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February 4, 2013

No objections raised to razing former theater

EBENSBURG — Cambria County Judge Norman Krumenacker on Monday ordered the owner of the historic Victoria Theater in Gallitzin to have the structure demolished, a move officials hope will occur over the next few weeks.

Monday’s hearing to seek a preliminary injunction to force owner Jeffrey Sprouse to get the massive brick structure torn down proceeded without the owner appearing, apparently because he was not objecting.

“I exchanged voicemails with Mr. Sprouse and he has indicated he is moving forward with demolition of the building,” borough solicitor David Consiglio told the judge.

The theater, located near the Gallitzin Tunnels – a big attraction for railroad buffs – has been in deteriorating condition for several years and was a court matter more than a decade

ago.

In his order, Krumenacker said Sprouse must immediately initiate plans for demolition of the building and have all electrical service to it disconnected. Sprouse also must pay the borough’s legal costs in taking him to court.

Construction on the three-story structure at 700 Jackson St. was started prior to World War I and completed in 1919. It has been vacant since the 1960s. It has been the source of complaints by residents, businesses and borough officials since the early 2000s.

Attempts last fall by local officials to contact Sprouse were unsuccessful, prompting Consiglio to get a warrant, which was executed in early January. The warrant allowed engineer Joe Winslow of Stiffler McGraw of Hollidaysburg to inspect the condition of the interior.

“We didn’t need an engineer to tell us,” said Gallitzin council President Roger Renninger,  who was prepared to testify at Monday’s hearing. “I’d like to see it down in two weeks.”

A look at the exterior of the building shows the roof is already caving in, Consiglio said.

Since the inspection, Sprouse is apparently proceeding with demolition, Consiglio said.

Sprouse told Consiglio that he has hired an asbestos abatement company to removed hazardous materials from the interior and has a contract with Earth Movers Unlimited Inc. of Kylertown, Clearfield County, to do the demolition.

“He has been cooperating. We just need to make sure we get it demolished sooner rather than later,” Consiglio said. “I really think he wants it to come down as well.”

Historic records show the theater caught fire in 1921, but was refurbished and in 1929 showed its first talking movie.

It was a popular stop on the Vaudeville circuit and in later years was used for school and community events, local residents said.

Sprouse has owned the structure for a number of years. In 2002, borough officials asked Cambria County court to step in and force him to do something about the building’s condition.

In 2004, a judge said he could not force Sprouse to demolish the building, but he had to take steps to stabilize it.

Borough secretary Irene Szynal said improvements were made to the roof at that time, but little else was done.

 Consiglio said council and the borough police department are eager to work with Sprouse by blocking streets and doing whatever else needs to be done to get rid of the building.

“It’s just a matter of when, not if,” he said of the demolition.

If Sprouse fails to move forward on demolition, the borough will have to return to court to ask the judge to find him in contempt.

Sprouse could not be reached for comment Monday.

 

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