Irwin's Lamp Theatre stuck in time loop

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

In the movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray's character, Phil, repeatedly wakes up at 6 a.m. to Sonny and Cher's “I Got You Babe.” He relives Feb. 2, and has the same encounters with the same townsfolk, while hoping something will change, and the perpetual spin cycle he's trapped in will come to an end.

I imagine the members of Relight the Lamp must feel a bit like Phil at this point. Despite the tireless efforts of Kathleen Heuer, Karen Glass, Kelly Fennessy and other volunteers, plans have been on hold for nearly four years and the Lamp remains dark. There has been progress, for sure, including the designation of a generous $30,000 pledge from the Norwin Rotary. But until an organization or a private investor makes the commitment needed, it's Groundhog Day for the Lamp.

I envision a spry Joe Hardy redirecting his focus from 84 Lumber and Nemacolin Woodlands. He'll parachute onto Main Street and toss a hefty check in the general direction of the Lamp. Beyond that, plans in my head are a little sketchy.

It now appears the fate of the Lamp might be in the hands of Irwin Borough officials. They're considering investing now that the Westmoreland Cultural Trust appears to have surrendered. Even if the borough buys the property, there's the issue of who will run the theater if it's restored.

I've always felt that renovating this historic space could be key to reviving Irwin. An operational theater would energize the local economy, drawing residents of our own and surrounding communities to this small town. According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, it appears that movies are recession-proof, too. People seek escapism by going to the movies, and it often is the least expensive form of entertainment.

The future venue would have the capacity to stage live events, as well. Nonprofit arts organizations could rent the space for performances, providing cultural opportunities for local families. Countless studies have shown that when a community invests in the arts, it's a win/win. It enhances the quality of life and positively impacts a community's bottom line.

Beyond the economics of this issue, I'm sure I'm not the only one with fond memories of the blinking marquee along Main Street. The Lamp is where I first watched E.T. ask to phone home. Sure, the seats were repaired with duct tape, but the space had been around a long time. This was the same theater where my dad watched films in the 1940s, and my brothers shared penny candy during Saturday matinees in the 1960s.

If plans can't move forward for the Lamp, there's a real risk it may be torn down. I'm not counting on Mr. Hardy, but I am holding out hope that there's a new day for this warm, rich piece of Irwin history.

Fitzgerald is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in North Huntingdon.

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