My appreciation of historic theaters began early in life. I grew up in a small Ohio town called Marion. One of the highlights of my childhood there was visiting the historic Palace Theatre.
The Palace was built in 1928 by renowned theater architect, John Eberson. It was constructed as a venue for both movies and live theater. The 1,445 seats are set in what looks like a Moorish courtyard, complete with architectural elements, classical statuary and a ceiling filled with winking stars and drifting clouds. Truly, the effects rival those I have seen in modern Las Vegas venues.
This glamorous theater was restored in 1976. Today, the theater continues to play both classic and modern films and is also a cultural center for the region. It is a venue for community theater and performances by famous headliners as well as private events. In addition to the theater auditorium, the facility has smaller rooms available for private function.www.marionpalace.org
Old Town Music Hall
During my recent travels in California, I encountered another gem of a venue tucked quietly away in the little oil town of El Segundo. The Old Town Music Hall is a 188-seat movie theater built in 1921. In the 1960s, musicians Bill Coffman and Bill Field purchased a Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Pipe Organ that was being retired from the Fox West Coast Theater in Long Beach, CA. They eventually restored it inside the Old Town Music Hall in 1968.
The Mighty Wurlitzers were built to provide live accompaniment and sound effects for silent films. As the silent film era drew to a close, theaters no longer had use for these sizable pipe organs, and many were dismantled and forgotten. Few survive today, especially in their original locations. (Interestingly, the above-mentioned Palace added one in 1976, replacing its original Page Organ.)
The Old Town Music Hall is committed to the preservation of its theater, along with historic music and film. The theater is one of the few places left where visitors may still experience silent films with the live accompaniment of a theater organ. An evening at the theater begins with a demonstration of the organ, a sing-along to classic tunes from the early 20th century and is followed by a short film or classic cartoon before the presentation of the feature film.
Interspersed with its showing of classic films, the theater also features live entertainment and is available to the public as an events venue. The theater has played host to weddings, fundraisers, and community and business events. Imagine providing your guests with an opportunity to experience the theater’s unique assets in conjunction with your event!
You may also acquire the musical talents of young John Reed-Torres, a gifted musician and composer, who works with the theater. He is available to entertain guests using the theater’s other musical treasure, a Bösendorfer concert grand piano built especially for the theater in 1974. www.oldtownmusichall.org
If your green interests extend to the preservation of historic theater venues and culture, there are some organizations that may help you to identify those in your area. The League of Historic American Theatres maintains a list of restored theaters that are 50 or more years old. Visit www.Lhat.org for more information. Another resource is the Theatre Historical Society of America, at www.Historictheatres.org.
The theme of Earth Day this year, celebrated on April 22, was The Face of Climate Change. Earth Day was begun by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970 to encourage conservation and became an international movement in 1990. www.earthday.org