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I agree with freeway-like electric signage. When passing through town there’s no time to see more than 2 words, whereas antique, changeable signage had the whole bill right here in one view.
Sometimes progress isn’t progress.
i was in the state in ‘84 for a Michael Stanley Band show. Balcony was devoid of seats, just concrete risers they used to be attached to. Most of remaining ornament in theatre and entrance was painted solid swaths of black or, if memory serves, 70s aqua.
there was a wonderful graphic in the Youngstown Vindicator (newspaper) about a decade ago listing pending improvements to the federal street/downtown area. Among the things to look forward to: More parking as soon as a parking garage was demolished. Go figure.
the possibility of demolishing the State entrance for even more parking for a lifeless just flies in the face of urban planning… having a missing tooth mid-block on a main street.
It’s also the same area where in the 30s and 40s there were acorn-globe lamposts and diagonal parking. That became overhead streetlights and later a bricked, pedestrian-only plaza in the 70s or 80s… only to be bulldozed a couple years ago with the grand announcement that at last vehicle access was back so businesses there would thrive. Now, along with decorative, old-style light fixtures, the latest plan is to bulldoze the tree-filled, boulevard-like median on the street to make room for diagonal parking — i.e., look at an old linen postcard to see what tomorrow will look like.
so, hey, why couldn’t a couple theatres come back to life if all things old are new again?
there is a 2nd guthrie listing at /theaters/11283/ and and they really ought to be merged.
fryi, theatre is still alive and well as a smalltown, 2nd-run theatre as of 3/06
Building is closed, sealed from major elements in general after restoration group Columbia Theatre Inc. replaced leaky roofs and stabilized it over 15 or so years before its effort fell apart in as far as the group was concerned in with focusing on a physical theatre. [Further bitter remarks withheld.]
it’s spring: probably 2 feet of water in basement right now as it’s below Shenango River grade and sump pumps haven’t been operational for several years. This will renew the humidity/moisture/mildew issues that had been resolved a decade ago. Also, temporary forced-air gas heater units haven’t been operated to keep it above freezing for at least 2-3 yrs, threatening plaster restoration that had taken place.
That plaster work finished the hard part of restoration for about the first 20 feet downward from the roof, including the dome. (Water damage from a bad roof required dropping the entire plaster ceiling, but we had the sense to keep the framework and document what was dropped.)
Under the direction of architect/then-board member Doug Abbatiello, a professional/volunteer effort in the mid-90s involved making rubber molds from existing plaster (doug did this after learning technique from pros), casting hundreds of new pieces, and installing them along with a professional contractor who installed new lathe and ceiling/dome plaster. Ceiling is unpainted/unfinshed.
The contractor, Chuck Weiss from Middlefield, Ohio, went on to cast several large replacement pieces (mostly arches for the side walls) before the money ran out and the board drifted away from restoration and into programming only (a mission it has since failed to fulfill).
Auditorium currently is scaffolded wall to wall to above the balcony level, where a plywood ballroom-like floor gives puts the dome/ceiling an arm’s length above you.
Any further work just to enable it to meet code and reopen in any form needs all the biggees: HVAC, electrical and plumbing, not to mention the stage floor and seat refurb (seats are stacked on stage and throughout building).
Current owner, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Museum, has ambitions as high as its funds are low. In fact, the VGHF had a dispute last fall with its co-founder/funding source/landlord and ended up closing its museum down the street and moving much of its material from a former furniture store to storage in the theatre.
Local Penn State branch campus, interestingly, is right across the river and is about to spend megabux to rehab a 1920s ex-jr.-high-school, plywood-seated auditorium into something other than a 1920s, ex-JHS, plywood-seated auditorium. Ideal resolution for all would be for PSU to apply funding to Columbia instead and create some kind of partnership renovation that would share the auditorium among campus, Vocal Hall and community needs.
fyi, the merlink.org pages date back about 5 yrs or so to when the nonprofit Columbia Theatre Inc. owned the building and was working toward restoring it. There may be a few minor factual errors in there, but, yes, that’s the joint, and there are some pix there (which i have copies of and can post here when pix are accepted again).
Since CTI is now out of the theater-restoration business, the merlink.org pages are legacy pages lingering somewhat orphaned in cyberspace. I doubt the current board — barely active — even realizes the pages are there.
fixing a typo in my original post, Columbia Amusement owned theatres including Salamanca, NY.
BTW, it’s actually in Niles, Ohio, which is a few miles from Youngstown and Warren, Ohio.
Somewhere in the mid-80s it quietly closed and was turned into retail. I believe a Gap is now in the space (it’s within the mall proper). Mankind suffered no real loss.
A stand-alone, deco-marqueed Regal multiplex was built on the edge of the mall property a decade or so ago, and another multi-screen (4 or 5) complex also remains in a strip plaza facing the mall
Let me correct some mis-info and add detail
STYLE: Classic picture palace/vaudeville house
FUNCTION: Potentially a community entertainment center and/or museum
SEATS: Originally 1,732, later reduced to 1,684. Proposed renovation would reduce to 1,400 to 1,500
CHAIN: Originally Columbia Amusement Co.
ARCHITECT: Arland W. Johnson of NYC
— Opened Nov. 29, 1922, by Columbia Amusement Co., which had theaters elsewhere including Warren, Pa., and Erie, Pa., and Salaman. Built at cost of $350,000.
— Jan. 29,1981 — While operating as a single-screen movie house, fire starts in adjacent Morgan Grand building (a former 1890s opera house itself). MG building — containing CT entrance hallway — is destroyed. Firewall between buildings limits CT damage to minor smoke and water. (CT technically is a 3-sided structure build onto back of Morgan Grand)
Building is closed, but decay starts, caused mostly by previously overdue maintenance (i.e. leaking roof, constant need for sump pumps to keep Shenango River groundwater out of basement)
— Concept of a save-the -Columbia effort dates back to 1978, took on a little steam in 1980 and intensified after the fire.
— Group incorporates as Columbia Theatre Inc. in 1982, eventually getting 501©(3) nonprofit status. Briefly leases building from Pittsburgh-based CKM Corp of America (Cinemette) to clean and start renovation. CKM removes most items of value shortly before letting building go up for tax sale, including crystal chandelier, carted off wrapped in the bottom 6 feet of the plush proscenium curtain. (which later was returned and is in pieces in the building)
— On Nov. 29, 1984 (62nd anniversary of opening), Sharon native Tony Butala, founding member and now owner of The Lettermen vocal group, buys building at tax sale for $10,500. (He and the Lettermen later made substantial contributions through benefit concerts and events.)
— Late ‘80s, early '90s — Group tries to get uninterested community to understand potential of a community entertainment center. Devises architectural plans, raises money, begins renovation. Demise of local steel-related heavy industry and high unemployment complicates effort.
Accomplishments include countless volunteer hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars invested for roof replacement and other projects to halt weather-related decay and stabilize building.
Joint volunteer/professional artisan effort made molds and cast hundreds of ornamental-plaster castings and moldings for use throughout the auditorium. Entire auditorium was (and still is) scaffolding and topped with a plywood, dance-floor-like platform at ceiling level, where the entire dome and ceiling was removed then restored with ornamental castings.
— Obstacles to reopening the building still include need to replace stage as well as all HVAC, electrical, plumbing and comfort/aesthetics (seat rehab, curtains, office)
— Mid-90s the group grew to the point that a fulltime exec. dir was hired to run efforts in a way that volunteers couldn’t. Group then turned to producing programming and sponsoring programming (mostly children’s, with some touring shows leading to major losses.) Use of other, inadequate venues further emphasized the need for a restored theater.
— Late 90s, board studied renovation issue to death rather then finally start a capital campaign. As new board members joined, the focus became stronger on programming than the building, leading to factions and friction. Finally, the board voted to dump the building and morph into a performance-sponsoring arts group (an inactive limbo it remains in today)
— Summer of 2002 — The eventual buyer became the sharon-based Vocal Group Hall of Fame — co-founded a few years earlier by Tony Butala and local businessman Jim Winner. (By 2002 Mr. Winner had severed ties with the VGHF other than being its landlord in a former furniture store downtown. He never had any direct connection with the theatre). Ironically, Tony Butala was a party of the building’s purchase a second time and for the same price, $10,500.
— Thanksgiving week 2004 — a long-standing dispute between the cash-starved VGHF and Mr. Winner led to the hall of fame abruptly loading its exhibits and collection into U-Hall trucks and moving them into storage 2 blocks down the street in the unheated CT auditorium, which is 82 W. State Street at Porter Way.
— VGHF has indicated it may reopen in the theatre, but it would take somewhere near $1 million just to get building plant up to code for any type of public occupancy whatsoever. And with the entrance hall building site now a park after the fire nearly 24 yrs ago, the theatre consists only of the auditorium, shallow, open lobby behind it and dressing rooms/stagehouse (both of the latter requiring gutting before use)
Prospects for eventual renovation iffy at best, because the community has never gotten behind it (nor the Vocal Hall). More details and a nifty 360 panoramic image at
Ironically, earlier in November 2004 during the same week, two other nearby Mercer County, Pa., theaters were demolished: The terribly decayed and unsavable 1946 Jordan Theatre in Greenville and the ‘60s-vintage, twinned Basil Theater in Hermitage, which had been closed about a decade.
— John Zavinski, Hermitage, Pa., (former 23-year member of Columbia Theatre restoration effort)