pocahontas a shoppers destination.
"It has to be amazing from the very first day," she said.
Ricks plans to keep the business as an early 1900s mercantile.
"If it's not from the 1800s to 1950s, then it is going to be handmade. Nothing will be imported from Taiwan or China, or anything. It's all real stuff," Jennifer Rick said.
Many local artisans have already signed up to sell their goods there. Items will include handmade brooms, jams and jellies, soaps, ropes, candy from an award-winning confectioner and custom antler accessorized baskets, just to name a few.
The Ricks are still seeking local artisans. On their want list are someone who makes maple syrup, dried fruits, and old-time candle makers.
“There are people that are really crafty out there, and I think this would be a great outlet for them,” Rick said.
The Ricks are also looking to begin renovating their own little blessing.
Last February, the Ricks closed on buying the old Methodist Church, located at 202 Moreland St. in Pocahontas. At the time, the couple was living in another rehabbed property in St. Jacob. However, it was either buy the church or let another piece of history go. So they bought it.
The Ricks spent their first night in the church last August.
Jennifer Rick said they have yet to make any structural changes besides adding a bathtub, some kitchen fixtures and a pair of bedroom doors.
Once the mercantile is finished, the Ricks will be able to make the sanctuary into more of a home.
"I hope to goodness that we stop and we enjoy this, and we enjoy all the hard work we put in it," Rick said.