SCHENECTADY The Proctors marquee is going digital.
At long last, downtown Schenectady’s greatest landmark will get a 21st century makeover. Gone will be the days of hauling a ladder out to the entrance of Proctors and sending someone up with black block letters to spell out the name of an upcoming show or advertisement by hand.
“It will be a digital display,” said Proctors CEO Philip Morris. “In essence, it’s a TV.”
But here’s the good news for lovers of all things old-fashioned: The classic look — the golden canopy, the maroon background, the chasing lights, the ornamental detail — will all remain. In fact, even the familiar block-letter text will make an appearance every now and then through the art of digital display.
Proctors has been mulling the change for at least a decade. At the time, digital marquees were coming into fashion. But the look of the display left much to be desired, at least for Morris.
“We thought they looked kind of cheesy,” he said. “One of the reasons we delayed doing this was because the quality of the LED lighting was very pixilated. Now, it’s like HD television. I like the old-fashioned look, too. But having someone go up and down that ladder is not the best thing in January, you know? The risk factor was fairly high. Now, the quality of the digital display is so good we can make it look like the old marquee if we want to.”
The digital display will allow Proctors to stream video with information about shows and coming attractions for any of its venues, including the main theater, the GE Theater and Key Hall. It also leaves open the option for Proctors to sell ad space or promote local business.
The marquee out front is 30 years old, originally built by Olson Signs and Graphics in Scotia. It’s rusted in some places. The tiny lamps have clouded, and the bulbs have begun to separate from their encasements.
Olson Signs and Graphics will rebuild the marquee, as well as the one in back of Proctors facing Stratton Plaza. The upgrade will require removing pieces of the marquee’s “skin” section by section, so that just the main structure and canopy roof are left behind. The lamp sockets will all be replaced. The inside wiring will be replaced. All of the electrical feeds, which are 60 years old, will be replaced. Any rusted or damaged metal will be repaired.
“It will look just the same but sparkly,” said Morris.
The Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority will provide a $97,000 matching grant toward the overall $193,000 cost of restoring the old marquee. Proctors is currently fundraising for the second half.
It’s unclear yet what approvals Proctors will need to obtain to go ahead with renovations, which Morris expects will take about four weeks. Proctors is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means any renovations to the marquee would need to follow U.S. Department of the Interior guidelines, said Schenectady Heritage Foundation Chairwoman Gloria Kishton.
The current marquee was dedicated in 1983, after an $85,000 federal grant allowed it to be restored from its art deco style back to its original look, complete with 1,296 chasing lights.
The Stratton Plaza marquee was also dedicated that year. The former Mohawk National Bank donated $30,000 for a brand new galvanized steel marquee to be painted cerise and cream, with 662 chasing lights.
“It used to be that when Proctors was all lit up, it was the brightest spot downtown,” said Morris. “But now, there are all these great signs downtown. So it’s kind of fun to update ours and add to the mix in a different way.”