Lerner to Elco and Back: A Timeline

June 15, 2011

March 31, 1923

Harry E. Lerner announces his plans to build a theater at Franklin and Main streets in downtown Elkhart.

April 1, 1924

Construction began with wrecking of the previous buildings on the site.

Nov. 27, 1924

Lerner Theatre opens for the first time at 12:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day for a 1 p.m. showing of "A Trip Through Kimballville," an organ program on the theater's new $23,000 organ. The feature film was "The Navigator" starring Buster Keaton. Five vaudeville acts included an animal act; a musical called "The Love Nest;" a talking and dancing act; and a cornet soloist with Sousa's band. The cost was 15 cents for children; 35 cents for balcony seats and 50 cents for main floor and loge seats. Harry E. Lerner was owner and manager of the theater. The theater cost $500,000 to build and seated 2,200 people. The overall investment at the time, including property purchase, was $750,000. About 7,500 people attended the four initial performances and 1,500 more were unable to get in.


Talking pictures introduced.


Harry Lerner sells the theatre to Warner Brothers Theaters, which renames it the Warner.


Warner leases the theater to the Illinois-Indiana Theater Co., operating as the Elkhart Amusement Co., after it goes bankrupt.


Theater renamed the Elco after a national naming contest. It supposedly stood for the Elkhart County Entertainment Center.


"Gone With the Wind" released. Elkhart historian Paul Thomas remembered it as probably one of the largest attended events at the theater.


The theater changes hands again, this time to the Manta and Rose Theatre chain.

Oct. 26, 1946

Midnight double feature in honor of Halloween: "Bedlam" starring Boris Karloff and "Spook Busters" starring the East Side Kids.

Oct. 7, 1950

A $100,000 modernization reported beginning with 2,200 new seats, new marquee and redecorated lobby

October 1953

Cinemascope, wide-angle screen and stereophonic sound equipment installed.


Bill Miller buys the Elco Theatre for $350,000.

Oct. 25, 1971

Andy Williams appears at the Elco Theatre with a 32-piece orchestra. About 2,000 people attended.


Building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Oct. 9, 1980

The community celebrated the restoration of the original Kimball Theatre Pipe Organ with a grand concert called "Where Dreams Come True." The organ currently is being stored in Ohio and will be refinished when the Lerner Theatre committee raises enough money to do so, according to Thomas, a member of the board.

March 30, 1987

Bill Miller killed.

May 6, 1988

Theatrical restoration consultant Daniel Pierotti and Chicago theatrical architect Daniel P. Coffey speak to community leaders.

Jan. 22, 1989

Last movie shown in the theater is Disney's "Oliver & Co."


Elco Theatre bought by the city of Elkhart from Bill Miller's widow, Ruth. A group of local citizens take over operations as America's Children Tomorrow. Cosmetic restorations done to the building.

March 1991

Heavy metal band Slaughter performs at the Elco in front of more than 2,200 fans.

April 1, 1991

Theater briefly returns to its original Lerner name, but then reverts back to the Elco because the city did not approve the name change.


Premier Arts Inc. takes over management of the theater.


City appoints its own director to oversee operations at the theater and hires several other employees. City also secures funding for annual expenses and capital improvements.

May 5, 1994

"Up With People" performs at the Elco with a cast of 140 people ages 17 to 26 from 22 foreign counties and 30 states.


Dale Balsbaugh hired as manager.

March 21, 1997

Elco Commission formed to oversee Premier Arts Inc.; plans $5 million renovation


1,076 main floor seats reinstalled; stage elevator purchased for $19,789.

April 4, 1998

Anonymous donation of $200,000 given to the theater.


Pierotti contracted as consultant. Fees are $35,000 for 1998 and $45,094.20 for 1999. Restoration/rehabilitation plans, called "Return to Splendor," outlined.


Leedy/Cripe Architects paid $118,000 for designs of proposed $16 million renovation.


Pierotti contracted to guide fundraising campaign; fundraising coordinator hired. Campaign kicks off June 14. On June 16, $445,000 is received from the Build Indiana Fund. Later in the year, Elco enthusiasts struggle to raise the $16 million.

November 2000

Balsbaugh resigns; Bob Decker hired as interim director.

Aug. 25, 2001

Decker hired as director.

April 12, 2002

Decker resigns at mayor's request.

June 3, 2002

Ed Higy hired as general manager.


Bunn Organ Co. contracted to repair and replace parts in the Kimball Theatre Pipe Organ, holding the finished work until the cooling system is replaced.

March 3, 2004

Leedy/Cripe breaks down original designs into two, smaller options - design fee, $30,000; renovation cost, $9.1 million; full renovation cost, $21 million.

August 2005

Elco's facade begins to detach from the building's steel structure.


Michael Harding and Harry Housour express interest in taking over the Elco. Housour briefly takes over management of the theater in February after Higy is fired.

Feb. 15, 2006

Parks Superintendent Bob Edel named to oversee Elco. Ellie Billey named manager.

September 2006

A group of Notre Dame architecture students joins the Elkhart Housing Partnership to study the design of several downtown buildings, including the Elco. A separate organization, the 400 Block Study Group, releases a report looking at the block that includes the aging theater. The group recommends keeping the Elco as the principal entertainment venue in a new arts and entertainment district downtown. It also recommended completing a feasibility study on design, construction and capital improvements for the theater.

April 12, 2007

"The Next Bold Step," a proposal for a $13.5 million renovation project that includes the Sorg Jewelers property next door, is submitted to the mayor by the 400 Block Study Group.

Aug. 14, 2008

City of Elkhart breaks ground on the $18 million restoration project. Events that normally would have been staged at the Elco move to the New York Central Railroad Museum and other venues for the duration of the construction.

August 2009

City auctions pieces of the old Elco Theatre.

Aug. 31, 2010

Mayor Dick Moore announces Lerner Theatre business plan.

Nov. 1, 2010

Moore completes makeup of Lerner governing board.

April 2011

David Smith named new general manager of the Lerner.

May 18, 2011

Tickets for opening-week events handed out to Elkhart residents.

May 20-21, 2011

Elkhart Central and Memorial high schools celebrate their proms at the Lerner, the first public events at the renovated facility.

Sources: Time Was Museum, Paul Thomas, The Elkhart Truth archives