Monday, July 27, 2009

Our magnificent electric pleasure dome

Columbus may not be nationally known for its bustling arts scene (though we have a fairly active one), but we do have one of the few operating old-fashioned movie palaces in the country, the Ohio Theatre. Opened in 1928 (an easy year for me to remember because that's also when my mother was born), the theater, on State Street across from the Capitol Building, presented movies and live stage shows for many years until a combination of the popularity of television and suburban sprawl wound up closing most of the downtown movie theaters--I remember 4 downtown theaters in the 60's: besides the Ohio, there was the Palace (where I saw many a B-horror movie and which is still used for concerts and plays), the RKO Grand (a Cinerama theater where I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time), and the Hunt's Cinestage (where I saw Dr. Zhivago).

The Ohio was in danger of being torn down when, in 1969, money was raised to save the building and renovate it. It was fully restored and has become the prize gem of CAPA (Columbus Association for the Performing Arts), housing stage shows, concerts, ballets, and other personal appearance events. And, during the summers for the past 40 years, movies return to the theater in the form of the Summer Movie Series of classic films.

I just love going to the Summer movies, even though I've seen virtually every film they run, and in many cases, I own them on DVD. The theater is huge, seating 2800 people (and though it never fills up for the classic movies, the crowds always number well into the hundreds), spacious and air-conditioned. The acoustics, especially for the 30's movies, are not ideal, but generally that's not an obstacle to enjoying the movies because, frankly, I go there for the surroundings--ornate decoration (restored faithfully from the old days), a giant balcony area (we try to get there early to snag seats in the front row of the loge, the best seats in the house), gold-gilt stars painted on the ceiling, a big movie-theater organ, and most spectacularly, a huge chandelier with hundreds of lights, suspended above the balcony.

We went on a free guided tour of the theater over the weekend, and though I didn't get to see anything I hadn't seen before, I did learn some interesting trivia (most of which has already gone through my sieve of a brain) and got to take lots of pictures, some of which you'll find below.

The lobby, as seen from the West stairs:

The screen, as seen from the balcony:

The organ, called The Mighty Morton, played before every film by Clark Wilson, who refers to the theater as a "magnificent electric pleasure dome."

Bathrooms for the gentry:

Balcony steps:

One of the wonderfully ornate, though non-functional, box seats:

1 comment:

  1. How I miss the Ohio Theatre! But I'm so, so grateful for having seen some amazing movies there for the first time: Errol Flynn's _Robin Hood_ (which I saw at least twice during the weekend it showed there when I was in HS, I loved it so much), and _Casablanca_ with you, during grad school. Makes me wonder how many other classics I would've been even more blown away by if I'd seen them initially in that setting.