By Jenna Ingalls |
If you walked down Broad Street in the years leading up to 2018, it was impossible to miss the looming fossil of the Miller Theater’s abandoned marquee. With an unlit sign and a boarded entrance, the Miller seemed out of place in an area known for embracing the arts. What could become a home to performing artists in downtown Augusta had become a landmark of the past.
The Miller Theatre hosted its first performance to a sold-out audience in 1940. This show was only the beginning for the theater. For the next 40 years, the Miller became home to countless shows and audiences. At one time, the Miller was the second largest theater in the state, bringing in crowds of people to watch its performances.
In the 1980s, after an impressive four-decade run, the Miller Theater was forced to shut down. This shutdown was caused by an economic decline, resulting in fewer and fewer people going downtown. Because of this, the Miller had its final curtain call, shutting its doors to downtown Augusta.
During the years of neglect and abandonment, the Miller began to fall apart. The seats and carpets were ruined by water damage. Most startling, the roof had nearly caved in and was threatening to collapse.
The Miller’s savior, better known as philanthropist Peter Knox IV, appeared nearly thirty years after the theater’s shutdown. Knox purchased the theatre in 2005 and began correcting the damages caused by the three decades of neglect. After the restoration was completed, Knox reached out to Augusta Symphony to see if it wanted the Miller as its permanent home.
The symphony accepted Knox’s offer and began a capital campaign lasting several years to raise $20 million dollars needed to properly renovate the theater.
“Without the generosity of the community, this could have never happened,” recalled Anne Catherine Murray, executive director of Augusta Symphony.
Construction finished in December of 2017, and the Miller was almost ready to open its doors again.
“We were literally scraping paint off the floor opening night,” laughs Murray.
After the years of silence, the Miller reopened on January 6, 2018, to a sold-out audience.
“It was a perfect, perfect night,” recalled Murray, “a real dream come true.”
Though the Miller is the Augusta Symphony’s home, more and more shows are being performed there. Murray praised the Miller’s management, saying how impressive it is that they are able to have people in seats each week with the performances they bring in. Some of the upcoming shows include Melissa Etheridge, the Oak Ridge Boys and Rocktopia. In the first year, performers included John Hiatt, Chris Isaak, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Stephen Stills with Judy Collins.
Even though the Miller has been reopened for over a year, it is impossible to ignore the impact it has had on the community.
“So many businesses are being opened up since the lights of the Miller have been turned back on,” Murray said.
This goes to show how important it is to support local businesses. Without its people and without their support, downtown would crumble which is evident by the Miller’s closing years ago. The Miller theatre reopening is a testimony to the importance of supporting local businesses, supporting the local arts, and supporting downtown Augusta.
Contact Jenna Ingalls at JEINGALLS@augusta.edu.