BEVERLY — The next time you walk into the Cabot theater — whenever that might be — make sure you look up.

The century-old theater is planning to restore the lobby's high vaulted ceilings in time for what officials hope will be a re-opening sometime in July. The ceilings, which includes an original rose window and chandelier, have been covered up by a drop ceiling since the 1950s.

Casey Soward, the Cabot's executive director, said the removal of the drop ceiling and the exposure of 1920s-era architectural details will give people the same "sense of grandeur" in the lobby that's present throughout the rest of the historic theater.

"It's going to hit you the moment you walk through the door," Soward said.

The restoration of the arched ceilings is part of a larger renovation of the lobby, including new ticket counters, entryway doors, bar and concessions counter and elevator, that is scheduled to be completed later in the year. The entire project will cost $1.65 million.

On Monday, the Beverly City Council voted 9-0 to approve $275,000 in Community Preservation Act money to help pay for the ceiling restoration part of the project.

Councilors praised the Cabot for its role in helping to revitalize the downtown and for serving as an anchor for the city's arts district.

"As somebody who has spent every day on Cabot Street for the last 35 years, it's amazing what the Cabot has done for downtown Beverly," said City Council President Paul Guanci, who owns Super Sub on Cabot Street. "Everybody has benefited from it. Where else in the world can you be a sandwich maker and have Dionne Warwick come in for lunch?"

The lobby renovation is the latest step in a three-year plan to improve the Cabot, which was built in 1920 and is marking its 100th anniversary this year. It is one of only about 250 theaters from that era remaining in the United States.

Since a group of local businessmen bought the theater in 2014 and turned it into a nonprofit, more than $4 million has been spent on upgrades, including new seats, sound and lighting systems, heating and air conditioning, and a storefront bar called Streetside.

The theater has also increased programming, with movies or live performances being held 350 nights per year. Tickets sales have increased from $157,000 in the first year to more than $3 million in 2019, according to the theater's application for CPA funding. Nearly 90,000 people attended events there in 2019.

While much of the theater has been transformed, the lobby is "cramped and aesthetically uninviting," the theater said in its application. The doors that divide the lobby create bottlenecks and block access to the concessions counter and bar.

"Moreover, the space lacks the historical aesthetic that makes the interior theater such a delight to behold," the application said. "... The proposed lobby project is both a return to the glamour of the past and an ambitious promise to future generations." 

The Cabot has been closed since March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Soward said it is hoping to reopen with movies in mid-to-late July, when Gov. Charlie Baker's reopening plan reaches Phase 3.

Soward said he expects theaters would be allowed to operate at 20 to 25% capacity, which for the Cabot would be about 200 people. "That's actually a nice crowd for a movie," he said. "If you think of us as a movie theater, we can host a movie with a socially distanced crowd."

The theater is considering such protective measures as allowing people to choose their arrival time and pre-ordering their concessions.

Soward said people have continued buying memberships and gift cards and making donations to help get the Cabot through the shutdown.

"We're just absolutely thrilled with the support we've gotten from the city of Beverly and the residents of Beverly through this time," he said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

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