A lot to Admire: Living link to Avalon’s rich history
At 80 years old, Diann Admire proves that game-changing isn’t exclusive to the younger set.
As a board member of the Avalon Foundation — the group at the center of a renewed effort to rehabilitate the iconic Avalon Theatre on Main Street downtown, to the tune of some $16 million potentially — Admire is perhaps its most important link to the rich history of the theater.
Her personal story is inextricably linked to the Avalon, and she is passionate today about cataloguing the theater’s history for generations to come, working for hours creating scrapbooks and collecting documents from the Avalon’s more than 90-year history.
The new revitalization effort, called the Avalon Cornerstone Project, has an eye toward a modern future, but much of the campaign leans on the theater’s history to convince people the pricey effort is worth their contribution.
That makes Admire the foundation’s living link to that critical past, and a lynchpin of sorts to the effort to raise the full amount needed to make the Avalon a truly modern draw for great performances in the future.
“When people were talking about a new performing arts center, and some said to just build a new one and tear down the Avalon — I said they’ll have to roll over my body to do it,” Admire said.
“It’s just been a part of Grand Junction for years and years and years,” she said.
It’s also been a part of her personal history for nearly her entire life. Her aunt, Elise Moeser, worked for Grand Junction legend William Moyer, who was a member of the original Grand Junction Theatre Company, the group that brought the Avalon to life in the 1920s. Moeser also was an original stockholder in the Avalon.
Admire’s mother, who once climbed to the top of Independence Monument with John Otto, also performed in a Grand Junction High School production at the Avalon that featured Dalton Trumbo in the chorus.
Admire herself performed on the Avalon stage in a dance recital when she was just 5 years old. She and her husband, Gene, had their first date at the Avalon, seeing “Northwest Passage” starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Young.
“We sat in the balcony. We had a dollar to go on a date,” Admire recalled of that first date with Gene. “It was 25 cents for the balcony, and a Coke at the snack bar and french fries afterward ... and maybe popcorn if we were lucky.”
“We always sat in the balcony, and we still do. We like it better than the main floor,” she said. “You can see better, and the sound is good, and the seats are better.”
She and Gene will have been married for 63 years in May, and they still catch a flick at the Avalon every now and again. In the balcony, of course.
“The Avalon was just a part of growing up here — a part of our lives,” she said.
In the days when she was growing up, Admire said the two places kids spent most of their time in summer were the swimming pool and the Avalon.
“Grand Junction has always been a place where we didn’t lack for entertainment,” she said. “For me, (the air-conditioned Avalon) was affordable. It was a place to meet friends, and it was a place to cool off.”
She recalled many weekends watching movies at the Avalon — some weeknights, too, as her father enjoyed Western pictures and often took her to the theater. He had to fetch her from the Avalon when “The Wizard of Oz” premiered at the theater, and Admire stayed to watch it again.
Today, she ticks off a litany of movie stars she and her friends followed back in the day: Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Gene Kelly.
And as a volunteer documentarian of the Avalon, Admire knows the performance history of the place up and down. The fact that such famous people as Al Jolson, Ethel Barrymore, John Philip Sousa, Billy Sunday and Carl Sandburg all appeared at the Avalon makes the theater’s preservation that much more of a priority, Admire said.
She also recalled the historic Operation Foresight effort of the early 1960s, when Grand Junction radically restructured its Main Street, on which the Avalon finds itself at the far east end. Then-City Manager Joe Lacy famously called the project “everybody’s baby.”
“That’s the way I feel about the Avalon Theatre — this is everybody’s baby, and we’ve all got to pull together to get it done,” Admire said. “Not one person, or one group. It’s got to be done by everybody.”
It will likely take “everybody” to make the full Avalon Cornerstone plan a reality. The soup-to-nuts renovation — where a modern glass addition and theater expansion includes much-needed stage and staging area improvements — has a price tag of $16 million.
An initial renovation phase of the plan — funded by more than $3 million from the city of Grand Junction, $3 million from the Downtown Development Authority, and more than $1 million from the Avalon Foundation — will begin later this year.
The foundation’s development director, Robin Brown, knows Admire’s story, and recently during a Career Day at a local school a student told her own story of making her dance recital debut at the Avalon Theatre, also at 5 years old.
“I was slapped in the face with the fact that, for generations, people have had the same memories of the Avalon,” Brown said about the coincidental stories.
“As much as we keep talking about how good this will be for the economics of downtown, the truth is there are a lot of people in this community that just love the Avalon,” Brown said. “Diann is one of them.”
Another person who knows Admire from the Legends Sculpture Project, Priscilla Mangnall, called her “just a lovely, lively, get-the-job-done kind of woman, with a fervent passion for her hometown.”
A longtime friend, Ken Johnson, said Admire is “dedicated to history, and not just letting the good works of those long departed fade from our public memory.”
It takes about two minutes in conversation with Admire to detect that her passion for preservation is authentic and altruistic. That’s rare — but instantly recognizable when Admire talks about restoring the Avalon to its prior glory. It’s personal.
“We need that light on the corner,” she urges.