Historic Liberty Theater Gets New Look, New Mission
The theater must go on. And Tom Neumann is doing everything in his power to save The Liberty Theater, one of Puyallup’s historic landmarks, and others like it.
Neumann, who started restoring the theater in 1999 after it had closed, is passionate about preserving these important pieces of American history. Over the past nine years, he has transformed The Liberty into a multipurpose facility, popular for weddings, parties, concerts, business functions, and much more. Those events, in turn, have made it possible for him to put $660,000 into restoration of the facility, built in 1924 by Dominic Constanti for $70,000.
“Theaters are dying right and left across this country, and I’m trying to save as many as I can by teaching people how to rethink the theater,” says Neumann, who worked to help restore the Temple Theatre in Tacoma from 1991-96 and has been involved in helping preserve other like showplaces. “You can’t wish them back; you have to make them come back.”
In its heyday, Puyallup’s Liberty was known for its state-of-the-art projection equipment, a Wurlitzer organ, a 900-seat auditorium, stage, dressing rooms and indirect stage lighting. In its latter days, it operated as a movie theater. Although he went to work on the theater at its low point, Neumann has used his skills as an electrician and electrical engineer on the restoration effort and years of experience as a disc jockey and in the wedding business to give Liberty a fresh lease on life.
The new Liberty features a cutting-edge recording studio, video production facilities, graphics department, photography and full services for on-site weddings, including catering and bartending.
“I am an electrician by trade and an electrical engineer by schooling,” Neumann says. “I did eight years of Top 40 radio in Minneapolis and toured 3.5 years with Billy Joel, Kiss, Journey, Loverboy and Tony Bennett. My DJ work is how I ended up doing weddings,” Neumann says. “My next wedding will be my 1,995th.”
Meanwhile restoration work at The Liberty continues.
“It was in horrible shape when I got it,” Neumann says. “I had to re-plumb the entire building. I added 42 miles of wire. … It’s been quite an operation.
“It’s time-consuming, and I’m doing all the plaster work. We’re a small business and we’re still here, so we must be doing something right.”
The Liberty also is home to the Puyallup Actors’ Theatre Group, a nonprofit acting troupe.
“I am proud of the theater,” Neumann says. “If the last thing they say over my grave is ‘he saved 35 theaters,’ then I guess it was all worth it. I feel I’ve been responsible for six now. It’s a history thing. I want people to come in and see ‘their Liberty,’ because that’s how they refer to it. They have a connection to it.”