If you live or work in Marietta, there’s a good chance you’ve walked along Putnam Street getting from Point A to Point B. I imagine you’ve hurried past the buildings that hold no interest for you, either because they are businesses you don’t frequent or because they are cheerless and vacant. If you’ve taken the same route in recent days, you probably stopped for a moment when you approached 222 Putnam St. Emboldened by a colorful mural across its entry, the old Colony Theatre has emerged from the shadows, taken on a new name and now appears as a bright bloom in a wintry landscape. The mural, designed and executed by Sara and Bobby Rosenstock of Just A Jar Design Press, is reminiscent of an old carnival signboard. “COMING SOON” proclaims the dapper man with old-school text. Well if you weren’t curious about what lies behind the doorway before, I’m sure you are intrigued now.
Although the exciting changes to the old Colony Theatre are coming soon, they certainly were a long time in the making. Since closing its doors in 1985, the theatre has been saved from extinction by a dedicated group of people who recognize its history and significance to Marietta. That group, led by Development Director Hunt Brawley and Board President Dan Stephan Sr. would like you to know that the building is much more than a simple theatre. Built in 1911, the Hippodrome was host to vaudeville acts, plays, magic lantern shows and later silent movies. When it was rebuilt on its current location in 1919, the theater boasted plush carpeting, lavish stage, large seating capacity and an orchestra pit.
For decades, the Hippodrome (renamed the Colony in 1949) was a gem in the region and the place for movies, concerts and events. Its stage has been graced by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Randy Travis. The pinnacle of its career, though, was a week in February 1957 when the movie Battle Hymn opened. The movie was based on the story of Marietta native Colonel Dean Hess, portrayed by Rock Hudson. To celebrate the movie’s opening, Hudson and other Hollywood stars descended on Marietta for a parade, galas, and a week of packed-house events. Imagine 25,000 fans mobbing the streets of this little city, all trying to glimpse or get close to Hollywood royalty!
Thanks to the efforts of the Hippodrome/Colony Historical Theatre Association, Inc. and other donors and volunteers, the theatre has been in the process of slow and steady renovation. Long-time residents were thrilled to see the improved façade and supporters are excited about the theatre’s potential. When the project seemed to stall, People’s Bank stepped in with a game-changing investment of 3.7 million dollars. Suddenly the project was not only jump started, it’s now accelerating toward a long awaited finish.
What does this mean for Marietta and the Mid- Ohio Valley? For starters, it means a significant building in downtown Marietta will be restored to its former glory and will enhance the cityscape for decades to come. It means that Marietta will once again have a quality venue to host concerts and events, drawing visitors from the region and beyond. In addition to nationally known acts, the Peoples Bank Theatre will also accommodate plays, recitals, graduations and corporate events. You’ve never quite experienced a movie until you’ve enjoyed it on the big screen of a quality movie house.
Hunt Brawley refers to the theatre’s glory days when sharing the vision of its future:
“In the late nineteen-twenties there was the Hippodrome and four other theatres operating at the same time in downtown Marietta. People back then obviously saw Marietta as an entertainment destination. We hope that the fully restored Peoples Bank Theatre will be an anchor in a newly revitalized arts and entertainment district that will be bursting with activity.”
Community members, volunteers and observers are looking forward to the day when we see a line of people snaking its way along Putnam Street, ticket holders excitedly waiting for the Theatre doors to open.
For residents who have fond memories of the Colony Theatre, the grand re-opening will be a time of reliving those memories and “coming home”. Those of us not lucky enough to live here during its heyday will enter the Peoples Bank Theatre with anticipation–and appreciation of the grand old dame and all who worked to restore her.