On New Year’s Eve, volunteers came together to change more than 1,000 light bulbs at the former Hollywood Theatre in about four hours.
“It’s one thing to change them out, but it’s another to have (almost all of) them work,” said the Rev. Travis Albrecht, lead pastor at Valleybrook Church, noting two sockets have to be replaced.
The church, the owner of the historic theater, launched a campaign last year to raise funds to replace the bulbs in the marquee and Hollywood sign.
Valleybrook hosted a “Light Up” party March 22 to officially flip the switch, give thanks for those contributing to the project and enjoy refreshments, which included light bulb-shaped cookies.
“It’s exciting to see them lit up,” Albrecht said, “but we couldn’t have done it alone.”
To help fund the effort, longtime parishioner Jane Jeffries launched a GoFundMe campaign — for $5 donors could sponsor a bulb and for $300 contributors could sponsor a letter in the Hollywood sign — that raised $5,800.
Jeffries and her family sponsored the "Y." One of Albrecht’s former parishioners, a woman living in Arizona with no connection to Valleybrook, sponsored one of the "O"s after learning about the project through social media.
“I love stories of generosity,” said Albrecht, noting those who sponsored the letters in the Hollywood sign each received their own smaller lighted letter. (The parishioner died before the project was completed, so Albrecht will mail her "O" to her son.)
Jeffries also applied for a beautification grant from Downtown Eau Claire Inc., which awarded $2,000 to be used for a timer and necessary electrical work.
“I just love that we are investing in the downtown,” she said. “I love being downtown, I love what Eau Claire is doing downtown, and I loved to be part of an effort to bring this historic building back to life.”
The Hollywood Theatre opened in 1947 and closed in 1992. Valleybrook, which first opened in October 1993 at South Middle School, later purchased the former theater.
The effort to light its marquee and Hollywood sign was launched last year.
“Lighting the marquee was never just about turning light bulbs on,” said Albrecht, who attended Valleybrook while attending UW-Eau Claire and later returned to lead the congregation. “It was always about the renewing and restoring of broken, worn out places — seeing them come to life again.”
Helping in the effort were TJ Electric and LED Supply Co. of Eau Claire.
Mike Worthing, an account manager at the latter, was tasked with finding the right lights for the project.
“It was kind of challenging,” said Worthing, laughing as he admitted the old lamps Albrecht brought to the company’s Eau Claire office were “quite a bit older” than he is.
Worthing reached out to a couple of manufacturers and got samples of lights with different wattages and lumens. He also helped the church secure energy rebates.
“We didn’t want the lights to be too bright,” Jeffries said. “On the third try, we got it just right.”
Worthing attended the Light Up party to see Valleybrook officials officially flip the switch. He’s also seen the sign lit when downtown at night.
“It looks great,” he said.
The marquee and Hollywood sign will be lit each night, with the timing varying by time of year, Albrecht said. Currently, the lights are going on around 6:30 p.m. and shutting off at 9:30 p.m.