Built in an Adamesque style, the Lerner Theatre’s facade features four two-story tall Ionic columns with three large arches in between. The pilasters to each side are in a Renaissance Doric style.

The classical theme is carried to the inside, with ornate multi-colored inlaid marble floors on the main lobby and lounge floors. The auditorium, with its domed ceiling, huge chandelier and balcony, resembles a European opera house of the 19th Century. Its large stage and proscenium arch are decorated with gilded plasterwork and the seats are covered in deep red upholstery.

The original Lerner Theatre was instantly a success when it opened in 1924, with Vaudeville acts and early motion pictures playing to packed houses. The Lerner was hailed as a true theatrical palace – the area’s finest theater.

The $18 million Lerner Theatre renovation project was designed, budgeted, and approved by the City of Elkhart in 2008. Construction began in early 2009 and was competed in June 2011. Importantly, the entire project actually encompasses two buildings: the Lerner Theatre restored to its original luster and authentic in every detail, and the Crystal Ballroom was constructed from the ground up and designed to match the adjoining theatre. The Crystal Ballroom stands on the site of the former Sorg Jewelers building, which was torn down as part of the Lerner project.

Inside the theatre itself, the renovation was painstaking. Craftsmen hand painted the ceiling and the signature “mushroom” chandelier while standing on scaffolding that took several weeks to construct. Project managers meticulously found swatches of original curtain fabric, upholstery, wallpaper, and paint that had been covered and protected over the years, then used spectrum technology to match the color with modern materials.

The end result is a marvelous example of what can happen when a community’s love for history, the arts, and civic pride are expressed through the willingness to fund – through public and private dollars – a project of this magnitude. The Lerner Theatre and Crystal Ballroom serve both to preserve history, and to blaze a new trail in city of Elkhart’s future.