Published: September 21, 2011
After years of watching this ritual, Jointer felt compelled one day to offer a hand. "I said an angel just showed up," Gowman remembers. "And he's just the most dependable person in the world."
So Jointer began sharing the theater sign duties, even after he moved from the neighborhood, even coming back early once from a trip to Florida to change the marquee's message on time. The two men grew fond of each other, though as he got older and more distant from his childhood neighborhood, Jointer thought about stepping aside from the sign duties.
But one day, when Jointer wasn't there, Gowman climbed down the ladder and went back into the lobby, where a hiding mugger gave him a vicious beating to get the mere $8 in his pockets. It was the one bad incident in the group's history, an anomaly in this relatively quiet neighborhood, and Gowman brushes it off now. But Jointer was distraught.
"Geoff's blood was all over the floor," he says. "Every time I went to do the marquee I had to step over it. That will always stay with me. I was so upset. And I couldn't go out and find out who did it. I felt helpless. So I think that's what made me stay after that happened."
Now Jointer, a burly man no mugger would dare approach, does the sign full time. He gradually found himself drawn into the group's efforts, felt Gowman's enthusiasm rubbing off, even though he'd never really thought about the empty theater before. "I really want to see that Alger renovated," he says now.
Gowman's glad to pass along the work atop that ladder, just as he's eager to step aside in favor of the newer members who bring fresh enthusiasm to the cause, residents who think a neighborhood should offer something more than a McDonald's drive-thru in the place of once-grand theaters. He downplays his longtime role while deflecting attention to the rest of the group.
He points to people such as Broughton, who bought a home in the neighborhood, giving her a tangible stake in the theater's future. "I honestly see that if we could revive the theater it could be a cornerstone," she says. "You get one good spot going, then maybe we could revive the corridor."
They've gotten some grants here and there, some decent donations, but they're still waiting for something finally big enough to put them over the top and help reopen a grand old place. Gowman thinks they're on the verge of that.
"We're all kind of amateurs at this and we just struggle with it every day, but I think we've made significant progress," he says. "It doesn't look like it, but we have. The fact that we've stuck with it all these years and refused to give up, I think says a lot about the organization."
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