VALRICO — It was built during a railroad-inspired land boom in the early 1900s on land donated by the Valrico Townsite Co.
With its Mediterranean Revival-style architecture and white bricks molded at the Valrico Sandstone Co., the Valrico Civic Building was a community gem, featuring shiny pine floors, a recessed ticket booth and arched doors with contrasting brick “eyebrows.” It was going to be a key component of Valrico's future downtown.
Today the building — now called the James McCabe Theater, for the longtime director of community productions there — is showing its age.
The Valrico Players, which took the deed to the building from Hillsborough County in 1994, the year it was designated a historic landmark, is working to ensure it is suitably presentable for its centennial in 2015.
Already the group has accomplished a lot, from a new roof to a recently donated air-conditioning unit to new kitchen flooring.
But the pine flooring in the remainder of the building is rutted with age — dull and lifeless. Gail Pierce, vice president of the Valrico Players, also known as the Village Players, said replacing the entire wood floor would be too expensive, but the troupe would love to get donations for 10 boards at a time so it can replace the tongue-and-groove pieces showing the most wear. Someone with knowledge about wood floor replacement also would be helpful.
Former and current actors have pitched in, as have patrons, said Domin Pazo, one of the artistic directors for the Valrico Players. “The last three years, people have really stepped up,” he said, including the group's previous board, which installed new plumbing and flooring in the restrooms.
But the pine floor remains a concern, he said.
“This place is never going to be the Taj Mahal,” Pierce said, “but it has got a lot of character, and we want to keep that.”
The vision for a downtown here never materialized. Development moved west to Brandon in the early 1900s. But the theater and Willie's Fish Camp — still operating as a restaurant just east of the theater — remain symbols of a time when Valrico's founders envisioned a robust town center.
“It's one of the oldest buildings in Valrico, and we need to maintain it,” said Webster Pierce, Gail Pierce's husband and president of the Valrico Players. “We're pushing forward with renovations. In years past, we held back because repairs were so expensive, but Gail and I decided with the centennial coming up, we just needed to go for it.
“We've been working on the loft, pulling off rotted wood up there,” Webster Pierce said. “It's amazing what we've gotten accomplished.”
Still, there is much to be done. The building always has been too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, he said. And the fire marshal long ago told the Pierces they could not operate the building's original fireplace during shows: no open flames.
The building has some heat strips but needs more. The theater also could use a curtain to block off the loft area above the audience seating, where sets and equipment are stored.
For its theater productions, the troupe uses four dimmer packs for lighting. A recent lightning strike took out three of them. The Pierces hope donations will defray the cost of replacing them.
The couple have been involved with the building for more than 30 years as part of the Valrico Players, and the troupe has performed all kinds of shows through the decades, from Shakespeare to favorites such as “Sherlock Holmes,” “M.A.S.H.,” “Westside Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” Anyone may audition for the shows or volunteer to help with lighting and other behind-the-scenes needs. There is no formal membership.
“It's the only old building around like this that is still being used for the greater good of the community,” Gail Pierce said.
On the opening night of each show, Gail Pierce puts on what she calls her fundraisers — dinner and a show for $25. Local restaurants donate food, and the money raised goes to pay for maintenance and equipment. But it's never enough.
“This building ... stands as an example of what cooperation and a stick-together spirit can accomplish and stands as a monument of civic pride to the citizens of Valrico and this community,” Valrico Improvement Association President W.B. Miller said at the association's February 1916 meeting.
Pierce said people should still feel the same way about the building.
“It should be a source of pride for the community.”
To learn more or to donate, go to www.villageplayers.valrico.com. Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to Gail Pierce, c/o Village Players, 101 W. Morgan St., Brandon FL 33510.
Tickets still are available for performances at the theater this weekend for “The Village Players Christmas Spectacular.” Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the curtain goes up at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights. Tickets are $14 general admission and $12 for students, seniors and military personnel with a valid ID.