Ask Lonna Miller how she came to own Buckner Events Plaza at McClellan, and she’ll say it was a miracle.
“We were about to leave on a vacation. I was throwing newspapers away, and I happened to see a foreclosure notice for this place,” said Miller, who had always had a soft spot for the building’s historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. “I thought, ‘No way.’”
Miller contacted the firm overseeing the foreclosure, and was told that the building’s sale attracted a lot of attention from interested buyers. The attorney expected fierce competition at the auction.
“We were the only ones at the auction,” said Miller with a grin. “It is a God thing, I promise.”
Miller will have owned the property for two years at the end of August. During that time, she and her family have worked to renovate the three buildings that make up the plaza — a theater, a gymnasium and a cafe-like building, formerly an officer’s club and bar.
Miller indulges one of her prior professions, wedding planning, by holding weddings on site, most often in the cafe area, where the windows stretch two stories high and overlook trees outside.
Bride-to-be Kyla Goedde, an elementary education major at JSU, said she fell in love with the venue on her first visit. Goedde plans to marry fiancé Jeffrey Prichard after she graduates in March 2016. “Both my parents were stationed here in the military, so that would make it really neat, too.”
The gym is packed with details for architecture fans, like the exposed rivets on metal arches supporting the ceiling, a nod to the building’s role as a military recreational center as far back as its construction in 1936. Giant, maroon banners hang from the ceiling like sails, and aged brick walls add a lived-in quality.
The theater is the quintessential “intimate performance space,” small enough that artists are up close from every vantage. It’s the sort of room that serves smaller shows like the Edwin McCain concert on Friday, said Miller, because the acoustics make a sort of “surround-sound” effect.
“I thought people would really love (McCain) being here, especially because it’s an acoustic show,” she said.
Anniston’s CAST community theater group staged the play “The 39 Steps” at the theater in January. According to Kim Dobbs, CAST’s creative director, the stage of the plaza theater was the perfect size for the production, a comic reworking of a 1930s Alfred Hitchcock spy film.
“It was perfect for ‘39 Steps,’ it was built during the era of the piece,” said Dobbs. While nothing has been set in stone, Dobbs said she would like to return the troupe to the theater for a future production.
“It was always a beautiful theater, and Lonna’s done a really good job of making it better,” Dobbs continued.
Miller said that there’s no definite date on a grand opening, when she’ll finally say the space is exactly how she wants it, but she plans to make the event a smash when the time comes.
“I want the community and the city, everybody, to be proud that this is up and running and hopefully a good thing for Anniston,” said Miller. “I want you to come in and love this place like I do.”