Capitol Arts Theatre

416 E. Main Street,
Bowling Green, KY 42101

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The Capital Theatre

The Capitol Theatre was built around 1890 under the name Columbia Theatre. About 1930 it was completely rebuilt in budget Art Deco style as a cinema with a small stage. The multi-colored neon marquee is quite handsome. The lobby is simple and tasteful. The auditorium, is quite, quite plain with only some simple cove lighting and a decorative proscenium. The auditorium retains its old plan: two aisles, fifteen seats across the middle, seven (or so) seats at the sides.

The cinema closed in 1971 and stood empty for almost 10 years. Capitol Arts bought the building in 1977 and by 1981 had raised almost $2 million and successfully renovated the entire building.

Unlike many small-town cinemas which have been rebuilt as community arts centers, this building was able to make the transition and retain almost its entire original configuration. Auditorium space did not need to be stolen to expand the stage or create a lobby. Additional square footage was obtained for offices and art galleries by opening into the former retail spaces on either side of the lobby.

In order to accomodate modern stage lighting a metal truss was introduced into the auditorium from which lighting instruments could be safely and effectively mounted. That truss is an intrusion to the room’s otherwise clean, straight lines, but the additional visual interest, even if something of an anachronism for a 1930’s theatre, is not unwelcome. And let’s face it: you have to have lights.

The Capitol continues to operate successfully and once again is a major contributor to the city’s entertainment venues.

Contributed by Will Dunklin

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

Patsy on August 23, 2007 at 2:18 pm

I would love to see some interior photos of this theatre.

Mike Richardson
Mike Richardson on November 27, 2007 at 6:54 pm

From: Me
To: local Historian at the local museum.

I’m interested in the history of local cinema here in Bowling Green. In searching for the local paper article concerning the opening of the Martin Theatre in Bowling Green Mall, I came across a bank advertisement concerning the location of the Crescent Theatre as being on Park Row. I was talking to an 84 year old youngster who spent his life here in the area. He remembers The Princess, Capitol, and Diamond (later the State) but nothing else on the square. He called an equally young lady (92) and she remembered only those other three as well. The 1967 ad stated that the building that was the Crescent was currently occupied by the Consolated Loan Company. The gentleman gave me your name as a contact as he and his son had taken a ‘History of Bowling Green’ class taught by you a while ago. Do you know if the Cresent Theatre was on Park Row, or if not, where it might have been?

Her reply

Bowling Green’s early theatres —Diamond, Capitol (originally called the Columbia), & Princess— belonged to the Crescent Amusement Co that had its offices at 416 E. Main from about 1911-1960. All but the Diamond were on Main St. I checked the city directories 1911-1967 and found no theatres on Park Row and no theatre listed as the Crescent Theatre—which makes me wonder if the Capital/ Columbia, was sometimes referred to as the Crescent because of its ownership.

kencmcintyre on November 27, 2007 at 9:01 pm

Here is another view of the marquee:

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 2, 2010 at 11:01 am

I looked for the circa-1890 Columbia Theatre in the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide. But the only theater listed under Bowling Green KY was Potter’s Opera House, no street address given, managed by J.M. Robertson and having 950 seats.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on November 7, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Well, someone explain to me How THE CAPITOL closed in 1967 when on Jan 1 1969 it was playing “THE IMPOSSIBLE YEARS” you guys got a date wrong.Check the local paper MOVIE ADS like I do.

TLSLOEWS on November 8, 2010 at 4:37 am

Great looking marquee on this one.

Silk76 on January 14, 2011 at 11:23 pm

This place is classic. When I first moved to Bowling Green from Chicago in 1992, I spent my first New year with my ex-wife here, as the town was doing “First Night” I got to see Jeff Foxworthy, and talk to him after. If I can get some pics of the inside, I’ll post them.

rivest266 on June 19, 2015 at 2:35 pm

Listings ended in 1971 as a cinema. 1971 page at

DavidZornig on October 4, 2017 at 8:13 am

Hemmings Motor News article with a photo of the Capitol during the Corvette Homecoming.

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