CHIPLEY - Since 2005, the Vance Theater has sat quiet and closed at its downtown location on Chipley's Main Street, ending its status as one of the nation's last three single screen theaters still in operation.

CHIPLEY - Since 2005, the Vance Theater has sat quiet and closed at its downtown location on Chipley's Main Street, ending its status as one of the nation's last three single screen theaters still in operation.

But thanks to efforts by new owners Don and Gloria Potts of Chipley, the building will be soon once again bustling with activity.

The Potts, who purchased the building earlier this year, have painstakingly transformed the aging theater into a local venue that will accommodate everything from weddings to private parties and public events.

For a photo gallery of what the Vance Theater looks like today, click here. 

Built in the late 20s by J.O. Blackburn, who also ran Chipley's first funeral home and served as Chipley Mayor from 1927-1928, the theater was first named the "Manavista." Blackburn held a contest to name the theater, which was won by a young boy named Beezy Gardner. Later renamed the Vance, the theater has since had a rich history in Washington County.

Gloria Potts says it's that history which has made renovating the theater a true labor of love.

"I have memories of coming here to watch movies when I was younger, and I later brought my children," she said. "If we don't start preserving our heritage, it's going to be gone before we know it."

Potts, whose family owned the Bonifay Skating Rink in neighboring Holmes County, said she didn't want the Vance to suffer the same fate as the skating rink, which was once a large part of the Bonifay community.

"The rink closed in the 70s, and if you didn't already know it was once there, you'd have no idea it ever existed. There's no sign of the mark it made on the families of that era. I didn't want that to happen to the Vance."

Potts recently hosted the venue's first event, with the Chipley High School Class of 1965 holding its 50th reunion there.

Mary Beth Cox spearheaded the event on behalf of her husband, Ernest (Ernie) Cox, and his fellow Class of '65 alumni. Class members say the venue only added to the nostalgia they felt for their hometown.

"The event was a grand success made possible by the very talented Gloria and Don Potts and the fabulous restoration they did on the Vance," said Mary Beth Cox. "The Vance brought back many memories, and everyone commented on the great time they had. The food was delicious, and the service was 5 Star. The tables and decorations provided, down to the window dressings, made the event even more special. The Potts deserve a grand round of applause and thanks again and again for restoring this historic theater."

In addition to restorations and upgrades, such as new ceilings, updated wiring, the addition of WiFi and a new roof, the Potts have planned to keep the as much of the original fixtures as possible, using the screen to stream movies or games, such as the upcoming Super Bowl, and using the stage as a dance floor or for live bands. They have also salvaged the original brick, believed to have been produced by the Chipley Brick Company, and have plans to recover about 100 of the existing balcony seats.

What was once a living quarters on the second floor will be used in part as a dressing area for bridal parties, and the old projector and movie reels to display as a nod to the theater's place in local history.

The venue will be ready in time to host December holiday parties. For more information, contact Potts at 850-596-0927.