By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND - The last act of all will be a wrecking ball for Stetson University's Stover Theatre. At its most recent meeting, the DeLand City Commission approved the school's request to demolish the performing arts icon.
About 10 folks urged the commission to make the university keep the grand dame, located at 535 N. Florida Ave., in hopes that would make the school give the theater a new lease in life.
"Stover Theater and I are the same age," Sally Landis Bohon told the commission. "I help I haven't outlived my usefulness."
The theater was constructed in 1930 and, according to Stetson, was the first building in Florida and perhaps the South made expressly for college theater productions. It was named the Little Theatre, perhaps in a nod to the much larger Athens Theater that was about four blocks south on Florida Avenue. Stover was built without the benefit of an architect, and appeared very similar to the Athens. By 1938, the theater was renamed in honor of Dr. Irvin Stover, who ran Stetson's performing arts program.
"Once you destroy a piece of your architectural history, it's gone forever," Ms. Landis Bohon said to commissioners. "So, you'd better get it right."
Al Allen, Stetson's associate vice president for facilities management, told the commission that Stover is too small for projected growth of performing arts programs, is plagued with asbestos and water intrusions, and needs more than $2.5 million in structural and infrastructural work to remain functional.
Stetson alumnus Alex Ford told commissioners that the theater's many issues are long known.
"Back in the '70s, when I was a student, the place was a dump," he said. "A neat little dump, but a dump."
Mr. Allen said Stetson's performing-arts program is temporarily relocating to a portion of the Florida Museum of the Arts at 600 N. Woodland Blvd. The museum has a theater. Stetson plans to build a 1,200-seat performance hall for music and theater performances, and other events, elsewhere on its campus.
After little discussion, commissioners unanimously green-lighted the theater's demo. Commissioner and Stetson employee Vonzelle Johnson abstained from voting.
Stetson hopes to tear down Stover this summer, and use its location for parking.