LANCASTER - Janetta Starnes' eyes widened as she looked upon the Grand Theater for the first time in more than 40 years.
She remembered how the gold frame once housed Lancaster's silver screen, the balcony once buzzed with excitement, and the stage once promised small-town stardom.
"Ohhh, I used to come here and you couldn't even walk for the people," Starnes, 72, said. "So many memories."
After taking in the sight of the theater's renovation Tuesday, Starnes turned to thank the day's special guest — Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear.
Beshear attended the theater's first public reception since it closed in 1967 and congratulated local officials and board members, who secured millions for the restoration.
"I do agree with my husband … what you all are doing can serve as an example for other communities," she told a crowd of about 75 community members and public officials. "And, yes, when this is completed, we would love to have that front row seat."
State Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster, offered the Beshears the prime spot to say thank you to Gov. Steve Beshear for allocating grants and approving budget line items that are funding the majority of the $3.5 million renovation.
State Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, along with Garrard County Judge-Executive John Wilson and Economic Development Director and Grand Theater Board Vice President Nathan Mick also acknowledged the first lady for her visit and Gov. Beshear for his support.
Mick explained that restoration of the landmark Grand Theater — originally opened in 1925 — began in 2009 with fortifying the structure, installing new stairs and building new bathrooms. The second phase wrapped up this spring and involved completing heating, air conditioning, electrical and sprinkler systems.
The final renovations, for which the board still needs at least $175,000, should soon begin adding "all the bells and whistles," including carpeting, stage lighting, curtains and sound projection equipment, Mick said. The theater will seat 400 people upon its reopening.
"We want to revive this theater and provide a downtown economic engine," he said. "We just have to have a funding gap filled in order to get the doors open in 2012."
Donna Powell, special assistant to the judge-executive, said she can't wait.
She remembers watching "Gone with the Wind," "The Ten Commandments" and "Peyton Place," the most risque movie of the time, at the Grand when tickets cost 15-25 cents.
Although the theater is a long way from its former aesthetic glory, Powell said seeing it open for the reception gave her hope.
"It gives you a great feeling to see something like this that's coming to life again," she said. "I was so afraid after it closed that would be it forever."
But soon a new generation of Garrard County residents can unfold the magic of the Grand.
Starnes’ granddaughter, Kaylee Hatfield, 11, listened to the tales of the old theater and set her sights on one day making it to the newly restored stage, hopefully in "Annie," one of her favorite musicals.
Meanwhile, Shane Rounsifer, 13, said he hopes to bring operas, like his most loved "Phantom of the Opera," back to Lancaster via the Grand.
He attended the event with his dad to see the theater and personally thank Beshear for her family's support.
"It's fantastic," he said.
Beshear spoke with young and old alike and left with an ambitious and optimistic hope for the theater — that it can serve as an educational platform and enhance the quality of life in Garrard County by highlighting the arts.
"I like to say that it's reviving the spirit of the community," she said.