Interior demolition shows what future holds for historic Oklahoma City theater

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Just like a diamond in the rough, the Tower Theatre has been a beacon of hope for the 23rd St. area.

With new ownership and a multimillion dollar renovation, the building will see new light.

"As I recall, it was right there, and the popcorn machine was right there and then you have a case for the candy," Dori Riel, a former employee at Tower Theatre, said.

It's the first time Dori and Debi have been in the Tower Theatre since they worked here 40 years ago.

"She was remembering there were these huge red curtains at the front," Debi Sheline, a former employee, said.

Chairs from 1937, old cigarette machines and Italian vintage projectors are remnants of its glory days as a movie theater.

"We're looking for and interviewing people to restore these projectors, and the idea is to be able to show vintage 35MM and 70MM and show them at vintage film festivals," said Ben Sellers, co-owner of the building.

Sellers and the other owners plan to give the theater a bit of a facelift.

"Demo'ing out or taking down the ceiling and rebuilding it new, but with modern materials," he said. "It will be shaped and curved just like this historical ceiling is."

Around half of the $3 million project is paid for with historic registry tax credits.

"This project would not happen without historic tax credits and would remain vacant for a long time without them," Sellers said.

Organizers hope to open the building's doors early next year.

"So there will be an event space in the theater auditorium for different types of things, including film and music and there will be restaurant space on 23rd," Sellers said.

"While I can't say exactly what will happen, we are in final negotiations with several tenants for the space and the theater will be put back into use, and we have a long list of restaurateurs who want to be in the street front retail space," he said.

"We've watched 23rd St. go from something to nothing and then back to what's going on now," Sheline said.

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