WALLA WALLA -- Sparks are flying at Walla Walla's old powerhouse.
But instead of coming from turn-of-the century generators, these sparks are from metal saws, welder's torches and, in a figurative sense, a major artistic endeavor.
Starting in February, workers and volunteers began laboring to convert the 120-year old brick structure into a permanent home in Walla Walla for the works of William Shakespeare, a man who needs no introduction.
Although it will still be a work in progress when doors open for the first time this month, what patrons will see will be a near-exact reproduction of the Blackfriars theater that Shakespeare and his colleagues were said to have built in 1520 on the London site of a dissolved Dominican monastery.
"We are building the theater that Shakespeare built. From the perspective of the playwright, the director. He really built it for how people could see it and how actors could act." Harry Hosey, treasurer and managing director for Shakespeare Walla Walla, said in a Jan. 9 Union-Bulletin article.
Since then, Hosey has been one of the many people swirling and swarming in, out and around the massive building on Sixth Avenue which was originally constructed in 1890 to supply gas to lights, streets and homes. As electricity replaced gas, the building was expended to house the dynamos and other equipment needed to supply the city's expanding electrical grid. Eventually, however, it was vacated as time and technology moved on.
The building's rebirth began with it being been taken over by Power House Theater LLC, a private group that has purchased the property and raised an estimated $1.5 million in grants, donations and in-kind work to restore and renovate the structure. While that group will be the building's owners, Shakespeare Walla Walla will be the production company in charge of arranging and managing the performing companies who will take the stage.
Not to mix metaphors, but turning one of the city's oldest industrial buildings into a Shakespearean theater has been a Herculean task.
Construction started with the demolition of a wall added in 1932 to support a bridge crane and the removal of some 30,000 bricks which plans call to be cleaned and resold. Next came extensive interior work by workers with Ketelsen Construction, the general contractor, and Narum Concrete to complete footing and foundation work to support columns and seismic shear walls.
Following that has been weeks of intensive work by masons, metalworkers, carpenters, electricians, painters and many others. As of last week, construction was continuing at an intense pace to meet the fast-approaching opening date.
Among those looking in on the project were Hank Worden, a Shakespeare Walla Walla board member, and his wife Catherine. As the couple talked with Denise Slattery, who is handling public relations for the project, a workman walked by.
"How's it going?" Catherine asked the man.
"Frantic! Really frantic!" the worker replied with a big grin.