In recent years, every heavy rain has caused puddles to form on the stage floor at the Rose Theater.
And a leaky roof is just part of the challenge of sealing the building's exterior.
Eighty-five years of harsh weather have taken a toll on the Moorish, diamond-patterned-brick facade of the theater at 2001 Farnam St., with its copper-domed tower and fancy terra-cotta detail work, said Julie Walker, the Rose's managing director.
Replacing windows, restoring mortar that has worn away and replacing terra cotta also are part of an 18-month, $6 million effort to repair and restore the former vaudeville house and movie palace. Scaffolding will go up Monday on the north and east sides of the theater, marking phase two of the project.
Built in 1927 and known over the years as the Riviera, the Paramount and the Astro, the building has been home since 1995 to one of the nation's largest children's theaters.
"We didn't realize just how deteriorated the terra cotta was until we did a close-up inspection a few years ago," Walker said. "It's at the point that there is nothing to do but replace much of it."
Terra cotta, a clay-based ceramic, is porous. Temperature extremes contract and expand the building, causing cracks.
To do the work, the Rose hired a team of experts led by Bahr Vermeer Haecker Architects of Omaha, which specializes in historic preservation.
Its partners include Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates of Chicago, a team of architects and engineers; Kiewit Building Group of Omaha; and Mark1 Restoration of Chicago, a facade restoration specialist that will concentrate on the building's balustrades, columns, balconies and terra-cotta facades.
Bahr Vermeer Hacker has worked with the two Chicago groups before on projects such as the Nebraska State Capitol, the Smithsonian Institution and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
"The terra cotta at the Rose is unique," said Paul Jeffrey, project manager and president of Barr Vermeer Hacker. "And there are only three terra-cotta manufacturers in the world."
Boston Valley Terra Cotta, near Buffalo, N.Y., will make molds of each piece that needs replacing, then fill the molds with the precise mix of gray, cream, green and red to match the 420 pieces to be replaced. Some are as small as a deck of cards. Others, such as tall spiral pilasters with gargoyles perched on top, are quite large.
Jeffrey said the scaffolding, six stories high in places, answers another challenge of the project: efficient access to the surfaces that need replacing.
Patrons will still be able to safely enter and exit the theater throughout the project. The Rose's schedule of classes, stage productions and events will go on uninterrupted.
Timing has been another challenge, which is why the project began last November. The exterior work must be completed by this November, before winter sets in, Jeffrey said. Some pieces have already been removed so that work on terra-cotta molds could start.
Phase one included replacing street-level windows, repairing the tower above the stage and replacing the water-damaged stage floor.
Besides the terra-cotta work, phase two includes replacing the roof on the northwest side, repairing the flashing where the roof meets walls, replacing and restoring historic oriel windows, brick repair and tuckpointing.
In phase three, planned for the first half of 2013, the cloud and sky murals above the auditorium will be repainted, and the ceiling over the lobby and mezzanine will be repaired. Lobby and auditorium lighting will be upgraded.
Walker said the theater has $3.8 million in hand for the project, with major funding from the Sherwood Foundation, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, Kiewit Companies Foundation and the Rose Blumkin family. Blumkin, the late founder of the Nebraska Furniture Mart, bought the theater in 1981. She donated it to the children's theater in 1993, along with $1 million toward an initial restoration effort.
A public fundraising drive for the current repairs will kick off in May and continue through the fall. People can donate online at www.rosetheater.org or at the Rose box office.
"In an ideal world, all the funding would be secured in advance," Walker said. "But we didn't want to wait one more year before starting."
She said the theater considered a capital campaign when a detailed inspection revealed problems several years ago, but the economic recession overruled that idea.
"We applied the best Band-Aids we could at the time, knowing we'd have to wait," she said. "Caulking can only go so far."
Jeffrey said the building is structurally sound but would not remain so without the repairs. Still, he said, the 85-year-old timbers uncovered during roof repair above the stage were "very sound."
"We want to make sure the integrity of the building's skin is back in good shape, to last another 100 years," he said.
Contact the writer: