November 27, 2013 DPR

Karin Gillespie

Taking Back the Miller by Karin Gillespie

When asked to blog about the Miller Theatre, I thought I’d never stepped foot inside. Then my mother reminded me that the two of us had gone to an event there in the eighties. Shortly afterward the building was shuttered and left to deteriorate.

I moved to Augusta in 1974 when I was fourteen and used to catch the bus from Daniel Village to downtown to browse at Davidson’s, buy Levis jeans and cords at Levy’s and eat lunch at Orange Julius. Back then, downtown was a happening place, the heartbeat of Augusta.

I also remember when the malls trundled into town in 1978 and reduced Broad Street to a ghost town of boarded up buildings, pawn shops and old cotton warehouses. Even as a teenager, I thought it was a shame that a vital part of our city had been abandoned.

Several years later downtown started coming back in fits and starts. There were failures (Shoppes of Port Royal anyone?) and successes (Artist Row, Riverwalk, and the entrepreneurial spirit of several brave business people). I remember attending one of the very first First Fridays, traveling from art gallery to art galley, sampling cheese cubes and jug wine and feeling very au courant and cosmopolitan.

Now in 2013, downtown hasn’t completely regained its former glory but it’s getting there. The arts are continually coaxing people back downtown, and the reconditioning of the Miller is a vital part of that process. Since I didn’t have many of my own treasured memories of the Miller’s former glory, I asked some people who did. One talked about seeing Lynyrd Skynrd back in 1973. (Free Bird!) Someone else mentioned standing in a long snaking line to see “A Hard Day’s Night” back in 1964.  Another person recalled seeing the world premiere of “Three Faces of Eve.”

I go downtown frequently and for years I’ve been used to the Miller with a blank marquis. Then in 2005, Peter Knox bought the building, and the message on the marquis read, “It’s time.”  Eight years later we can quit looking at our watches; it looks like the Miller will finally be waking up from its soggy and solitary hibernation.

Now I’m looking forward to seeing the neon sign lit up and announcing Augusta Symphony concerts and other art events. One day, too, I hope to see a line curving around the block comprised of eager people ready to fill one of the Southeast’s most beautiful theaters.

I intend to join that line and, perhaps twenty years from someone will say, “Please write a blog about your memories of the Miller.” And I will say, “What a grand, glorious place. So thrilled I was around to see its rebirth.”

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