By Bill Rodgers
YOUNGSTOWN — It was Christmas Eve when Corey Maizel and Jaime Hughes first saw the 92-year-old State Theater sitting unnoticed along Federal Plaza.
‘‘We were driving around downtown, and I saw this building outside ... It left me in awe. I couldn’t believe that there was this beautiful building there,’’ Hughes said.
Hughes, 18, said she fell in love with the theater after seeing pictures of the massive interior.
She and Maizel, 20 began their own campaign to restore the former charm to the theater’s facade, and the two hope to use fundraising campaigns to donate money to local art and theater groups. They created the group Patrons of the Youngstown Arts and are working on getting nonprofit organization status.
Hughes said the theater was an example of one of the city’s beautiful buildings that fell into a state of neglect and obscurity. The property is owned by the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corporation (YCACIC) which stated to other community groups such as StreetScape, that the organization would try to preserve the facade if possible as it paves the way for a mixed commercial and technology district.
‘‘There’s a lot of history on that block ... Why that appeals to a generation who never got to see the theater when it was open ... I couldn’t say. But I respect that,’’ said acting YCACIC President Reid Dulberger.
Hughes and Maizel want to make everyone else see the building the same way they do. As she stood in front of the theater, excitedly pointing out the building’s features, someone walking past stopped and commented that he never really noticed the building before. But once, it was a stopping point for national rock bands, orchestras and plays.
‘‘A lot of people know us for the steel mills, or they see downtown, but there’s definitely an arts and theatrical aspect to Youngstown that we want to bring out,’’ Hughes said, adding that the State Theater was one of about 12 original theaters in the city.
When Maizel, a business student at Youngstown State University, and Hughes, a Cardinal Mooney High School senior with designs on a YSU English degree, learned the historic theater occupies the same block as the soon-to-come Taft Technology Center, the duo decided to launch their own campaign to preserve the building.
That campaign has called people of all ages to meet under the roof of Cedar’s Lounge downtown. Hughes said people wanted to see the facade of the theater adorned with its original marquee, and a historical marker.
But Hughes and Maizel also want to turn Patrons of the Youngstown Arts into an organization that holds art festivals and concerts to raise money for theaters such as The Oakland and Easy Street.
‘‘We want to commemorate the State Theater, but we also want to support the theater groups that are up and running now. We give them a lot of credit for staying active that long,’’ Maizel said.
Hughes said their original idea was to see the theater restored, but Dulberger said the theater is in such a state of ‘‘advanced decay’’ that the most anyone can hope to salvage is the building’s columnated facade.
Work to demolish the building could begin next year.
Dulberger recalls looking inside the theater and seeing a disaster area. The walls, he said, were slipping under the weight of the building, the plaster was falling in chunks from the bowed-in ceiling, and the floor too dangerous to walk on.
‘‘It’s a dangerous environment,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a curtain stretched across the back of the stage with the word ‘Asbestos’ written in big letters. We got an ironic chuckle out of that.’’
First, an engineer would need to be brought in and assess the facade, Dulberger said. The plan would require crews to rest the facade against a metal frame and cut it away from the building. Dulberger said the engineer would see how much this could cost, if the facade could be moved, or if the facade would simply turn to rubble when cut away from the building.
‘‘It’s our hope and intent to save the facade,’’ Dulberger said.
Cost is a factor in the preservation efforts, Dulberger said. But he declined to give a figure that the YCACIC would consider too pricey to preserve the facade. He said those questions could be answered as early as this year when the facade is inspected.
Meanwhile, Hughes’ and Maizel’s Myspace.com site for the State Theater collects friends from across the city, with groups such as Defend Youngstown and The Pro-Yo Party of Youngstown. The support the two are seeing for the city makes Hughes and Maizel proud.
‘‘It seems like more people are starting to care about Youngstown ... They want to keep more of the population in the city rather than see people run from it. People aren’t ashamed to say that they’re from Youngstown anymore,’’ Maizel said.