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Clean-up decisions at Genesee Theatre questioned

Waukegan artist Patrick Tufo stands next SantClaus throne thhe recovered from Genesee Theatre storage areearlier this month after he heard

Waukegan artist Patrick Tufo stands next to a Santa Claus throne that he recovered from a Genesee Theatre storage area earlier this month after he heard that it was scheduled to be thrown away by a cleaning crew. | Dan Moran/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 29, 2014 3:23AM

Local preservationists asked Waukegan officials earlier this month to look into a recent clean-up at the Genesee Theatre that they say resulted in thousands of dollars’ worth of replacement seats, power tools, decorative items and assorted equipment being thrown into trash bins.

But city spokesman David Motley said on Wednesday, Nov. 27, that many of the items alleged to have been discarded were moved from a fifth-floor space to an off-site storage facility, while others that were deemed damaged or obsolete were indeed tossed.

“Theater management was making space to reclaim (unused) areas,” Motley said. “The thought from management and from the Friends (of the Historic Genesee Theatre) Board is to make every available space in the building available for programming and making money for the building.”

Wayne Munn, a commissioner with the Waukegan Historic Preservation Commission, told the City Council at its Nov. 18 meeting that he was called to the Genesee the week of Nov. 11 in the midst of a clean-out operation and found that, among other things, “all the new replacement seats had been put into Dumpsters and were already in the landfill.”

Munn added that “I was told by a representative of what I will call the clean-out team that except for blueprints, letters or marquee (items) and a few of the vast number of tools, every non-attached item had been ordered to be discarded into demolition Dumpsters in front of the theater.”

“I find these events very troubling,” Munn added. “They show a lack of accountability, professionalism and even common sense on the part of the people entrusted with oversight of the Genesee Theatre and the teams they have hired in positions of authority.”

Also questioning the clean-up was Marilyn Moisio, a life member of the Waukegan Historical Society. Moisio told the council that she believes many of the items thrown out date back to the theater’s 2002-04 restoration, including fabric wall covers, rolls of carpeting, carpet-repair equipment and pallets of ceramic tile that were targeted for donation to Habitat for Humanity.

“As of (Nov. 18), six Dumpsters have been filled,” Moisio said. “Is the city realizing the money from the scrap (metal) being put in the Dumpsters? I request the council get answers, and report at the next City Council meeting as to who requested this clean-out (and) the purpose of the clean-out.”

Moisio, adding that “someone has to own up and be responsible,” said that she wants the city to address if the clean-up was authorized by the Friends of the Genesee board, if anything was a violation of the theater’s lease and if “due diligence was carried out by the city on behalf of the taxpayers.”

This week, Motley said no usable seats were discarded, though a number of broken seats and versions that pre-date the renovation were indeed thrown out. He added that some newer-looking seats seen in trash bins might have been “prototype chairs that were not compatible with the building.”

As for the carpeting, Motley said rolls that were water-damaged, soiled and no longer compatible with existing carpet were discarded. He also said that the ceramic tiles mentioned by Moisio were moved to another storage location.

“Things that have real value or perceived value have been moved off-site to see if they can be cleaned up or used again,” said Motley, adding that this would include vintage and restoration material stored in the Genesee’s basement.

Whatever the intentions were, word spread throughout the community about the Genesee clean-up. Waukegan artist Patrick Tufo said this week that he “was told about all this good stuff that was being thrown away,” including Christmas decorations. He added that when he went to the theater on Wednesday, Nov. 13, he found a throne that has been used over the years for Santa Claus events.

“This was down there in the basement, ready to be thrown out, with all the (Christmas) backgrounds, too,” said Tufo, standing next to the piece. “So I brought it down to my (gallery), then they called and asked me to bring it back.”

According to Munn and Moisio, among the items that were initially slated to be thrown out but were held back after their inspection was a replacement organ that Munn estimated was worth $90,000 to $100,000 when purchased during the renovation period.

While Motley said “there was never any intention” of getting rid of the organ, Munn called on the council for reassurance that the Genesee and its treasures are in good hands.

“We (need) professional, responsible, trustworthy people as stewards of the taxpayers’ $24 million investment,” Munn said. “The city must make sure that these issues are not swept under the rug, and I say, not that much tongue in cheek, that it should be easier to do, since they took all the rugs out.”

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