Originally published in The Marietta Times on February 6, 2016.
by Art Smith, Marietta Times
The stage at the Peoples Bank Theatre has stood dark for decades, waiting for a rebirth that has finally occurred.
The fact that it was possible to restore the nearly century-old structure as a venue useful today links back to how the theater was original built.
When the new Hippodrome Theatre opened to the public May 9, 1919, it boasted one of the largest “legitimate theatre” stages in the Midwest and was able to stage the large Broadway style plays that toured the country. Theaters built later would have smaller stages that on average were just 15 feet deep. The one built for the “Hipp” is 35 feet deep and 55 feet wide. That large stage is intact today and allows several large productions to use the theater for shows that are due to play at the theater this year.
The theater, which mainly sat unused since 1985, itself was strong.
“Structurally the building was sound. It was built in the golden age of live venues, but it was built after the era of wood construction. It’s concrete and steel so there are no columns under the balcony. The theater has great sight lines from all the seats,” said Hunt Brawley, Director of Development for the Hippodrome/Colony Historical Theatre Association. “No structural elements had to be replaced during the renovation.”
Through the 1920s the theater was used for Vaudeville acts, Broadway plays, magic acts and silent films. After 1929 the theater also was used for “talkies.”
Movies would be the mainstay for the theater for the next several decades.
In the 1940s, Shea Theatres of New York purchased the theater, remodeled it and changed the name.
Gone was a large stone arch on Putnam Street, replaced with the Southern-Colonial facade seen today. They held a contest to rename it and reopened it as the Colony Cinema on June 25, 1949.
The recent renovation returned the theater to how it looked in 1949.
Shows in 2016
- – Feb. 5:The Fields of Gettysburg
- – Feb. 13: Paula Poundstone
- – Feb. 27: Stage Door Cabaret: Tiffany CasaSante & Friends
- – March 4 – March 5: 10th Annual Colony Short Film Festival
- – March 12: Kathy Mattea
- – March 25: The Johnny Clegg Band
- – March 26: Rhythm in the Night, The Irish Dance Spectacular
- – April 1: Charlie Daniels Band
- – April 3: River Cities Symphony Orchestra: Choral Concert
- – April 15: Marking Out
- – April 16: The McCartney Years
- – April 23: Stage Door Cabaret: Jess Baldwin Quintet
- – May 7: Ballet Folklorico
- – May 14: Glenn Miller Orchestra
- – June 4: River Cities Symphony Orchestra: America’s Greatest Pops
- – June 15: Cashore Marionettes
- – June 24: The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)
The theater passed through several corporate owners until 1981 when Marjorie Bee, a former employee, purchased it and operated it with her sons until closing it in 1984. Dan Stephan, Sr. bought it in 1989 with the hope that it could someday be restored. “He thought he could spend a little money and save it, he soon realized it was a lot more than he had bargained for, said Brawley, “but he did keep it from falling apart.”
Stephan owned the theater until he donated it in 2004 to a non-profit organization set up to save it. The organization got a huge boost from Peoples Bank along the way and the theater got a new name when it became the Peoples Bank Theatre.
Twelve years later the theater is fully restored, has staged several shows and is once again an important part of the Marietta community.
Restoration is apparent as soon as one walks through the doors. The tiles on the floor have been matched to fill areas that were removed through the years. A second staircase has been reopened to the balcony area; wall paintings were restored based on what was found under layers of added paint and wall coverings. All the seats were replaced in the theater with 920 period-appropriate, yet slightly wider seats.
Brawley sees the restoration as being a key part of the revitalization of downtown Marietta. “At the center of many downtown revitalizations are the theaters. Fortunate communities saved their theaters. (The Peoples Bank Theatre) was once a center of entertainment in Marietta and we hope it can be again.”