By KARIE PETRIE
St. Cloud Times
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — For years the chandeliers sat in Michael Lauer's basement, dusty and badly damaged by a fire.
They once hung in the Paramount Theatre's lobby and added to the building's grandeur. The brass work and etched glass panels mimic the design of the larger chandeliers that hang on either side of the stage.
But after a 1985 fire in the Paramount's lobby, the damaged chandeliers were removed from the building. They sat collecting dust before being refurbished and put in a Staples opera house.
More than 25 years after being taken from the destroyed lobby, the chandeliers have found their way home to the Paramount.
Lauer, who owns Michael's Stained Glass Studio on Osseo Avenue South, was given the chandeliers after the 1985 fire. Someone thought Lauer might be able to restore them.
The clear panels had melted, and many of the crystals were cracked or missing. They had to be taken apart, rewired and rebuilt. The solder melted in the fire's heat, so many parts had to be remanufactured.
When the theater was being remodeled in the 1990s, Lauer said people working on the project came to his shop to look at the chandeliers but decided not to use them.
But Lauer wasn't about to throw them away.
"They were in terrible shape, but they still had value because of their history," he said.
It was Colleen Donley's dream to refurbish and open the Batcher Block Opera House in Staples. She spent months in 2003 cleaning out the abandoned building and restoring it to its original splendor.
A designer told her about two chandeliers that would work in the building but were in need of refurbishing after being damaged in a fire. She was told that they were originally from the Paramount.
Donley wanted to create a "New York room" in the opera house, a place where members could gather and have something to eat. The chandeliers fit in perfectly with the decor.
Lauer went to work bringing them back to life. He said he enjoys returning items to their original glory. He found crystals that matched the originals and was able to polish up the brass.
"I love that kind of stuff," Lauer said of restoring the chandeliers. "It's what I do well."
The chandeliers were put in the New York room. Whenever Donley gave tours of the opera house, it was the first room she took people into. She said she always pointed out the chandeliers and told visitors that they came from the Paramount.
But the opera house didn't thrive like Donley hoped it would, and she had to put it up for sale.
There was something, though, that Donley planned to keep from the opera house: the chandeliers. They were too special and too historic to let go.
"They weren't for sale," she said.
But word of the opera house sale spread. The company selling the property posted photos of the interior online. Several photos showed the New York room, including the chandeliers.
Paramount Executive Director Tony Goddard heard about the chandeliers and did a bit of research. He found an old photograph at the Stearns History Museum of the chandeliers hanging in the Paramount in 1980.
"I'm 100 percent certain they're the same chandeliers," he said.
When Donley was approached about selling them, she wasn't sure she wanted to at first.
"They were the only thing I wanted to save," she said.
But Donley said she always appreciated the work St. Cloud put into restoring the Paramount. And she said she thinks it's wonderful that St. Cloud residents support the theater.
Although it was a hard decision, she said she knew the chandeliers needed to return to their home.
"They went back to where they belong," she said.
The Paramount paid $12,000 for the chandeliers, and half of that money was donated, Goddard said. He says the Paramount got a deal, since historic chandeliers can go for $40,000 a piece.
The chandeliers are a bit of a birthday present to the building, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary.
They now hang in the lobby over the area where patrons first walk in through the main doors, giving off a warm light. They fit in flawlessly with the restored theater.
"It was important that they come home," Goddard said.
— — — (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)