The Ward Theatre stands as a historic monument at North Parade in the bustling downtown district of Kingston.
The 110-year-old building was completed in 1912, after the old structure was destroyed by the Great 1907 Kingston Earthquake.
It has deteriorated over the years, and a decision was taken to close the building in the early 2000s, after the final blow was delivered by Hurricane Ivan.
The Kingston and St. Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC), which manages the Ward Theatre, began restoration work on the site in 2017 to bring it back to full use as a theatre and a centre for cultural expression.
“What is significant to us in the Ward Theatre, though the architecture is important, is the use of the space. The building would have changed several times over the history of the space. What would not have changed is its use as a theatre space. So, part of maintaining the use of the space is keeping up with modern requirements for a theatre,” Mayor of Kingston, Senator Councillor Delroy Williams, tells JIS News.
Some of these modern requirements include infrastructural changes that are being carried out by the KSAMC.
These changes, Mayor Williams assures, are not to modify the history held within the walls of Ward Theatre, but to ensure its viability and resilience in the modern creative climate.
He points out that much progress has been made on the restoration, which includes extensive roofing work, painting, plumbing, retiling and general renovations to the seating areas, the gallery and entrance, bathrooms, dressing rooms, emergency exits and main exit doors.
The KSAMC is now approaching the next phase of renovation, which involves the electrical rewiring and the upgrading of the air-conditioning system.
Mayor Williams says completion of these would mark a “major achievement” in the renovation, after which “there is no turning back”.
The following phase would be to complete the theatre’s stage area.
At the same time, the Mayor discloses that there are plans for the exterior of the Ward Theatre, which is currently being designed.
“We want to start that quickly. We want it to be part of our Kingston 150 Project in that we would complete the design for the front of Ward Theatre and implement,” Mayor Williams shares.
“It is not an elaborate design. It is very simple, but we believe that based on where we are going it will be aesthetically pleasing to the public, which will be part of transforming the entire Parade area. We have identified the funding for that, and the outside should be done before the end of the year,” he says.
Senator Williams explains that the plans for the exterior are not focused on the architecture of the building but rather managing the space at the front of the theatre, which includes managing pedestrian use.
The Ward Theatre was declared a national monument in January 2000 as a protected heritage by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT).
It is the location where both the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party were launched in September 1938 and July 1943, respectively. The Ward Theatre also hosted the opening of the National Pantomime annually since 1951.
There has been tremendous support for the Ward’s restoration from key organisational and financial partners, including the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, the CHASE Fund and the Tourism Enhancement Fund.
All changes to the building must receive the approval of the JNHT, the entity monitoring the renovations, to ensure that the building’s historical value and integrity are maintained.