About the Lerner Theatre

On March 31, 1923, Harry E. Lerner, an Elkhart business man, announced that he planned to construct a modern "theatrical palace" on the corner of Franklin and Main Streets in downtown Elkhart.

The Lerner Theatre became a reality with the Grand Opening on November 24, 1924. It had 2000 seats and was host to a variety of vaudeville, big band and theatrical reviews as well as the exciting new movies! In 1931, the Lerner was purchased by the Warner Family and was renamed "The Warner".

In 1933, the Warner Theatre went bankrupt and was leased by the Indiana-Illinois Theatre Company. In 1934, after a countywide contest (won by Judith Grover), the theatre was renamed the ELCO. In 1940, Manta and Rose Theatre Chain purchased the theatre and operated it until 1961 when it was purchased by William Miller. Bill operated the theatre until his death in 1987.

The City of Elkhart purchased the ELCO from Ruth Miller in 1990 in an attempt to save the theatre from deterioration caused by vacancy. A local group of Elkhart County citizens formed the nonprofit Premier Arts, Inc. and negotiated with the City to operate the facility as a performing arts center. It soon became apparent that any success would be extremely limited without major funding for program and repairs. Projects completed by Premier Arts include: interior painting on the main floor, restoration of the Grand Lounge, ADA compliant restrooms, new carpeting, new seats and lighting.

In 1995, it became apparent that the City would have to assist the project organizationally and financially. A full time managing director was hired as well as maintenance personnel. These are city employees. With City financial support, a matching grant was received from the National Endowment for the Arts. Since July of 1996, these funds have been used to provide a considerable upgrade in safety and code areas, mechanical systems and box office improvements. In 1997, the ELCO Commission for the Performing Arts was established to guide the project to its completion.

In February 1998, following the recommendation of the ELCO Performing Arts Commission, a Contract was let by the City of Elkhart, Board of Public Works to theatre restoration/rehabilitation consultants to "conduct a feasibility study for the restoration/rehabilitation of the ELCO Theatre". In February of 1999, the contract was renewed to "provide consultation and oversight for the continuing development of the ELCO Theatre project".

In February 1999, upon the recommendation of the ELCO Performing Arts Commission, the architectural team headed up by Leedy/Cripe, AIA was hired to provide engineering studies, theatre technology, and architectural schematics with cost estimates for the ongoing project.

In 2006 a group of area business people began a study to see how renovating the Elco might contribute to drawing people to the downtown area. This “performing arts district” along with other additions to the downtown area such as the river walk, Indiana University at South Bend Elkhart Campus, Main Street renovation, and newly built office buildings and remodeled restaurants will provide a quality of life enrichment for our city and area residents.

 The Lerner, a multimillion dollar theatre renovation, was designed, budgeted and approved in 2008. Remodeling began in 2009 and was completed in the summer of 2011.