Pitch made to revive Millsboro’s former Ball Theatre

 

An effort is underway to restore the former Ball Theatre, opened in the 1930s by former major league baseball player Walter “Huck” Betts, in downtown Millsboro. (Special to Delaware State News)

MILLSBORO — A blast from Millsboro’s past may be making a comeback.

Efforts are in the works to restore and bring back to functional film life the Ball Theatre, whose opening in the 1930s has a connection to Major League Baseball.

Millsboro town officials plan to soon meet with Eric Clark, owner of the Main Street property that most recently has been the home for the United Faith Church.

Mr. Clark’s hope is to restore the single-screen, 400-plus seat theatre as it was back in the golden era of movie theatres, Millsboro Mayor John Thoroughgood shared with council at its July 3 meeting.

The theatre would be a staging venue for movies, plays and concerts.

Current town code and 21st century restrictions might impact restoration plans.

“He just doesn’t want to spend all of this money and then … another stipulation and another stipulation,” said Mayor Thoroughgood. “He just wants it all out in front what he has to do to make it work.”

An “historic” designation could ease or lesson some the regulations.

“One question is whether we as a municipality however can designate a specific historic building versus a historic district,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson.

Mary Schrider-Fox, the town of Millsboro’s solicitor, will research the issue to find the answer to that question, officials said.

“Council is trying to find out where is that ‘sweet spot’ between making sure that the codes are complied with and public safety is respected, but at the same time the owner can achieve his vision of a theatre that in look and in spirit is very similar to what was in place many decades ago,” said Mr. Hudson. “They want to find a way to work with him if possible.”

Some work has already been completed.

“He’s put a new roof on it. It has got new electric, new doors,” said Mayor Thoroughgood. “He’s excited.”

The Ball Theatre was opened in the late 1930s by Walter McKinley “Huck” Betts, a Millsboro native who was a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies (1920-25) and Boston Braves (1932-35).

Mr. Betts opened the theatre after he retired from baseball and operated the theatre until 1971, according to historical archives.

He died in 1987 at age 90.

The Ball Theatre shared stage history in Millsboro with the Millsboro Opera House and Dodd’s Hall.

Not too far to the south in Dagsboro stands the historic Clayton Theatre, Delaware’s only single-screen theatre still in operation.

“I think about the Clayton Theatre in Dagsboro,” said Mr. Hudson. “When you go upstairs and see the balcony it’s an experience. They still have the original men’s and ladies’ signs in front of the bathroom. I think that is what Mr. Clark is going for.”

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