Welcome to the Colony Theatre in historic downtown Marietta, Ohio. Previously called the Hippodrome, its original location was at the corner of Second and Union Streets, 0n a lot that is currently occupied by the Wesbanco building.
This original vaudeville house was built on May 18, 1911, and had a seating capacity of 657. The theatre was a destination for traveling live acts, plays, magic lantern projections and later silent moving pictures which were accompanied by live music.
When the German National Bank purchased the Hippodrome property in 1918 to expand the bank, the C & M Amusement Company immediately purchased lots on both Putnam and Third Streets to build a new theatre.
While construction was underway, performances continued at the Old Hipp, and on May 9th, 1919, the new Hippodrome Theatre opened to the public with a premiere showing of Daddy Long Legs, starring Mary Pickford.
The new Hippodrome boasted one of the Midwest's largest "legitimate theatre" stages that could accommodate the biggest Broadway plays of the time.
Among its many features was its giant boiler that provided steam heat in the winter and its unique cold-water cooling system, the 1918 equivalent of central air conditioning.
The theatre also boasted seven dressing rooms, a large chorus girls room, plush carpeting, a seating capacity of 1,200, perfect sight lines, exceptional acoustics, a giant silver screen, an orchestra pit and a 50-foot fly loft for rigging drops, scenery and lighting.
The projection booth housed two moving picture projectors and spotlights, and the pipes of the Echo theatre pipe organ were located in chambers on either side of the stage.
Opening eight years before the advent of talking pictures, the new Hippodrome offered vaudeville acts, Broadway plays, magical acts, and silent films accompanied by the Hippodrome's own five-piece orchestra.
In 1929, C&M Amusement Company installed Vitaphone talking and synchronized moving pictures using high class RCA Photophone equipment, the first of its kind in the Marietta area. And for the next 30 years, the Hippodrome reigned as Marietta's number-one amusement palace.
In 1949 the new owners of the Hippodrome, Shea Theatres of New York, began remodeling the theatre at an estimated cost of $50,000.
The distinctive stone archway was replaced with a two-story Southern-Colonial façade. The box office was moved to the side of the entranceway, and new carpeting, stage drapes and other decorative improvements transformed the theatre.
A highly publicized contest was held to rename the theatre, and on June 25th, 1949 the Colony Cinema opened to the public showing the Esther Williams musical Neptune's Daughter.
In its prime, the Colony's stage was graced by some of America's most famous entertainers, politicians and other celebrities. Some of its guests included Boris Karloff, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, Dick Van Patten, Tex Ritter, Minnie Pearl, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Randy Travis and many more.
On February 12th, 1957, the Colony Cinema added to its history of firsts and milestones by hosting the world premiere of Battle Hymn, in which Rock Hudson portrayed Marietta native Colonel Dean Hess.
25,000 screaming fans took to the streets, mobbing visiting Hollywood stars including Rock Hudson himself. The Colony hosted a week's worth of packed-house events that are unmatched to this day in local theatrical history.
From 1975 to 1989, the Colony changed hands several times, passing from Shea Theatres to Cinemette of Pittsburgh, whose 1975 remodeling included the removal of a lobby staircase and replacement of the concession stand. Shortly thereafter, ownership passed to Ohio Movies.
In March of 1980, a failed boiler threatened to close the Colony, but a determined Marjorie Bee, who had worked at the theatre since 1968, made an offer and bought the Colony on February 15th, 1981, making her the theatre's first local owner.
Forming M.B.M Corporation of Marietta, Mrs. Bee and her sons ran the theatre until low attendance and high heating bills, up to $1,300 per month in 1983 and '84, forced the closure of the Colony in December 1985.
Local businessman Dan Stephan Sr., purchased the theatre in 1989 in the hope that someday this treasured local landmark might be preserved and restored.
In its more than 80 years, the Colony Theatre has changed locations, appearances and even names. But it's always been a shining jewel in the cultural landscape of the Mid-Ohio Valley. Innovations ranging from heating and cooling to talking pictures and celebrity appearances have earned this theatre a special place in Marietta's history, and in the hearts of the many who can still recall what a night out at the Colony was like.
The HIPPODROME/COLONY HISTORICAL THEATRE ASSOCIATION is endeavoring to restore the Colony Theatre to its former glory. Following the lead of other communities throughout the country, this group's goal is to secure the funding necessary to renovate and reopen this local landmark.
The uses for the Colony are many and varied. Not only will it once again show movies on the big screen, but also its large stage can accommodate dance recitals, ballet, magic acts, graduations, corporate events, concerts, local plays and touring performances. The Colony's full orchestra pit could also accommodate musicals and opera.