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Ohio Theatre, Columbus, OH

The Ohio Theatre is a performing arts center on Capitol Square in the Downtown Columbus, OH area. Known as the “Official Theatre of the State of Ohio”, the historic 1928 movie palace was saved from demolition in 1969 and completely restored. Ohio Theatre was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977 as one of the nation’s finest surviving grand theaters. The Ohio Theatre is owned and operated by the non-profit arts management organization CAPA (The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts), which was originally formed to save the theater in 1969.

Ohio Theatre was designed by the noted theatre architect Thomas W. Lamb. Of all of the theaters he designed, he noted the Ohio as one of his most successful. He intended to separate patrons from their daily lives by creating a luxurious fantasy atmosphere inside. It was decorated and furnished by New York designer Anne Dornin. Each room had a theme. Dornin’s favorite was the “Africa Corner” which she decorated with authentic pieces from her travels. The theatre also featured lavish men’s and women’s lounge areas including separate smoking and telephone rooms. The first film shown was The Divine Woman, a silent film with Greta Garbo. The Ohio featured its own orchestra and Robert-Morton theatre organ (still in use today). In addition to movies, deluxe variety shows graced the stage, with performers that included Fred Waring, Milton Berle, Ray Bolger, Buddy Ebsen, Ginger Rogers, Conrad Nagel, and Jack Benny.

Sound films were introduced at Loew’s Ohio in August 1928. The great popularity of “talking pictures” reduced the need for theater chains to offer expensive live entertainment along with the films. Regular stage shows were discontinued in 1933 and the orchestra was disbanded. However organist Roger Garrett continued to perform daily at the “Mighty Morton” and occasional live appearances by stars including Judy Garland and Jean Harlow were featured on the stage. The theater was the premiere area showcase for the films of MGM and other studios and in the late 1930s double features became the norm. Programs ran for one week with the rare exception of huge hits like Gone with the Wind, which ran for three.

During World War II, movie theaters were busier than ever and Ohio was no exception, adding late night showings for war plant shift workers. War bonds were heavily promoted and sold in the theater’s lobby. In 1944, when Roger Garrett was inducted into the army, live organ music was discontinued. In the late 1940s when television became popular, movie attendance gradually dropped as audiences lost the weekly movie-going habit. Attendance further decreased when residents began moving from the city to the suburbs. The decreased profits led to a decreased staff and roped off seating. However the Ohio continued showing premium films until it closed. The James Bond films were especially popular for the theater in the 1960s. In 1966, members of the American Theatre Organ Society began restoring the Robert Morton and playing the organ for shows again.

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