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Former Castle Theatre suffers water damage

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City workers Matt Bray (left) and Jeff Robertson monitor pumps removing water from the basement of the former Castle Theatre on Main Street Monday. Officials believe a pipe busted during thawing temperatures over the weekend. Lack of proper maintenance was also thought to have played a role.
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City Water Dept. Supt. Greg Phipps stands at the top of a stairwell leading to the basement of the Castle Theatre Monday, where water flooded the space to such an extent, crews couldn’t get to the shut-off valves and had to go through a Main Street manhole to stop the flow.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

In another cruel twist of fate for an historic icon, The Castle Theatre – left vacant since closing last fall – suffered significant water damage Sunday evening when thawing temperatures unleashed torrents of water from a busted pipe.

Mayor Greg York was watching the Super Bowl Sunday evening when he was alerted to the super mess.

“When New England missed the first field goal last night, I got a call that water was flowing out on Main Street a foot deep,” York said.

Water was seen being pumped out of the basement by city workers Monday morning. Some water had also flowed into the theatre itself.

After Monday morning’s Board of Public Works and Safety meeting, York and City Attorney David Copenhaver said it appeared proper maintenance hadn’t been done on the building by the property management company since it became vacant.

“They left the water on, left the electricity on, but obviously they had the gas shut off, which controls the heater,” York said. “So it got so cold in there I presume the line froze and busted Wednesday when it was 10 below and it just thawed out yesterday afternoon.” 

York said water “seven feet deep” was flowing over the light fixtures in the basement at one time last night. 

“The water was above the light fixtures so we had to call Duke Energy to shut the electricity off because you don’t want to put anybody at risk of electric shock,” York said.

“It would appear it wasn’t properly winterized,” Copenhaver said. “If you own a cottage on a lake up north, when you winterize it, you turn off the water.”

According to county tax records, The Castle is owned by the Nellie Catherine Bundy Bailey Trust. The trust also owns the adjacent building.

A plaque on the east wall of The Castle states that the building is dedicated to the James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Association, which is now the Riley Children’s Foundation.

Today, JP Morgan Chase Bank is the trustee of the Nellie Catherine Bundy Bailey Trust and that corner of New Castle. Matt Huffman is the F.C. Tucker/Crossroads agent handling The Castle lease.

After eight years of covering all building maintenance and heating/air conditioning repairs, Rick and Elaine Dearduff chose not to renew their lease last year. 

As city crews worked to get the water out of the building, York said his administration continues to reach out to the property management company in hopes of getting the building placed in city hands permanently.

“We’re trying to get this worked out where we can at least take over maintenance on it as soon as we possibly can so it doesn’t get any worse and something like this doesn’t happen again,” York said.

City Water Department Superintendent Greg Phipps was seen on Main Street Monday with employees Matt Bray, Jeff Robertson and Daniel Cory trying to get the situation under control. They had to open a manhole on Main Street to get the water flow under control.

“There’s a valve at the street that is on the primary line that comes into the building and we shut that valve off,” Phipps explained. “The water was so deep, we couldn’t get to the valves in the building.”

The water episode was just the latest chapter of frustration for city officials and others who had tried in vain to work with the property management company on a long-term plan for the facility, which opened Oct. 10, 1935.

On Facebook, local historian and author Mark Sean Orr posted a photo of the Castle marquee with read “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.” Beside it, he wrote “Here’s hoping our national treasure, the Castle Theater, survives the water damage that occurred last night. It’s the last ‘castle’ we have in New Castle.”

York said he continues to try.

“We’ve asked them to gift the property to the city and they can’t do that legally right now,” York explained. “It has to go before a judge because it was a property that was donated, so we’re in some legal situations right now. For three months, I’ve been working with them on a proposal, just let us take care of the maintenance on it. The worst thing in the world for a building in Indiana is to sit empty with no utilities.” 

“I just want to get the maintenance in our hands as soon as we possibly can so we can restore it,” York continued. “I was wanting to start on the marquee out front but I think I’m going to have start with the water in the basement first.”