Drexel Theatre

2254 E. Main Street,
Bexley, OH 43209

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HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on September 25, 2007 at 4:19 pm

NY Times article-
In this pleasant Ohio place called Bexley, in this Midwest place close to neither New York nor Los Angeles, a boy named Rupert calls his grandfather George. His grandfather’s name is Jeff.

Rupert, who is 2 years old, bears no blame for this mistake because his grandfather introduced himself as George before the boy could form words, and has insisted on being called George ever since. The man has his reasons.

In Bexley, a leafy old suburb of the sprawling capital city of Columbus, everyone plays a role. Maybe you answer questions at the Bexley Public Library. Maybe you tend bar at the Bexley Monk. Maybe you fill prescriptions at the Bexley CVS, paying close attention to details.

George, whose full name is Jeff Frank, runs the old movie theater in town, the Drexel, and has done so for 26 years. He is 56 now, bald and bespectacled, settled and successful. Still, he cannot help but wonder what might have been had he not been seduced long ago by the Drexel’s red-neon call: those bright lights dazzling the East Main Street sidewalk; that Art Deco sleekness; the faint echoes of here’s looking at you, kid.

What might have been had he not shrugged one day and thought: “Well, I love the movies. Why not run a movie theater?”

The day the Drexel opened on Christmas 1937, certain Columbus lights winked with the promise of cheap escape. Come stand beside the “Stage Door,” or find momentary serenity in “Lost Horizon,” all at neighborhood places that were not as grand as, say, that downtown palace, the Ohio, but were still magical portals to someplace else.

Eddie Cantor, that apostle of pep, was mugging it up in “Ali Baba Goes to Town” down at the Thurmania; the theater is now an art gallery and gift shop. Jimmy Savo was bounding about in “Merry-Go-Round of 1938” at the Main; it is now a cavernous medical center, absent of anyone who might remember the little clown named Jimmy.

Warner Baxter, a box-office draw at the very beginning of his career’s decline, was leading the cast of “Vogues of 1938” at the Hollywood; it now houses three empty stores whose awnings say Jihad’s Gifts, African Heritage Shop, and Zawadi Children’s Books, Jewelry, Oils, Etc. The owner of the mini-mart next door says his place used to be a bar, as if to suggest things change, so what.

And Shirley Temple, whose hair featured exactly 56 curls, was melting a cranky grandfather’s heart in “Heidi” at the tiny Wilmar. Marc Eller, the property’s owner, says he had the theater torn down 20 years ago for a parking lot.

“I curse that now,” he says, as he presents old photos of the theater that he keeps in a plastic bag. “It had the little hexagonal tiles, and the projection booth…”

The Drexel, though, survived. It opened that Depression Christmas with Sally Blane, Loretta Young’s sister, in “One Mile from Heaven,” and kept its screen flickering through the decades. By 1981 it had lost much of its luster, and was showing bargain movies just to survive, but it always managed to catch the eye of a young man with plans named Jeff Frank.

Mr. Frank had grown up not far from here, giving his Saturdays and more than a few of his high school days to the cool darkness of his neighborhood movie theater, the now-gone vessel by which he traveled to the moon, to the Old West, to places far from Columbus. After graduating from a university only an hour away, he returned with a degree in film studies and a plan to leave as soon as possible.

“Go to Hollywood! Go to New York!” he says. “Be involved in the film industry. Be a part of it.”

Mr. Frank never left Columbus. He worked in an art museum, where he met his future wife, Kathy Wooley; her favorite western is “Red River,” his the “The Searchers.” He then became the assistant director at the restored Ohio Theatre, with a daily commute that took him past the Drexel.

One day the Franks rolled the dice of life and bought the Drexel. They closed it down for 30 days of restoration, removed the hundreds of plastic flowers that hid its Art Deco grandeur, and reopened with a screening of “Top Hat” that included a personal appearance by Herself, Ginger Rogers. Movie history was made â€" at least in Columbus.

Over the years, at the Drexel and a handful of theaters, the Franks became masters of promotion, purveyors of escape, always with an emphasis on art films and the classics. They provided free passes to those who wore red shoes to “The Red Shoes,” offered Shirley Temple movies for children on summer Saturdays, invited people to dress up for “Casablanca” and sing when the band at Rick’s strikes up “La Marseillaise.”

As Mr. Frank became the local Mr. Movie, he came to think of himself as a sort of George Bailey, who never fulfills his dream of leaving Bedford Falls, yet comes to realize that remaining in his hometown is his passage to a wonderful life. So Rupert calls his grandfather George.

Now and then Mr. Frank travels to a film festival, but mostly he stays here, fully aware of his role as an escort into the imagination. “For a short time,” he says, “you take people someplace they’ve never been to before.”

Another night has fallen on the quiet streets of Bexley. The lights of the Drexel beckon. And a man called George is selling tickets for the 3:10 to Yuma.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 24, 2007 at 6:15 am

A long article and a stunning color photo in CinemaScope dimensions can be found here: www.nytimes.com/2007/09/23/us/23LAND.html?

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 15, 2005 at 2:05 am

The 8-screen Drexel Gateway opened on at 1550 North High Street on Friday, November 4. Someone who has been there should add it (and also Drexel’s downtown Arena Grand Theatre) to this website.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on August 18, 2005 at 1:37 am

Drexel took over a North Side theatre in 1986 and operated it as the Drexel North until 1995, when Revco bought it and turned it into a drugstore.

Drexel will open the new 8-screen Drexel Gateway Cinema later this fall, as part of Ohio State University’s South Campus Gateway development. It will be on the east side of High Street, between 9th and 11th Avenues.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on August 17, 2005 at 4:52 pm

According to the Columbus Dispatch (Dispatch.com) archives, the conversion from one screen to three occurred during 1991.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 11, 2005 at 3:27 am

A 1948 photo of the Drexel, with the marquee featuring “Elizabeth Taylor as Cynthia” with a second feature of “The Great Waltz”.
Description of the photo

Mark_L
Mark_L on November 12, 2004 at 12:52 pm

Before being tripled, the Drexel was equipped with Magnetic Stereo, which it put to use over the many years with (among others) Fantasia, Rollerball, Damnation Alley and Guys and Dolls. In the early ‘80s, the Drexel ran a very successful 3-D festival using 2-strip projection.

The main auditorium maintains much of the original room, with 2 very much smaller theatres off to the rear of the house. The larger room has digital sound.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 12, 2004 at 12:08 pm

The Drexel is actually located not within the City of Columbus, but rather in the suburb of Bexley (which is entirely surrounded by Columbus).

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on November 17, 2003 at 10:12 pm

Drexel also runs the Grandview Theatre in the Columbus suburb of Grandview Heights (which someone should add to this site).