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Holmes Theatre’s penny floor finished; open house Thursday

The floor of the Historic Holmes Theatre’s main hallway is now covered in shiny copper coins thanks to donations and volunteer help from around the lakes area. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gerdes

It’s been a nearly yearlong process, but months of volunteer hours and thousands of donated pennies later, the new penny floor at the Historic Holmes Theatre is finally finished.

“It’s all done!” exclaimed Amy Stoller Stearns, the theater’s executive director, on Tuesday morning.

To show off what has become one of Detroit Lakes’ most impressive community art projects to date, the Holmes Theatre is hosting an open house this Thursday at 6:15 p.m., in advance of the musical revue “Sweet Dreams & Honky Tonks,” which is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. inside the main theater.

This will be the public’s first opportunity to view the finished product, which is a collective labor of love that has included over 1,200 volunteers and more than 614,000 donated pennies.

“It’s for our sponsors, volunteers, and everyone who has made this project happen,” Stearns said.

“We want the community to come and celebrate with us,” added Becky Mitchell, the theater’s community outreach and event coordinator, who spearheaded the penny floor project last fall.

Throughout the winter, spring and summer, volunteers from Detroit Lakes and surrounding communities have spent hours painstakingly gluing thousands of the round copper coins onto the floor of the theater’s main hallway, to create a truly unique piece of decorative art that will now become a permanent piece of the theater’s history.

“We would like to thank the community for sharing with us their two cents, and more,” said Stearns with a laugh, before adding, on a more serious note, that this project was one that required real hard work on the part of the volunteers who took part in it.

“There were no shortcuts,” she said. “In a way, it’s a metaphor for life. There was no way to do this quickly. You had to do it penny by penny, and you had to give it your all.”

“The community recognized that we would need many hands, and they responded,” Mitchell added. “There were about 1,200 people who worked on this floor. That’s amazing.”

“It’s such a transformation,” Stearns said.

“It’s been overwhelming, in every sense of the word,” Mitchell agreed.

After all the pennies were laid, five layers of protective coating were poured early this week, and more will be added over time.

“Every couple of years we will add a coat or two, to keep it protected,” Stearns said.

New baseboards will also be added later this fall, through a grant from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation, which also paid for repainting the theater hallways.

The next step, Mitchell said, will be to complete a “penny wall” that will showcase the unique foreign coins — some of them from the 1800s or older — that were donated toward this project.

“We started receiving so many beautiful foreign coins that we decided we should showcase them and not just put them into the floor,” Mitchell said.

That project is slated to be completed yet this year, as is the refurbishing of the theater’s fiberglass sunfish, which was permanently anchored to the penny floor as part of this project.

“It’s always had a movable base in the past,” Mitchell said.

The sunfish, which is one of 50 created as part of the “Sunny in DL” community art project back in 2002, was originally hand-painted by students at the Detroit Lakes Area Learning Center (currently housed on the third floor of the theater building).

Over time, the fish’s beauty has been somewhat dulled and is in need of a makeover, Mitchell noted.

“We will be working with the ALC again, to mosaic it using glass and pennies,” she said.

That project, as well as the penny floor itself, are both being funded, in part, through grants from the Lake Region Arts Council and the Legacy Amendment.

“We couldn’t have done this without them,” Stearns said, referring to the LRAC, BNSF Foundation and the Legacy Amendment.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454