Reminiscence: the rebirth of the Ohio theater

Weakened by vibrations caused by decades of truck traffic, the four chains supporting the Ohio Theater marquee broke one by one shortly after midnight on December 14, 1977, sending it crashing into the sidewalk below. . Maybe it was an omen.

Less than a year later, in September 1978, the RKO Stanley-Warner Group, then operating the ornate Ohio for half a century at 122 W. North St., announced it was shutting down the theater.

Woody Owens, who had ruled Ohio for a dozen years in 1978, remembers filling the room with movies like “The Godfather” – which drew over 27,000 customers in its nine weeks in 1972 – and almost full crowds coming to see Burt Reynolds on “Semi-Tough” in the spring of 1978. “But a few good Saturdays every four months is not enough,” wrote The Lima News on September 24, 1978.

Ohio, the News wrote, “was truly an entertainment palace in the great tradition of its time” with mosaic and tiled floors and a domed ceiling with a 2,500-pound crystal chandelier.

“Perhaps the most notable architectural feature of the 92-foot by 220-foot building is the unsupported reinforced concrete span that supports the balcony,” the newspaper noted. “In 1927, it was the longest such litter in Ohio and one of the longest in the United States.”

The theater, with 1,800 seats, was built for around $ 250,000 and was built in about five months in 1927.

“It was a theater. They didn’t run in and out of this place, ”recalled one of those who were there when the theater opened years later.

“There is always a majestic beauty in the place, always a feeling of elegance,” the News recalls in 1978. “But too often there is no one to appreciate it. Too often it remains empty .

All in all, it was a long way from that night in November 1927 when over 4,000 people lined up for a chance to win less than half that number of tickets. For the next 51 years, people in the Lima area lined up in Ohio for movies, local events, and live performances ranging from burlesque to ballet.

During World War II, big bands led by Guy Lombardo, Les Brown, Louis Prima, drummer Gene Krupa and others performed for entertainment hungry audiences, and Navy recruiters used the lobby to enlist women in the WAVES. In 1943, the theater launched a campaign to collect millions of cigarettes to send the troops, while throughout the war customers who bought War Bonds were treated to a free movie.

Just before Christmas in 1943, Carmen Amaya appeared on the theater stage with her 11 sisters, brothers, father and cousins ​​for a flamenco performance that “rocked the floor of the auditorium”, according to the News. “His incredibly fast kicks, finger snaps and castanets clicks resembled animals in their fury,” the newspaper marveled.

On June 7, 1944, the day after the Allied landings in Normandy, the Lima War Legion took to the Ohio stage for its production of “Blow Your Whistle”, the proceeds of which were intended for the military canteen in Lima. . The show featured dances, songs, magic and “general fun,” the News wrote. “The play is about Lima and the whole cast is made up of people from Lima.”

When the war ended in August 1945, Ohio offers quickly reverted to more evasive rates. On November 28, 1945, the News announced that “Karston’s Atomic Scandals” would be presented on the theater stage. Headlining the great magician Darrell and his ‘Miracle Girls’, the acts include Dolores, the transparent girl, and ‘Dr. Weird’s Chamber of Horrors,’ a cleverly crafted act featuring zombies, men without head, moving in the middle of the audience.

Top performers, many of whom are sponsored by the Northwest Ohio Civic Music Association, appeared in Ohio over the next quarter century. About four months after Karston’s troupe entertained in Ohio, the Markova-Dolin ballet company performed. Violinist Isaac Stern performed in Ohio in 1949 and in the Vienna Boys’ Choir in 1950 and 1951. Jerome Hines of the Metropolitan Opera wowed local audiences in 1954. The San Francisco, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, The Boston Pops and other orchestras also came to Ohio.

In July 1950, the theater’s new air conditioning system was put into operation, removing, according to the News, about 95 gallons of humidity per hour from the cavernous building. In October 1953, a “new ‘panoramic’ wide screen was installed. The 20-foot-by-40-foot screen, “the News reported, was” acceptable for use in three-dimensional images, cinemascope or standard media. “

Earlier that year, Ohio showed “Bwana Devil,” the first 3D feature film. Meanwhile, the theater marquee, “after being cut off by trucks on several occasions,” the News wrote in August 1955, was replaced by a shorter marquee, which was brought down by the vibrations created by the trucks. years later.

In the 1970s, theaters like Ohio “were being taken from the market by new, smaller theaters” with multiple screens and convenient locations in suburban malls, the News wrote in 1978. Theater manager Owens was succinct: “Time has caught up with these big barn-like theaters,” he told The News.

And that, it seemed, was that. Ohio seemed destined to become another boarded up memory or parking lot – except it had plenty of life left.

RKO-Stanley Warner sold it to Lima businessman Larry Comer in 1978. In March 1979 it reopened as Ohio Theater 2.

“The centerpiece of the renovated theater is the nightclub, called Fantasia, which has a 2,200 square foot dance floor, considered one of the largest in the state,” the News wrote on March 2, 1979. ” The lighting system can be raised to watch live shows or movies, and there will be seating for 1,450 people, according to spokespersons.

Comer has reinvented the building several times. Between 1992 and 1994, it was Slingers, a country dance club; from 1994 to 2000, it was Club Mirage, with pop and rock music; between 2000 and 2002, it was Vortex, with beat techno / dance music; between 2002 and 2006, it was Night Moves, a pop / dance club; and from 2006 to 2008 Club Rush.

In 2013, Kelly and Mike Saddler bought the Ohio, telling The News they hoped to “bring some more life” to downtown Lima.

“They turned the space of a nightclub into a venue for concerts and events, but Kelly Saddler said she would like to give other parties the chance to turn the theater into something else. “, wrote the News on April 3, 2019.

Superior Plus Realtors real estate agent Veronica Fox told News in 2019 that “he has a lot of potential, just needs a little bit of an upgrade. It will just take the right person to go there and fix it. “

The right people may have turned up in November 2020 when two Los Angeles TV producers bought it after a year of searching for a place to relaunch their dinner theater productions. Joe Correll and Michael Bouson have big plans for Ohio: theatrical dance and live musical performances on the main stage; two bars – a piano bar on the main floors and a speakeasy-style jazz bar upstairs; and a renovated Ohio Hall that will be used as a rehearsal studio, according to the News.

“Our philosophy is that this theater doesn’t really belong to us, it belongs to the city of Lima,” Bouson told The News. “It has been around for 100 years. We are the gatekeepers to keep going and hopefully take a step forward, but we are counting on the community to be a part of it. “

“It’s Our Town” was performed at the Ohio Theater in 1947. It closed as a theater in 1978.

Contact Greg Hoersten at [email protected]

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