Barberton, OH – Barberton’s once-abandoned West Theater reopens on its 70th birthday

posted by ThrHistoricalSociety on January 31, 2017 at 12:55 pm

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From Ohio.com: Mark Anderson wanted the abandoned West Theater building for the space beneath it, behind it and on both sides of it. Since purchasing the building from the bank for $58,000 cash in 2012, that’s exactly the space he put to use. Storage rental units in the 8,000-square-foot basement. U-Haul trucks in the parking lot. Retail tenants on bookend storefronts. The 1947 theater whose screen last flickered in 2008? Well, that dark and cavernous space that Anderson would visit with a flashlight turned into a hobby. Since the rest of the property was paying the bills, Anderson was in no hurry. A bout of boredom would send the skilled handyman to the theater every once in a while to swap a few torn seat cushion fabrics here or fix some plumbing there. He found new curtains to hang on the stage, rigged a conference room projector from the ceiling, even found some parts to build a tankless water heater for warming the old theater’s bones. Then late last year, when he figured the theater was ready for a little action, a friend of a friend introduced him to another Mark. Mark Budnick, who had spent most of his adult life managing movie theaters, eagerly accepted the challenge of trying to turn a local nostalgic treasure into a productive business. Budnick said he remembers when he drove by the West after it had been sold, thinking: “Here we go again. Another old theater gutted.” He had no idea it had always been the buyer’s intent to someday get the old screen flickering again and that he would become part of the process. Helping to restore an old movie house “has always been a dream,” said Budnick, now the newly opened West’s manager and creative director. To be sure, the theater is not the epitome of luxury. The original 1947 seats have three different styles of red fabric coverings, the floor is gray concrete except for carpeted aisles, and the old water-damaged screen was replaced with a smaller but affordable alternative. Anderson said his shoestring budget was the result of failing to inspire any local banks or foundations to invest in his project, so he had to do what he could using his own skills and his credit cards. Canadian credit cards at that, said the Toronto native who followed his American wife to Barberton in 1984 and stayed. “Yeah, Canadian money helped do this,” he laughed as he looked around the empty theater. Anderson and Budnick are hoping nostalgia will bring curious locals in for a peek, and the diverse entertainment schedule will keep them coming back. “I’m not from here but I’m told people have a lot of memories of this place,” Anderson said. The past couple of weekends, the West has shown a Charlie Chaplin film festival and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

A local shadow cast (cult movie fans who dress up as their favorite characters and mimic activities in a film) is coming back for monthly Rocky Horror Picture Show events, once a Saturday midnight mainstay of the theater. And what would an old theater be without a Three Stooges film festival, coming Feb. 10-11. Budnick also is working to bring live performances to the West’s hardwood stage. Actors will read Love Letters — the story of a 50-year romance correspondence — on Feb. 12. Because several rows of seats had once been removed before the stage to make room for wrestling, Budnick also envisions expanding the stage to host bands and other events. The theater’s schedule can be found at http://thewesttheater.com. Also look for the West Theater’s Facebook page. Budnick, a former manager of Lake 8 Movies Theatre in downtown Barberton and a current member of the downtown merchant’s association, noted the city has been promoting downtown as an arts and entertainment district. Since the West is just a straight two-minute drive down Wooster Road, he hopes the theater can piggyback on that movement and become another stop for folks stopping out for Fourth Friday events and Lake Anna festivals. “We’re removed from it, but we’re just down the street,” Budnick said. “I don’t see why we can’t be a part of that.”

Story link, more photos: http://www.ohio.com/news/barberton-s-once-abandoned-west-theater-reopens-on-its-70th-birthday-1.741551#

ABOUT THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA: Founded by Ben Hall in 1969, the Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) celebrates, documents and promotes the architectural, cultural and social relevance of America’s historic theatres. Through its preservation of the collections in the American Theatre Architecture Archive, its signature publication Marquee™ and Conclave Theatre Tour, THS increases awareness, appreciation and scholarly study of America’s theatres.

Learn more about historic theatres in the THS American Theatre Architecture Archives and on our website at historictheatres.org

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