About the Lerner Theatre

LERNER THEATRE HISTORY

Theatre History | The Lerner Theatre, Elkhart, Indiana

On March 31, 1923, Harry E. Lerner, an Elkhart businessman, announced that he planned to construct a modern “theatrical palace” on the corner of Franklin and Main Streets in downtown Elkhart.

The Lerner Theatre became a reality with the Grand Opening on November 24, 1924. It had 2000 seats and was host to a variety of vaudeville, big band, and theatrical reviews as well as the exciting new movies! In 1931, The Lerner was purchased by the Warner Family and was renamed “The Warner”.

In 1933, the Warner Theatre went bankrupt and was leased by the Indiana-Illinois Theatre Company. In 1934, after a county-wide contest (won by Judith Grover), the theatre was renamed the ELCO. In 1940, Manta and Rose Theatre Chain purchased the theatre and operated it until 1961 when it was purchased by William Miller. Bill operated the theatre until his death in 1987.

The City of Elkhart purchased the ELCO from Ruth Miller in 1990 in an attempt to save the theatre from deterioration caused by vacancy. A local group of Elkhart County citizens formed the nonprofit Premier Arts, Inc. and negotiated with the City to operate the facility as a performing arts center. It soon became apparent that any success would be extremely limited without major funding for program and repairs. Projects completed by Premier Arts include: interior painting on the main floor, restoration of the Grand Lounge, ADA compliant restrooms, new carpeting, new seats and lighting.

Theatre History | The Lerner Theatre, Elkhart, Indiana

In 1931, The Lerner was purchased by the Warner Family and was renamed “The Warner”.

 

Theatre History | The Lerner Theatre, Elkhart, Indiana

In 1934, after a county-wide contest (won by Judith Grover), the theatre was renamed the ELCO.

 

In 1995, it became apparent that the City would have to assist the project organizationally and financially. A full-time managing director was hired as well as maintenance personnel. These are city employees. With City financial support, a matching grant was received from the National Endowment for the Arts. Since July of 1996, these funds have been used to provide a considerable upgrade in safety and code areas, mechanical systems and box office improvements. In 1997, the ELCO Commission for the Performing Arts was established to guide the project to its completion.

In February 1998, following the recommendation of the ELCO Performing Arts Commission, a Contract was let by the City of Elkhart, Board of Public Works to theatre restoration / rehabilitation consultants to “conduct a feasibility study for the restoration / rehabilitation of the ELCO Theatre”. In February of 1999, the contract was renewed to “provide consultation and oversight for the continuing development of the ELCO Theatre project”.

In February 1999, upon the recommendation of the ELCO Performing Arts Commission, the architectural team headed up by Leedy/Cripe, AIA was hired to provide engineering studies, theatre technology, and architectural schematics with cost estimates for the ongoing project.

Following months of preliminary design and fundraising, the City of Elkhart approved the $18 million Lerner Theatre renovation in 2008. Construction began in early 2009 and was competed in June 2011, drawing rave reviews and capturing national attention. It has been described as a project that has truly put the “heart” back in downtown Elkhart.

In 2006 a group of area business people began a study to see how renovating the ELCO might contribute to drawing people to the downtown area. This “performing arts district” along with other additions to the downtown area such as the river walk, Indiana University at South Bend Elkhart Campus, Main Street renovation, and newly built office buildings and remodeled restaurants will provide a quality of life enrichment for our city and area residents.

The study concluded that indeed the theatre could be a major attraction, but only if renovated in conjunction with a much-needed reception / meeting / ballroom space. Following months of preliminary design and fundraising, the City of Elkhart approved the $18 million Lerner Theatre renovation in 2008. Construction began in early 2009 and was competed in June 2011, drawing rave reviews and capturing national attention. It has been described as a project that has truly put the “heart” back in downtown Elkhart.

The History of the Lerner in Elkhart, IN narrated by Phil Miller
More About The Theatre

HISTORY

On March 31, 1923, Harry E. Lerner, an Elkhart businessman, announced he planned to construct a modern "theatrical palace" on the corner of Franklin and Main Streets
in downtown Elkhart.

RENOVATION

The $18 million Lerner Theatre renovation project was designed, budgeted, and approved by the City of Elkhart in 2008. Construction began in early 2009 and was completed in June 2011.

Kimball Organ

The Kimball pipe organ located in Elkhart, Indiana’s Lerner Theatre is one of only three Kimball pipe organs currently installed in its original location.