Liberty Theatre

16 E. High Street,
Springfield, OH 45502

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LIBERTY Theatre, Springfield, Ohio, after 1938 remodeling.

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Opened prior to 1922, little is known, except for an article in Boxoffice Magazine dated December 10, 1938 which talks of the modernization of this theatre, by William Settos using the Theatre division of F & Y Building Services. The Liberty Theatre was operating into the early-1960’s.

Contributed by David Wodeyla

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 3, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Volume one of A standard history of Springfield and Clark County, Ohio, published in 1922, lists a Liberty Theatre among the movie houses then operating in Springfield. In addition to the Regent, the town’s “A” house, the book lists the Majestic, Princess, Hippodrome, Colonial, and Strand as movie theaters. It also mentions the Fairbanks Theatre as a legitimate stage house, and the Sun Theatre as a high-class vaudeville theater.

The Liberty was still in operation at least as late as 1961, when a demonstration was held by Antioch College students protesting the theater’s policy of excluding African Americans. Here is a recent article about the event from The Springfield Paper.

LouRugani
LouRugani on July 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm

(From BOXOFFICE, December 10, 1938) A Remarkable Case of Property Reclamation

By Helen Kent

SENILITY had obviously moved in and taken possession of the old Liberty Theatre, at 16 East High Street, in Springfield, Ohio. It was, as will be seen by the picture presented here, definitely doddering, rheumatic and bleary-eyed in appearance, and as for operating efficiency, this had evidently passed (if indeed it were ever present) when the house was a mere stripling of youth. Whatever there may have been to attract patronage was simply not visible to the naked eye and it is quite surprising that the house could have existed as a moving picture theatre for as many years as it did. A perfect case of hardening of the arteries was taking place before the eyes of Springfield moving picture patrons and they were expected to watch the slow process of erosion as a part of the so-called entertainment which they paid for at the boxoffice. It seems that the movie-going public is a brave lot to entrust a couple of hours of their fleeting lives to the dubious pleasure of watching the screen in such environment as this. The old Liberty in Springfield was a striking example of the far too many grind-shops of its type which are scattered indiscriminately across the country in large towns and small ones, each doing its part to destroy the movie-going habit. But somebody did something about the old Liberty. William Settos, its present manager, a veteran of 27 years' experience in theatre business, 14 of which were spent in Springfield, decided to make of the Liberty a theatre of which he as well as its patrons could well be proud. He employed the theatre division of P and Y Building Service, of Columbus, Ohio, to design and reconstruct the old house. It was closed only from August 9 to October 14, (1938) to permit rebuilding and modernization. The well-calculated transformation was complete. This particular project offers again a prime example of our very pet conviction that this is the most logical way to foil bad business, to forestall overseating, and to keep out competition. We’ve long been in favor of remodeling—making the best of what the old building and its location may offer. Here then is the fitting example of an old house which offered no advantages except that of a proved location being replaced—rather than placed in competition—with a modern theatre with House Appeal plus an undefiled location. Wisely, the owner tore down the old landmark and put up a sparkling new house on its very foundation. The ghost of the old veteran is laid and it does not remain to rise and compete in its half-baked condition with the new theatre, which by reason of its excellence deserves and will get increased patronage. The extent to which modernization was necessary in the case of the Liberty Theatre is evidenced in the fact that the old structure and an adjacent building were demolished completely to the very foundations to permit erection of the new Liberty Theatre. It was found that deterioration of many years' standing had made salvage of any materials or equipment unwise. Hence, the modern counterpart bears relation to the old solely in name and location. It is, in fact, a new theatre in every sense of that designation.

A Bright New Face Appears

The front of the new Liberty Theatre now covers an expanse nearly twice as broad as that formerly occupied by the old house. This was brought about by the conversion of an old store building at one side of the theatre into a part of the reconstruction. The new building’s basic construction is of brick, with the central portion of the facade and the entire wainscot in modern, highly reflective vitreous material. A small store with profitable rental possibilities is located at one side of the theatre entrance and a confectionery stand which is an integral part of the theatre is to be found on the other side. The centrally located V-shaped marquee with three lines of modern silhouette changeable letters and the massive lettered horizontal name-sign form a brilliant outdoor advertising display medium for the attractive new theatre. Dignified poster displays also add to the attraction of the front. The lobby is located directly behind the entrance doors which flank the boxoffice and it also is wisely devoted to program exploitation in a refined manner. A particularly appealing foyer is entered by doors at the far end of the lobby. This portion of the theatre is separated from the auditorium merely by a modern contoured standee rail, serving to heighten interest in the decorative aspect of both rooms. Indirect lighting in this room is especially attractive and functional. It is formed by luminous elements recessed in a semi-circular offset in the ceiling which extends from the standee rail pilasters into the center of the foyer. A glossy white ceiling onto which the light is thrown reflects in such a manner that the room is amply lighted but in no way glarey. Another indirect luminous unit of the cove type forms a portion of the standee rail and serves as a direction finder as well as decorative lighting effect.

A Complementary Color Scheme

The color scheme for the lobby and foyer, as well as the auditorium, is picked up from the carpeting which is used throughout the theatre in the same modern all-over pattern. A dark wainscot runs completely around the foyer and is carried on into the auditorium. It is topped by a light tone that goes to the ceiling. Simplicity of design and contour characterizes the decorative effect of the entire house. The auditorium is spacious and comfortable both from the standpoint of restfulness and convenience. It seats 553 patrons, entirely on the main floor, and offers ample space between seats for feet and knees. The aisles also are wider than customary. Seating in the auditorium is of the latest comfort-type construction and is attractively upholstered to complement the decorative scheme of the room. Acoustical materials were used most effectively in the auditorium to provide the finest possible sound reception. Wall decoration is secured by a damask-like wall covering that is used above the wainscoting in panels about the room. The modern wall panels on either side of the auditorium are accented by square-cut white bands for additional interest. Lighting in the auditorium is entirely indirect from large inverted circular fixtures in the ceiling and attractive modern luminous elements on the side walls. The cone-shaped ceiling fixtures are placed on a panel which runs the full length of the auditorium, adding greatly to the feeling of spaciousness in the room. Effective stage curtain lighting also enhances the beauty of the auditorium. The mezzanine floor of the theatre, located above the lobby, foyer and two stores at the front of the building, contains lounge rooms, offices, ladies' rest room, crying room and the projection booth. The Before—After—men’s room is located on the main floor at one side of the stairway leading to the space above. Lounge provisions on the mezzanine are especially attractive and inviting to patron relaxation. The lounges are furnished with comfortable leather-upholstered chrome furniture, mirrors, smoking provisions and other accessories to effect a home-like atmosphere. Decoration here is in the form of horizontally graduated colors enhanced by indirect lighting. A crying room for mothers of unconditioned young movie fans is located at a vantage place to one side of the projection room. It contains a large plate glass window, is equipped for perfect sound and is acousticized to hold in unruly noise. Other services provided by the management to interest and hold patronage are free telephone service, courteous attendants and the best of picture presentation. This latter is insured by the latest available equipment in the projection booth for the most nearly perfect presentation of sight and sound. The new building is also completely air conditioned for both summer and winter by a scientifically correct system. The new Liberty is said to be the first theatre in Springfield to have a complete year ‘round air conditioning system. If we may finally wax poetic at this point, the new Liberty Theatre may be said to be of the phoenix-kind. It rose new-born from the embers of its predecessor—a new theatre to carry on the traditions, but in a much better manner, of the old Liberty. Its completed excellence offers indeed a remarkable case of property reclamation of the type that is sorely needed in many communities at this time.

LouRugani
LouRugani on July 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm

In THE SPRINGFIELD PAPER on February 21, 2012, Offie Wortham wrote:

“In 1961 I was a physics student at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and also the head of the Antioch Civil Rights Organization. With over 700 of the 1,100 students as paid members of the NAACP College Chapter, we were the largest organized civil rights organization on any campus in the country during the 60’s.

The owner of the Liberty Theater in Springfield had publicly vowed that Negroes would never be allowed in his theater. At that time African Americans also were not admitted into any of the bowling allies, roller skating rinks, and several restaurants in Springfield.

After hitch-hiking from Yellow Springs to Springfield I went to the box office to buy a ticket. I was told it was a “membership only” theater and I would not be admitted. I am Black. I walked around the corner to the police station and told them that we were going to have a demonstration at the theater after an attempt to have Blacks admitted. I got their assistance to park a busload of police around the corner while undercover police watched from the sidelines.

Because there were only 8 Black students at Antioch I had to go to Central State and Wilberforce to encourage a busload of Black students to come to be a part of the demonstration.

Well over 100 students came to take part in the operation. The owner was interviewed before the event and said again that Blacks would not be admitted unless they were members. White racist organizations nationwide, including the Klan and the Nazi party, promised to be there to support the owner to keep out Blacks.

Coverage of the event was on nationwide television, and the streets were lined with local citizens to see the showdown between the radical students and the racist theater owner and his supporters.

Black and White students approached the box office in a single file that went around the block. All students were neatly dressed and some were even forced to wear shoes. At the head of the line was David Crippens, a Black student from Antioch who had drawn the longest straw from among those put in by over 20 Black students from the three colleges.

I stood across the street with the reporters with two press releases. One that congratulated the owner for changing his policy, the other announcing the beginning of a daily picket of the theater.

When David got to the box office the streets went completely silent. After a moment he turned and raised his ticket, and a cheer broke out in the streets and from the students in line, as they all purchased their tickets and entered the theater.

In the following days we had to attend the Black churches and convince them they could now attend the theater. Just a visit and discussion at the other segregated places in Springfield was all that was required to have them decide to admit African Americans."

JimE
JimE on June 20, 2013 at 7:08 pm

In 1961 our Dad was sent to Korea, so we moved to Springfield and lived at the 1500 block of W. High St. at the bottom of Dayton Ave. Mom would give my older brother and I a dollar to walk downtown to go see the Saturday kiddee matinee at the Liberty because it was the cheapest theater in town and showed the best kids movies. A ticket was a quarter and we each had another quarter to buy something at the snack bar. I loved walking up to the front of the Liberty. It was a special place and always had a cartoon or serial at the start of the show. If we had extra money (rarely) we would see a movie at the State or Majestic. The Regent was too expensive and usually showed the first-run movies. Thanks for showing the picture of a wonderful memory.

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