Broken valve floods Hilo's Palace Theater
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
Hilo's historic Palace Theater is drying out after a broken valve on a fire sprinkler dumped thousands of gallons of water inside the 80-year-old building.
The flooding turned the former orchestra pit into a virtual swimming pool and ruined props, sets, fabric, carpeting, lumber and other items stored under the stage. It may have damaged an organ previously installed at the Waikiki Theater on Kalakaua Avenue, according to Cheryl "Quack" Moore, president of the theater's board of directors.
Moore said the theater won't reopen until the fire sprinklers are operational.
The building, owned by the nonprofit Friends of the Palace Theater, plays host to art-house movies, the Hawai'i International Film Festival, cultural events, musical productions, community meetings and other events.
The sprinkler malfunctioned sometime after 6 p.m. Wednesday, sending a cascade of water down from a height of 50 feet. It should have triggered an alarm outside the 500-seat theater, but no alarm sounded, and the flooding continued. The office manager showed up at 7 a.m. Thursday and found 4 feet of water in the old orchestra pit.
"It was a soggy, horrible mess," Moore said.
The Fire Department pumped out several thousands of gallons of water on Thursday. John Massey's cleaning company was able to save 120 seats in the orchestra section by shampooing, vacuum-drying and mildew-treating, Moore said.
Large fans and dehumidifiers were running around the clock, and yesterday a "miracle crew" of three dozen volunteers hauled out carpets and truckloads of other soggy material, Moore said.
The organ, which is being restored, was on a raised platform and was covered up but may have been damaged by moisture.
Insurance will not cover the damage, she said, and there is an immediate need for $5,000 to $6,000 to pay for cleaning and repairs.
When it opened in 1925, the Palace was considered the grandest theater on the Neighbor Islands. It was built entirely out of redwood imported from the Pacific Northwest.
Reach Christie Wilson at email@example.com.