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Lea Theatre eyes December reopening

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The historic Lea Theatre is now aiming for a December re-opening to show off its new seating after donations from a Texas theater chain. It was originally planned for mid-November.

In late October, the theater temporarily closed in order to remove old seats and install wider seats with modernized features that many moviegoers may find more comfortable. The project kicked off after Premiere Cinema in Bryan, Texas, reached out with an offer to donate 250 seats that are five years old. The ones in use were the original seats in the theater, which opened in 1948. It’s part of an ongoing renovation process by the Lea Community Foundation for the Arts, a nonprofit organization tasked with day to day operations.

“We’re still getting the seating installed and redoing the flooring and repainting a little bit of the auditorium walls,” Lea Theatre Manager Star McKee said Tuesday. “We figured now is the best time to kind of get a bulk of that done. We’re already closed. We’ve got the auditorium cleared out — might as well do as much as we can right now.”

McKee said they tried to reopen this month, but did not make it. With new seating installation, Lea Theatre’s original seats were removed and sold for $25 each to anyone interested in owning a piece of Lovington history. Seats were also donated to the Lea County Museum and will be used, according to museum director Jim Harris.

“We have gotten to the point, in all 12 of our buildings, things are full except for one storage building,” Harris said. “So, I have plans to use those seats one day. We’re not going to be able to do it immediately, but we’ll use them one day and we do have some other memorabilia from there. At one time, the previous owner gave us part of a projection system. It weighs only about 4,000 pounds…I’m exaggerating just a bit.”

Harris said there will be a spot in the museum for the Lea Theatre and he “really values” the property, adding that he knows how much it’s been part of the community.

“People, you know, they still come around and talk to me about having seen certain movies in the late 40s, early 50s there,” he said.

The theater also sold “quite a few” of the seats.

“And we’re looking forward to seeing how everybody refurbishes those and keep a piece of Lovington history,” McKee said. “We really want to see those being used and not just discarded and the money that was (received) is going to the new seats and restoration of the auditorium.”

Some of the original seats were placed in storage for sale at a later date. McKee said the auditorium had to be emptied so work could begin, but someone interested in them may contact LCFA.

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