Columbia Theater

82 W. State Street,
Sharon, PA 16146

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Columbia Theater

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The Columbia Theater was opened on November 29, 1922, with 1,732 seats

Contributed by Dan Vranjes

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

Patsy
Patsy on May 2, 2005 at 6:03 pm

John: I see on your profile page that you are in Hermitage PA which is near Sharon PA. What is the current status with the Columbia Theatre?

zavinski
zavinski on May 2, 2005 at 8:41 pm

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.

Sharonite
Sharonite on September 14, 2005 at 8:02 pm

It’s now September of 2005 and some important developments have taken place over the summer. First, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame staged its first successful induction concert series at the Wildwood Convention Center, Wildwood, NJ. The response was positive enough that the foundation met expenses for the first time and is already well into planning next year’s inductions for Las Vegas, where they are predicted to sell out.

Second, the foundation completed its move out of Winner’s building and has resolved its legal battles with him. This freed up the foundation enough that it was able to purchase the three-story Phoenix restaurant building at the corner of State and Water streets. The upper floors of the building will serve as the museum, while the first floor will house a bar and grill. This means that, also for the first time, the museum will have year-round cash flow—presumably much more than the donation box at their former museum ever could provide.

Finally, the Hall of Fame was able to secure a $50,000 state grant that will go toward purchasing new doors and windows for the theater. Naturally, this is only a fraction of the millions that it will take for a full restoration, but it is an important first step in that it shows that the state is behind the project. As the foundation finds itself on firmer and firmer financial ground, the state will probably be more willing to contribute grants because they will be further assured that the project will come to fruition.

Expect good things from the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Based on the recent turnaround in their coffers, their complete separation from big JW (who I don’t mean to bash—he’s done some great things for this town—but his heart was simply not in the right place in this instance), and the recent support from the state, I foresee the Columbia to be well on its way toward rebirth in the next couple of years.

—James Vasconi, Sharon, PA, local researcher and newshound

Sharonite
Sharonite on September 14, 2005 at 8:38 pm

Sorry about the quality of the previous post—I didn’t realize that this board didn’t have an edit option.

To add a bit more information, I believe that the Vocal Group Hall of Fame foundation is finally set up for success. Some people have complained about the shift from local induction concerts to the new focus on Wildwood and Las Vegas. While this is obviously not an ideal situation, it is a necessary and brilliant move to bring national attention to our little Valley. Plus, the money will be coming to Sharon whether it was made in Sharon or made elsewhere. The foundation tried holding local induction concerts—the 2002 and 2003 inductions were held at Cafaro (now Eastwood) Field in Niles, Ohio—but both basically flopped and left the foundation saddled with debt. Was it the foundation’s fault? No. Nor was it the community’s—this area is simply too small to support such an event without massive, nationwide promotion and support. I think it is important to note that the recordings of the concerts offered on the foundation’s website (www.vghf.com) have sold well. But I digress. Bottom line: the out-of-town concerts will drum up much-needed attention and concert attendance, so that when events do return to the Sharon area (and I’m sure they will), they won’t be ignored.

The Columbia was not a victim of fire. Rather, it was a victim of the tough economic times that followed. Had the fire occured a decade earlier or later, it never would have sat idle as it has. But we can’t rewrite the past—all we can do is take what we have and look toward the future. So far, I believe the VGHF has done just that. A glance at their foundation plan in the “About Us” section of their website offers glimpses into their ongoing work at the Columbia, including plasterwork, floor, and office restoration. And of course, the positive throwbacks to the Columbia Theatre for the Arts Organization period—the eye-catching front facade, the beautiful park that occupies the former Morgan site, and the comprehensive restoration plan—remain. I remain cautiously optimistic about the future of the theater, and when the public starts to see good things happening, they are sure to respond positively as well. Eventually, I see the foundation constructing a new entrance hall on the park site, a move that will finally create a beautiful and versatile performing arts facility that could become the next Powers Auditorium (which, I might add, was just two days away from the wrecking ball when the family for which it is now named put up enough money to save it).

guitar52002
guitar52002 on September 26, 2007 at 12:20 pm

hi im a freshman at penn state and im greatly intrested in this theater and i was wondering if there is any way i can get involved in bringing this theater back i was wondering if there is any way i can get involved in say either restoring the building or building something or any odd jobs i would like to voulnteer i am deeply passionate about this place and would like to see it reopen!

Roger Katz
Roger Katz on April 2, 2010 at 6:27 am

Correct address is 82 W State St.

Patsy
Patsy on October 4, 2010 at 8:21 am

I just learned of this theater and its restoration so don’t think it should be listed as “closed” anymore.

Patsy
Patsy on October 4, 2010 at 8:24 am

Didn’t realize I had posted on this link several years…what is the current status with this theatre now? Would like to see it.

milanp
milanp on December 28, 2010 at 7:55 am

A great old theater that’s sorely missed. Unfortunately, I only had the privilege of going there once—for “Mandingo” in May 1975.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 21, 2013 at 11:44 am

The Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation has a web site with pages about the history of the Columbia Theatre and about the restoration work (“The Museum” link) that is still underway.

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