Leila S. Case: Rylander reopening — night to remember

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, January 28, 2016

You’re probably aware the historic Rylander Theatre observed its 95th anniversary this week, so let’s raise a toast to that milestone and also the theater’s definitive restoration and star-studded reopening on Oct. 1, 1999.
Americus is fortunate that so many of the historic buildings in the central business district of downtown have been maintained and preserved. The majority, built during the Victorian era, reflect architectural features and ambiance that add to the charm and character of the city.
The two most prominent are the Windsor Hotel, that dates back to the late Victorian era, and the Rylander Theatre, built just after World War I when our country was getting back on its feet and Americus was bustling with activity and citizens yearned for entertainment.
The Rylander Theatre is fashioned on a similar design as New York theaters from that era, which is reflected in its size and incredible architectural features. The auditorium is a treasure trove of details not seen in modern buildings that range from the hand-painted proscenium and gold leaf surround to original tile, light fixtures and historical elements. The theater closed in 1951, and remained vacant and decaying for decades, but restoration efforts began due to the vision and foresight of the late Americus Mayor Tom Gailey that came to fruition during the term of Mayor Russell Thomas Jr. These men saw the theater’s potential as an economic stimulant to attract individuals from a wide area. A public/private partnership resulted in the authentic restoration and the Rylander Theatre reopened with President Jimmy Carter’s 75th birthday celebration, a gala night to remember.
I wasn’t around for the theater’s 1921 grand opening, but I was “front row center” at the official reopening. Klieg lights illuminated the plethora of guests dressed to the nines in black-tie and formal gowns driving up in everything from limousines to the family car. It was like a Hollywood movie premier. The theater sparkled like the Hope diamond. Hundreds upon hundreds of pink roses donated by Leon Holloway of Gatewood Flowers filled the main lobby; every seat was taken with well-known celebrities and dignitaries and the guy next door. The entertainment featured many of the Carters’ favorites such as pianist David Osborne, the Indigo Girls, an act dressed in full Egyptian regalia from Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace, television personalities such as Sam Donaldson and White House news reporter Helen Thomas, both of whom covered Carter during his presidential administration and before and many others.
Afterwards, Carter, surrounded by family members, used his Navy sword to cut what was perhaps the largest birthday cake in history,  courtesy of Winn-Dixie. The cake table actually sat outside on Lamar Street that was blocked to traffic during the cake-cutting ceremony. Then it was on to the next party — at the Windsor Hotel that also shone like a diamond and was filled to the hilt with flora and platters of scrumptious delicacies. There we mixed, mingled and danced the night away.
The gala reopening of the Rylander was simply unforgettable.
Out and about: Sumter Players’ recent winter dinner was a cheerful, lovely event. Donna Minich, known for her gourmet cuisine,  coordinated the delicious roast beef dinner that was topped off with mouthwatering desserts prepared by the Players’ board of directors. Afterwards, we enjoyed a glimpse of the Players’ next two productions: “Man of La Mancha” and “Motherhood, Out Loud.” Singers Justin Neal, Patrick Peacock and Ken Dinella sang selections from “Man of La Mancha” accompanied by Tom Wheeler on keyboard and his daughter Beth Tyrer on the grand piano, and Kalynn Partridge, vocal music director. Then Irmgard Schopen-Davis did a reading from “Motherhood, Out Loud.” Ray Manella, Players  president, announced an exciting 2016-17 season opening in November with “Miracle on 34th Street,” followed by the spring musical “Shrek,” and the season closes with “Heaven Can Wait.” I can’t wait to see all three. Mark Minick, Furlow Gatewood, Randy and Nancy Jones, and Lisa and Rod Collins spent the recent long weekend in the tropics. They were in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and guests of interior decorator John Rosselli at La Colina, the home he shares with his talented wife, Bunny Williams. The New Yorkers are frequent guests here of Furlow Gatewood. Meanwhile, Gatewood and Cindy Dudley relaxed on St. Simons Island; Leon Holloway was a guest of his sister, Becky Price, at her home in Charleston, S.C., and his nephew, Casey Berry, in Raleigh; and Rene and Angela Smith celebrated their first wedding anniversary enjoying the glitz, bling and glitter of Las Vegas, and toured the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon. In Vegas, they visited numerous spots, enjoyed the show, “Raiding the Rock Vault,” rock performances by members of popular bands tracing the history of rock and roll. Of course, they swung by the Bellagio to visit good friend, pianist David Osborne. They saw Styx, live in concert at The Palms, and a phenomenal show called “La Reve,” toured old Vegas and the Little White Wedding Chapel and World Famous Gold and Silver Pawn from television’s Pawn Stars. Even though it snowed when they were at the Grand Canyon, it was clear enough for a helicopter flight to the canyon floor and a boat trip along the Colorado River. And everyone join in chorus and sing, “Happy Birthday” tomorrow to Anne Barrett, my favorite daughter-in-law.

Leila S. Case lives in Americus.