MARIETTA - Walking through the nearly century-old Colony Theatre, R. Hunt Brawley sees both its heritage and what it could be after completion of the multi-million-dollar renovations.
"The restored Colony would provide seating for 1,000 people, making it one of the largest theater-style auditoriums in the historic river cities area," said Brawley, director of the Hippodrome Colony Historical Theatre Association.
The Colony was originally the Hippodrome Theatre and opened May 9, 1919. The Hippodrome was the venue for vaudeville acts, plays, magic acts and silent films accompanied by the Hippodrome's own five-piece orchestra. It was changed over to the Colony Cinema in 1949 and showed films until it closed in 1985, playing host to such stars as Boris Karloff, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, Tex Ritter and many more over the course of its cinematic life.
R. Hunt Brawley, director of the Hippodrome Colony Historical Theatre Association, looks over the balcony at the Colony Theatre. The last major work was completed around the beginning of the year and the association is looking for the remaining funding in the restoration project. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)
Local businessman Dan Stephan Sr. purchased the Colony in 1989 in the hope the theater could be preserved and restored.
Following the lead of other communities, the Hippodrome Association has been restoring the old Putnam Street theater to turn it into a 1,000-seat venue for a variety of events. The goal is to schedule 100 days of programming a year, Brawley said.
It could be the stage for musical performances and educational programs, national performing arts, independent and foreign films, pageants, graduations and recitals, lectures and historical programs, Brawley said. The theater can accommodate the River City Orchestra, events by the Mid-Ohio Valley Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society and productions by local dance companies.
Classic movies can be shown on the theater's 32-foot screen, Brawley said.
"The stage area is 35-feet deep by 55-feet wide and can accommodate approximately 85 percent of national touring acts," he said. "That stage gives us the ability to put on symphonies and traveling theater shows that you can't do in this region."
The cost of project will be $6.8 million. The association has spent $1.8 million on the theater, which includes the roof, environmental remediation, demolition, structural reconstruction, handicapped accessibility, plaster removal, design and engineering and construction administration.
"Now that bids have come in and some of the contingencies have been removed, the construction going forward is $5 million," Brawley said.
The last major work was completed at the beginning of the year when the plaster and asbestos was removed. The staircases to the balcony level had already been restored.
"What we have been doing is trying to bring it back to the 1919 era," Brawley said in how they want the interior to look.
The theater's original stenciling and tile was found when the old plaster and flooring was removed. It had been covered five or six times over the years, he said.
The old seating has been removed. A new roof was put on the building.
Scaffolding is still in place from the environmental remediation, remaining there for when the interior construction starts.
Brawley said the majority of the funding for the renovation phase of the project is in place, but the final piece of the funding remains to be put in place. The project is being funded with private and public contributions, from tax credits and corporate sponsorships.
"We are right on the edge and hoping to get everything moving," he said. "We are ready to pull the trigger. All of the bids are in and they are within their estimates."
The association in the middle of a funding cycle, Brawley said. The decision yet to be made is whether to wait or start the work and hope it can secure the needed funding or raise enough money to finish it, he said.
The recession hit funding sources, but the association has continued looking for new sources, Brawley said.
"Our preference is to get started on some kind of construction now," Brawley said. "On paper we are about $250,000-$300,000 shy of a fully funded project."
At present, the association is trying to get the remaining funding in place to begin the interior renovation work.
"We are trying to get this all together so we can flip the switch," Brawley said.
Construction will take about 10 months.
The association has received support from the League of Historic American Theaters, the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission, the Ohio Arts Council, the city of Marietta, the Governor's Office of Appalachia, the National Park Service and individuals, foundations and corporate sponsors.
An endowment is in place with the Marietta Community Foundation.
The Colony is still doing fundraising events, such as the Colony Film Fest at Mid-Ohio Valley Players in October and a play for children produced in cooperation with the Players.
Sponsorships to buy the theater seating is available for $1,000, $750 and $500 and includes a plate with the name of the sponsor or someone to be honored.
"We are still looking for money in one form or another," Brawley said.
The association has studied the operations of the Midland Theatre in Newark, Ohio, and the Ritz Theatre in Tiffin, Ohio, as models for the Colony, Brawley said. The theaters are comparable in size, he said.
"We are looking to operate the theater on a $1 million operating budget," Brawley said. "There is no reason this shouldn't work."